How to Get a Top Score on the New GMAT

GMAT Error Log - image by Magoosh

Aiming for a top score on the GMAT is a goal shared by many aspiring MBA applicants. With the introduction of the updated GMAT back in November 2023, understanding how close your current score is to your ultimate goal and just how to achieve a score that places you in the highest percentiles requires a fresh approach. This guide will walk you through the essentials, from understanding the new scoring system to strategic study tips that will help you achieve an impressive GMAT score.

Understand How the Test is Scored

The new GMAT has redefined what constitutes a top score. Previously, a score of 700+ was considered the gold standard, placing test-takers in the upper echelon. Now, the scoring system has been revamped, and it’s crucial to grasp these changes to set realistic goals.

New GMAT Scoring:

  1. Overall Score Composition: The total score ranges from 205 to 805, incorporating three main sections: Quantitative Reasoning, Verbal Reasoning, and Data Insights. Each section contributes equally to your overall score. Thus, it is essential to perform well on all three sections if you’re trying to achieve a top score.
  2. Percentile Rankings: Percentiles are what MBA programs use to evaluate an applicant’s GMAT performance. Therefore, understanding percentile rankings is critical for setting your target score and developing an effective study plan. For example, if you set your sights on a top-tier programs, you should aim for a score in at least the 90th percentile, which corresponds to a GMAT score of 645. For a more in depth look at GMAT percentiles, check out our post on Score Charts and Percentile Rankings.

Know Your Baseline Score

One of the most important steps in your GMAT prep is to know your starting point–a.k.a your baseline score. If you hope to land in one of the highest GMAT percentiles, you need to know the gap between your starting score and your dream score. Take a full-length practice test as soon as possible to determine the progress you need to make.

Know Where to Focus

Achieving a high score requires a strategic approach. Check out the top tips from a Magoosh student who scored in the 99th percentile!

Now, let’s take a high-level look at where and how to focus your efforts in each part of the exam to achieve a top GMAT score.

Quantitative Reasoning

Key Topics: Algebra, Coordinate Geometry, Arithmetic, and Word Problems.

Hardest Question Types:

  1. Advanced Algebra: Topics such as quadratic equations, functions, and inequalities can be challenging, particularly when they are part of word problems that require setting up and solving complex equations.
  2. Coordinate Geometry: Problems involving properties and equations of lines and curves in the coordinate plane can be difficult, especially when they require multi-step reasoning and integration of various algebraic concepts.
  3. Complex Word Problems: These problems often require multiple steps and the integration of various mathematical concepts, making them time-consuming and prone to errors.

Strategy: Master fundamental concepts and practice with advanced problem sets to increase speed and accuracy. Focus on breaking down complex problems into manageable steps and become adept at quickly identifying the most efficient solution path.

Verbal Reasoning

Key Topics: Reading Comprehension and Critical Reasoning.

Hardest Question Types:

  1. Reading Comprehension: Long passages with dense, complex information. These questions often require not just understanding the content but also making inferences and understanding the author’s tone and purpose.
  2. Critical Reasoning: These questions test your ability to evaluate arguments and reasoning. The hardest ones often involve abstract concepts or multi-part logical structures that require a deep understanding of the argument’s components.
  3. Inference Questions: These questions, in both Reading Comprehension and Critical Reasoning, require you to draw logical conclusions based on information provided in the passage, which can be tricky when the passage is abstract or densely written.

Strategy: Improve your reading speed and comprehension by regularly reading complex materials. Focus on identifying argument structures and common logical fallacies. Practice breaking down passages and questions to their core components and systematically eliminating incorrect answer choices.

Data Insights

Key Topics: Data Interpretation, Multi-Source Reasoning, Graphics Interpretation, and Data Sufficiency.

Hardest Question Types:

  1. Multi-Source Reasoning: These questions present information in various formats (tables, graphs, text) and require synthesizing data from multiple sources to answer complex questions.
  2. Graphics Interpretation: Interpreting and analyzing data from charts, graphs, and other visual data presentations can be challenging, especially when the questions involve multi-step calculations or require drawing inferences from incomplete data.
  3. Quantitative and Verbal Data Sufficiency: These questions call upon both quantitative and verbal skills, requiring a unique approach to determine the sufficiency of given information.

Strategy: Get comfortable with different data formats and practice synthesizing information quickly. Familiarize yourself with interpreting complex data sets and practice using logical and analytical skills to draw conclusions. Use a systematic approach to determine the sufficiency of information and become proficient in handling multi-step problems efficiently.

Never Make a Mistake More Than Once

The path to a high GMAT score is paved with learning from your errors. Here’s how to ensure you don’t repeat mistakes:

  1. Error Log: Maintain a detailed log of every mistake you make during practice. Include the type of error, the reason behind it, and the correct approach. Check out Magoosh’s free Error Log Template.
  2. Review Regularly: Periodically review your error log to identify patterns. This will help you pinpoint areas that need more focus.
  3. Targeted Practice: Once you identify common mistakes, engage in targeted practice to strengthen those weak areas. This focused approach will help you eliminate recurring errors.

Study Consistently

Consistency is key to mastering the GMAT. Here are some tips to help you maintain a steady study routine:

  1. Daily Practice: Allocate time each day for GMAT preparation. Even if it’s just an hour, daily practice helps reinforce learning and build momentum.
  2. Balanced Study Plan: There is a lot of ground to cover in preparing for the GMAT. If you haven’t done so already, you’ll want to organize your efforts into a realistic study schedule like the ones available through Magoosh. Ensure your study plan covers all sections of the test. Avoid over-focusing on one area at the expense of others, and if you’re striving for an elite score, you’ll need to consider building a schedule curted for more advanced students.
  3. Use Quality Resources: Invest in reputable GMAT prep materials, like those found in GMAC’s Official Guide, Magoosh, or Manhattan. If you find that you need additional structure and support, consider investing in a prep course. Check out Magoosh’s Free One-Week GMAT Prep Course Trial .
  4. Take Practice Tests: Regularly take full-length practice tests under timed conditions. This not only builds stamina but also helps you get accustomed to the test’s format and timing.

Final Thoughts

Scoring in the 90th (or above) percentile on the new GMAT requires a deep understanding of the test’s format, strategic focus on key areas, diligent error management, and consistent study habits. By following the guidelines outlined in this post, you’ll be well on your way to achieving a top score and opening the doors to the business school of your dreams.

Happy studying, and best of luck on your GMAT journey!


  • Linnea Newman

    Over the last 15 years, Linnea has worked with students of all ages and abilities in the U.S. and abroad, trained new teachers for the classroom, and written curricula for various test types. Her past experience includes tutoring TOEFL, ISEE, SSAT, ACT, SAT, GRE, LSAT, and GMAT students for The Princeton Review and working as the Director of Instruction Management for The Princeton Review Taipei. Her expertise runs the gamut of standardized tests, but there’s a special place in her heart for the verbal and essay components. Looking for a way to help more students, especially those who were unable to afford access to expensive test prep programs, Linnea joined Magoosh in 2019. She is a member of the Content Team, who connects with students as a blog contributor and through various lessons and other content on the Magoosh platform.

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