Business school applicants who are trying to increase their odds of getting into their dream school should understand that their score on the Graduate Management Admission Test is an important factor.
However, what qualifies as a strong GMAT score depends both on the competitiveness of the MBA programs where a student hopes to get accepted and his or her demographic profile, according to business school admissions experts.
“A solid GMAT score varies by applicant and by school,” David White, a founding partner at MBA admissions consulting firm Menlo Coaching, wrote in an email. “Business schools build a diverse class because this increases the richness of classroom discussions. However, there are more applicants from some backgrounds than others — for example, American men in finance and consulting, or Indian men in the tech industry are over-represented, and Hispanic women and successful entrepreneurs are under-represented. Applicants from over-represented groups may need to score up to 30 (or more) points higher than the school’s overall average to reach the average for their group. It’s the opposite for under-represented groups.”
GMAT test-takers can expect to receive a score that ranges from a minimum of 200 to a maximum of 800, which is a perfect score. Admissions experts urge MBA hopefuls to set their target GMAT score based upon the average score accepted by their programs of interest.
Alexander S. Lowry, executive director of the master of science in financial analysis program at Gordon College in Massachusetts, says the goal of a B-school applicant should be to get a GMAT score that is so high that admissions officers have no doubts about academic preparedness. Lowry, who earned his MBA from the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, says applicants to the top 10 B-schools should understand that these schools prefer applicants with impressive test scores.
“So if you’re basically (in) the 700s, if you can put that number out there, you are now no longer a problem in terms of the GMAT score,” he says. “If you can get like 710 (or) 720, (it) is really kind of the magic number where they’re like, ‘Okay, you’re as good as everybody else in the class.'”
A perfect score of 800 can compensate for any weaknesses in the nonscore portions of a business school application, he says, which can help students aiming to attend a highly selective school.
Lowry adds that stellar GMAT scores may be expected at the top 10 schools, but lower-ranked schools don’t typically require such extraordinary scores.
He says that scores of 650 and above would ordinarily qualify someone for consideration at the top 20 business grad programs, but any score in the 600s might suffice for a top 50 program. The average GMAT score among people who took the exam from 2017 through 2019 was 564.84, according to the Graduate Management Admission Council, the organization that designs and administers the GMAT.
Lowry says a B-school applicant with a low GMAT score who has otherwise flawless credentials may convince admissions officers to overlook that flaw in their applications. “If everything else you’ve got is amazing, you can have a lower score and still get into a top school,” he says. “But if you’ve got a weakness somewhere else, you’ve got to have a good GMAT.”
MBA admissions experts caution that gaining admission to a top 10 business school in the U.S is difficult without an impressive GMAT score.
“Almost any student at a top-tier school thinks of 700 as the baseline for a ‘good’ GMAT score,” Phil Strazzulla, a former venture capitalist with an MBA from Harvard Business School, wrote in an email. “This is viewed by admissions as essentially a neutral score where it’s not hurting you, but definitely not helping you.”
“Anything that is in the 99th percentile, 760 and up, is truly stellar,” adds Strazzulla, the founder of SelectSoftware Reviews, a website that provides guidance on human resources and recruiting software. “I even had several friends who retook the GMAT after getting above 700 so that they had scores in the 99th percentile. On the flip side, anything below 680 will definitely hurt your ability to get into a top-10 school.”
According to GMAC, prospective business students who earned the following GMAT scores between January 2017 and December 2019 performed better than an overwhelming majority of test-takers.
|760 to 800||99%|
Still, prospective business students should understand that many factors besides GMAT scores matter in the MBA admissions process, says Shaifali Aggarwal, founder and CEO of the Ivy Groupe, an MBA admissions consulting company.
“In addition to the GMAT score, a candidate’s undergraduate GPA, professional trajectory, and extracurricular involvement are evaluated,” Aggarwal, a Harvard Business School alum, wrote in an email. “A candidate’s gender, demographic, and vocation also come into play. In general, though, business school applicants should see what the average or median GMAT score of a business school is and then aim to at least meet that level in order to demonstrate to the admissions committee that they can handle the rigor of the MBA curriculum.”
Dennis Yim, director of live online courses at Kaplan, says prospective business students should aim to spend 100 to 120 hours studying for the GMAT before taking the exam. He suggests spreading out that study time over the course of several months, if possible.
Yim says it can be tempting for business school applicants with full-time jobs to skimp on GMAT test prep, especially if they get frustrated about the amount of time they are spending on studying, but he warns that this is a mistake.
“Take your diagnostic, know how long the road is, in terms of where you need to go, and then be very intentional and purposeful about how you are spending your time,” he says. “So, if you know that the quantitative section is something you need to improve at and you can identify through your diagnostic what areas you need to work on, whether it’s algebra or geometry or whatever it is, really focus in on those areas.”
He suggests students continuously take practice tests and short content-specific quizzes throughout the GMAT test-prep process to understand their academic progress and feel encouraged to continue studying.
Oliver Madden, an MBA degree recipient who graduated from Europe-based ESCP Business School in 2018, says that anyone preparing for the GMAT should investigate its scoring system.
“Make sure you have a clear understanding of how the GMAT is organized and know the weight that each category of questions carries as a component of your overall score,” Madden wrote in an email. “Emphasize the highly weighted categories and prioritize boosting your strengths first, correcting your weaknesses second.”
Lowry says someone planning to take the GMAT needs to psychologically prepare himself or herself for the computer-adaptive aspect of the test, which is when a computer adjusts the level of difficulty of the exam depending on the accuracy of a test-taker’s answers. Because the GMAT is computer-adaptive, if a student is doing exceptionally well on the exam and getting many answers right, he or she will be given progressively harder questions.
“The problem with the GMAT is, even if you’re crushing it and knocking it out of the park on the way to an 800 score, it is so brutally hard, you will probably think you’re not doing well on it, because it is computer-adaptive,” Lowry says. “The key, of course, is the first couple of questions. You have got to get those right. Otherwise your trajectory goes down, and you’ll never recover up to a good score. So you’ve got to start strong, and you’ve got to keep confidence as you’re going through it.”
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Update 01/05/21: This article has been updated with new information.