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Posted by ian on Fri 26 Sep 08 at 1:55am

GMAT Score Inflation

In recent years GMAT scores have been trending upwards. When the GMAT (or more accurately, its forerunner, the ATGSB) was first administered in 1954, the test was designed to have an average score of 500, with a standard deviation of 100. The average GMAT score actually fell from that point- in 1984, the average GMAT score was roughly 460. In recent years, however, the average GMAT score has climbed, and is now 535. In particular, average scores in the Quantitative section of the test improved markedly after the GMAT adopted the computer adaptive format in 1997.

Comparing the published percentile tables from 2001-2003, 2003-2005 (from the Official Guide), and the current percentile table provided to recent test takers, a few things become clear:

-The percentile table published in the 11th Edition of the Official Guide is no longer accurate. In the Total Score percentile table, in the score range from 500 to 690, each of the percentiles in the Official Guide's table is between three and four percentile points higher than in the most recent table. That means that over the past three years, higher GMAT scores have become more common. For example, from 2003-2005, 83% scored below 650. Now, only 80% score below 650. The mean GMAT score has also risen by almost ten points from 2003-2005 to the most recent table- from 526.6 to 535.2.

-Comparing the 2001-2003 table with the 2003-2005 table shows only one percentile point differences in most cases. That is, there was only a slight shift upwards in scores from 2003 to 2005. The percentile shift from 2005 to now is considerably larger. There are many possible reasons why the last few years have witnessed such a dramatic rise in GMAT scores, but that's something we'll look at in a future article.

-While an increasing proportion of GMAT test-takers are scoring in the elite score range, an increasing proportion is also scoring in the lowest scoring bands: scores are spreading out. For example, a 630 on the 800 point scale would have put you in the 79th percentile in 2003. In 2005, a 630 was in the 78th percentile, while now, a 630 corresponds to the 75th percentile. That is, only 21% of test takers were scoring a 630 or higher in 2002, while now 25% are doing so. At the other end of the score spectrum, a 290 was, in 2005, only in the 2nd percentile, but is now the 3rd percentile; a slightly larger proportion of people are scoring in the 200-300 range as well. So many more people are getting high scores now, but a few more people are getting very low scores as well. As you might expect from the fact that scores are spreading out, the standard deviation of test scores has also increased, from 117 in 2005 to 120.2 now.

-some of these percentile shifts might be important when applying to Business Schools which require a minimum percentile in one or both sections of the test. If you need to be in the 80th percentile in Quant, for example, it is slightly harder than it used to be. For comparison:

Quantitative Section/ Scaled Score 2001/ Scaled Score 2008
90th percentile or above 49 50
80th percentile or above 47 48
50th percentile or above 37 37
20th percentile or above 26 27

Verbal Section/ Scaled Score 2001/ Scaled Score 2008
90th percentile or above 40 41
80th percentile or above 36 37
50th percentile or above 28 29
20th percentile or above 20 21

Overall Score/ 2001/ 2008
90th percentile or above 680 700
80th percentile or above 640 650
50th percentile or above 540 550
20th percentile or above 440 440

We'll investigate why so many more people are getting high scores in a later blog.



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