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Equating GMAT Focus vs GMAT Scoring Scales

gmat gmat focus edition Jan 18, 2024
gmat focus vs gmat scores

655 is the new 700

That's the simplest way of summarizing how the new GMAT Focus Edition scoring scale compares to old GMAT scores.

But of course it's not quite that easy.

Indeed, the GMAT Focus Edition is a fundamentally different exam from the legacy GMAT and its score scale has been recalibrated to reflect those differences. As such, equating new GMAT scores with the old ones isn't perfectly clean.

But it's possible. Here's what you need to know.

Understanding GMAT Focus Edition Scoring

First, a quick primer on how the GMAT Focus Edition is scored.

Your GMAT Focus Edition Total Score is on a scale from 205 - 805 and comprises the individual section scores, weighted evenly, of the three major sections of the exam: Data Insights, Verbal Reasoning, and Quantitative Reasoning. The individual section scores are on a scale from 60-90 and are reported separately from your Total Score.

GMAT Focus is computer-adaptive, meaning your score is determined not only by how many questions you get right in each section, but also by which questions you get right based on their relative difficulty level. The GMAC's proprietary scoring algorithm aggregates the three section scores together to produce your final Total Score.

We talk more about how to maximize the computer-adaptive nature of GMAT Focus scoring in our Complete GMAT Focus Edition Course.

Apples and Oranges

If the Total Score range of 205 - 805 for the GMAT Focus Edition looks familiar, that's because it's only slightly different from the legacy GMAT's score scale of 200 - 800.

And here's where I think the GMAC missed a big opportunity when designing the GMAT Focus Edition and created a lot of unnecessary confusion for students trying to understand their score. With score ranges that similar, students — and MBA admissions officers — can fall into the trap of thinking about comparing GMAT and GMAT Focus Edition scores as comparing apples to apples.

But it's really apples to oranges. As such, it would have been helpful if they had come up with a totally different score scale for GMAT Focus. But alas, they didn't, so it's on us to ensure that we understand how — and why — the scores need to be viewed so differently.

First, the Total Score for the old GMAT only factored in two sections, Verbal Reasoning and Quantitative Reasoning. Integrated Reasoning (now part of Data Insights on GMAT Focus) received its own, separate score. As explained above, the GMAT Focus Edition Total Score includes Data Insights as well as Quantitative Reasoning and Verbal Reasoning and is thus a representation of your performance on all three sections. That's a significant difference.

Second, the skills that Quantitative Reasoning measures is different on the two exams now that Data Sufficiency is part of Data Insights instead of Quantitative Reasoning on the GMAT Focus Edition. So even though Quant is factored into the Total Score of both tests, the way it should be considered is necessarily different.

Third, the Verbal Reasoning section of the GMAT Focus Edition is now fundamentally different from the Verbal section of the old GMAT given that it no longer includes Sentence Correction. Again, that factors heavily into how the Verbal Reasoning scores on the two exams should be compared, including how they factor into the Total Scores for each exam.

Finally, the GMAC substantially altered the scoring algorithm itself to compensate for a recent upward skew of GMAT Quantitative Reasoning scores and revert scores back to more of a normal distribution. The result is that scores on the GMAT Focus Edition at the same level of performance as on the GMAT are almost universally lower at every threshold. It's not that GMAT Focus test takers somehow became worse than GMAT test takers overnight; rather, the GMAC's scoring algorithm drove down scores on the GMAT Focus Edition as part of the equalization process.

All of this suggests that if GMAT Focus scores are "apples" and legacy GMAT scores are "oranges," it doesn't make sense to compare them directly. In other words, a 700 on the GMAT isn't the same as a 700 (technically a 695 or 705) on the GMAT Focus Edition.

But for those dead-set on reconciling the two, there is a way that makes sense: Percentile Rankings.

GMAT Focus vs GMAT Percentile Rankings

Percentile rankings are a statistical way showing how a particular student's score at a given level compares to all other scores of test takers on the same exam worldwide. Specifically, the percentile ranking of a given score indicates the percentage of students who scored less than or equal to that score. 

For example, on the old GMAT, a score of 700 was at roughly the 90th percentile. That means that if you sat for the legacy GMAT and received a score of 700, you scored higher than 90% of all other test takers worldwide. Not bad!

Percentile rankings are a much fairer and more sensible way of comparing GMAT Focus Edition and GMAT scores from the perspective of an MBA admissions officer. Rather than looking at a score like 700 and asking what the percentile ranking of that score is on each exam (it's very different, as you'll see), it makes more sense for the admissions officers to set their benchmark and instead ask, What score on each exam would put a student at our desired level of performance according to its percentile ranking?

Fortunately, that data exists.

Here's a snapshot of the GMAT Focus Edition and GMAT scores that fall at each of several key percentile ranking thresholds.

As you can see, GMAT Focus scores are lower at each percentile threshold. That's okay. It's not a bad thing. It's just proof of the difference in the scoring algorithm on the two exams that we discussed earlier.

And as we said at the outset, what it really means is that 655 is the new 700. Rest assured that business school admissions officers know this. If you submit a score in the mid-600's, they'll be impressed that you scored better than 90% of test takers on the GMAT Focus Edition and will consider your score accordingly.

How to Think About Your GMAT Focus Edition Score

Let's address one more important thing before we wrap up this conversation about GMAT scoring.

For years, students have been obsessed with "cracking 700" on the GMAT. That seemed to be the mythical benchmark that every one of my prospective students was trying to achieve. Never mind that many of the schools they were applying to didn't require a score that high. For whatever reason they got that number in their head and somehow viewed themselves as a failure if they didn't achieve it.

(Fortunately most of our students did score that high after completing our GMAT course. You can read their success stories for inspiration.)

Hopefully now we can move away from that unhealthy — and unhelpful — arbitrary goal setting. First, as you can see in the Percentile Rankings table above, scoring over 700 on the GMAT Focus Edition is nearly impossible anyway. Second, setting a target like that misses the point. The point is that your target score should be whatever will get you admitted to your target MBA program.


Now, certainly some schools have really high standards. If you're shooting for a Top 10 program, they may in fact tell you that they ideally want you to score in the 90th percentile or higher. If so, go for it! We're here to help.

But if a school tells you that they only need you to score over 605, well then don't obsess over an arbitrarily higher number purely for the sake of pride or something you read on an Internet forum or because you want to beat your college roommate. Get the score you need, move on, and go make a difference in the world of business.

Soon enough, the MBA world will get used to GMAT Focus scores in the mid-600's as being excellent. We'll forget that worrying about scoring 700+ was ever a thing. Until then, it's on you to keep your focus set on percentile rankings instead of raw scores and simply put in the work to prepare the best you can so that you're proud of your result on test day. I believe you will!

Additional Resources

As you prepare for the GMAT Focus Edition and think more about how to interpret your GMAT Focus score, here are a few additional resources for you:

  1. Take the guesswork out of preparing for the GMAT with Dominate Test Prep's Complete GMAT Focus Edition Course, fully updated and designed specifically for the new version of the GMAT
  2. For a complete concordance table equating GMAT scores at every level, visit the "Understanding Your Score" page on the GMAT Focus Edition section of the website
  3. [Video] The GMAT Focus Edition: Scores & Percentiles
  4. Learn more about how and why the GMAC changed the score scale for GMAT Focus in this article, "Evolving the Score Scale with the GMAT Focus Edition"

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