Why are average GMAT scores increasing? | TopMBA.com

Why are average GMAT scores increasing?

By Sam W

Updated May 31, 2022 Updated May 31, 2022
  • Average GMAT scores at a five-year high in 2021
  • COVID-related lockdowns gave candidates more time and resources to study
  • Major MBA schools offered conditional MBA waivers, so only applicants with high scores have submitted them
  • GMAT alternatives like the GRE or the Executive Assessment growing in popularity

After a noticeable downtick in average GMAT scores among top MBA programmes in 2020, presumably caused by the pandemic, average scores shot up the following year. In fact, 2021 saw the highest five-year averages for GMAT scores at top MBA schools. 

At Sam Weeks Consulting, the average GMAT score of SWC applicants in the 2020-2021 application cycle was 696. 

We’re not through yet, but this year’s data already indicates an average of 711 for the 2021-2022 cycle. But why are average GMAT scores on the rise and bouncing back stronger than ever?

My theory is that this GMAT score inflation has a lot to do with the way COVID-19 has transformed our lives.

Lockdowns: Due to the city-wide lockdowns, offices and schools shifted to the virtual format, removing commuting times and costs, as well as restructuring the traditional work-day. 

Many candidates thus had more time and resources to study for the GMAT and to pay for tutoring and practice material. Several of our clients also told us that studying for the GMAT was a helpful distraction from work during the lockdown.

GMAT optional: Major MBA schools including MIT Sloan, Indiana Kelley, Michigan Ross, and Carnegie Tepper have offered conditional GMAT waivers. Given the option, applicants are choosing not to take the GMAT, particularly if they feel that their score is unflattering. 

In many cases, only those applicants with high GMAT scores submit them, which logically leads to schools reporting an increase in the average score.

Test alternatives: Applicants who score lower on the GMAT or whose strengths do not align with its format are increasingly choosing alternatives such as the GRE or the Executive Assessment, leading to a greater share of these scores being submitted to schools. 

This too leads to only high GMAT performers submitting their scores, pushing the average up. 

What does this mean for applicants?

We’d been working as an admissions consultant with Jorge, a financial analyst, who had taken the GMAT in early 2021. His score was a respectable 730, and he had submitted his school applications optimistically. But he hadn’t heard back from any. 

Most applicants would have stopped there. But we had a discussion about retaking the GMAT - a higher score would reflect positively. So, Jorge spent the rest of the pandemic lockdown studying for the test again, working on areas that he felt he could improve.

Soon, I heard the news - Jorge had bagged a 750. He updated the schools with his new score, and immediately received an interview offer from Ross the same day!

Jorge is not alone in this situation, and other applicants with reasonable GMAT scores may find themselves having to consider whether retaking the GMAT and improving their score is the best way to secure a place on their preferred MBA programme.

Looking ahead, the big question is whether this GMAT score inflation will reverse. When offices and schools permanently return to in-person attendance, will applicants once again be resource and time constrained? 

On the other hand, another possibility is that future applicants who see this year’s high class averages at their dream schools may be encouraged to dedicate even more resources to the GMAT, causing a self-perpetuating rise. Perhaps they postpone that special holiday, or save up for a tutor. 

We’ll monitor schools’ GMAT data to see how these trends play out after the pandemic. Time will tell. In the meantime, we’ll continue to advise our clients to aim for a GMAT score higher than the class average of their target schools.

This article was originally published in May 2022 .

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