U.S. Versus The World: The Battle Of GMAT Scores By School


So — why are international scores so much higher?

“One reason may be that international test-takers, at least in my experience, have more ability to take off work to study,” says Marissa Samuel Vecsler, founder of 99th Percentile Tutoring, a standardized test prep company the works with graduate school applicants. “One reason that I’ve seen is that a larger percentage of them are employed by family businesses. Also, in certain countries, they just have more flexibility at their companies to take off time to study.

Marissa Samuel Vecsler. Courtesy photo

“Some Asian countries also have more of a study culture — the student goes in with the intention to spend a long time on this and learn all the tricks. This doesn’t carry over well to everything — it’s for sure not all about memorizing tricks or spending forever studying. In fact I teach my students a much different way to study. But it can help when compared with the U.S. investment banker who expects to spend just three months, keeps getting pulled away from studying on big projects, and doesn’t have a tutor to guide him/her on efficient studying.

“Also, maybe it’s a bit of a brain drain thing from certain places. So on the one hand, you have the students who come from wealthy families, which allows them to work for a flexible family business or even ‘pretend’ to work for that business when in reality the student has quit his or her job to study and now just works part-time at the family business (to have something in his/her resume — a story to tell). Or because of family connections, the student can do this with the business of a family friend.

“But on the other hand, you have the students who don’t come from wealth. So in the U.S., how hard is it to apply to and contemplate B-school given that the student is already here? But for the international student, there is much more to traverse. So if the student is not from a wealthy family that makes this part relatively easy, then the student has to have tons of grit or brains or, most likely, both. This points to a better score.”

Paul Bodine also alludes to cultural causes behind internationals’ consistent testing advantage.

“My guess as to why international students at top U.S. business schools have higher average scores than U.S. applicants is, they come from developing/aspiring countries and cultures where educational and professional success is a zero-sum game: entrance to top schools is driven by academic and test-taking skill, period,” he says. “Hence, students from these countries are grimly and laser-focused on achieving via quantitative metrics. They are more willing to put in the extra study time and more willing to use after-school prep facilities to juice their numbers, because they know what’s at stake and what must be done. They may also realize that U.S. business schools are still largely focused on educating Americans, so they must gain the hard test numbers that incentivize schools to admit them, which by raising those schools’ average GMAT score lifts those schools’ place in the rankings.

“India and China are also vastly larger populations than the U.S., so even if the same percentage of test-takers in each country is scoring in the upper 10-20% of the score range, in countries with vastly larger populations there will be a larger net number of people with high scores.”


How will the at-home version of the GMAT change the dynamic? Will scores go up or down, or stay the same?

Or even more remarkably, could one group’s average score go up while another’s drops?

Bodine names a few scenarios in which U.S. test-takers could catch up with their international counterparts.

“U.S. applicants may have some advantage in that it may be easier for more of them to take the test in an ‘un-distracted’ environment,” he says. “For a larger percentage of international applicants, it might be harder to simulate the quiet, controlled environment of a traditional test site in their own homes because of factors like population density, family size, power grid reliability, etc. This might help U.S. applicants post higher average scores.

“Also, if China is not even allowing its citizens to take the online test, then — given that China ranks second behind the U.S. globally in number of test-takers — their absence could warp the at-home GMAT score averages versus the traditional test.”

See the next page for a table showing the domestic-U.S.-versus-international GMAT average breakdown at the top 50 U.S. MBA programs.

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