The Verbal section of the GMAT often gets the short end of the stick when it comes to discussion, and there’s very little free information out there focusing solely on this oft-neglected part of your Total score. So if you’ve navigated to this article, you’re probably wondering: how high of a score do you need to do “well” on the GMAT Verbal? How do business schools assess Verbal scores and percentiles, and what’s a good score for your target schools? You might be wondering exactly how much your Verbal score affects your Total score as well.
Luckily, you’ve come to the right place! The below guide will give you all the important context for understanding the Verbal score on the GMAT. We’ll give you the entire GMAT Verbal score range, the general parameters for a “good” score and a “great” score, and all the guidelines for setting a target Verbal score for yourself.
How Is the GMAT Verbal Section Scored?
First, let’s quickly review how the Verbal section is scored. Just like Quantitative scores, Verbal scores on the GMAT reach from 0 to 60 in single-digit increments. However, in practice, the top of the GMAT Verbal score range is 51—so a 51 is considered a perfect score on either section.
Along with your scaled score, you will also be given a percentile ranking. This corresponds to the percentage of test-takers whom you scored higher than. For example, if you scored in the 75th percentile on the Verbal section, this means you did better on that section than 75% of people who took the exam. This percentile is based on the last three years of GMAT scores, so if you took the test in 2014, your 75th percentile score would encompass all GMAT-takers from 2012 through 2014.
Thus, while scaled scores are static, percentiles can (and do) change over time. Percentiles help contextualize your scores by comparing them with those of other applicants, and they are assessed by business schools along with the scaled score to see how you measure up.
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What’s a Good GMAT Verbal Score Overall?
Now that we know how scoring works, we can get right into what constitutes a good GMAT Verbal score. At a basic level, a good GMAT Verbal score is one that gets you into the program of your choice, which means it can vary quite a lot depending on where you plan to apply.
However, we can still draw some rough conclusions about what generally qualifies as a good score. To see the full GMAT Verbal score range and get a sense of how your score stacks up, check out the GMAT Verbal percentile table below.
|VERBAL SCALED SCORE||PERCENTILE RANKING|
(Data used is from 2013 through 2015, the most current available data from GMAC.)
As you can see, it is very, very challenging to score highly on the Verbal section. Scores above 44 are rare; anywhere in the 45 to 51 range puts you in the top 1% of test-takers. A score of 40 or above puts you in the top 10%. A score of 36 puts you in the top 20%. A score of 28 or above puts you in the top 50%. The mean (average) score on the Verbal is a 28.6, up one point from 27.8 ten years ago.
So a 36 or above would generally be considered a “good” score on the Verbal section. This puts you in the top 20% of test-takers and, even outside of percentile rankings, demonstrates to business schools that you can safely handle all the reading and writing required of you in an MBA curriculum (more on this below).
But the Verbal score doesn’t just stand on its own: understanding how the Verbal score raises or lowers the Total score is just as important for assessing what a “good” GMAT Verbal score means in context.
How Does the GMAT Verbal Score Influence the Total Score?
As stated above, it’s important to know that your Verbal score will both stand on its own and factor into your Total score. The Total score is a scaled score encompassing the Verbal and Quantitative sections: it reflects a combination of your performance on both for a more holistic measurement of your aptitude. It is the score referred to most often and is the most important part of your GMAT score for your business school application.
The good news: This two-section combination means that there are multiple ways to get the same Total score on the GMAT. The exact way in which the Quant and Verbal scores are mediated is proprietary to the GMAC, but from data from years past, you can roughly say that one point up on one section and one point down on the other will yield about the same Total score. For example, a 51 on the Verbal and a 35 on the Quant would yield about a 700 Total score, as would a 50 and a 36, as would a 49 and a 37, and so on all the way through a 35 on the Verbal and a 51 on the Quant.
Now, the bad news: GMAT Quant scores have skyrocketed in recent years—in turn raising Total scores. This is largely due to the changing demographics of test-takers worldwide: according to the Wall Street Journal, “Asia-Pacific students have shown a mastery of the quantitative portion” of the GMAT, and these students now “comprise 44% of current GMAT test-takers, up from a decade ago, when they represented 22%.”
By contrast, as stated above, scores on the Verbal section have risen by just 1% over the last 10 years. But the rise in Quant scores still means that it’s harder to land in the same Total score percentile as students from years past—you’d have to do extremely well on the Verbal to compensate for the increased Quant competitiveness.
But don’t get too demoralized! While understanding these percentile trends is important, it’s good to remember that the scaled scores themselves are static. Scaled scores are designed to be an absolute, timeless metric for judging how prepared you are for academic success in a graduate-level management program. Business schools absolutely expect that someone who scored a 40 on the Verbal in 2017 is just as likely to succeed in the classroom as someone who scored 40 on the Verbal in 1987, even though the corresponding percentile rankings have changed since then.
How Much Do GMAT Verbal Scores Actually Matter to Business Schools?
At this point, you understand what a good score on the Verbal section is and how this metric can raise or lower your Total score. But what do business schools think about all this? Do they care equally about the Quant and the Verbal, or is your Total score by itself the only thing that matters?
Unfortunately, schools don’t release statistics on Quant/Verbal score breakdowns—just the Total score itself—so it’s difficult to tell what qualifies as a high or low Verbal score at a given school. This omission also reflects the the general importance of the Total score.
However, surveys of and interviews with admissions personnel indicate that business schools generally give more weight to the Quant score, as graduate-level management courses are largely math-intensive. Moreover, schools do give some leeway to international ESL (English as a second language) students, who aren’t as likely to score highly on the Verbal section as native English speakers.
Ultimately, business schools definitely prefer a balanced score on both sections to one with a drastic difference between the two. As stated above, not all equal Total scores are created the same. Doing terribly on either the Quant or the Verbal, or having a drastic difference between scores, signals to admissions that you might lack the skills necessary to succeed in all parts of an MBA curriculum.
In general, because business schools care more about the Quant section and because it is extremely hard to score highly on the Verbal, your scores are far more likely to raise a red flag if Quant is the one on the low side.
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For example, if you get a 720 Total score on the GMAT by getting an amazing 51 on the Verbal but a 37 on the Quant, that would put you in the bottom 40% of Quant scorers and would definitely call into question whether or not you could handle the math-intensive coursework in an MBA program. However, if you get a 720 by getting a 51 on the Quant and a 36 on the Verbal, that would still put you in the top 20% of Verbal scorers—which likely wouldn’t raise any red flags about your ability to succeed in class.
There’s also an element of personal variability to consider: If your professional or academic background is light on math, it will be more important for you to do well on the Quant section to demonstrate to admissions that you can handle the corresponding work in an MBA curriculum. On the other hand, If you’ve taken a ton of high-level math courses and have worked in a math-heavy field, you’ll likely be well prepared for the Quant anyway and may want to spend more of your study time on Verbal—to show your target schools that you’re just as capable of reading and writing at management level.
What’s a Good GMAT Verbal Score for Top Business Schools?
What are the best business schools looking for when it comes to your GMAT Verbal score?
Every year, the top-ranked business schools release the average or median GMAT Total scores for their incoming classes. Using this information and US News & World Report’s 2017 business school rankings, we have calculated that the average GMAT score for the top 10 business schools in America is currently about 722.4. This includes Harvard Business School, Stanford, University of Chicago (Booth), University of Pennsylvania (Wharton), Northwestern University (Kellogg), MIT (Sloan), Dartmouth (Tuck), Berkeley (Haas), Yale, and Columbia.
Note that to get a 720 Total score—which hits this average and places you in the top 10% of scorers worldwide—you’ll likely need at least a 36 on the Verbal. And that’s only if you get a perfect 51 on the Quant!
So, if, you’re targeting top business schools like these, a good, though ambitious, goal would be to aim for at least a 40 on the Verbal, which would put you in the top 10% of test-takers (as you can see from the GMAT Verbal percentile table above). If your Quant scores are stellar, then it’s okay to dip into the high 30s on Verbal—but really nailing the Verbal section can’t hurt in your quest to stand out from the pool of high-scoring Quant applicants.
Now that you’re an expert on GMAT Verbal scores and how they are assessed by business schools, let’s discuss how to determine what a good one is for you personally.
How to Determine a Good GMAT Verbal Score for You
The first thing to do is to make a chart with the business schools you are targeting and their average (or median, if they don’t list the average) Total GMAT scores. You can use our handy GMAT score target worksheet to do so. The worksheet will help you figure out what your target Total score should be based on the highest score on the list.
However, it won’t help you set a goal for the section scores, which involves a bit more guesswork. Remember that a good verbal score for you is one that gets you to that goal Total score, so the trick is to estimate roughly where you need to score on the Verbal to reach your overall goal.
First, determine your baseline score (or starting point). Download the GMAT Prep Software and take a practice test. Do your best to simulate test-day conditions (a quiet room where you won’t be interrupted, no food or water except during timed breaks, and so on). After you’re done, the software will calculate your scaled scores, Total score, and percentile rankings for all five sections, including the Verbal.
Based on the difference between your Total score and your goal score, you can estimate how much you need to improve on Verbal and Math: a 2-3 point increase on Verbal or Quant corresponds to a 20 point increase of the Total score. (This estimate is based on crowdsourced data and is not 100% reliable, but it should give you at least a rough idea.) Then you can set Verbal and Quant score goals that will get you the Total score you’re aiming for, keeping in mind that your Quant score will ultimately be more important than your Verbal score.
For example, if my baseline is 650 Total, 33 Verbal, and 47 Quant and my goal is a 700, I’ll want to increase about six points across the two sections. I’m currently right around the 70th percentile on both sections, but I have a lot more room to improve on Verbal, so I’ll set my Verbal goal as 38 and my Quant goal as 48.
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Ultimately, a good Verbal score for you is one that enables you to hit the Total GMAT score that would put you safely in the average for your target schools, without letting Quant dip too far below it.
Check out our guide to what makes a good, excellent, and bad GMAT score for more on how business schools assess your performance on all sections of the GMAT. If you’re still feeling iffy on the basics, you should read our comprehensive breakdown of how GMAT scoring works first.
When you’re ready to get started, read through our 23 expert GMAT study tips to jumpstart your test prep. Do you find that you’re totally burned out by the time that you even get to the Verbal section? You’re not alone: read our nine tips for making it through the full GMAT length.
To increase your Verbal score specifically, study our GMAT Reading Strategies guide (coming soon).