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GMAT Tip: Calculating GMAT Scores

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1 + 1 = 2 except when it equals 3. Right? For most assessments, the process of evaluating one’s performance is pretty formulaic. Scores on most high school and university exams are based on the percentage of questions answered correctly. On the SAT (though changing in 2016), a student’s score is calculated by taking the number of correct responses, subtracting the number of incorrect responses multiplied by 0.25 and then using a lookup table to find a correlating score.  However, the GMAT has perplexed test takers for decades with its quant and verbal score scales of 0-60 and even less relevant total score scale of 200-800.

So how exactly are GMAT scores calculated?

Scores are based on a few different factors including the number of questions answered correctly, the number of questions answered within the allotted section time (out of 75 minutes), and the degree of difficulty of the questions.  Let’s break down what these three factors actually mean.

The first is pretty straight forward, in order to receive points, test takers need to answer questions correctly.  Nix the rumored automatic 200 points for filling in your name. All points on the GMAT are earned through hard work, competence and maybe a lucky guess here and there.

Next, test takers need to complete every section of the test.  For quant, that’s 37 questions in 75 minutes, and for verbal, that’s 41 questions in 75 minutes. Some simple math suggests that’s approximately two minutes per quant question and a little less time for each verbal question.  It’s an aggressive pace, especially on a test that rewards correct answers with more difficult content.  Thus, it shouldn’t be a surprise that time management is the greatest challenge faced by test takers.  While there is no penalty for incorrect answers, there is a significant penalty if a test taker fails to complete a section of the test. An analysis completed by GMAC within the last five years revealed that leaving up to five questions blank on a section could result in up to a 15 percentile point decrease on one’s GMAT score.

A quick sidebar on section completion: if a test taker is running out of time, it’s strongly recommended that s/he randomly guess on the remaining questions to ensure that s/he completes the section.  Here’s a little-known tip for any test taker who might be pressed for time on the last question. Before starting to work on the question, select any answer choice, but don’t hit submit. If time runs out, and the test taker isn’t able to select the answer of his/her choice, at least an answer has been submitted. An incorrect answer is still better than an incomplete section.

Finally, question difficulty might seem like a relative concept. For some folks, geometry is an Achilles heel whereas others might see special triangles in their pancakes or billiard tables. In reality (and hopefully to test takers’ relief), each question has an assigned difficulty coefficient that is calculated by a team of psychometricians who utilize an objective range of data points. (And if that sounds purposefully vague, it is. But rest assured there is a science to this.)  This benefits test takers who see more difficult questions because just as high school students might be rewarded with a weighted GPA as a result of taking Advanced Placement (AP) or Honors courses instead of their “regular” counterparts, the GMAT recognizes and rewards test takers who are able to answer enough questions correctly to “earn” access to the more difficult questions. These questions likely take more time and are missed more frequently, but just by gaining access, test takers are rewarded for their efforts.

A candidate’s total score is based on the combination of the quant and verbal scores. The Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC) doesn’t release any details on the formula, but know that the quant and verbal are equally weighted when calculating the total score.  The moral of this story is that even with one’s best efforts, there is no secret sauce or formula that one can decipher to calculate one’s total score in a linear fashion.  Rather, candidates are better off hitting the books to prep for the questions they’ll actually see on test day.

The above article comes from Veritas Prep. Since its founding in 2002, Veritas Prep has helped more than 100,000 students prepare for the GMAT and offers the most highly rated GMAT Prep course in the industry.

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