How GMAT Scores are Calculated: The Bizarreness of the Adaptive Scoring Algorithm!

gmat scores

As a GMAT aspirant, it is quite normal to have questions on GMAT scores like,

“What is a good GMAT score?”
“What does it mean when a GMAT taker says that they scored a Q49 and V30?”
“What is a good GMAT score to get into Harvard?”

Don’t worry about them. We will be answering all your questions on GMAT scoring and GMAT scoring algorithm (we will get to it) in this blog. Once you complete reading this blog, you will know, if you have taken the GMAT, why you and your friend who got the same score in each GMAT section still ended up getting a different total score.

So, if you feel that your friend will benefit from reading this article, don’t forget to share it with them. 🙂

Here’s what you can expect to understand from this article:

1. What is a good GMAT score?

2. How do the GMAT scoring and percentile system work?

3. How does the adaptive GMAT scoring algorithm work?

4. How is the GMAT total score calculated?

5. What are the accepted average GMAT scores at top B-schools?

Let’s get started.

1. What is a good GMAT score?



Is there something known as the good GMAT score?

If so, how do you figure out whether you got a good GMAT score?

If you take the GMAT at a test center, the result typically consists of four scores corresponding to the four sections of the GMAT – Verbal Reasoning (Verbal), Quantitative Reasoning (Quant), Analytical Writing Assessment (AWA), and Integrated Reasoning (IR).

P.S. If you take the online GMAT exam now, you will not have to take the AWA section.

The GMAT is designed to function on an adaptive scoring algorithm. This algorithm puts your raw scores together and then computes a final score which isn’t simply an addition of the parts.

In fact, the scales for these GMAT sections and the GMAT total/composite score are totally different.

While GMAT AWA scores range from 1 to 5, the GMAT IR scores range from 0 to 8. But guess what, neither of these scores affects your final score since both these scores are not included while calculating the GMAT score. This does not mean AWA and IR scores don’t matter. They do. They’re just not included in your final GMAT total score, that’s all.

Get to know the GMAT syllabus in detail

Meanwhile, your Quant and Verbal scores can range between 6 and 51 each. But your final GMAT test score falls between 200 and 800!

GMAT Section Score Range
Analytical Writing Assessment (AWA) 0-6
Integrated Reasoning (IR) 1-8
Quantitative Reasoning 6-51
Verbal Reasoning 6-51


So, is 750 a good GMAT score? Even a 750 GMAT score holds no value in isolation.

It all depends on the number of test-takers who got that specific score and also on the average GMAT score that your desired B-school accepts!

2. How do the GMAT scoring and percentile system work?

Let’s look at GMAT scoring first and then move on to understanding the GMAT percentile system.

First of all, do you know how many mistakes you can make on the GMAT if you want to get a 700+ GMAT score on the exam?

It’s really hard to not make mistakes on the GMAT. But, it’s safer to make mistakes in intervals rather than continuously.

This is because making mistakes in a continuous string reduces your accuracy drastically which can automatically bring down your GMAT score (check out the next section to understand this better).

So in the first 15 questions, let’s say, instead of getting question numbers 4,5,6, and 7 wrong, you get questions 4,8,12, and 15 wrong.

And here’s a secret – You can actually make a few mistakes (say 2 in Quant and 1 in Verbal) and score a perfect 800!

Notice that even a solid score like a 710 – with a split of Q49 V38 – means you would have made over 20 mistakes! All the more reason not to fear intelligent guessing on the GMAT.



Now let’s look at GMAT percentiles.

WP Table Builder

Simply put, if you got a GMAT score of 710, your score is higher than 91% of the GMAT takers.

So, the percentile rank of a score is the percentage of scores in its distribution that are equal to or lower than it.

Let’s now have a look at the percentile charts for Quant and Verbal.

WP Table Builder
WP Table Builder

Now you must be having an idea as to how much you need to score in Quant and Verbal to belong to the 99th percentile category, right? 😉

But if you observed closely, you would have noticed a few weird things.

If you get a 45 or above out of 51 in Verbal, then you’ll still land in the 99th percentile. That same score of 45 out of 51 in Quantitative is considered 59th percentile. This is because a lot more students are scoring a 51 in Quant than in Verbal.

It is comparative.

This has a flip side too.

With the Quant percentile starting at 97%, every mistake you make drastically drops your score.

But it is not that vast when it comes to the Verbal percentiles. This means that the scope for improvement in Verbal will not be that steep.

3. How does the GMAT adaptive scoring algorithm work?

When we discussed GMAT scoring, we had mentioned that it is better to make mistakes at an interval and not continuously. When you understand the GMAT adaptive scoring algorithm, you will get to know in detail why we emphasized that point.

GMAT scoring does not work like our usual test scoring.

When you were in school, if you got 8 one-mark questions correct out of ten questions, you got an 8/10, correct?

But the GMAT algorithm does not work in a linear fashion. It is terribly precise!

And due to the same reason, your GMAT score gets computed after every question.

By doing this, the algorithm is keeping a constant check on you and your GMAT score. If you get an answer correct, you are rewarded with a high score. But at the same time, the GMAT will penalize you for a wrong answer.

So the GMAT is constantly trying to test your Quant and Verbal ability, that too within a short span of time and with a limited number of questions.

To accurately assess a person’s ability from 200 to 800 – means you have 61 possible scores on the GMAT.

Let’s understand the GMAT adaptive scoring algorithm better:

When you begin your exam, the GMAT will ask you an average difficulty level question.

Why so?

Because we need to begin someplace and starting in the middle is the most optimized strategy.

Based on the accuracy of your response, the GMAT will either reward you by bumping you up to a higher level, maintain you at the same level, or demote you to a lower level.

If you get the right answer, the next question that pops up on your screen may be of the same difficulty level or in some cases, a higher difficulty level.

If you get the answer wrong, the GMAT will ask you another question of the same level, or an easier one.

By asking such a series of questions, GMAT figures out the range or the band at which you are at. Then, it will ask further questions to understand the specific score within that range.

In short, the GMAT exam adapts to your performance on every question.

Consider this example:

If you look at the chart below, we have 3 test-takers.

Let’s assume that all three of them have started with an average difficulty level question.

Let us look at their performance on the 1st question:

T1 answered right, and hence progressed from the score range of 500 to 600.

T2 answered wrong and dropped from 500 to 400.

T3 also answered wrong and dropped from 500 to 400.

Moving on to the 2nd question.

T1 answered right, again – he jumped to the 700 score range.

T2 answered right and made a small jump to the 450 range.

T3 however, answered wrong, again, and dropped further down to 300.

As you can see, the score trend lines are high or low depending upon the answer provided to the previous question.

Which also incidentally, is how the adaptive algorithm works.

So if you are on your 25th question on the GMAT, the algorithm has data about your performance on the previous 24 questions. This means the algorithm is intelligent enough to get a good sense of where you are currently and will calculate your difficulty level to provide questions accordingly.

It selects each question based on your answer to the previous one, and your performance so far.

So, if you get a difficult-level question, this could most probably mean that you are attempting a higher difficulty level question. 🙂

4. How is the GMAT total score calculated?

As mentioned in the beginning, the GMAT score ranges between 200 and 800.

Quick facts!

As a GMAT test-taker, you cannot fail because the GMAT is a competitive test. You get the GMAT total score, which can be anywhere between 200 and 800.

The Verbal and Quantitative scores range from 6 to 51.

Your GMAT total score is generated by considering your Verbal and Quant scores.

You may not be familiar with a GMAT score chart. But, you can take a look at the chart below to just get a glimpse of what it is.

WP Table Builder

If you want to know how to use a GMAT score chart to understand your score, you might want to check out this blog specifically written to address this important question: How to Use GMAT Score Charts to Understand Your Score

If you look at the score chart, you will realize that there is more than one way to achieve a specific GMAT total score.

If you are strong in Quant, you can try to get a high score in Quant and improve your GMAT total score.

For instance, you can score

Q50, V37 to get a GMAT 720

On the other hand, if you are strong in Verbal, you could probably score,

Q46, V40 to get a GMAT 700

And if you are equally strong in Verbal and Quant, that is going to be really great for you. 🙂

You will get to know which one of the two areas you are good at, once you start your GMAT prep.

Also watch:How you can score a 740 on your first GMAT attempt

5. What are the accepted average GMAT scores at top B-schools?

Let’s get to the most interesting section of this article.

We are calling this the most interesting section because this is where you get to know the GMAT score that you need to aim for.

So, quick question here:

Have you shortlisted your B-schools already?

Which are the B-schools that you are looking to get into? You can probably mention them in the comments section below. We may be able to help you.

If you have shortlisted the B-schools, you can check out the table below to know the GMAT score you need to target. If not, this will be your first step to shortlisting your B-schools!

WP Table Builder

If you were shocked to see the high average GMAT scores that the top B-schools accept, you really don’t have to worry.

With a few months of consistent preparation and the right guidance, you can easily achieve the desired GMAT score.

And if you have already started your GMAT preparation but feel that you need a structured approach, you can just click on the image below and get on a one-on-one call with our experts. They will be happy to guide you.

With this, we have come to the end of this blog.

We hope that you are now clear about getting a good GMAT score, how GMAT scoring, percentiles work, and more importantly how the GMAT adaptive scoring algorithm works!

If you have any further questions, feel free to put them down in the comments section below. One of our experts will respond to them. 🙂

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