How to Understand Your GMAT Percentiles
How can you turn test scores and section scores into GMAT score percentiles? And what about GMAT Quant score percentiles and Verbal score percentiles? Don’t worry—we’ve got all the info you need to know to understand your score. First off, your total GMAT score ranges from 200-800, and your section scores have their own score scales as well. But focusing on your GMAT percentiles can give you extra insight into your strengths and weaknesses on the test.
The GMAT is all about competitive advantage. Your score is literally determined by how well you perform in relation to hundreds of thousands of test-takers over the past three years. In a nutshell, a ranking in the 75th percentile means that 25% of test-takers performed as well or better than you, and 75% did not.
Knowing the percentiles lets you know if you’ve merely achieved an average GMAT score, or if you’ve shot through the roof with your scores. GMAC produces this information on GMAT percentile charts. For your convenience, we’ve broken these scores down below.
This post has been updated to include GMAC’s most recently published GMAT score percentiles, which represent a sample of nearly 700,000 students who took the GMAT from 2017-2019.
Table of Contents
- GMAT Score Percentiles Chart
- GMAT Quant Percentiles
- GMAT Verbal Percentiles
- GMAT AWA Percentiles
- GMAT IR Percentiles
- How does GMAT calculate percentiles?
- GMAT Percentiles for Business Schools
GMAT Score Percentiles Chart
Let’s start with the big one: your overall GMAT score percentile, which is on a 200 to 800 point scale. Your overall score is made up of your sectional scores in Quant and Verbal. Very importantly—your Verbal score counts slightly more in the weighting!
This 200 to 800 score range is a pretty common one in standardized testing. See which score corresponds to your percentile in the GMAT score chart below.
While schools will see your sectional scores, this is the one that they’ll use as their main consideration. (To find out about how these are calculated from sectional scores, check out information on GMAT score calculations!)
|Percentile||Score||Percentile (cont'd.)||Score (cont'd.)|
GMAT Quant Percentiles
Where does your overall percentile for the GMAT come from, you might be wondering? It comes from your sectional scores in Quant and Verbal. And yes—there are percentiles for both of these sections as well!
GMAT Quant is scored on a scale of 0 to 60. To get a sense of how your scores stack up, take a look at the GMAT Quant score percentiles below. This isn’t a chart of GMAT raw scores and percentiles—rather, it’s a chart of your scaled sectional score in Quant and its percentile.
|Quant Percentile||Quant Scaled Score|
GMAT Verbal Percentiles
GMAT Quant scores and percentiles are different than they are for GMAT Verbal, but at least the scoring range is the same. Here’s the GMAT score and percentile table for GMAT Verbal.
|Verbal Percentile||Verbal Scaled Score|
GMAT AWA Percentiles
While your AWA (and IR) scores do not count towards your overall 200 to 800 score, business schools will still see how you performed. GMAT essays are scored on a scale of 0 to 6, in half-point increments. That’s right—on the writing section, half a point changes your GMAT AWA percentile, and sometimes drastically. Take a look.
|AWA Percentile||AWA Score|
GMAT IR Percentiles
At this point, it probably won’t surprise you to learn that GMAT Integrated Reasoning (IR) has its very own grading scale: it is scored on a scale of 1 to 8. Unlike the AWA, IR does not use half-point increments; these are scored in whole points. As you might imagine, this affects IR percentiles drastically.
Here’s what GMAT score vs percentiles look like for IR.
|IR Percentile||IR Score|
How does GMAT calculate percentiles?
To come up with these tables, the GMAC (not a typo—that’s the GMAT test-maker) takes a look at the most recent cohort of test-takers. Currently, this includes 695,794 test-takers from January 2017 – December 2019.
You may be wondering why they don’t compare your scores to people who took the same test you did. Well, remember that the GMAT is an adaptive test—you see harder or easier questions depending on how well you answered the previous questions. So in theory, very few GMATs are exactly alike.
But in that case…why not compare your score to everyone who ever took the test to get a sense of how you stack up over time? First of all, because the test does change every few years, sometimes a little bit and sometimes a lot, so that wouldn’t be entirely fair.
Secondly, and more importantly, it would be meaningless. GMAT scores are valid for five years, but realistically, most people will use their scores to apply to business schools within a year or two of taking the exam.
By giving percentiles from this most recent group of test-takers, the GMAC helps admissions committees see exactly where each score stacks up in a group that is very similar to the one currently applying.
Quant vs. Verbal Percentiles and How to Interpret Them
Here’s where it gets interesting, from a strategy point of view. You may find while your scaled score for the Quantitative section is higher than your scaled score for the Verbal section, you rank lower from a percentile point of view. This is because many test-takers have excellent quantitative abilities but are not native English speakers.
This means that while your Quant abilities can be amazing, you might not rank near the top of the pile of GMAT test-takers. Your scaled scores, therefore, are not the best way to judge your relative abilities on the GMAT. Focusing on your percentiles is much more accurate in terms of accessing your relative performance between the two sections.
And, as we mentioned before, your Verbal sectional score counts slightly more than Quant in the weighting calculation for your final score—so don’t neglect the Verbal section! Boosting your score in the Verbal Section will add more to your final score than boosting your score in the Quant section, by the same amount.
When are GMAT score percentiles useful (and not so useful)?
Percentiles are a great way to access your relative ability—between Verbal and Quant as well as compared to other test-takers.
Your GMAT score is determined not only by how many questions you answer correctly but by how difficult these questions are. Thinking about GMAT questions in terms of higher and lower percentile/difficulty levels can give you insight into the nuances of the test while you are practicing.
Given that the question ‘level’ is important, it can be hard to tell how you are performing during your practice. Remember—official mock tests from MBA.com are the best way to get an accurate idea of how you are performing before test day.
The one-time thinking about the scoring algorithm, percentiles, and the difficulty level of questions is super unhelpful is during the test itself. It’s a waste of mental energy and effort, in part due to the experimental questions in the test, that doesn’t count towards your total score.
How much should I score to get in the 99th percentile on the GMAT?
A score between 760 and 800 will get you that elusive 99th percentile GMAT score. About 0.02% of GMAT test-takers, or about 30 people a year, will score a perfect 800 on the test.
At this point, you may be wondering about the number of test-takers who get each top scores each year–what’s the competition like? Some simple calculations can help us figure this out. If around 250,000 test-takers take the exam each year (as they did in 2017-2018), that means around:
- 2,500 scored between 760-800 (99th percentile)
- 2,500 scored between 750-760 (98th percentile)
- 25,000 scored between 700-750 (88th-98th percentile)
Starting to see a trend? Yep! The GMAT scores fall along a bell curve. Very few people get very high or very low scores, and most people fall somewhere in the middle. In fact, the GMAC tells us that around two-thirds of test-takers score between 400 and 600 on the exam.
GMAT Percentiles for Business Schools
As always, the admissions process is holistic and not only focused on the GMAT. However, the higher your percentile number is, the better. At the 99th percentile, only 1% of students got a better score than you, and the 100th percentile places you at the very top among all test-takers.
In contrast, if you’re at the 50th or 60th percentile, you’re not that competitive. And once you drop below the 50th percentile, your score is quite poor, and you may need to retake the GMAT (and, unfortunately, pay the GMAT exam fee once more).
Bear in mind that some schools will have minimum sectional scores for the Quant section as well. Others may insist on a ‘balanced score’ between the two sections.
To understand the GMAT score you’ll need to obtain for a top school, the best thing to do is look at average GMAT scores for top programs. As you can see from running down this list, they all tend to be above 700–sometimes well above 700, as in the case of Columbia (an average of 732!).
Put this in terms of percentiles using the chart above. A 700 on the GMAT is in the 88th percentile, while a 732 would be around the 96th percentile. From this information, we can draw the conclusion that top schools need top scores.
Rankings don’t correspond precisely to score percentiles—but in this case, it’s pretty fair to say that if you’re applying to a top-10 school, a score in the top 10% of GMAT test-takers (i.e. placing you in the 90th percentile above) is definitely a helpful tool.
Takeaways about GMAT Percentiles
So many numbers! So what do you need to remember?
- The GMAT is about competitive advantage, and GMAT percentiles show the percentage of test-takers whose scores you beat.
- You’ll receive a GMAT percentile for Quant, Verbal, IR, and AWA sections.
- Your overall percentile and score (200 to 800) come from a combination of your Quant and Verbal sectional scores—NOT their percentiles.
- Top schools need top scores, preferably in the top 10% (90th percentile) or above.
- Very few students score above a 750 on the GMAT each year. Those who do put in long study hours!
Getting a great score on the GMAT can seem overwhelming, even impossible. But if there’s one thing that these percentile charts should show you, it’s that it’s not! Thousands of students get great scores on the GMAT every year. With hard work and smart studying, you just might be among them!