GMAT Scoring

How Does GMAT Scoring Work?

Every score report comes with five scores: The AWA essay score, the Integrated Reasoning score, the Quantitative score, the Verbal score and a total score which is a combination of the Quantitative and Verbal scores only. The total score is the most widely reported score of the GMAT and is the score that business schools generally list when they report the range of GMAT scores for their incoming class. Because of this, the Quantitative and Verbal sections are (rightfully) the two sections to which students devote most of their GMAT preparation.

The scores also each come with a percentile rank, which lists the percent of test-takers who scored lower than you. In other words, an 89th percentile would mean you scored better than 89 percent of people taking the GMAT. The percentile rank is based on the scores of everyone taking the test in the past three years. The same numerical score can have a different percentile rank at different times, based on how they universe of test takers have performed at the time the test was taken.

Because the GMAT is a computer-adaptive test, with harder questions given to those who answer more questions correctly, the scores are based both on the number of correct answer and the level of difficulty of the questions.

Analytical Writing Assessment (AWA) Scoring

The AWA essay is scored on a range of one to six at half-point intervals. Conventional wisdom says that a score of 4.5 is good enough, and anyone scoring at that level or above need not worry about their AWA essay score. The essay is scored twice, by two independent scorers and the two scores are averaged. At least one of the two scorers will be a college or university faculty member trained to look for the certain qualities that GMAC wants the essay to contain. According to GMAC, those qualities include: the quality and thoughtfulness of ideas presented; the writer's ability to organize the ideas presented; the relevant supporting points and examples; and the grammar and clarity of the writing.

The second scorer might be another faculty member or it could be a computer scoring engine. Although it sounds strange that a computer scoring engine would review an essay, GMAC's tests of the system found that the computer engine's scores were remarkably similar to those of human scorers. In fact, when GMAC tested the automated scoring engine, there were just two situations in which computer generated scores were substantially different from the scores submitted by trained faculty. The first of those situations was when an essay was well written and thoughtfully argued but completely off topic. The computer engine was not always able to pick out off-topic essays. GMAC reasoned that those situations would be flagged by the expert reader. The second situation was plagiarism. Tests showed the scoring engine actually had an advantage in picking up fraud and plagiarism when compared with expert readers.

In any case, if the two scores for an essay differ by more than one point, a third scorer will review the essay in question to resolve any issues of discrepancy.

Integrated Reasoning Section Scoring

The scores for the Integrated Reasoning Section range from one to eight in single digit intervals. For most sections of the test, the percentile ranks are based on the past three years of test scores.

In the case of the Integrated Reasoning section, there are not yet three past years of test scores. Initially, in 2012, the Integrated Reasoning percentile rankings were updated monthly to gather a larger pool by which to measure scores against. As of the start of 2013, the Integrated Reasoning rankings are being updated yearly on the same schedule as the percentile rankings of other sections.

The pool of scores of this section is still growing, but early percentiles rankings for the Integrated Reasoning section have indicated that the mean score for the section is between a four and a five. Because of this, many test takers are targeting a six or higher on this section.

One thing worth noting about the Integrated Reasoning score is that because this section tests the ability to merge different types of data, the scoring system requires that test takers correctly answer all the questions related to a particular problem in order to get credit for that problem.

The GMAT Scoring Algorithm for the Quantitative and Verbal Sections

When scored separately, the Verbal section and Quantitative section scores are each based on a range of zero to 60 at single-digit intervals. When the two scores are combined, the widely-reported total score ranges from 200 to 800. Although both the Verbal and Quantitative sections are scored on the same scale, but there is actually a significant difference in average scores between the two. The mean score for the Quantitative section is currently a 37, while the mean score for the Verbal section is currently a 27.6. On the Quantitative section, scores below seven and above 50 are rare. On the Verbal section, scores below nine and above 44 are rare.

Business schools pay attention to the Quantitative score, as it is a measure of the type of academic skills that will be relied on heavily for business school coursework. However, a strong performance on the Verbal section may actually make a greater impact on the total score than a strong performance on the Quantitative section. That is because of the much lower mean score of the Verbal section. Only three percent score higher than a 44 on the Verbal section, whereas 37 percent score higher than that on the Quantitative section.

As in all sections of the test, unanswered questions carry a stiff penalty, so time management is essential.

The GMAT Total Score

As stated earlier, the total score is based only on the scores of the Quantitative and Verbal sections, and ranges from 200 to 800. Two-thirds of test takers score between 400 and 600. The mean total score falls between 540 and 550. Many test takers aiming for top schools aim for scores above 700, which would place them in the top ten percent. Again, prospective MBA students should look at the reported scores of their chosen schools and target achieving scores within that range.

It is worth noting that scores remain valid for five years. While the actual scores will not change, someone who applies to business school three years after taking the test might find that their percentile ranking has shifted slightly. GMAC does not keep the percentile ranking set to the time that the test was taken, but rather it updates percentile rankings every year to reflect any shift in overall performance of people taking the test. Changes in percentile rankings tend to be gradual over time.

Experimental Questions

The GMAT includes several experimental questions in each test, which are questions that are not being scored. These questions are in the test to measure how students perform on them for their possible inclusion in future tests. There is no way of knowing which questions are experimental.

The experimental questions could be easy, hard or of mid-level difficulty. The best anyone can do is tackle every question to the best of his or her ability and if stumped by a question, hope that it was a question that won't be scored.