Remember when a 700 score on a GMAT test was a true achievement, a sign that you were among the very best MBA candidates in the world? A 700 or plus score opened many of the doors to the most highly selective MBA programs in the world.
But thanks to ever-inflating scores on the test, a 700 score isn’t as distinctive as it once was. In the testing year 2021, 18% of the worldwide candidates who sat for the GMAT scored 700 or above, a significant increase from the 13% who achieved that level only five years earlier in 2017. In the U.S., it was even higher: 22.5% of the completed exams reached scores of 700 and up.
According to the Graduate Management Admission Council, 28,072 of the 156,453 GMAT exams taken in 2021 recorded 700 and up scores, vs. 32,490 of the 250,761 tests taken in 2017.
GMAT SCORES SENT TO SCHOOLS ARE CLIMBING: UP 35 POINTS IN FIVE YEARS
And when it came down to candidates sending scores to business schools for admission on a global basis, the average score jumped by 35 points in the past five years, to 648 from 613 (see table below).
Not surprisingly, perhaps, the biggest jump in average scores has occurred among applicants to U.S. business programs. Average GMAT scores sent to U.S. schools have climbed by a remarkable 45 points to 658 in 2021, up from 613 in 2017. It is no coincidence that U.S. News‘ MBA ranking, which does not include non-U.S. schools, weighs average class GMAT scores in its ranking calculations which put pressure on admission directors to over-index the scores in admission decisions.
IN INDIA, 21.1% OF TEST TAKERS HAVE GMAT SCORES OF 700 AND UP
GMAT scores, of course, vary by country. In India, for example, 21.1% of the tests taken were given scores of 700 or above. In the U.S., 22.5% of the completed exams bore scores of 700 and up, compared to 14.2% five years earlier. Test takers in Brazil do even better, with 23.1% of the exams having 700 and higher scores. In China, some 16.7% of the exams were scored at 700 or above. Some of the highest-scoring candidates hail from Australia and the Pacific Islands where a remarkable 31.7% of the exams had scores of 700 and up. In every region of the world, in fact, higher percentages of test takers are now scoring 700 or higher (see table on the following page).
The increase in average class GMATs reported by many business schools is a reflection of this inflation. One example: The University of Southern California’s Marshall School enrolled an MBA class with a 732 average GMAT, up 16 points from the score reported for the Class of 2021. In fact, Marshall had a great 2021, too — in the two classes that have enrolled since 2020, the Southern California B-school has seen its GMAT average jump an incredible 25 points.
“Every year over the past few years, it seems that one top MBA program or another announces that their average GMAT score for entering students is greater than the previous year, prompting many to ask ‘How high can it go?,’ says Stacey Koprince, content and curriculum director for Manhattan Prep. “We think the better questions may be ‘Why are they going so high and when might it stop?’”
‘THE RACE TO THE TOP IS ALMOST LIKE A GMAT SCORE ARMS RACE’
Koprince cites a number of reasons for the rise in scores, “but we wouldn’t call it inflation, as that may suggest the exam has gotten easier, which it definitely has not. Instead, the data set that goes into the average GMAT score calculation is changing—specifically, the weakest scores are dropping out of that set. There are multiple alternatives for those who aren’t confident that they can hit a 700+ score—most notably, candidates can take the GRE, but the onset of Covid also pushed many programs to go test-optional, and candidates who opt out of an exam are likely to be those who are less confident about scoring well on the GMAT.”
She adds that even for schools that do require an exam score, “programs will sometimes offer test waivers, for example when recruiting candidates who are further into their careers or those with non-traditional career paths, who might find it harder to earn a competitive GMAT score. Statistics show that average scores decline the longer that someone has been out of school.
“One other reason, which we think is actually a good reason, is that there is no longer a stigma about taking the GMAT multiple times,” adds Koprince. “Business schools just want to see your highest score. This race to the top is almost like a GMAT score arms race. And it’s likely to continue unless a block of influential business schools bands together and pushes back against the prominence that test scores have in rankings. In fact, in Manhattan Prep/Kaplan’s 2022 business school admissions officers survey, 34 percent of business schools think it would be a positive development, for both business schools and applicants, for business school rankings to no longer exist.”
Poets&Quants analyzed the data from GMAC’s latest report on overall test-taking and score-sending trends. All around, it was a tough year for test-taking. In the testing year 2021, only 106,565 candidates sat for the test, taking the exam a total of 156,453 times. That’s a 39.2% drop from the 175,200 candidates who sat for 250,761 GMAT exams, a 37.6% decline, in the testing year 2017. “A significant portion of the drop in TY2020 and TY2021 was due to the impact of COVID-19 on test center availability, candidate mobility, and uncertainty of the status of graduate programs,” according to the GMAC report.
The decline was even more dramatic during 2020 and 2021 when many schools announced changes to their application timelines and testing requirements in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. GMAC reported that only 66,626 unique GMAT examinees sent 301,107 score reports to programs around the world in 2021, down by 50% from the 133,345 GMAT test takers who sent 557,587 score reports (-46.0%) in 2017.
(See following page for table on how many test takers in any major country score a 700 and up)
DON’T MISS: GMAT SCORES AT THE TOP U.S. MBA PROGRAMS
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