How Does GMAT Scoring Work?

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If we had to define our relationship with GMAT scoring on Facebook, we’d have to go with “It’s complicated.” Everyone’s test looks a little different, and the GMAT uses adaptive testing and equating to assign comparable scores across various versions of the test. So how is the GMAT scored, exactly?

This guide will tell you everything you need to know about GMAT scoring. To start, let’s go over the score ranges for section and total scores.

 

How Is the GMAT Scored? What Is the Score Range?

There are four sections on the GMAT, Analytical Writing Assessment (AWA), Integrated Reasoning (IR), Quantitative, and Verbal, in that order. You’ll get a score for each of these four sections. You’ll also get a total score, which is made up of Quantitative and Verbal. AWA and IR don’t count toward your total score.

Your AWA GMAT score can have half points, while your IR, Quantitative, and Verbal scores come in intervals of one. Your total scores are presented in intervals of 10. This chart shows the GMAT score range and score intervals of each section.

Section Score Range Score Intervals
Analytical Writing Assessment 0 – 6 0.5
Integrated Reasoning 1 – 8 1
Quantitative 0 – 60 1
Verbal 0 – 60 1
Total Score 200 – 800 10

You won’t have to wait long to get your GMAT results. In fact, you won’t have to wait any time at all.

Right after you finish the exam, you’ll get an unofficial GMAT score report with your IR, Quantitative, Verbal, and total scores. At this point, you can decide whether you want to keep your GMAT scores or cancel them and try again another time. If you decide to keep your scores, you’ll get your official GMAT score report, which includes your AWA score, about 20 days later.

Before looking closer at each section, let’s talk about the total score between 200 and 800. Where does it come from, and how is it calculated?

 

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Consult the chart above as you wind your way through the GMAT score ranges.

 

How Is the GMAT Total Score Calculated?

As mentioned above, you’ll see your GMAT total score immediately after you finish taking the test. The total score falls between 200 and 800, and it’s based entirely on your Quantitative and Verbal scores.

Both the Quantitative and Verbal sections are adaptive, meaning that the difficulty levels of questions changes to match your ability, and everyone’s test looks a little bit different. This adaptive format also means that we have no clear way of calculating Quantitative or Verbal scores and, as a result, no clear way of calculating the GMAT total score.

On a non-adaptive test, we could take the raw score, or number of questions you get right, and turn it into a scaled score. The GMAT, though, doesn’t just take how many questions you got right into account. It also considers how difficult each of those questions were, as well as how many questions you answered.

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To assign Quantitative, Verbal, and total scores to everyone’s test, GMAC uses a complex scoring algorithm. This algorithm is central to its business, so GMAC isn’t exactly planning to spill its secrets anytime soon. When it comes to the GMAT total score, we must accept a certain degree of mystery about its origins.

What we do know is that the GMAT total score is based on how many math and verbal questions you got right, how many you answered, and how difficult each question was. We also know that there is a score penalty for not finishing the section, so you should try to answer every question in each section. It’s better to get a question wrong than not to answer it at all.

While we can’t crack the code of the GMAT scoring algorithm, we can deduce some intel about how the sections are scored. Let’s take a closer look at scoring in the GMAT Quantitative and Verbal sections.

 

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Unfortunately, we don’t have a totally clear view of how GMAT Quantitative, Verbal, or total scores are calculated. Instead, the process is covered with a thick fog.

 

GMAT Scoring: Quantitative and Verbal Sections

The Quantitative and Verbal sections share several similarities. Both are 75 minutes long, and both are scored between 0 and 60 in one-point intervals. It’s rare for anyone to score below a 7 or above a 50 in Quantitative or below a 9 or above a 44 in Verbal – this would place you in the bottom or top 1% of all test takers, respectively.

As discussed above, both the Quantitative and Verbal sections are adaptive, meaning that your selection of questions changes as you go through the test. Basically, adaptive testing works like this — if you get a question right, then your next question will be a bit more difficult. If you get a question wrong, then your next one should be easier.

Again, GMAT uses a complex algorithm to select questions with a difficulty level that matches your ability and to assign comparable scores to different forms of the test. Each Quantitative or Verbal question you get will refine your section GMAT score a little more to get an accurate measure your skills.

The Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC) keeps its complex algorithm under lock and key. What we do know if that it’s important for you to answer every question in a section before time runs out, or you’ll face a severe score penalty.

We also that know that on average, more people score highly on the Quantitative section than on the Verbal section. The result of this imbalance is that you need to score especially highly in math to rank in a high percentile, as rankings are now very competitive.

Finally, we know that some of the questions in both sections are experimental. These questions are given to test out new material for future tests, and they won’t count toward your GMAT results at all. Unfortunately, you have no way of knowing which ones they are.

Now let’s take a look at the somewhat more transparent scoring system of the Integrated Reasoning section.

 

Thanks to adaptive testing, no two versions of the GMAT will look exactly alike.
Thanks to adaptive testing, no two versions of the GMAT look exactly alike.

 

GMAT Scoring: Integrated Reasoning Section

Unlike the Quantitative and Verbal sections, the 30-minute Integrated Reasoning section is not adaptive. You’ll get 12 questions, a few of which will likely be experimental. The whole section will be scored between 1 and 8 in intervals of one.

While everyone will get different questions, all test takers will get the same four question types: graphics interpretation, two-part analysis, table analysis, and multi-source reasoning. If you find yourself getting a disproportionate number of a certain question type, then some of those might be experimental. However, you really have no way of knowing which ones won’t be scored.

While GMAC doesn’t share the way it converts raw IR scores to scaled scores, we can guess that each question is worth about a point. The exact way your scores get adjusted may change depending on the overall difficulty level of your group of questions. If you got an especially tough IR section, then you may have a little more room for error than someone who got easier questions.

Even though most IR questions feature multiple statements, you don’t have the opportunity for partial credit. You must get all parts of a question correct to get points.


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You’ll see your IR score when you finish the GMAT, but it doesn’t count toward your total scores.

 

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Unfortunately, you can’t get any partial credit for Integrated Reasoning problems. Getting one statement wrong means no credit for the entire question.

 

GMAT Scoring: Analytical Writing

We have the clearest sense of how the AWA section is scored. Your essay will receive two independent ratings between 0 and 6. One of these ratings will be performed by an expert reader, and the other might be done by an automated essay-scoring engine. According to GMAC, this machine evaluates over 50 structural and linguistic features.

Readers are sensitive to the fact that not all test takers are native English speakers. If their rating differs from the machine score by more than one point, then a third reader will provide an evaluation and help give the essay a final score.

Your essays will be scored on the quality, organization, and development of your ideas, your supporting examples, and the strength of your writing. You can check out the rubric that graders use to evaluate AWA essays here.

To get a top score of 6, you must present a “cogent, well articulated critique of the argument” with logical organization, clear transitions, variety in diction and syntax, and superior control of language. A 6 essay doesn’t have to be perfect. In fact, you can have minor flaws and still get a top score.

If something seems off about your AWA score, then you can request a rescore within six months after you take the GMAT for a fee of $45. This score will be final, even if it ends up being lower than the original one.

Now that you have a sense of how scoring works on the GMAT, let’s consider an important question that’s on everyone’s mind when they start learning about the test — what makes a good score on the GMAT?

 

robot
Your AWA essay will be graded by one human and one machine. Can you spot the difference?!

 

What’s a Good Score on the GMAT?

So, what’s a good score on the GMAT? That all depends on where you’re looking to gain admission to business school. Schools don’t set a strict cutoff, but you can get a sense of what they want by looking at the average scores of accepted students.

Total scores above 700 will make you a competitive candidate for selective business schools, with the top 10 schools, like Harvard Business School and Wharton, averaging around a 720.

As for the average of all GMAT test takers? That’s a bit lower at 551.94. If you’re looking to evaluate your score based on its competitiveness, you can do so by looking at your percentiles.

Each of your scores will be assigned a percentile that tells you how many students you scored better than. Scoring in the 80th percentile, for instance, means you scored better than 80% of other test takers.

The chart below shows how total GMAT scores match up with percentiles. You’ll see total scores in intervals of 50, but you can check out this guide to how percentiles work on the GMAT for the full list at every score interval.

Total Score Percentile
760-800 99%
750 98%
700 89%
650 76%
600 59%
550 43%
500 30%
450 19%
400 11%
340-350 6%
280-300 3%
250-270 2%

Anything above a 560 means that you scored higher than average. You’d have to score higher than 700 to make it into the 90th percentile.

To figure out what’s a good score for you, you should research business schools, pick out your top ones, and figure out the average GMAT scores of accepted students. Beyond figuring out your target scores, how else can you prepare for the test?

 

percent
Percentile rankings show you how competitive your scores are compared to the scores of everyone else.

 

What GMAT Scoring Means for You: 5 Prep Tips

While GMAC keeps a proprietary hold on its scoring practices, what we do know about how the GMAT is scored can help us refine our approach to taking the test. Consider the five tips below as you get ready to take the GMAT.

 

#1: Aim to Answer All of the Questions

While we don’t know exactly how raw scores convert to scaled scores, we do know that answering all of the questions is extremely important for your final scores. There is a steep penalty for failing to answer all of the questions in a section.

On average, you have about two minutes per question. Of course, it may make sense to devote more time to certain question types than to others. To develop a sense of pacing, you should take practice tests and stay aware of the timer.

The timer will tell you what question you’re on and how much time you have left as you take the test. If you find yourself wasting too much time on a question, then you should make your best guess and move on. To get your best scores, your priority is answering all of the questions in each section before time runs out.

 

#2: Don’t Try to Evaluate Difficulty Level

As you know, the Quantitative and Verbal sections are adaptive. Your selection of questions gets adjusted to match your ability level. As you take the test, though, you should try to put this out of your head completely.

Trying to gauge your progress as you work is a waste of mental energy. You have no way of knowing how the algorithm is working or how your score is being adjusted as you go along.

Rather than trying to determine whether a question is easier or harder than the previous one, simply focus your energy on solving the problem. You’ll see your scores soon enough.

 

hand
Don’t try to crack the complex GMAT code as you go along. Save your energy for solving problems rather than trying to figure out whether you got a question right or wrong.

 

#3: Treat All Questions Equally

There’s a persistent myth that the first 10 questions in the Quantitative and Verbal sections are most important to your section scores. However, we have zero evidence saying that this is true.

Instead, it appears that your scores are continuously adjusted as you go along. To achieve your target score, you should treat all questions as equally important, rather than spend valuable time on the first 10 and rush through the others.

 

#4: Forget About Experimental Questions

Just as you shouldn’t try to evaluate your own performance as you’re taking the test, you also shouldn’t try to root out experimental questions. They will blend in with all the other questions.

As many as 25% of your questions on the GMAT could be experimental, but you don’t know which ones they are. To get a high score, you should treat all questions equally rather than trying to uncover those which won’t count. There’s really no way to game the system to boost your GMAT score.

If you find yourself feeling discouraged that a question totally stumped you, just tell yourself it was probably experimental and didn’t count anyway. You never know, a tough question might be unscored material. Rather than letting it get in your head, use this mental strategy to keep on plugging away.

 

chameleon
There’s no way of knowing which questions on the GMAT are experimental and unscored. They blend in with all the others!

 

#5: Just Keep Swimming

This advice is as good for GMAT test takers as it is for forgetful blue tang fish. There’s a lot going on behind the scenes in terms of scoring and question selection as you take the GMAT, but all you should be doing is focusing on the questions.

You have to solve tough problems, apply advanced reasoning skills, and do your best over a three and a half hour exam. Rather than wondering how your scores are being adjusted through the math and verbal sections, you should “just keep swimming” along while aiming to answer all of the questions before time is up.

Don’t let a tough question shake your confidence, because you can’t return to it, and it might have been experimental anyway. You can obsess over confusing questions after you finish the test and take a look at your scores.

As we finish up, let’s go over some key facts you need to remember about GMAT scoring and how it affects your approach to studying for and taking the GMAT.

 

How Is the GMAT Scored? Final Thoughts

Right after you finish taking the test, you’ll get a preview of your GMAT results. This unofficial GMAT score report will tell you your Integrated Reasoning score, Quantitative score, Verbal score, and total scores.

At this point, you can decide whether you want to keep or cancel your scores. Since you only have two minutes to decide before your scores are automatically canceled, you should go into the test knowing which scores you’d keep and which ones you’d discard.

GMAC uses complex algorithms to assign comparable scores across different versions of the test. Even if you get an easier or more difficult group of questions than your neighbor, your GMAT score should be comparable. Scores are adjusted to match your ability level and the difficulty level of the questions on your particular version of the exam.

Since the scoring system is complex, there’s really no way to game the system. You should treat all questions equally, and try not to get distracted by the adaptive format or the fact that there are experimental questions scattered throughout the exam.

Try your best to develop a solid test-taking rhythm that will help you answer all of the questions before time is called. By devoting hours to prepping for the GMAT, you can become a strategic and efficient test taker and achieve your target GMAT score.

 

What’s Next?

Now that you know how the GMAT is scored, learn more about what your score means with our guide to what a good GMAT score is.

Are you ready to start studying for the GMAT? Check out this guide for the best GMAT study strategies, including targeted prep tips for each section.

Do you know how the GMAT is structured? This GMAT format breakdown explains what’s on each section, plus it has sample questions of each question type.

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Author: Rebecca Safier

Rebecca graduated with her Master's in Adolescent Counseling from the Harvard Graduate School of Education. She has years of teaching and college counseling experience and is passionate about helping students achieve their goals and improve their well-being. She graduated magna cum laude from Tufts University.

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