GMAT percentiles & the 99%th percentile Verbal score boost

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gmat score grid

In this post you will learn

What GMAT percentiles are

How they matter

Why you should not neglect Verbal

Guidelines to profoundly improve your Vebral score

What are GMAT percentiles?

Gmat percentiles express your performance in comparison to the pool of all GMAT test takers over the course of three years. For example, if you scored 700 on the GMAT then you are in the 88th percentile – you have performed better than 88% of the people who sat for the test. The number is expressed based on a sample size of about 750,000 thousand people.

In other words, a 700 means that you scored better than about 660,000 people. Not bad! If you have scored 710+ then you’re within the range for most top MBA schools.

gmat percentiles

This GMAT score grid estimates total score based on the Quant and Verbal scores. What do you notice about any specific total score?

gmat score grid
Notice how wide the score range is for each score and that you need a strong performance on both Quant and Verbal to achieve a 99th+ percentile score.

GMAT percentiles vs raw scores – a practical analysis

What matters more your percentile score or your raw score? Generally, percentiles matter more than raw scores for an obvious reason. What’s the point of achieving a perfect score if everybody can? Performance implies output in comparison to others.

Why not have just one reference instead of both raw score and percentile score?

The answer is based on the need for a clear measurement and our nature to compare ourselves to others. Imagine I ask you how fast you run a 10 km race and you respond by saying:

I run a 10 km race in the 90th percentile

How helpful is that? It’s helpful in that it tells me you’re a great runner but doesn’t tell me the ‘measurement’, which in this case is the time. The ‘time’ is equivalent to the raw score.

A question of practicality

Imagine the day the GMAT began to be administered for the first time. Do you think it was easier to create a gmat percentiles ranking or a measuring scale (raw score) in the beginning? From a practical perspective, you first measure (raw) and then you analyze (create the percentile ranking based on the results). Perhaps on the first meeting they decided:

Hey guys the results are in and we realize that a measurement of 45 means that a test taker beat 60% of the other test takers.

Pioneer GMAT test maker

And that would have been the day the first raw score to percentile ranking table was created for the GMAT. Since then, score conversion tables from raw to percentile rankings change to reflect how the population performs on the test. As more people learn about the GMAT and test prep companies pop up, raw scores drift and generally convert to lower percentiles.

This makes sense because on average everyone knows a bit more about the test and hence achieves a ‘better’ measurement. But, more people are achieving that measurement. As more people cross a certain threshold, fewer are left behind, and hence the percentile conversion drops.

Ultimately therefore, what determines your overall score is how many people you beat. This has huge implications on how you prepare for the GMAT and why many fail to make a significant improvement.

So the raw score is a measuring tool and the percentile score is a comparison tool.

Savvy test taker who wants the gist of things

Quant raw scores and percentiles – It’s complicated

The highest score you can achieve on the Quant section of the GMAT is 51, which is equivalent to 96% score. In other words, there is no 99th Quant percentile in because 4% of the test pool achieve it.

The million dollar question as one of my students once asked is

Should I worry about achieving a high Quant percentile score?

Beyond a 48 Quant raw score

First, look at the Quant score tables and notice that a raw score of 48 is equivalent to a percentile ranking of 67%.

Gmat percentiles
Source of info: mba.com

Even though you score better than ‘only’ 67% of the test pool, it is still a good score in general terms because it tells business schools that you can manage the quantitative analysis required in the program.

From a measurement point of view, a raw (also called scaled) score of 48 signifies the same ability (and hence measurement) now as many years ago. It’s not easy to score 48 but whether that score will be enough depends on your profile and your overall score.

Do you need an incredible Quant score?

I doubt a school will reject your application if you score 750 on the GMAT with a say 47 or 48 Quant score. This necessarily means that you perform very well on the Verbal. About 97th+ percentile to be precise. So whether you need that high (48+) Quant score is a question of practicality. Are you better off shooting for a really high Quant (50+) or focusing equally on Verbal as well? A comparatively strong performance on both Quant and Verbal is better than say a Quant score of 51 and a mediocre Verbal.

Why it’s easy to obsess over your Quant percentile score and ignore Verbal

Beyond a 48 on Quant you’re almost rolling the dice because luck begins to play a part (unless your math skills are superior). Instead of obsessing over your Quant, pay equal attention to the Verbal section. It is very easy to obsess over the finer details of math, especially because there are clear cut topics to cover. Verbal is easy to ignore because test takers mistakenly believe it’s just an “English” test.

Quant consists of number properties, fractions, percents, statistics etc. and Verbal is just English. I mean what can you do to prepare for it?


Gmat test taker with the wrong idea

Simplified GMAT score chart and law of diminishing returns

Look at this simplified score chart that shows what Verbal and Quant score pairs required for common GMAT score goals.

gmat score grid

Notice that with a perfect Quant score and a mediocre Verbal score you hit a total GMAT score of 630, whereas with a near perfect Verbal score and a mediocre Quant score you can achieve a 700. My point is that your return on investment in time studying can be increased if you dedicate at least an equal amount of time for Verbal as Quant. After all, there are diminishing returns with effort on Quant so instead of obsessing over Quant, pay equal attention to improving your Verbal score.

Why Verbal gmat percentiles are strange

Observe how the 99th percentile for Verbal is a 45+ raw score.

verbal percentiles
raw score to verbal percentile

Perhaps this is the case because Verbal relies heavily on reading comprehension skill, which is notoriously difficult to improve. Quant is easy enough to create a study plan for because you can have a long checklist of topics to cover. My point is that it’s easier to study for Quant because the obstacles are clear. Verbal just requires a lot of reading comprehension. Kind of vague and hard to do for a long time right?

Life is about balance. So is the GMAT

You are more likely to arrive at the upper gmat percentile bracket better score if you are very good on both Quant and Verbal than you will if one is a lot stronger than the other. Perhaps even you would be better off skewed towards a stronger Verbal than Quant if you must choose between either. The point is, strive for balance when you create a study plan and try to split study time for either equally.

Tips to improve GMAT Verbal score

If you don’t have time to watch the video, read the following list very carefully.

  1. Practice under timed conditions on a regular basis.
  2. Understand text in your own words.
  3. Eliminate answer choices using explicit reasoning.

Everything you need for a stellar verbal score follows from the above three points. I promise you.

You only need to add patience. Not knowing whether you’re improving is frustrating, especially when you’re putting in a lot of effort and working under a stressful deadline.

If you have time, watch this video for more details. ( I apologize for the not so great image quality).

Evolution of GMAT scores over time

Average raw Quant scores and Verbal scores over time

quant verbal scores
Source: mba.com

Average Quant and Verbal raw scores were the same in 1970 but changed differently more international students took the GMAT. Quant performance is generally better for international students. Today, almost 48% of test takers are U.S. citizens compared to 66% in 1992.

US test takers
Percentage of test takers who are U.S. citizens
Is it easier to score in the 99th percentile now than a few years ago?

No. The GMAT is very consistent in measuring reasoning skill and a 99th percentile score is as hard to achieve now as a few years ago.

Do GMAT percentiles change from year to year?

The GMAC periodically updates the raw to percentile rankings of both total scores and Quant and Verbal scores but the numbers don’t change much.

What is the raw score for a 99th percentile verbal?

45+

Is a perfect Quant score of 51 equivalent to a 99th percentile?

No. The highest Quant percentile is the 96%

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