Valid for five years, GMAT (Graduate Management Admissions Test) scores are used as part of the application process for business schools, and are usually the most feared part of the MBA admissions process. The reason for the test is that, while admissions essays and interviews can prove difficult to compare, business schools use an applicant's GMAT score as a common gauge to judge many applicants on paper.

GMAT preparation

During your GMAT preparation, if you have chosen to use one of the many 'GMAT prep' companies, then you should have a rough idea of the GMAT score you are capable of. However, you should always keep in mind that preparing for the test, and actually taking the GMAT are very different.

Whatever you have scored during your 'GMAT prep' phase, it is unlikely that you will achieve the same grade. This is partly due to test day pressure, but also as a result of the differences between the practice GMAT questions and the real ones. For instance, some preparation companies will purposely make their questions more difficult, in order to prepare their students for every eventuality, while others may make them easier in order to encourage students to stay with them.

Students currently receive four scores on the GMAT: An overall score, ranging from 200 to 800, a maths score ranging from 0 to 60, a verbal sub-score ranging from 0 to 60, and a score for the analytical writing assessment (AWA), ranging from 0 to 6.

While participant's scores for the AWA section will be available to the business schools they apply to, they do not count towards the overall GMAT score. Instead, the maths and verbal results form the overall score of between 200 and 800.

Percentile rank

All four GMAT scores are given a percentile rank, which highlights what proportion of test takers scored lower in each part of the test. The higher the percentile rank, the higher your GMAT score when compared to other test takers. For example, a percentile rank of 55 means that you have scored higher than 55% of other GMAT test takers.

This method of scoring will also be available to business schools that you choose to apply to, and will allow them to see how respectable your score is when compared to everyone else's.

Analytical writing

On the analytical writing section, each essay is given a separate grade on a zero to six scale by two different graders, one human and the other a computer. This means that the examiners marking the GMAT essays are more likely to adhere to the strict rules in the GMAT, as they are aware that a computer will be checking their scoring.

If both the computer and the human's grades for an essay are the same, that score will be assigned. If the two scores are somewhat different, then a person will read the essay to determine the grade.

What is a good GMAT score?

The simplest and most accurate answer to this question is the higher your percentile, the better your GMAT score. However, it really does depend on which business schools you plan on applying to, and even then, your application will not rely entirely on your GMAT score.

Information on the average GMAT scores that successful applicants have at different schools is available on TopMBA.com's business school profiles. Find out what the average GMAT scores are for the business schools you wish to apply to, and then develop a preparation plan to achieve it.

As an example, below are the top ten business schools for finance according to the 2009 QS Global Top 200 Business Schools Report: The Employers' Choice and the average GMAT score that their successful applicants have: