The question I inevitably get asked regarding GMAT is: “What is a good GMAT score?” The short answer is that a good score is the best score that you, personally, are capable of achieving – something you’ll definitely have a better sense of once you’ve sat down with a few practice tests.
The longer and equally frustrating answer is that whether a score is “good” or “bad” is pretty indeterminate. No one has yet (and business school candidates have been taking this test since the 1950s!) established a number by which to assess whether someone has “passed” or “failed” the GMAT. That said – and although there is no benchmark – average scores have tended to differ based on undergraduate major. For example, physics and computer science majors tend to score the highest. Most scores tend to fall between 390 and 620. While the average score for most of the top business schools generally falls in the upper-600-to-lower-700 range, the average GMAT score in recent years (which takes into account candidates applying to all business schools) has been around 530 or 540. GMAC publishes annual score reports for the year prior if you’re interested in the details. But I suggest you don’t get too caught up on other people’s averages. Instead, check in with the schools you plan on applying to. Each institution is likely to have a slightly different number in mind for the scores its “ideal” candidates receive. Many post averages of their entering classes on their websites. Taking a look at these will help you set your goals. If, for example, your GPA is a little lower than the average GPA of a recent entering class, your goal should be to score a little higher than that class’s mean GMAT score in order to compensate. That said (and since you’re bound to take it personally), here are some things I’d like you to keep in mind regarding your score:
Keep your scores and your expectations in perspective.
In other words, it’s going to be much more productive for you to think about “realistic” test scores than it will be to parse the difference between “good” ones and “bad” ones. If you’re reading this article because you’re already signed up for the GMAT or are on the verge of doing so, you’ve likely also set your sights on a few colleges or universities you want to attend. You probably also have a good idea what kind of scores those institutions require. If you haven’t looked at those requirements, you should do just that: they’re a great place to start, and will give you a sense of where you place relative to the schools’ general expectations.
However, don’t sabotage yourself with the numbers the school provides for you as a gauge by obsessing over them. Being attentive to the scores of your diagnostic test is going to be much more constructive. With each new test you take, consider how you can raise your score a bit from the last one. In other words, think of studying for the GMAT as a competition with yourself. There’s not too much value (or self-generosity!) in pitting yourself against the rest of the GMAT test takers worldwide. Setting realistic expectations and recognizing what your limitations are will be essential to ensuring you neither disappoint yourself nor work yourself into a frenzy.
Know when you’ve reached your optimum score.
Since we’re speaking to each other realistically here, it’s going to be crucial to keep in mind what a realistic improvement is (again, this is personal!). A 60-100 point increase from the diagnostic test is a fairly average increase for those who have put in a solid couple months of study time. Of course it’s possible to improve well beyond that, particularly if you’ve been away from math (or standardized testing in general) for a long time. A time will come (I promise!) when you’ve taken a number of consecutive practice tests and you just keep getting the same score, despite the amount of study time you’re putting in between. In an ideal world, this will coincide with when your test is scheduled for. Don’t drag out the process by continuing to reschedule the test in the hopes of “getting in” more preparation. At some point, your motivation, your attention, and your execution will start declining (so might other things, like your social skills). You’ve brushed up on your math and grammar. You’ve rectified any bad test-taking habits. You’ve learned how to pinpoint wrong answer choices instinctively. You also know you can finish the exam in a timely manner. What else is there? Take the test – for your own sake – before you either: a) reach that tragic point of diminishing returns, or b) start getting a little loopy.
Remember your acceptance into business programs is contingent on a number of factors – don’t let your GMAT preparation obscure these!
Admissions committees will consider, for example, how long you’ve been out of school and in “the real world”. They are likely to place more weight on the GMAT scores of students who have been out of school for some time than on those of students who have recently graduated (note, though, that if you are a recent graduate the GMAT score is also especially important because you lack the advantage of years of work experience that would help set you apart from those tens of thousands of candidates). Other factors that carry weight include your letters of recommendation, your work experience, and your essays. Be sure not to get so caught up in the GMAT that you fail to give each of these its requisite consideration.