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What is the GMAT and how is it scored?

The GMAT, or Graduate Management Admissions Test, is the entrance exam required by many online MBA programs. The higher your score in this test, the more likely you are to gain admission to these programs and to be given scholarships. Thus, it is important to understand how GMAT scoring works, so that you can achieve your best score possible. The GMAT is broken up into four sections:


Section Time Questions Score Scale
Analytical Writing Assessment (AWA) 30 minutes 1 essay 0-6 (in ½ point increments)
Integrated Reasoning (IR) 30 minutes 12 multi-part 1-8 (in 1 point increments)
Quantitative 75 minutes 37 0-60 (in 1 point increments)
Verbal 75 minutes 41 0-60 (in 1 point increments)


Your most important score on your GMAT is your Total Score. This is the combination of your Verbal and Quantitative scores, giving them equal weight.  The Total Score is based on a scale of 200 to 800, in 10-point increments.

The GMAT scoring for quantitative (or quant) and verbal is based on your percentile, i.e. how well you do in comparison to other test takers. Your GMAT scores for these two sections may yield different percentiles. For example, a verbal score of 40 may put you in the 91st percentile, while that same score in quant may put you in the 47th percentile, according to GMAC. Business schools like to see a balanced GMAT score, so don’t rely on just one section to give you a higher overall score. You want to be fairly even, as far as percentiles go.

Scoring for the quantitative and verbal sections is additionally complicated, because these sections are computer adaptive. This means that the more GMAT questions you get right, the more difficult the test becomes. It also means that how many questions you get right is less important than what difficulty level those questions are. Your scores will decrease significantly with each unanswered question, so manage your time well to make sure you answer every question on the test.

Some, but not all, business schools also look at your scores on the Integrated Reasoning and Analytical Writing Assessment sections when making admissions decisions. Although the AWA score is less emphasized, it is still important to score above a certain threshold – the general consensus is 4 or above. In this section, you will be asked to write an essay that receives two independent ratings and then averaged. If the two scores differ by more than one point, a third evaluation will be provided to determine the final score.

Knowing how business schools use the score for IR is trickier, since it was only introduced to the GMAT in 2012. However, the good thing about the IR section is that it tests skills from other sections, so you will already be studying for it when you study for quant and verbal. Thus, your ability to answer IR GMAT questions will naturally improve as you study for the rest of the test.

Understanding how the GMAT is scored is an important step toward evaluating where to focus your test-preparation efforts in order to receive the best score possible.


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