The GMAT is a confusing test — not only is the material itself difficult, the scoring doesn’t resemble anything you’ve see in school. What counts as a passing the GMAT? How can you do it? In this article, I’ll define a GMAT passing score and offer tips on how pass the GMAT and reach your goals.
What Does It Mean to Pass the GMAT?
There’s no real “passing” or “failing” in terms of the GMAT, meaning that there’s no official way that you can pass or fail the exam. However, a low GMAT score can certainly keep you out of MBA programs. Looking at it that way, a GMAT passing score is one that helps you in the MBA admissions process, while a failing one is one that hurts you.
Different programs accept a wide variety of GMAT scores, depending on their level of selectivity. At Stanford, for example, the average GMAT score of incoming students is 737, while it’s 582 at the Wake Forest School of Business.
In other words, when it comes down to it, a good GMAT score is the one that gets you into the business school that you want, so that’s how we’ll define a passing score. A passing GMAT score, as we’re defining it here, won’t get your application thrown out at the MBA programs you apply to. Ideally, your GMAT score will even be high enough to give you an extra boost in the admissions process.
How to Set a Target GMAT Score
Before you can figure out how to pass the GMAT, you have to know what a GMAT passing score is for you. So how do you know what that magic number is? It depends on where you’re applying.
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It’s important to set a target GMAT score for yourself as you start the prep process, so you can know where you’re starting and where you’re headed. Ideally, your target GMAT score will be a bit higher than a passing score, so that you have a cushion to fall back on and increase your chances of admission at your favorite schools.
Let’s go over the process of setting your own target GMAT score.
First, research schools and make a list of your preferred MBA programs. Do your homework and choose the schools that best fit your career goals and life circumstances (for example, you might want a part-time or online MBA program if you’re already working, or an executive MBA program if you already have extensive work experience).
Once you’ve made a list of your prospective business schools, research the average GMAT scores of incoming students at each program. You can do this by searching the class profiles for the most recently admitted students in a given year. Almost all business programs post class profiles with information about the demographics of their students, including average GPAs and GMAT scores. In your list of schools, record the average GMAT score at each program.
Find the highest average GMAT score in your list. Your target GMAT score should be that score plus 30 points, to create a cushion for yourself.
Remember that a “passing” score (aka, one that would give you a good chance of getting into your MBA program of choice), though, isn’t your target score. Because of the buffer we’ve added, because your target score is based on average GMAT scores (meaning that a number of admitted students scored lower than the given number), and because you used the highest score in your list of schools, a slightly lower score likely wouldn’t take you out of the running at a particular program.
How to Pass The GMAT: 6 Study Tips
The best way to reach your GMAT passing score is to prepare effectively. Let’s go over six study tips for how to pass the GMAT that will help you do the best you can on the exam.
#1: Learn the GMAT Format
First and foremost, you need to learn the ins and outs of the GMAT format. You might have excelled in math classes in high school and college, for example, but still struggle with the GMAT quant section. The GMAT tests skills in specific ways that you might not be used to dealing with. It’s important to familiarize yourself with the rhythm, pacing, and visuals of the GMAT.
One way to do this is, of course, by taking computerized adaptive practice tests. These are available in resources such as the GMATPrep Software, which is free with an account at mba.com and contains two full-length practice tests that are nearly identical in content and visuals to what you’ll see on the exam.
You can also use resources like the Official Guide to GMAT Review 2017 to learn the GMAT format inside and out and familiarize yourself with what will appear on the exam, as well as strategies you can use on each section and question type.
#2: Practice With Real GMAT Questions
The best way to gauge your progress as you prepare for the GMAT is to practice with questions authored by the Graduate Management Admissions Council (GMAC). Official GMAT practice questions are offered in the free GMATPrep Software, and on other GMAC resources like the GMAT Question Pack, GMAT Exam Packs 1 and 2, the GMAT Paper Tests, the Official Guide to GMAT Review 2017, the GMAT Integrated Reasoning Prep Tool, and GMAT Write (which helps you with the essay section).
Using official GMAT questions for practice is important because they’ll match the tone, content, and (usually, if online) visuals on the exam. GMAT questions do not vary from year to year in what they test or how they’re written. The more accustomed you can get to the specificity of the GMAT and the way the questions will be presented to you on exam day, the better.
#3: Review the Basic Skills
The GMAT tests fundamental skills in math, grammar, and reading comprehension. Besides using GMAT-specific practice questions, you’ll also need to address any gaps in your knowledge of the basics that will help you succeed on the exam.
For an overview of math skills like geometry and algebra that you’ll need to use on the GMAT, check out our complete GMAT Math guide. For a grammar review, use our guide to the most important GMAT grammar rules.
#4: Focus on Your Weaknesses
Once you’ve taken a practice test or two, you should be able to see patterns in your errors. It’s not enough to know the patterns of the GMAT and its idiosyncrasies: You also have to know your own error patterns, because focusing on your weaknesses will give you the biggest improvement in terms of your score. If you avoid repeating the same mistakes, you can break out of a rut and avoid plateauing as you continue to practice. Looking over the practice tests you’ve completed, notice both major and minor error patterns. What do you need to work on?
A major gap in your knowledge might be a general struggle on the quant section as compared to the verbal section, for example, so you might invest in some quant-specific practice materials to brush up on your skills in that area.
Or you might struggle with a particular question type, such as sentence correction questions; if so, create practice quizzes for yourself that focus on sentence corrections.
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On a micro level, within reading comprehension questions, you might have trouble making inferences (which you would start to recognize when reading answer explanations). Use our guides to reading comprehension strategies and practice (coming soon) to help you with finding resources and developing skills in this area.
#5: Work On Your Timing
Calculate about how long each question should take you in each section of the GMAT. Keep in mind there will of course be variation depending on the amount of work involved to answer a given question, but it will give you a good idea of what pace you should be setting for yourself as you practice.
Improve your timing through drills. Using practice questions from the GMATPrep Software or other materials, customize practice quizzes designed to help you beat your previous time without sacrificing accuracy in your answers. Try to answer 20 questions in 20 minutes, for example, then 20 questions in 15 minutes on a different day. Set a particular goal for how many questions of a particular type you should be able to answer in a given time limit, and strive to come closer to it with each study session.
#6: Avoid Careless Mistakes
Many GMAT errors are careless ones, meaning that they don’t necessarily result from the test-taker’s lack of knowledge. Most careless mistakes result from missing important details or failing to read the question in its entirety.
To avoid missing important details in reading comprehension passages, for example, you can take notes as you read on your provided scratch pad. You also shouldn’t skim the passages; if you have trouble getting through the passages in their entirety, use articles in newspapers and magazines like The Economist and The New York Times to practice reading more quickly.
It may seem obvious, but some students (often unconsciously) try to save time by skimming the question itself and skipping to the answer choices. It’s important not to do this, as the problems and passages (such as in problem solving quant questions and critical reasoning passages in the verbal section) contain all the information you need to answer the question. The language in the question itself is also important, as you could easily miss the gist of the question or what it’s really asking you to find or do if you don’t read it thoroughly, word for word.
For more information about how to conquer your personal best when it comes to the GMAT, check out our tips for how to beat the GMAT.
What’s a Good GMAT Score? will help you if you’re looking for more specific information on scores at top MBA programs.
If you’re looking for more test-taking strategies, tips, and materials, this complete guide to preparing for the GMAT and our collection of GMAT study plans (coming soon) are excellent resources.