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Do you need 700+ GMAT score to get into a top business school?

Katie Schenk - October 08, 2019

Prodigy Finance looks at GMAT scores

Wondering how to get into the best business schools? Well, the GMAT is going to play a big role in securing your seat. The GMAT is perhaps the most stressful part of any MBA application, doubly so if you’re trying to get into a top business school. 

The GMAT is scored on a scale between 200 and 800; it’s tough to see average GMAT scores of admitted students and not worry. 

Stanford’s Graduate School of Business, for example, has an impressively high average score of 737 for their latest incoming class. (And, it has achieved such numbers year after year.)

Do you need 700+ GMAT score to get into a top business school?

Not necessarily, but it will help. 

As much emphasis as the GMAT score carries in top business school applications (admissions consultants tend to believe it’s worth about one-fifth of your entire application), the rest of your application is critical. 

Even getting the highest score on GMAT doesn’t guarantee admission, and a low GMAT score doesn’t mean you don’t have any chances at all. None of the top universities admit students solely on the strength of their GMAT scores – not even Stanford. Therefore, while GMAT scores for MBA programmes are incredibly valuable, it should not be your sole focus area.

Why are GMAT scores important?

As most universities and the Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC) which owns the GMAT exam will tell you, the GMAT score is usually the only factor that allows an apples-to-apples comparison of applicants. Everything else stuffed into applications is personal and subjective.

Even undergraduate grade point averages aren’t a strong indicator as universities (and professors) don’t conform to a single set of grading guidelines; it’s much more difficult to achieve high scores in some countries than in others.

It’s difficult to dispute the equalising facets of the GMAT – even though it's only conducted in English. 

What is the average GMAT score?

What’s a good GMAT score? Well, the answer differs from country to country. In 2013, the United States had more GMAT test takers than India and China combined, though the average test scores of those countries during that time were significantly higher than the American result.

In case you’re wondering, in 2013, 53 countries fared better with GMAT scores than the US, and many of them don’t recognise English as an official language in their country. It's a trend that's continued through the years.

Things have definitely changed over the past several years with a sharp decline in American test takers converse to the serious upswings in China and India. And, the increase in test takers has translated to higher GMAT scores in China and India, while lower numbers of US test takers took home higher mean scores. 

GMAT average scores across 3 countries

GMAT test takers and scores for top business schools across 3 countries

What is a good GMAT score?

The best GMAT score that you can get is a perfect 800 out of 800. The GMAT top score of 800 puts you in the 99 percentile category, meaning that you’ve scored higher than 99% of all candidates. 

According to most MBA experts, a score above 700 is considered great, while anything over 650 is good. A 700+ GMAT score for top MBA programmes is usually the norm, but having a GMAT score below 700 doesn’t mean you don’t stand a chance of getting into the top business schools. Most business schools review applications with lower scores as well. 

How hard is it to get a GMAT score of 700?

GMAC certainly paints it as difficult to get a 700 GMAT score; two-thirds of test takers score somewhere between 400 and 600. Of all the exams taken for the 2017 GMAC report, the average GMAT score was 564. For the same period, a 700 GMAT score puts a test taker into the 88ᵗʰ percentile; a 710 GMAT score reflects the 91ˢᵗ percentile. GMAT percentiles tell you how well you’ve done relative to all the other test-takers.

According to these GMAT score percentiles, you need to do better than 90% of everyone taking the test if you want to crack that 700 mark. And, if you just want to make it into that 650 bracket, you’ll need to do better than 76 percent of GMAT takers. 

Should you aim for 700+ on the GMAT?

There are business schools that don’t require the GMAT and those that accept the GRE. But, for the most part, you’re just going to need to buckle down and take the test - aiming for the highest score you can achieve. For example, a good GMAT score for Harvard Business School would definitely be in the 700+ range.

While every business school is quick to point out that applications involve a lot more than your GMAT score, they’re certainly going to take a look. And, they’ll need to find reasons to keep you in the mix if you have lower results than they would like to see. Business schools prefer GMAT scores on applications to meet their set requirements, but they also consider applicants with lower scores.

A former member of the Wharton admissions team has confirmed that committees exist to discuss applicants with GMAT scores under 650. 

That doesn’t mean a low GMAT score will keep you out of top programmes. Every year, Harvard accepts students with low scores too. The same applies at Columbia, INSEAD, and London Business School. But, it's more difficult to secure a spot without a killer score.

So, you shouldn't blow off a low GMAT score if you can do better. There’s a big difference between a 640 and a 660 - especially if it means a special committee needs to discuss your application.

But, there isn’t much of a difference between 720 and 740; you’re in the elite league and your time will be much better spent refining the other facets of your application. Ensure that your application is well-written and don’t rely only on your GMAT score, because that’s not the only thing that they consider.

GMAT scores at top US business schools

It almost seems incredible that Stanford has an average GMAT score of 737 (which is around the 97ᵗʰ percentile), doesn’t it? 

Granted, that programme currently boasts the top average, but in 2017, only one American business school in the top 25 of the 2017 Financial Times’ Global MBA Ranking had a GMAT average under 700. 

That was Duke’s Fuqua School of Business with an average of 698 (putting it in the 87ᵗʰ percentile). Today, the school's average is 702, meaning that there isn't a US programme in the top 25 of the list with a GMAT average score under 700. 

GMAT scores at top European and Asian business schools

On the other side of the Atlantic, the top European business schools’ average GMAT scores don’t always rival those found in the United States. INSEAD’s average scores have consistently sat between 700 and 710 for the past five years, and London Business School also has rising averages moving from 701 to 710 in the past couple of years. 

The other European business schools in the top 25 of the FT 2018 Global MBA Ranking have averaged between 670 and 690. (In case you’re keeping score, that’s between the 81ˢᵗ and 86ᵗʰ percentiles.)

Moving further along the globe, the Asian schools in the top 25 have GMAT average scores between 662 and 686. 

Interestingly, HKUST posts a typical range of GMAT scores between 570 and 710 on their class profile page. That’s quite a massive range if you look at it in terms of percentiles – between the 57ᵗʰ and 96ᵗʰ markers. Given that they’re currently ranked 14ᵗʰ, that should give some b-school applicants some hope.

Tips for getting high GMAT scores

The GMAT score range doesn’t start at zero, and you don’t receive a certain amount of points for a correct answer. Instead, the test assumes that you are average and assigns you an average score before it even flashes the first question.

If you get your first question correct, the next one is harder – but the programme also assigns you a higher score. This continues until you get a question wrong. At this point, you get an easier question, and your score drops proportionally.

GMAT tutors generally agree that you want to take your time with the first few questions. Getting these right (or wrong) is crucial to your final score.

You don’t lose as much off your score when you get a question wrong as you do if you leave a question blank. If you’ve spent too much time on the first several queries and you run out of time, always try to click as many guesses as possible before time runs out.

How many study hours does it take to get 700+ on the GMAT? 

Research shows that most test-takers study for 100 hours (or more) to get 700 or above on the GMAT.

According to the Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC), Asian students average 151 hours of GMAT preparation, while American students log about 64 hours. The difference in scores is staggering.

How hard is the GMAT?

Despite how hyped up the GMAT exam is, it’s relatively easy to get a good score. With proper preparation and a calm mind, anyone can get an excellent GMAT score. It’s a standardised exam that aims to assess your analytical, reasoning, verbal, and quantitative skills. Time management is of the utmost importance when you take the exam. It’s also recommended that you have a strategy regarding the order in which you attempt the GMAT.

GMAT exam fast facts

Some MBA admissions consultants recommend taking your first GMAT exam a full calendar year before you plan to apply, so you have time to retake the test.

You can sit for the GMAT up to 5 times in a calendar year. But, you can’t take the exam twice in the same month – even if you cancel your score. Additionally, GMAT scores are valid for 5 years.

The GMAT exam lasts 3.5 hours, and you’ll take it on a computer. There’s no other option; questions are responsive to your previous answers.

The 4 parts of the GMAT exam

  • Analytical Writing Assessment (which tests analysis of argument) – 30 minutes
  • Integrated Reasoning (12 questions that test reasoning, interpretation and analysis) – 30 minutes
  • Quantitative (37 questions testing data sufficiency and problem-solving) – 75 minutes
  • Verbal (41 questions on comprehension, critical reasoning and sentence correction) – 75 minutes

What’s the difference between the GMAT and GRE?

There aren’t as many differences between the GMAT and GRE exams as you might expect. They’re both standardised and computerised. Both exams are offered only in English and test both verbal and quantitative skills.

  • The big difference is the calculator available for the GRE, whereas the GMAT has a strong focus on data sufficiency questions.
  • With all those advanced vocabulary questions, the GRE is often considered more difficult for non-native English speakers.

Is there a GMAT preference for MBAs?

Not every business school accepts the GRE, but more than 1200 MBA programmes do.

If a school publicly states they will take either test – and don’t qualify that with a preference – take the exam that you prefer.

You’re not going to get out of maths either way, but if you battle with GMAT-styled quant questions, the GRE could frame your positive merits in a better light. Higher scores stand out and benefit applicants more than low results – no matter which test you take.

For some students, the GRE is a better option – especially if they’re applying for a dual degree or are considering another master’s degree instead of an MBA.

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Prodigy Finance Ltd is authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority.

Post updated for accuracy and freshness on October 7, 2019. Originally published on February 10, 2017.


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