Do the new GMAT percentiles mean the GMAT is now harder?

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Do the new GMAT percentiles mean the GMAT is now harder?

Two weeks ago, the GMAC released their 2014 update to GMAT score percentiles (you can see the new percentiles here or view them on GMAC’s website here). Like GMAC’s 2013 percentile adjustment, this year also witnessed both a rise in the average quantitative score and total score as well as a shift in percentile rank.

While the average raw verbal score fell slightly, the average GMAT score rose by nearly two points to 547 from last year’s 545, and the average quantitative raw score is now 38, a half-point rise from last year. GMAT percentiles for quantitative scores have dropped accordingly. For example, in 2013 a raw quantitative score of 50 represented the 89th percentile, and now it represents the 88th.

Check out the trends in average GMAT score, quant raw score and verbal raw score below.




So great, you think, your GMAT scores have now been degraded, and if you were to take the test again, it’d be harder than ever to improve your score, right?

Wrong. Despite the general rise in average scores and the corresponding fall in percentile rank, the GMAT is no harder than it was last year – or the years before – and the meaning of your score is the same. The only difference is that everyone else taking the GMAT has improved just slightly.

Test takers are improving at quant

Average scores – except the average verbal score – have been rising over the past years, but the change from 2013 to 2014 is minimal, if not negligible. A rise of a few points is not enough to dismantle the value of your score or degrade your application in the eyes of admission officers. The shift in percentile rank is also minute, certainly not enough to have much of an effect.

Furthermore, even though average scores have increased, the meaning behind scores remains unchanged. This is because it’s not the scores that are changing, it’s the people who are taking the GMAT.

As the trends show, the average GMAT test taker has been steadily improving. Nowhere is this more evident than in quant scores and their corresponding shift in percentile rank. Just three years ago, a quant score of 50 represented the 93rd percentile. This means that in 2011 if you scored 50 in quant, you scored higher than 93 percent of all test takers that year and the previous two years (percentiles compare the scores of all GMAT test takers over a three-year span). As mentioned above, today a raw quant score of 50 only puts you in the 88th percentile, which is still stellar and very difficult, but it’s not as uncommon as it once was.

What the new percentiles mean for admissions

As more people with superb quantitative skills take the GMAT, higher scores become more common, and the percentiles associated to these scores decrease. However, scoring a 50 on quant would still show you have amazing quantitative reasoning skills – the score indicates that you have the same level of ability as someone who scoreda 50 three years ago did – and this is the key point when considering what percentiles mean.

As discussed in a prior post, your GMAT scores are credentials to admission officers that demonstrate you have what it takes academically to succeed in a business program. AOs don’t get picky over a drop of one percentile; they know what scores mean and how they equate to student performance in their programs, so focus on making your scores just one part of an attractive application, and don’t sweat about GMAC’s 2014 update.


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