GMAT scores range from 200 to 800 while raw scores, the individual scores of the verbal and quantitative sections, range from 0 to 60. Though the raw score scales go to 60, it’s exceedingly rare for anyone to score above 50 or below 7 on the quant section or above 44 or below 9 on the verbal section. And for the total score, less than 1 percent of test takers score above 760. In short, no one is perfect on the GMAT, but what do all these numbers mean when it comes to getting accepted?
What’s a good GMAT score and what should you aim for? In essence, a good score is:
A score within the middle range of GMAT scores of current students at your desired school.
Before we discuss this further, let’s acknowledge the variability inherent in this definition. The point of taking the GMAT is not to get a high score; it’s to help you get accepted to your desired business school, so what counts as a good score largely depends on where you plan to apply.
Of course, the higher you score, the more helpful it is in this pursuit, but this is true only to an extent. For every school, GMAT scores hit a point where the law of diminishing returns takes effect. For example, the 40 point gap between a 720 and a 760 is negligible in the eyes of admissions. Why? Because both of these scores show that you have more than enough academic ability to excel in business school. This point is critical because it means you don’t need a score in the top 5 percent to demonstrate this ability.
GMAT scores act as a sort of screening processes for admissions: They indicate to a school whether you have the smarts to handle the program. Once admission officers figuratively “check off” this box, they look to the rest of your application in order to make their decision, so it’s about scoring high enough rather than scoring as high as possible. GMAT scores help you get in the door, but it’s your total application that secures you admission.
Getting back to our definition of a good GMAT score then, it’s essential that you know 1) which schools plan to apply to and 2) what GMAT score is “high enough” for these schools. Follow the guidelines below for determining these two elements of a good GMAT score.
This step deserves an entire post to itself, but if you don’t have a good idea of which programs will best help you reach your professional goals, begin with this consideration before starting to think about what you need to score on the GMAT. Glancing at business school rankings can be a part of your consideration, but alone it is insufficient. There’s a host of qualities beyond the reputation and even the academic strength of a program that you must consider. One consideration is a school’s “fit” – how well it matches the type of person you are.
Fit, along with other personal and professional considerations, is arguably as important as a school’s rank. A strong fit boosts enthusiasm, drive and well-being while a bad fit can tax your energy and focus. There’s a lot to be said about what goes into the “right” school or schools for you, but ultimately you’re the one who must decide what’s most important in a school. Once you’ve done your research and know the schools you want to apply to, you can dive into what it takes to get in.
What’s a high enough score to get into a school? Forget average or median GMAT scores; instead look at the range of scores current students in the program received. This is best shown by the middle 80 percent range. Rather than a summary statistic, such as average or median score, which aggregates all students’ scores into a single number, the middle 80 percent range shows the diversity of scores across the majority of students within a program.
Below we show the middle 80 percent range for the classes of two top-25 MBA programs, Harvard Business School and Emory Goizueta Business School. The x-axis represents the range of GMAT scores for each school’s class and the y-axis represents the frequency of scores (note we’re just using a standard bell curve to show the approximate distribution of scores; these visuals are not intended to be exact). The blue chunk in the middle of each distribution represents each class’s middle 80 percent range, so while the GMAT scores of Harvard’s class of 2015 ranged from 550 to 780, most students scored between 680 and 770. Only 10 percent of students scored lower than 680 and only 10 percent scored higher than 770.
Contrast this with Emory’s middle 80 percent, which spans from 620 to 730, and more importantly, contrast the middle 80 percent range of each school to their respective average or median GMAT scores, a 730 median for Harvard and a 680 average for Emory. If Emory is one of your desired schools and you scored a 640 on the GMAT, you may think that your GMAT score is too low if you compare it to Emory’s average score. However, a 640 would be a very competitive score as it would put you right in the rank of current students.
Remember that the GMAT is a means to an end, so it’s best not to become caught up in the pursuit of the elusive 750 or scoring as high as possible when all you need to do is score high enough. Your GMAT score is just one piece of your application, and you need to spend time and effort making the rest of your application as strong as possible. Knowing what’s a good score – what’s high enough for the schools you wish to attend – will help you set more focused goals and alleviate a bit of the stress of studying and taking the exam.