In part 2 of this series, we'll look at another major criterion that determines the…
How to Calculate GMAT Scores
GMAT scores are calculated by taking your scaled score from 6-51 on each section and arriving at a composite GMAT score from 200 – 800. Nonetheless, there’s a lot of confusion about how to calculate GMAT scores, so we’ll do a deep dive in this article to address that confusion.
What is a computer-adaptive test?
Put simply, a computer adaptive test adjusts the level of difficulty of each question you see based on your performance on previous questions. The harder the questions you’re answering correctly, the harder later questions will be, and the easier the questions you’re missing, the easier subsequent questions will.
The purpose of the GMAT CAT is to efficiently tailor the level of difficulty of questions to a test-taker’s specific abilities. This allows the exam to more efficiently assess your abilities than an exam with linear scoring would. To understand the difference between adaptive and linear scoring, let’s look at two examples:
Linear scoring is what most of us experienced in our high school and maybe college educations. On exams with this type of scoring, you’ll be presented with a fixed number of questions, and your overall score will be determined by the percentage of questions you get correct, independent of which questions you answered correctly or incorrectly. This type of scoring certainly provides useful data, but it lacks the level of granularity that computer-adaptive scoring provides.
Imagine the following scenario: Mary is a quant genius who effortlessly answered all 30 questions on a linearly-scored test with time to spare. Bob is strong at Quant and was able to answer all 30 questions correctly just in the nick of time. As far as linear scoring is concerned, these two performed identically. But here’s the thing: Mary would have been able to answer even tougher questions that Bob probably would have answered incorrectly. But the nature of this kind of exam doesn’t give Mary the opportunity to showcase those skills. An adaptive exam, by contrast, will recognize that Mary and Bob are acing the questions and will ramp up the level of difficulty of the questions presented to them. Since Mary is stronger at Quant than Bob is, she’ll eventually get certain questions correct that Bob would have missed, and her GMAT score will be higher than his as a result.
So, ultimately, computer-adaptivity serves to help the test-makers efficiently identify someone’s precise abilities on an exam at a level of granularity unavailable with linear scoring.
How are GMAT scores calculated?
Because the GMAT is computer-adaptive, GMAT scores are not determined by the number of questions answered correctly. Instead, GMAT scores are primarily determined by the level of difficulty of the questions you miss. Let’s say Bob takes the GMAT Quantitative section and misses 10 “easy” questions distributed evenly throughout the exam. Since he’s missing easy questions, the algorithm will never adjust the level of difficulty of his questions to “hard”, so there will be a ceiling on his score: he’d probably score in the 30s or even 20s.
Now let’s say Mary takes the Quant section and misses 10 questions, but all “hard”. In this case, the scoring algorithm will recognize that the questions she missed were at a high level and will consequently give her a higher score, possibly as high as 48 or 49.
The essential point is this: the algorithm wants to identify the level of difficulty at which you plateau. If you plateau at a level of difficulty of 30 (in other words, if this is the level at which you consistently miss questions), then your score will be a 30.
GMAT Quant and Verbal Scaled Scores
GMAT Quantitative and Verbal scores range from 6 – 51, in 1-point increments. The GMAT website claims that scaled scores can go as high as 60, but there has never been a reported Quantitative or Verbal score higher than 51, even among people who answered every question on a section correctly.
Calculating Your Composite GMAT Score
Unfortunately, GMAC has never released publicly available data about the relationship between scaled scores and composite GMAT scores. However, tables such as this one, and people’s anecdotal reports on websites such as GMATClub can give you a pretty good sense of which scaled scores translate to which composite scores. That said, there are a couple important points to keep in mind:
#1) A given scaled score can have a range: If you take the GMAT and get a scaled score of 47 on Quant, that score can actually be anything between 46.5 and 47.49. Because of this level of nuance, two people with the same scaled Quant and Verbal score can actually see a 10 or 20-point difference in their composite scores.
#2) Summing your composite score doesn’t give the whole picture. For reasons we’ll get into below, the GMAT scoring algorithm slightly weights Verbal scores more than Quant scores. So a 45 Quant, 40 Verbal will sometimes be 10 points lower than a 40 Quant, 45 Verbal.
GMAT Quant and Verbal Percentiles
This is where things get interesting. If you compare the percentile of a Quantitative 40 to a Verbal 40, you’ll notice something interesting: Despite being the same scaled score, the Verbal percentile is significantly higher!
Why is this the case? Over the years, Quantitative percentiles have been dropping, while Verbal percentiles have stayed about the same. The drop in Quantitative percentiles is largely attributable to an influx of international test-takers over the past decade: for various reasons, these test-takers tend to perform better on the Quant than do American test-takers, so higher quant scores have become more common, leading to a lower corresponding percentile for each scaled score. These same test-takers tend not to do as well on Verbal, so the corresponding percentiles for a given Verbal scaled score have largely plateaued.
What’s a good GMAT score?
“Good” is of course a relative term. Your desired score should depend on the median GMAT of the schools you’re applying to, along with the competitiveness of the rest of your application. Generally, schools use GMAT scores to 1) assess your readiness to handle their coursework and 2) drive their rankings on US News. These rankings contribute significantly to school reputations and school funding.