GMAT Score Percentiles – What Percentile Should You Aim For?

by Maximilian Claessens
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GMAT Score Percentiles - What Percentile Should You Aim For?

Your GMAT score report will provide a percentile ranking for both your individual section scores and your aggregate score, as well as the overall percentile ranking. But what do the GMAT score percentiles mean? Well, according to your percentile score, you outperformed a certain percentage of test-takers. If you did better than 75% of other participants, you have a rating in the 75th percentile. The remaining 25 percent obtained a score equal to or greater than yours. So if you got a GMAT score in the high percentile, you did better than most other test takers.

You scored lower than most of the test-takers if your GMAT score percentile score is low. Your GMAT percentiles have been determined based on information collected from test takers over the course of the last three years. GMAT score percentiles are revised every summer.

Your percentiles may have changed after you originally received your score report if you took the GMAT some time ago. Percentiles may vary over time because they are updated yearly. As mean GMAT scores have grown, GMAT score percentiles have generally moved downward.

Read on to learn more about GMAT score percentiles and what percentile you should aim for when taking the GMAT.

GMAT Score Percentile – Total Scores

The latest information on the overall GMAT score and percentile rankings is provided in the table below. A total GMAT score of 730, for instance, represents the 95th percentile. In other words, you did better than 95% of GMAT test takers, which is good. However, your score would be far less competitive if it had a percentile rating below 60%, and 40% of candidates had a higher score than you did.

You may see where you stand by using this comparison rating; a percentile ranking of 99 makes your score extremely competitive because just 1% of candidates have a score higher than yours. A percentile score of 90% or more is preferred when applying to the best business schools.

Total ScorePercentileTotal ScorePercentile
80099%49025%
79099%48023%
78099%47021%
77099%46018%
76099%45017%
75098%44015%
74097%43014%
73095%42012%
72094%41011%
71090%40010%
70088%3909%
69085%3808%
68082%3707%
67080%3607%
66077%3506%
65073%3405%
64068%3304%
63066%3204%
62063%3103%
61059%3003%
60056%2903%
59052%2802%
58049%2702%
57046%2602%
56042%2502%
55039%2401%
54037%2301%
53033%2201%
52031%2100%
51029%2000%
50027%2000%

GMAT Score Percentile of Different Sections

Meanwhile, section scores are also assigned percentile rankings.

The verbal and quantitative sections’ scaled scores are from 0–60. Candidates do, however, typically obtain scores between 6 and 51. The scaled scores for the Quantitative and Verbal parts are displayed in the tables below, along with their percentile rankings.

GMAT Quant Percentiles

The Quantitative section of the GMAT is graded using a scale that ranges from 0 to 60 points. Take a look at the following table for the GMAT Quantitative Score Percentiles to get a feel of how your results compare. This graph shows your scaled sectional score in Quant and its percentile rather than your raw GMAT score and percentiles.

QUANT PERCENTILEQUANT SCALED SCORE
97%51
87%50
74%49
67%48
59%47
56%46
53%45
47%44
44%43
39%42
37%41
35%40
31%39
29%38
28%37
25%36
22%35
21%34
20%33
17%32
15%31
15%30
13%29
12%28
10%27
10%26
8%24-25
7%23
6%22
5%20-21
4%18-19
3%14-17
2%12-13
1%7-11
0%6

GMAT Verbal Percentiles

The percentiles and scores for the GMAT Quant section are different from those for the GMAT Verbal section; however, the possible range of scores remains the same. The GMAT Verbal percentile and score table is below.

VERBAL PERCENTILEVERBAL SCALED SCORE
99%45-51
98%44
96%42
94%41
90%40
88%39
84%38
82%37
80%36
75%35
70%34
68%33
65%32
60%31
58%30
55%29
50%28
45%27
42%26
38%25
35%24
31%23
29%22
25%21
22%20
18%19
17%18
14%17
11%16
9%15
8%14
6%13
4%12
3%11
2%10
2%9
1%7-8
0%6

GMAT AWA Percentiles

Despite the fact that your results on the AWA and IR sections do not contribute to your overall score, which ranges from 200 to 800, nevertheless, business schools will evaluate your performance anyway. Scores for GMAT essays range from 0 to 6, with each half-point representing one point. Yes, a half-point may, and frequently does, have a considerable influence on your writing percentile on the GMAT.

AWA PERCENTILEAWA SCORE
88%6
81%5.5
57%5
47%4.5
18%4
12%3.5
4%3
3%2.5
1%0.5-2
00

GMAT IR Percentiles

You shouldn’t be astonished to discover that the Integrated Reasoning (IR) component of the GMAT has its own scoring system; its grade ranges from 1 to 8. In contrast to the AWA, IR scores are given in full points rather than in half-point increments. This has a major impact on IR percentiles.

Here is how the GMAT score versus percentiles for IR looks.

IR PERCENTILEIR SCORE
90%8
79%7
64%6
48%5
31%4
18%3
8%2
0%1

Changes in GMAT Score Percentiles

You can see by looking at score reports from the preceding 15 years that the average GMAT scores have improved over time. As a result, the GMAT score percentiles for quantitative and overall scores have become more competitive. For instance, the average GMAT score in the 80th percentile in 2000 was 630. However, this day’s result is different since it only matches the 69th percentile.

As an increasing number of people get excellent GMAT scores, particularly on the math section, it is harder to get a high percentile. According to The Wall Street Journal, math percentile rankings have grown increasingly competitive as more and more overseas students are taking the GMAT. When students from countries with strong math capabilities, such as China and India, make up a larger number of test-takers, it becomes harder to achieve the top percentile.

On the other hand, it’s still uncommon for test takers to achieve high grades in the difficult Verbal portion. You will still score in the 99th percentile if your verbal section score is 45 or above from 60. Do the same in Quant and you’ll only be in the 59th percentile.

Business schools are aware of the cyclical nature of GMAT score percentiles. Although they don’t have a set threshold, they do take your GMAT percentiles into account when assessing your application.

Business Schools Stance on GMAT Score Percentiles

As usual, the admissions process is thorough and not only GMAT-focused. But the greater the competition is, the better your percentile score. If you show up with a percentile score of 100, you were the test taker with the highest score, and just 1% of students scored higher than you if you were in the 99th percentile. With such scores, it is quite unlikely to be rejected of course.

If you lie in the 50th or 60th percentile, in contrast, your scores are not as competitive. Additionally, if your GMAT score is really low—below the 50th percentile—you may need to retake the test and, unfortunately, pay the GMAT exam fee a second time.

Understand that certain institutions may have minimum Quant sectional scores. It is also often claimed that the two portions should have a “balanced score.”

To predict the GMAT score you’ll need to get into a prestigious college, it is helpful to look at average GMAT scores for the best programs. If you go through this list, you’ll see that they all tend to score better than 700, sometimes even far higher, like Columbia did (average score of 732!).

Utilizing the tables above, convert this to percentiles. A score of 732 would be close to the 96th percentile on the GMAT, whereas a 700 would be in the 88th percentile. Clearly, getting into an elite business school requires you to outperform most of your peers.

Although it may not always be needed, having a rating in the top 10 percent of GMAT candidates (placing yourself in the 90th percentile or higher) is unquestionably helpful if you’re applying to a top-10 university.

Business SchoolAverage GMAT ScoreAverage GMAT Percentile
Stanford University73796-97%
Harvard University730 (median)96%
University of Pennsylvania (Wharton)73096%
Yale University730 (median)96%
University of Chicago (Booth)72694-96%
Northwestern University (Kellogg)72494-96%
New York University (Stern)72094%
Dartmouth College (Tuck)71791-94%
Columbia University71791-94%
University of California—Berkeley (Haas)71591-94%
Massachusetts Institute of Technology (Sloan)710 (median)91-94%
University of Virginia (Darden)70689-91%
University of Michigan Ann Arbor (Ross)70289-91%
Cornell University (Johnson)70089%
Duke University (Fuqua)69686-99%
Overall Average71995%

Difficulty of High Quant Percentiles (vs. Verbal)

Comparing the pool of people who take the GMAT with the pool of people who get admitted to elite MBA schools reveals a significant difference. There is a considerable pool of applicants with technical or scientific expertise who may want or wish to get admitted to a top MBA school… but do not have a professional profile that is eligible for admission consideration.

Imagine, for instance, a candidate who completed their software engineering education in China and went on to work as a programmer for the subsequent six years on back-end software systems. During this time, they had no interactions with customers or business partners. Imagine for a moment that Mandarin is the major language spoken at the place of employment. It’s possible that he is phenomenal at what he does and has a bright future in the field of software engineering. A perfect score of 51 on the GMAT’s Quantitative portion may well be possible for such a candidate. As a result of the fact that English is only his second language, he receives a lower score on the Verbal section—perhaps 32 out of 51.

In spite of this, aspirants such as this one choose to take the GMAT nevertheless in the hopes of receiving an admission letter from one of the top MBA programs. No matter how well they perform on the GMAT, if they do not meet these other requirements, the odds will always be stacked against them.

There are thousands of people that sign up to take the GMAT and meet this kind of description. Because of the thousands of scores of 50 or 51 in the Quantitative section and 30 to 35 in the Verbal section, the GMAT score percentiles are massively distorted. As a result, many applicants may have the impression that they score very well on the Verbal section but very poorly on the Quantitative section.

In other words, getting into a high Quant percentile is much more difficult than obtaining a high Verbal percentile. But do not worry! Your GMAT percentile scores are only a different way of expressing your result. Business schools are primarily interested in your total (not percentile) score and the section subscores.

Determining Target GMAT Scores and Percentiles

You should be more concerned with achieving a target GMAT score than focusing on a specific GMAT score percentile because percentiles fluctuate from year to year. Find out what your target GMAT score should be by researching the requirements of the institutions to which you plan to apply to.

The majority of colleges make their average GMAT acceptance rates public. These details are available on each school’s website. If you can’t find it, you may contact the admissions office by phone or email directly for further information.

After exploring business schools, spend some time getting acquainted with the GMAT, including its format and scoring. Create a customized study scheme that will assist you in achieving your desired score and demonstrating to admissions committees that you are a good candidate.

Final Thoughts

Percentiles are helpful for MBA programs since they let universities know how you scored on the GMAT in comparison to other applicants. However, the percentile scores should not be your main attention. Instead, focus on getting a good GMAT score, and of course ideally great scores on both the Quant and Verbal sections. These will be the main point of attention for the business schools you’re applying to, too. In addition, your scores do not change over time, while the corresponding percentiles do if you compare scores from previous years to those from the current year.

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