1. If you’ve gone through the long and arduous process of prepping for—and then actually taking—the GMAT, you’ve probably been feeling like you’ve spent the last several months competing with the test and with yourself. At the end of the day, however, the purpose of the GMAT is to help admissions committees decide who to accept or not accept. This means that when you take the GMAT, you’re also competing against other GMAT takers.

    However, your raw GMAT scores don’t necessarily tell you much about you compare to other students. This is primarily because they only show how many questions you answered correctly without normalizing for the scores of other students.

    More specifically, your score report contains the following:  raw scores ranging from 6 to 51 in both the Verbal and the Quantitative sections of the exam, a raw score of 1 to 8 in the Integrated Reasoning section, and a raw score of 0 to 6 in your Analytical Writing Assessment. None of these are what the admissions committee looks at, however.  Instead, they look at your Total Score, which combines the raw Quant and Verbal scores to create another, scaled score which ranges from 200 to 800. (This 200-800 scale will probably be familiar to you if you’ve taken the SAT.) But – the scaled score doesn’t tell you directly how you compare to other students. In order to help make use of the Total Score, the GMAC publishes information assigning different percentiles to different Total Scores.  See their official breakdown here.

    Percentile is a statistical measure used to compare one number in a sample to the rest of the numbers of that sample. In the GMAT context, your percentile tells you what percentage of students scored below you on the exam. Percentile scores range from 0 (corresponding to the lowest possible score, which no one scores below) to 99 (corresponding to the highest possible score).

    Below, we reproduce the GMAC’s information on the percentile rankings for the Total Score as well as all the different sections of the exam. Check out your scores to see how you’ll stack up in the eyes of admissions committees. Though you should note: this information tells you your percentile relative to all GMAT-takers, not relative to all the applicants of the particular schools you’ll be applying to.

    How to read: the percentile tells you how many students scored below you. For example, a score with a percentile of 50 means that exactly half the testing population scored below you while a percentile of 75 means 75% of the testing population scored below you.

     

    TOTAL SCORE PERCENTILE
    800 99
    750 98
    700 88
    650 73
    600 56
    550 37
    500 27
    450 17
    400 10
    350 6
    300 3
    250 2
    200 0

     

    VERBAL SCORE PERCENTILE
    51 99
    46 99
    41 93
    36 80
    31 61
    26 43
    21 26
    16 12
    11 4
    6 0

     

    QUANTITATIVE SCORE PERCENTILE
    51 96
    46 58
    41 41
    36 29
    31 18
    26 12
    21 6
    16 3
    11 2
    6 0

     

    INTEGRATED REASONING SCORE PERCENTILE
    8 92
    7 82
    6 70
    5 54
    4 38
    3 24
    2 11
    1 0

     

    AWA SCORE PERCENTILE
    6 88
    5 53
    4 17
    3 4
    2 3
    1 1
    0 0

    Note: This information is current as of 2018. This is important because GMAT percentiles do undergo constant change over time, with the GMAC updating the percentiles every year in the summer, using data that go back three years.

     

    It might seem like percentiles shouldn’t change over time, if the scale for the raw scores doesn’t change over time. However, remember that percentiles reflect your score relative to all other people who have taken the test. Not only does the test evolve slightly over time, but the population of students taking the test changes over time also.

     

    So how have the percentiles changed in recent years? Well, mostly the percentile changes reflect increasing competition. The same GMAT scores don’t go as far in percentile rankings as they used to. This is especially pronounced on the Quantitative section, where a score of 46 was in the 78th percentile in 2006 but is only the 58th percentile in 2018.

     

    This trend of increasing competition is true across the board (a 630 in 2000 was an 80th percentile score; currently a 650 is a 73rd percentile score), though not as extensively in the other areas of the test as with Quantitative scores. As such, it is extremely important that you look not only at the score or at the percentage, but also at the business school you want to apply to.

     

    HOW DO BUSINESS SCHOOLS LOOK AT PERCENTILES?

     

    Business schools view your GMAT scores and their corresponding percentiles when considering your application. While these are not the definitive factor in your acceptance or denial to business school, GMAT scores are typically the first thing a business school sees when they look at your application. And while they don’t always publicize cutoff scores, a quick google search can usually reveal what scores accepted students have, giving a good intuition as to what score you should aim for.

     

    Percentiles are useful for MBA programs because they help schools determine where your GMAT performance stands relative to other applicants. For example, top business schools usually accept applicants whose score is at least in the 90th percentile, though this is not a hard and fast rule. And, of course, even a terrific GMAT score is not sufficient to ensure your acceptance–MBA programs also look at your educational and work experience, your recommendations, your writing, and any other information they might find relevant.

     

    Many students apply with GMAT scores that are several years old. If this is you, it shouldn’t worry you, for a few main reasons:  While the percentiles do change over time, they usually don’t change that quickly – so your percentile in the year you took the exam will likely be very close to your percentile in the year you submit your application.  Moreover, as mentioned above, the percentiles tend to decrease over time, meaning that your old score is worth more today than it was when you got it (as it would be harder to get the same score today).

     

    TAKE HOME MESSAGES

     

    To conclude, your normalized score reflects how well you have done in comparison to other students.  If you like, you can look at the conversion tables above to see what percentile this translates into.  With that said, what you should really keep in mind is your target – how high of a score do you need to get into your desired business school.

     

    Best of luck.

    mm
    Dave Green
    Senior tutor and professional test-prep writer. Interdisciplinary wizard, with Master’s degrees in economics, philosophy, and political science at HUJI.

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