GMAT Basics

GMAT Purpose

The GMAT is a standardized test used to assess prospective graduate business students, primarily those who seek master of business administration, master of finance, master of accountancy, or doctoral-level business degrees. First offered in 1953, the GMAT is now taken annually by about 250,000 applicants to 6,000 programs at 2,100 universities in the United States and 113 other countries in Europe, Asia, the Americas, and Africa. Though many business schools will also accept the Graduate Record Examination (GRE), the GMAT is chosen by most business school applicants. The GMAT consists of four sections: quantitative, verbal, integrated reasoning, and analytical writing. All four of these sections evaluate general academic skills rather than business knowledge, but these GMAT skills are seen as important to success in graduate business programs. As a standardized assessment, the GMAT is believed to control for variance in the undergraduate curricula and professional experience of applicants. The GMAT is also used to rank business schools. The methodology of U.S. News & World Report weighs "student selectivity" at 0.25, meaning that this category accounts for 25% of an institution's total ranking score. Almost two-thirds of the student selectivity score (.1625 of the total) is drawn from standardized tests, most of which are GMAT scores.

GMAT Scoring

Students who take the GMAT receive a total score as well as scores on each of the four sections. The total score falls between 200 and 800 and is calculated from the verbal and quantitative sections, both of which are comprised entirely of multiple choice questions. Section scores for verbal and quantitative are given from 0 to 60 and are converted to total scores using a formula that accounts for the difficulty level of the questions. Integrated reasoning scores are reported from 1 to 8, and are based on questions that require test-takers to infer information from multiple sources and analyze graphs and tables. Analytical writing scores range from 0 to 6 and are based on an essay writing task that asks students to analyze the argument advanced in a given text.

GMAT Averages

According to the Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC), the mean total GMAT score is 547.35, with two-thirds of test-takers scoring between 400 and 600. The average verbal section score is 27.04, and the average quantitative section score is 38.03. The overwhelming majority of students score between 9 and 44 on the former and between 7 and 50 on the latter, and GMAC reports that scores above or below these levels are "rare." Integrated reasoning and analytical writing do not count toward the total score, and their mean levels are 4.33 and 4.34 respectively. Most of GMAC's data on the GMAT is based on a sample size of 782,462 students over three years. The only exception is the integrated reasoning section, which was introduced recently and therefore includes only 388,019 students.

GMAT Percentiles

GMAC also reports percentile rankings for each test-taker. For the most recent statistical group, a total score of 300 is in the 3rd percentile, 400 is the 12th percentile, 500 is the 31st percentile, 600 is the 61st percentile, 700 is the 89th percentile, and 760 or above is in the 99th percentile. A verbal section score of 40 is in the 90th percentile, and anything above 44 is in the 99th percentile. Just 12% of test-takers receive quantitative scores of 50 or above, and only 3% receive perfect quantitative section scores of 60. Approximately 8% of students achieve perfect scores on integrated reasoning or analytical writing. An integrated reasoning score of 7 is in the 81st percentile, while an analytical writing score of 5 is in the 60th percentile.

GMAT Scores Required for Business School Acceptance

Most business schools do not have set minimum GMAT score requirements, but the average scores of accepted students strongly indicate the GMAT expectations of these institutions. There is a clear relationship between a business school's degree of selectivity and the typical GMAT performance of its students. Most schools ranked in the top 50 have mean or median GMAT scores of 650 or above, and almost all of the top 25 have averages of 700 or higher. The most highly ranked business schools are Harvard (median GMAT score of 730), Stanford (average of 733), the Booth School of Business at the University of Chicago (average of 726), the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School (median of 730), and the Sloan School of Management at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (average of 716). Rice University's Jones Graduate School of Business, currently ranked #25, reports a median GMAT of 690 and an average GMAT of 676. The Broad College of Business at Michigan State University (#35) claims middle 80% GMAT scores of 587-730, with an average of 666 and a median of 680. At Boston College's Carroll School of Management (#50), the average GMAT score is 672.