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Why GMAT Practice Test Scores Vary

Magoosh’s students take the best GMAT practice tests they can find. Which is the best GMAT practice test? It depends. The Manhattan GMAT practice test and ones from Magoosh and GMAC come to mind. Others too.

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Once our students have taken several practice tests, it’s not uncommon for Magoosh to get student questions like this one:

I recently took a practice test and it was much lower than my other practice tests. I’ve been studying for awhile now, and I am freaking out a little bit. Shouldn’t I be improving? Here are the scores from my practice tests.

Practice test 1: 580

Practice test 2: 620

Practice test 3: 590

Practice test 4: 550

What happened? Can you help me improve? I don’t want this to happen when I take the test.

This is a common question that we encounter at Magoosh—a student is taking practice tests and their scores are all over the place. Shouldn’t there be some trend, like going up, after lots of practice? In theory, there should. But this is not always the case. Why?

This statistical variation is common and happens for a number of reasons. Let’s explore some of the reasons for this variation.

Varied Testing Conditions for GMAT Practice Tests

The overall circumstances surrounding your practice GMAT exams can cause a lot of variation in test scores. Below, we’ll look at three of the biggest circumstantial contributors to inconsistent scoring during GMAT practice:

  • Different Testing Environment
    Our surroundings have a powerful influence over us. If you take the same test twice, but change the testing environment, you can expect to see a difference in scores. The difference between sitting in your room and going to a private study room at the local library to take a practice test is dramatic. One spot is obviously more ideal than the other. And by “ideal,” I mean that it is more like the testing environment for the real exam. Did you vary your testing environment? Was your low score from the test you took while in a cafe? Look no further. You found the culprit then. Make sure that you emulate the testing environment that you will see on test day.
  • Different Diet
    What you put– or don’t put– into your body matters. Think back to what you ate in the 24 hours leading up to your GMAT practice test. Was your belly full of sweets or junk food? Did you skip a meal? Did you indulge in delectable southern BBQ? That might have been the difference. To optimize your score and your ability to succeed, you need to eat well. And not just before the test, but all the time. You need to give your brain the food it needs. Eat fish, almonds, avocados, garlic, and blueberries. Here is a great “brain food” infographic on what to eat and why.
  • Different Sleep Patterns
    Erratic and irregular sleep patterns are detrimental to learning and performance. Research into the causes of poor grades shows that a consistent eight hours of sleep is an important part of learning. Not only will it boost your focus and performance, but it will also keep you positive and foster emotional health. Make it a point to sleep enough before your test. And if you want all those daytime hours of studying to really make a difference in your GMAT scores, you need to get plenty of sleep in the weeks leading up to the test.

Different GMAT Practice Tests

The most obvious reason for inconsistent practice GMAT scores is the use of practice tests from different companies. Each test prep company creates questions of varying quality. And this quality affects students’ scores. Poorly created questions, like you might see with the Princeton Review, will not give you an accurate prediction of your score.

But getting consistent GMAT practice scores isn’t just a matter of choosing well-deigned practice tests. We also have to think about how test prep companies calculate your estimated score at the end of the test. No company knows exactly what the GMAC– the official maker of the GMAT– does to convert a raw score into a scaled score. As such, each company has to approximate this conversion, and each company does something slightly different. Since this is not standardized across practice tests, you can definitely expect to see variations in the scaled score from test to test.

How Magoosh Calculates GMAT Practice Test Scores

Like other providers of unofficial GMAT test prep, we have to do our best to approximate our students’ scores. To estimate a student’s score from a mock test, we look at how students performed on Magoosh questions and compare this to the score they get on the actual test after they practice with us. With this information, we calculate a predicted scaled score based on a student’s percent correct on Magoosh questions.

As more and more students have continued to use Magoosh and take the GMAT, our predictions have become more and more accurate. Still, we’re cautious about predicting an exact score, because the correlation between a Magoosh student’s practice scores and their real score can vary a bit. To account for this variability, we provide students with a score range rather than a single score. Sharat’s a post on how to calculate GMAT scores gives additional details about how we predict a student’s performance.

The Value of the Manhattan GMAT Practice Test

Better-designed questions with fewer mistakes, such as the ones on Manhattan GMAT practice tests, make for a more accurate assessment… but not a perfect one. (I hear grumblings in forums about inflated verbal scores on Manhattan tests). Overall, though, Manhattan GMAT practice tests and materials are highly recommended by Magoosh. Manhattan offers great support in both predicting and maximizing your GMAT score.

Not only that, but Manhattan GMAT also offers supplemental material to the ultimate, “must have” source of GMAT practice testing. This brings us to….

The Best GMAT Practice Test

The best GMAT practice test you can get for free is the one you can download from GMAC itself. If you want the best prediction of your score on the test, use this exam and other practice testing materials from the people who make the real GMAT. Only official GMAT materials are guaranteed to completely capture the true nature of the exam. You can go to’s GMAT store catalog for the newest official GMAT materials. Of course, you don’t necessarily need to buy the most recent GMAT books. Be sure to check websites like for additional, slightly older official GMAT books. Anything from 2013 or later will be accurate to the format of the current test.

Score Variation & The Best GMAT Practice Test: Takeaway

Variation in practice test scores (even from the best, most official materials) is normal and expected. Many factors affect the predicted score you receive on a practice test. Ultimately, don’t invest too much in the estimated scores. Remember that it is only a predication and not necessarily accurate. Use practice tests as a way to simulate the test, not as a untainted measure of your GMAT score.

Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in December 2013 and has been updated for freshness, accuracy, and comprehensiveness.

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