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Is Your GMAT Score Good Enough?

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Applicant with GMAT score report

Applying to business school is never an easy process, especially when juggling your personal and professional life. You don’t want to take the GMAT more times than necessary, but you definitely want the highest possible chance to get into your target schools.

Although your GMAT score isn’t the only factor for admission, it is an important part of your MBA application, and one that is fully under your control. Deciding whether to spend more time on the GMAT (or move on to the rest of your application) comes down to two big questions.

If you have a great score and you’ve already spent a lot of time on your GMAT study, you may be ready to move on. Everyone else should consider the merits of a retake, even if they’ve already achieved a good score. At many MBA programs, average GMAT scores are increasing (for example, see Poets&Quants article Columbia’s Average GMAT Soars 8 Points for Class of 2020), and raising your score can benefit you.

What Is a Good GMAT Score?

Rules of thumb such as “Anything over 740 is the same” are categorically false, which we’ll explain later when discussing how GMAT scores feed into MBA rankings.

Your target score depends on where you’re applying and on your profile (which determines who you’ll be compared against).

The starting point here is to research the average GMAT scores for your target schools (provided in the appendix at bottom) and use this as a baseline. A lower score may suffice if you have distinctive experiences or come from an under-represented group, but you may need to have an even higher score if you come from an over-represented group. Be honest about whether your experiences are truly distinctive; top MBA programs attract many accomplished applicants.

This average score, adjusted for your profile, can give you a guideline for the score that will make you competitive. You should also consider:

Watch our video to understand why you owe it to yourself to truly maximize your GMAT score:

Why Do Schools Care So Much About the GMAT?

There are several reasons why schools care about your GMAT score.

Good GMAT Scores Prove That You Can Handle the Coursework

Business schools look at your GMAT score to ensure that you can keep up with their academic program. Here, your score is used to evaluate whether you have the necessary quantitative, verbal, and critical thinking skills to complete the coursework, which includes subjects like finance, economics, and strategy. Schools want you to succeed!

Average GMAT Scores Drive MBA Rankings

Business schools care about rankings because… applicants care about rankings! When a school’s ranking improves, it will attract a larger and better-qualified pool of applicants. Enrolling a stronger group of students enhances the classroom experience and leads to better employment outcomes, both of which tend to further strengthen the school’s reputation and ranking. Naturally, schools love this.

The GMAT comes into play here because it is a direct factor in MBA rankings. In business school rankings such as U.S. News, a school’s average score on the GMAT is a major ranking factor (U.S. News MBA ranking methodology), and one that the school can directly influence with its decisions.

MBA rankings process

The fact that these rankings use the average score (not the median) is the reason why every point matters. When calculating a school’s average score, it doesn’t matter whether student #1 increases from 680 → 690, or student #2 increases from 760 → 770. Both 10-point increases have the same positive impact on the school’s average, and therefore the school’s ranking.

The need to manage GMAT averages also explains why well-qualified applicants with high GMAT scores attract so many merit-based scholarships. Most top schools, like Harvard, Stanford and Wharton, have averages around 730. This means that a 740 score, “good” by most standards, is only +10 from a school’s average, but a 770 score is +40 points.

Those +40 points can be used to directly raise the average. The school can also choose to maintain its GMAT average while admitting applicants with lower GMAT scores but outstanding merits in other areas.

Both of these outcomes are valuable to schools, which explains why many schools use scholarships to incentivize students with high GMAT scores to enroll.

GMAT Scores Matter to (Some) Post-MBA Employers

In many cases, your GMAT score is important in terms of potential employment opportunities. Many employers in finance and consulting (such as Bain, McKinsey, and BCG) use the GMAT as a factor when deciding which students to interview. Having a high score can position you as a strong candidate and give you a competitive edge.

How Much Effort Would it Take to Increase Your GMAT?

There are several clear indicators that you have extra points in the tank that could be unlocked with the right study plan.

MBA applicant studying for GMAT

Your (Official) Practice Exam Scores Were Higher Than Your Results on the Live Exam

Because the official practice exams include questions that have been used on past live exams, official practice exams are an accurate diagnostic tool for assessing your progress. If you were overwhelmed on the day of the live GMAT and didn’t perform nearly as well as on your practice exam, you should consider retaking the exam.

You Never Used a Tutor

For the reasons described at Top GMAT Tutors: An MBA Applicant’s Best Friends, you should strongly consider using a tutor if you’ve relied on self study or group classes until now. Tutors can help you to reach a higher score, and to do so faster than you could on your own.

You Got a Great Score Even Without Studying

If you spent only a small amount of time studying for the GMAT, and got a high score anyway, you could score even higher with a small amount of additional study. We’ve seen talented applicants raise their scores from 750 → 770, or even 770 → 790, with modest investments in further study.

As explained in the section about MBA rankings, the question is not “Is my score good enough?”, but “What’s the marginal effort to raise my score, and is it worthwhile?”

You’re a Great Test Taker But Didn’t Do Very Well on the GMAT

Graduated summa cum laude? Incredible score on the SAT or the ACT? If so, you should be able to score well on the GMAT. If your GMAT doesn’t measure up to your other academic achievements, it’s a sign that you should probably study more and retake.

Other GMAT Questions

Is it OK to Take the GMAT Multiple Times?

Yes. In fact, taking the exam more than once can show your desire to improve your profile. We once coached an applicant with a low GMAT score who had been waitlisted at a Top 10 program. We advised him to retake immediately, which he did, scoring 20 points lower than his existing score. Shortly after that, the school called to admit him! They told him that they appreciated the effort and saw it as a sign of the effort he’d put into the MBA program.

Taking the exam once, getting an OK-but-not-great score, and moving on can signal the opposite. Don’t let the school believe that you shy away from putting effort into self-improvement!

I Got 60th Percentile on the Quant, But 90th on the Verbal, So I’ll Focus on Quant Because I Want to Get to 80th Percentile on Both.

This is a big mistake that can cause you to waste time chasing a near-perfect Quant score when you could have raised your overall 800-point score much faster by focusing on the Verbal. In another article, we talk about GMAT percentiles and why they don’t usually matter. There’s a rarely discussed issue that we explain fully: the percentile curve is broken by test takers from STEM backgrounds who are unlikely to be admitted to MBA programs even with a perfect Q51.

Conclusion

Improving your GMAT score improves your chances of admission, but it’s not the only factor, which is why the rest of your MBA application is so important. Preparing a great resume, outstanding recommendation letters, and a strong set of essays can highlight your strengths, even if your GMAT is a bit weak.

If you want advice about whether you should retake, need an introduction to a great GMAT tutor, or want our help with the rest of your application, get in touch. We’re happy to help.

Appendix: Average GMAT Scores at Top MBA Programs

To get an idea of how competitive your GMAT score is, review the average score of your target school. Many schools’ admissions websites state the average GMAT of their incoming class, like this one from Harvard Business School.

Class profiles are also a great source of information to discover how you compare to the school’s average GMAT. Not only that it allows you to gain a better understanding of how you might fit into the class in terms of undergraduate major, work experience, and demographics.

Here’s a quick overview of average GMAT scores for some of the top ranking business schools (source: Poets&Quants).

School2018 2017 2016 2015 2014
Wharton732730730732728
HBS730 *729725726727
Stanford732737737732732
Booth731730726726724
Kellogg732732728724713
MIT Sloan728722724716713
Columbia732724720715716
Haas726725717715717
Tuck722722717717716
Ross (University of Michigan)720716708708702
Yale SOM724727725721719
Darden (UVA)718713712706706
Johnson (Cornell)699700700697692
Fuqua (Duke)704702695696690

(*) As of 2018, HBS publishes median scores rather than mean scores.