A high GMAT score can make or break your chances of admission to a top MBA program, so what score should you aim for?
For those who wish to attend one of the very best business schools, a high GMAT score can be the difference between admission or rejection. The problem for prospective students, however, is that business schools have different score requirements — and they don't always reveal them. How do you judge which GMAT score you need to secure a place?
The Rotterdam School of Management in the Netherlands, for example, requires that candidates submit a GMAT score as part of their MBA application. However, there isn't an automatic accept or reject solely based on a score and the school says it takes a holistic view of each candidacy.
For MBA applicants, the GMAT requires significant effort and sometimes expense. Some of the world's top business schools have admitted candidates without super-high GMAT scores, those who are exceptional in every other aspect of their candidacy. So why do schools place such importance on the GMAT?
"The GMAT is one of the few ways we can evaluate the entire pool of candidates with the same measuring stick, as we deal with people from all around the world," says Brandon Kirby, director of MBA admissions at the Rotterdam school. He adds that if a candidate has a strong profile, a high GMAT score can make a decision even easier for the school's admissions committee, but the opposite is also true.
GMAT scores are skyrocketing
Candidates know that the GMAT often plays an outsized role in the MBA admissions process, so scores are skyrocketing as prospective students complete for a place. The top schools already admit just a fraction of those who apply to their programs so aiming for a school's average is a good benchmark.
Total GMAT scores range from 200 to 800 and the Graduate Management Admission Council, which administers the test, says that two-thirds of test-takers score somewhere between 400 and 600. To get into the most prestigious schools, however, you'll probably need to do much better.
Stanford Graduate School of Business in California, for example, achieved a fresh high for its MBAs last year, a 740 average GMAT score. That's up by three points from the year before and 11 points higher than five years ago.
Dennis Yim, director of academics at Kaplan Test Prep and a long-time GMAT instructor, says that each applicant has different goals. But there are general guidelines that aspiring business school students can follow to get the score needed for their dream school.
He says: "Our biggest piece of advice is do your research. What is the average GMAT score of accepted students at the schools you're interested in? What do the admissions departments have to say about required minimum scores? Once you've done your research, use these numbers in your goal-setting process."
Beyond the minimum score required and the average score of admitted candidates, some business schools will also publish the GMAT scores for the middle 80 percent of admitted candidates, which can give applicants a good sense of the range of scores a school might consider as competitive.
On the GMAT, you will actually receive five scores:
A total score, ranging from 200-800
A math sub-score, ranging from 0-60
A verbal sub-score, ranging from 0-60
A score for your AWA, ranging from 0-6
An Integrated Reasoning sub-score, ranging from 1-8
These scores will put you in the top 10% of all test takers:
Total score: 710 – 800
Quantitative sub-score: 51+
Verbal sub-score: 40+
Integrated reasoning: 8
These scores will put you in a highly competitive place in admissions (top 25% of all test takers):
Total score: 650 – 700
Quantitative sub-score: 48-50
Verbal sub-score: 35-39
Integrated reasoning: 7
Schools check individual sections of GMAT scores as they make their admissions decisions. So it's important to take them into account as you prepare for the exam. "It's not uncommon for attention to be placed on the quant side of things, but we are also really concerned with the verbal score as well," says Rotterdam's Kirby.
"Because our cohorts are 97 percent international, it is vital for a student to have a good command of English. First, to be successful in the program, but especially for job placement opportunities afterwards.
"Also, if a score isn't as high as we'd like it to be, we tend to look really closely at each section. There have been times when we have rejected candidates because of scores in the individual sections – even if the overall score is in line with our acceptance criteria."
Retaking the GMAT
Candidates who do not get a satisfactory score can cancel it and take the test again. Kaplan's Denis says: "If a test taker believes he or she can make up significant ground by retaking…then yes, by all means, retest.
"Everyone can have an ‘off day' and if something popped up to throw you off your game and you don't think the score truly represents your ability, go for it."
Ultimately, although GMAT scores are important, they are not the sole factor admissions committees use to decide whether you are admitted or rejected from their MBA course.
Russ Morgan, senior associate dean for full-time programs at Duke Fuqua, advises: "Be yourself in the rest of the application. Be genuine and authentic. Help us understand why you want this degree and what you hope to do with it. Help us understand why you believe Duke is the right fit.
"You can improve a test score – but you can't fake your way through being a fit – and usually we can spot that pretty quickly in the application."