How Does GMAT Scoring Work?

By: Apex GMAT

How You Should Think of Your GMAT Score

If you’re just starting out on the GMAT you probably have a lot of questions about how the GMAT is scored? How the scoring algorithm works? How this plays into your chances of admission all other things being equal, at various institutions. This is why we’re going to talk about GMAT scoring and break it down on a section by section basis. 

Before we get into the nitty-gritty of how the GMAT is scored I want to start out talking a little bit about the score. How you should think about it. The short answer is, you really shouldn’t think about it. It’s about as useful as reflecting on how quickly you’re running when you’re running as quickly as you can. 

Thinking about the score, thinking about your time, is only going to distract you from your performance. And we see this so often where GMAT test-takers get psyched out about score. They worry about it in advance and on the exam and it not only distracts them from their performance. It can also lead to over-and-under confidence. 

The Effects of Practice Test Scores

People take a practice test and if they do really well they feel great and they tend to lighten up. People take a practice test and if they do poorly they start beating themselves up. It undermines all the confidence that they’ve built up with real skills. 

Practice tests are for calibrating timing decisions and for identifying problem areas. And while they are a useful benchmark to track progress, it’s a mistake to put too much weight into them. So try not to take them too much to heart. Not because they’re inaccurate but because if you’re fully focused on the process the outcome will take care of itself. 

How is Each Section of The GMAT Scored?

Let’s begin by talking about the four sections on the GMAT and how they’re scored individually. Thereafter we will get to the big ‘out-of-800’ score, which is an aggregate of the quantitative and verbal sections. 

Analytical Writing Assessment

First off, the AWA writing section is scored out of six points in half-point increments. And generally, anything above a four or four and a half is considered acceptable. These are very wide gaps, where they have large groups of people all scoring the same thing. Usually about 15 percentile points for each half point increment. Therefore we can assume that the admissions committees are looking at it more as a referendum. To see how well you can put together an argument and how well you can write in general. 

Remember that they are going to have your writing samples from your essays. In all likelihood, they’re going to interview you. So this is more of a box to check off and shouldn’t take up too much of your time or energy in preparation once you’re at an acceptable level. 

Similarly, when it comes to taking the GMAT you don’t want to burn a lot of mental energy here. It’s the first section, it’s half an hour, but you’ve got a long race to run. This is something that you want to give a short shrift to, relative to the rest of the exam. Allocate your time where it’s going to be most meaningful, which is going to be later on in the Quantitative and Verbal sections. 

Integrated Reasoning

The next section up is the Integrated Reasoning section. Like the AWA, it’s half-hour long, and also like the AWA, they divide us into fairly wide tranches. The integrated reasoning section is scored out of eight points in single-point increments. It’s a relatively new section on the GMAT, about five years old at this point. 

What the Integrated Reasoning section tests is your ability to sort through massive amounts of data and it utilizes skills both from the Quantitative side and the Critical Reasoning on the Verbal side in one section. 

This section is increasingly important, especially as a differentiator among those who already have high scores because it tests a different type of skill. 

Verbal & Quant

This brings us to the big sections: the Verbal and Quantitative. Both seventy-five minutes long, these sections combine to give us our score out of 800. This is the score that everybody talks about. But let’s take a look at them individually at first because each section is scored on its own. 

The Verbal goes up to the mid-40s. A score above 44-45 is entirely elite. And there are a bunch of numbers up to the theoretical 60 max that really aren’t scored. Similarly, in the Quantitative, the score maxes out at 51 and the GMAC leaves these higher raw scores open in the case that they make the exam more challenging in the future. 

It’s important to remember that your raw scores from Quantitative and Verbal aren’t on the same scale, so a 42 in verbal and a 42 in quantitative do not indicate similar achievement. In fact, a 42 on quantitative is sort of so-so, and 42 on verbal is quite strong. 

So, each of these raw scores is used by an admissions committee to understand how you work or how strong you are in a particular section. Typically they’re looking at the quantitative score because most MBA programs focus or at least have a certain minimum amount of quantitative classes, work, etc. 

Overall Score

This brings us to the big score, the score ‘out-of-800’ – the entire GMAT. This score is just sourced from your raw Quantitative and Verbal scores. The precise algorithm that the GMAC uses is confidential but broadly the better you score in each, the better your score is overall. 

To drill down a little further, in general, having roughly equal scores in both, maximizes your overall score. Another thing that we know is that a raw point on the Verbal section is worth marginally more than a raw point on the Quantitative section. While in general, this doesn’t inform how we prep or what we do on the exam, it’s something useful to think about if you’re looking only for 20 or 30 more points and it’s something that we look at when we’re mapping out study plans. 

Another interesting thing to keep in mind is that you don’t need to score incredibly well in either the Quant or the Verbal section to have a totally stellar score. So for example, you can have a 90th percentile verbal, 90th percentile quant and these will come together to give you on the order of a 760 which is 99th percentile. The reason is that many people who are strong at Quant are not so strong at verbal and vice-versa. So, the score out of 800 looks at your aggregate performance and gives admissions committees a better sense of how you score overall. 

Do Not Focus To Much on Your Score

I hope this was a useful tour of how the GMAT scores. The big takeaway here, though, is that focusing too much on your score or really, anything more than surface-level looking at it to understand it, takes away from your ability to perform and can wrap you up in knots emotionally and psychologically. 

So, know it, think about it when you’re crafting your study plan but also don’t dwell on it. As long as you’re doing your best, as long as you’re progressing and becoming better at leveraging the skills that you’re learning through self-prep or with a tutor and you’re seeing those results when you’re self-prepping, when you’re in an exam, that’s all that matters. The score will take care of itself. 

For more introductory information to the GMAT you can read this article: 5 minutes with the GMAT or the GMAT – a comprehensive review. To speak to an Apex GMAT instructor about your prep you can schedule a call HERE.

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