GMAT Score – From Score Reports to Score Charts

GMAT Scores - image by Magoosh
It’s all been leading up to this moment–after weeks (or months!) of study, more than three hours at the test center, and dozens of questions, you submit your final answer on the GMAT. But instead of seeing a simple GMAT score, four different scores pop up–along with a two-minute timer, already counting down, asking whether you want to keep or cancel these scores! 😱

If this sounds stressful, you’re not alone. A lot of test-takers find this moment overwhelming. But by preparing for what you’ll see on test day, and knowing what types of score reports are available, you’ll be in a much better position to make the right decision for you when that final screen appears.

So just what do those scores mean? In this post, we’ll take a look at how the GMAT’s scored and what your scores mean before doing a deep dive into your score report and how admissions committees will use it.

Table of Contents

How Do GMAT Score Reports Work?

Once you submit your final question, your unofficial scores are provided to you when you are emotionally exhausted and in a highly vulnerable state. A two minute timer is counting down, there are four scores on-screen, and you have to make a decision: would you like to keep or cancel your score? While you get most of your GMAT score right away as soon as you are done with your test, you won’t receive the rest, the whole kit-and-caboodle, until about 20 days later.

Types of GMAT Score Reports

In short, there are three types of GMAT score reports:

  • initial
  • official
  • enhanced

You’ll get the initial report immediately after completing the test, while the official report will follow about three weeks later and you’ll only get an enhanced score report if you order it.

Initial Score Report

The computer will give you a preview of your overall GMAT score (everything except the AWA score), and ask you if you want to cancel your score. You have two minutes to make this decision and if you do nothing, your score will be automatically canceled. If you keep your score, trudge all the way home, and decide you’d like to cancel, you have the option to cancel your score online for $25 USD within 72 hours of completing the exam.

Anyway, this is the very first time you will see the most important number, your total GMAT score. Obviously, it’s extremely important to be strategic and to have worked out in your mind well beforehand what kind of score you would cancel the whole GMAT for.

If you choose to cancel your score at that moment, you don’t see anything else. You can choose to reinstate this GMAT within 60 days, to the current tune of $50 USD. (Essentially, that’s a financial penalty you would pay for not thinking strategically and carefully enough beforehand.)

If you do not choose to cancel your score, you’ll get the initial score printed at the test center, which will include the following:

SectionNumber of points
IRIntegers from 1 to 8
Quant subscoreIntegers from 0 to 60
Verbal subscoreIntegers from 0 to 60
Total GMAT score (composed of quant + verbal)Integers from 200 to 800

Notice that the AWA section is not yet included, because it still has to be graded.

Official Score Report

About 20 days later, you’ll receive the official score report via email or snail mail (you will have told GMAC before the test how you want the official report mailed to you). The official GMAT score report is what GMAC automatically supplies to each and every GMAT taker. That information is free (i.e. included in the cost of the GMAT itself).

Magoosh’s GMAT expert Kevin dives into GMAT scores here:

Basically, you get a score for each of the four separate sections, as well as an overall GMAT score. Thus, the official score report contains:

SectionNumber of points
AWAHalf-integers from 0 to 6
IRIntegers from 1 to 8
Quant subscoreIntegers from 0 to 60
Verbal subscoreIntegers from 0 to 60
Total GMAT score (composed of quant + verbal)Integers from 200 to 800

The total GMAT score is derived from the Quant and Verbal subscores only; the AWA score and IR score have absolutely no effect on the total GMAT score.

The total GMAT score is certainly the most important number here, and for some test-takers and some folks in adcom, this is the only number that matters at all. According to at least some sources though, the IR section may be gaining traction as an admission tool.

The AWA score is arguably the least important score on the GMAT score report.

Enhanced Score Report

If you want a more detailed analysis, then you can purchase the Enhanced Score Report (ESR). This data-rich document will show you your breakdowns, percentiles, and time spent in each question formats. It’s useful if, say, this was your first GMAT and you decide to analyze this one and plan strategically to retake the GMAT.

For the ESR, you have to pay another $25 US, over and above what you paid to take the GMAT in the first place. What do you get? The ESR gives you a full breakdown.

For the Verbal Section, the ESR tells you your percentile ranking for Verbal (which you could figure out yourself, but it also gives you your percentile rankings for each of the three Verbal question types: Critical Reasoning, Reading Comprehension, and Sentence Correction). In addition, it includes the time you spent on average on each Verbal question, an average time for each of the three question formats, and the average time spent on a Verbal question for the average test taker.

Similarly for the Quantitative Section, the ESR gives you your percentile and average time spent for the entire section, for each of the two question types (Problem Solving and Data Sufficiency), and for two broad content areas: Arithmetic and Algebra/Geometry.

For Integrated Reasoning, it tells you your IR score, your percentile rank for the section, the percent of questions you answered correctly, the average time you spent on questions you got right, and the average time you spent on questions you got wrong. It also tells you the average time that an average test taker took on IR questions.

Getting Your GMAT Score Reports

Let’s assume that you didn’t cancel your score. After you are done with the computer, you raise your hand, and some Pearson person will lead you out of the hermetically-sealed testing room. Immediately outside that door is a desk, and someone at that desk will magically hand you a print-out: your initial GMAT score report. This will have everything except the AWA score, because it takes time to grade the essay.

Thus, moments after your GMAT is done, your will be holding a sheet of paper with your total GMAT score, your Quant and Verbal subscores, and your IR scores, all with percentiles. Technically, that piece of paper is unofficial for legal purposes.

About 20 days later, you will receive the full GMAT score report (everything including the AWA score), either by snail mail or electronically. Once you have this, you can tell GMAC to send copies to any business schools you want—of course, for a fee for each report.

How Is the GMAT Scored?

Everything except the essay is graded immediately by the computer: as soon as you are done with your IR, your Quant, or your Verbal sections, the computer already knows your score. (Thankfully, it doesn’t share any of this score information with you until you are done with your test.)

At the end of your exam, you will see your initial GMAT score report and every subscore except the essay.

The essay takes longer to grade. It is graded once by a computer program (don’t ask us how this happens!) and once by a human grader. If those two are the same or close, that’s your AWA score.

If the human and the computer disagree, a second human adjudicates and decides the AWA score. You will find out your AWA subscore when you receive your official GMAT score report, about 20 days after the test.

The IR questions have a few unique features. The 30-minute IR section consists of 12 “questions,” but each “question” is really a computer screen, many of which have multiple questions. One such IR screen contains what I call multiple dichotomous choice questions (DMCQs). The screen with DMCQs will present some information, and then a box: each row will have a statement or question, and buttons to select in two columns. The columns may be “Yes/No,” “True/False,” or some other kind of simple binary choice, and your job will be to decide, for each statement or question, which button to select.

Now, here’s the kicker about how IR is scored: there’s no partial credit on IR. If there are two or three separate tasks or separate questions on a single screen, you must get every single thing correct on the screen to get credit for that screen. See the link in the previous paragraph for some of the strategies that this challenging condition implies.

The Quant and Verbal sections share many features. These two are the only two sections that count in the total GMAT score. They both last 75 minutes. They both consist exclusively of 5-choice multiple-choice questions—assuming that you recognize Data Sufficiency as a modified kind of 5-choice multiple-choice question!

Adaptive Testing

Both the Quant and Verbal employ Computer Adaptive Testing (CAT). The CAT changes the difficulty, question by question, as you move through the section. As a general pattern, if you are getting questions right, the CAT gives you harder questions, and if you are struggling, the CAT will give you easier questions.

That’s the overall trend, although this highly complex algorithm also does sweeps through different difficulties: for example, you may get an easy question out of the blue even if you did nothing wrong. The grading for the CAT does NOT depend on simply the number of questions you answer correctly or incorrectly: instead, the score depends on the difficulty of the questions.

GMAT Scoring Algorithm

The complexity of the GMAT scoring algorithm means that it relies on this CAT model.

Therefore, the person who gets a 450 and the person who gets a 750 might have gotten about the same number of questions right and wrong, but the difficulties were in very different zones.

The complexity of the algorithm is such that it is impossible to suggest any strategy to profit from it. The only meaningful strategy on the CAT is to do your best with each and every question. Once again, CAT is employed only on the Quant & Verbal sections, not on IR and, of course, not on the AWA.

You may be curious about how the GMAT determines the difficulty level of questions. In general, this is a sophisticated topic known as Item Response Theory. GMAC gathers a vast amount of information about individual questions before they are ever used as GMAT questions. As a general rule, I don’t think it’s helpful to worry too much about the “level” of an individual practice question.

What Does Your GMAT Score Mean?

As you can see, you get a lot of data back about your scores! But what do these scores mean? To get a better understanding, let’s put them in context. For more info, you can also check out our post on GMAT score ranges and what a good GMAT score is.

GMAT Percentiles

One of the best ways to understand your scores is to compare them to the scores of others taking the exam. In other words, look at your GMAT percentiles.

Use this chart to see how your overall score stacks up in terms of percentile. Want to know how you arrived at this score? Check out Magoosh’s GMAT score calculator for more info (including GMAT score charts)!

Percentile
Score
Percentile (cont'd.)
Score (cont'd.)
99%
760-800
31%
520
98%
750
29%
510
97%
740
27%
500
95%
730
25%
490
94%
720
23%
480
90%
710
21%
470
88%
700
18%
460
85%
690
17%
450
82%
680
15%
440
80%
670
14%
430
77%
660
12%
420
73%
650
11%
410
68%
640
10%
400
66%
630
9%
390
63%
620
8%
380
59%
610
7%
370
56%
600
7%
360
52%
590
6%
350
49%
580
5%
340
46%
570
4%
320-330
42%
560
3%
290-310
39%
550
2%
250-280
37%
540
1%
220-240
33%
530
0%
200-210

Average Scores on the GMAT

Another way to put your scores in context is by comparing them to the average that test takers score. This doesn’t give you the full overview of the test-taking cohort the way that looking at percentiles does, but it can still be helpful.

The average total score on the GMAT is 563.43.

However, the average overall score isn’t the only important average. Here are averages by section, as well:

  • The average Verbal score on the GMAT is 27.08.
  • The average Quant score on the GMAT is 40.02.
  • The average IR score on the GMAT is 4.41.
  • The average AWA score on the GMAT is 4.49.

This is useful information as you’re taking practice tests. Don’t worry about calculating your official percentiles yourself, though–you’ll see them all on your score report!

How Long Are GMAT Scores Valid?

Once you’ve taken the GMAT, your scores are valid for five years from the date of the test. However, you can have scores reported for up to ten years–but remember, they won’t be valid, so there are pretty limited circumstances in which you’d actually need to report them! Once ten years have passed, though, those scores are gone.

How Do Schools Use GMAT Scores?

First of all, let’s clarify what schools will see. The total GMAT score report sent to adcoms will include all GMATs you have taken in the past five years, except the ones you have canceled. There is no trace of any cancellations on your score report (pre-2016, there were!).

All scores, sectional and total, are reported to business school admissions committees. However, the overall GMAT score is currently way more important in the admissions process than any of the other scores. The AWA and IR scores generally count for less. Still, that doesn’t mean you can ignore them! If you flub either one, admissions might see that as a red flag.

It’s important to note that your GMAT score is just one factor admissions committees at business schools use–even top business schools like Columbia and Harvard. Other factors include your previous relevant work experience, undergraduate academic performance, and your essays. If you want to see how your GMAT scores measure up, check out our post on evaluating good GMAT scores.

Obviously, the higher the score, the more options you will probably have. It may be that, to some extent, you can offset a lower college GPA with a stellar GMAT score report.

A Final Note

That’s everything you need to know about GMAT scores! But remember, GMAT scores aren’t the be-all and end-all of admissions for MBA programs. By all means, strive to do the best you can do. At the same time, it’s important to be realistic about your abilities, and the time and energy you have to prepare.

If your first GMAT score was a 460, then with concerted effort, you will be able to get up into the 500s and maybe even the 600s, but it may be that a GMAT score in the high 700s is unrealistic for you, and that’s OK.

Always strive for your personal best; it’s hard to compete with everyone out there. If you’re still at the start of your business school admissions test prep, this may mean making a decision about whether to take the GMAT or GRE, as different people do better on different tests (see more about GRE to GMAT conversion here!).

At the end of the day, the goal of the GMAT is to get you into business school; the goal of business school is to get an MBA; the goal of an MBA is to get into management positions in the business world.

Many folks who are wildly successful in upper management in the business world had less than stellar GMAT scores and went to less prestigious business schools.

Conversely, some folks are brilliant test takers and ace the GMAT, but then wind up not so successful in the rough and tumble business world.

A big part of success is being canny enough to know how to leverage your particular gifts to the greatest effect. Trust the unique combination of gifts and talents you bring, seek to learn the skills that will most complement and bring forth who you are, and learn to recognize the environments in which you can most effectively thrive.

Do the best you can do on the GMAT, and trust that this will be good enough to lead you to where you need to be in the big picture.

Ready to get an awesome GMAT score? Start here.

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