GMAT Score: Crossing the 700 Line (Part 1)

Written by Kelly Granson. Posted in GMAT Study Tips

gmat-scoringDo you imagine earning a high GMAT score? Of course, you do, but is your goal above 700? If you have seriously decided to enter one of the top business schools, you should think about how to achieve that.

A popular myth says that if you answer correctly the first 8 or 10 questions, nothing afterward will affect your score. This is just not true. If the test depended on only 8 or 10 questions, then there would be only 8 or 10 questions. Of course, you should give some extra time and pay close attention to the first 10 questions, if only to get your bearings, but this does not mean that other questions don't matter. If you can't answer them correctly, your score will be nowhere close to 700.

Adherents of this myth may spend more than half their time on the first 10 questions with the deplorable result that they do not have time to answer the remaining questions, adversely affecting their scores. (If you do not answer all the questions, you will lose points.) So the first rule is: Manage your time effectively. Sure, take a little more time for the first 10 questions, but don't neglect the remainder.

Another hazard of this myth is undue confidence in extraordinary outcomes. In practice, very few people answer correctly the first 10 questions. Why? Because with each correct answer, succeeding problems are more difficult. The probability that you will make a mistake on at least one of those first questions is close to 1. (That's almost a guarantee!) If you answer the first question correctly, the second question will be harder. If you answer the second correctly, the third will be even harder, and so on. Suppose that you have answered the first 9 questions correctly. Almost certainly, the tenth question will take you by surprise—no one is immune to error, even after years of preparation. Do not count on perfectly answering the first 10 questions!

Another myth says that doing well on one section can "pull up" your total score. For example, assume that you are strong in math. You register for the test, and on the last day before you are to sit, you realize that the test has a verbal section. You aren't scared, though; you're a math whiz. Or imagine another scenario in which you are not a math genius but you believe you know English well. In mathematics, you didn't advance much past the multiplication table. Roots, powers, algebra...such words are not your lexicon. You are not afraid of math; you are horrified by it. So you begin to prepare diligently. When test day comes, you pass the math section with a smile, but on the verbal section, you discover that you scarcely know English at all. (This happens to both native and non-native speakers of English.) The reason is simple: to think that the verbal section is only English is as irrational as expecting the first 10 questions to make your whole score. But you're not upset—you figure the math section will save you. Sadly, you're wrong. The truth is that the verbal section affects your total GMAT score more than the quantitative section does.

Here's how it works. –A score of 700 or higher (93%) can result from 45 points on the verbal section (98%) and 40 points on the quantitative section (66%). Note that the combined result (93%) is closer to the result of the verbal section (98%). If the total result were just the arithmetic mean, your score would be 640. Here's another example. You pass the verbal section with 49 points (99%) and fail the math with 37 points (56%). Miracle! Your score is 710 (95%). The conclusion is obvious—the verbal section is worth more.

Can this system work in the opposite direction, so that math is crucial? No. The reason is simple: test design. The test is taken by many foreigners, who generally have better math skills than native speakers have. Moreover, many native speakers have the same problem—they do better on the quantitative section. That is why the test was designed in such a way that the verbal section is a bit more important than the quantitative. For example, if you get 50 points on math (97%) and 37 on verbal (82%), your score is 670 (89%). Hence the second rule: It is impossible to get a very high score without doing well on the verbal section. However, this rule has an important corollary: If you're going to enter one of the top schools, you will need a balanced score.

You might wonder how far (or to what level) the verbal section can "pull up" the total result. The answer is: to 750. If you received 750 or above, you did very well on both sections.

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