Understanding Your GMAT Practice Scores

With Round 1 application deadlines for many schools just a scant 3 months away, many people are revving up their preparation. One big component of the application process is the test score (GMAT or GRE) that most schools require, and a big part of any preparation are practice tests. In a later post we’re going to discuss how practice test scores influence when we should take the GMAT, but today we’re going to take a look at how practice tests (or an official score you’re not happy with) should inform your preparation decisions.

Before we get into discussing practice test scores, we should take a moment to clarify a few important considerations about practice tests themselves:

1) Not all practice tests are created equal

Practice tests from most reputable test prep companies will give you a reasonably accurate reflection of how you’re scoring (not to mention valuable practice with the full-length computer-adaptive format). However, none is better than practice tests from the folks that produce the GMAT. GMAC makes available (free of charge) their GMATPrep software, which includes two full-length practice tests. They are the most realistic and accurate tests available. If you’re looking to get the best sense of how you’d do on the GMAT, take a GMATPrep test. But since there are only two, you’ll probably have to supplement it with secondary tests.

2) Don’t think scores, think score ranges

While everyone reports and thinks of GMAT scores in terms of solitary numbers (one each for AWA, IR, Quant, Verbal, and the total score), GMAT scores are better understood in terms of score ranges of about 3o points above and below the specific score. Think “if I took the GMAT today, I would have received a score 30 points above or below this score.” (This is called the standard error of measurement for all you fellow psychometricians, statisticians, and quant jocks  out there.)

3) Absolute Necessity

A practice test before you start your prep is absolutely vital for a number of reasons:

  • It allows to to get a sense of how far you’ll need to go to reach your target scores.
  • It will help you approximate a timeline for how long (and how hard) you’ll need to prep.
  • It will reveal strengths and weaknesses in your GMAT knowledge and performance that will let you better shape your prep for maximum effectiveness.

Many students often feel like they should prepare before they take a practice test. They have a number of reasons for this feeling – from anxiety and fear to doubt about the value of an unprepared-for test – but the simple reality is it is far more effective to know where you’re starting and what you’re starting with (and thereby know what you need or are lacking) than to prepare blindly simply to assuage our fears or egos.

Once you have a practice test score, you can then create your prep plan. Keep in mind that this is always done in the context of being realistic - of your time, support, resources, and target scores. See the chart below of general recommendations of what to consider from your practice test score and how you should proceed with your preparation based on your results:


If your score is between 200 and 400

  • devote a few weeks to self-study in order to review the basic rules
  • consider hiring a tutor who can focus more specifically on the basic rules than most courses will
  • consider taking a basic math class (Algebra I or College Math) at a local college before taking a prep course
  • take some practice exams and determine your math and verbal strengths and weaknesses
  • Start your prep today and give yourself a head start!
Prior to attending a general prep course you should:
If your score is between 680 and 800
  • Consider whether you have seen these questions before and whether test is truly representative of how you may perform on the official test.
  • Consistency is key! Study consistently, take weekly practice exams from different companies then,
  • if your score is consistent take the GMAT within the month
  • if your score is inconsistent, review the inconsistency and work with your GMAT instructor
If your score of one section is 15+ points higher than the other
  • Consider doing some preliminary work in your weaker area before taking a class
  • Consider hiring a tutor to develop your weak area before taking a class or to polish both areas more after taking a class


Hopefully this helps you set up a great preparation plan. If you want more specific advice, please join us for a free GMAT class. You can view schedules here.

Check out these other posts about evaluating your practice tests.

1. How many practice tests are too many

2. Evaluating Practice Tests: Part 1 – What Not to Ask an AO

3. Evaluating Practice Tests: Part Deux

4. GMAT Practice Tests

5. Admission and Application Spotlight: Making a Timeline



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