Take a look at two hypothetical students. One is a strong Quantitative student and a decent Verbal student. She takes the test and scores the following:
Quant: 50 (96th percentile)
Verbal: 32 (67th percentile)
The other does okay in the Quantitative section, but really shines in the Verbal. His scores break out as follows:
Quant: 42 (66th percentile)
Verbal: 44 (98th percentile)
Who gets the higher total score? Are they the same? It turns out that the one with the higher Verbal percentile gets the higher Total score, approximately 690 vs. 670. Why is this? The percentiles for the Quantitative and Verbal sections were exactly the same, but switched. Here are two possible reasons:
As American business schools draw a more international student body, more and more students will take the test, not all of whom speak English as a first language. However, as more students start taking the test, it becomes much harder to do well on the Quantitative section. Just eight fewer raw points drops you a full thirty percentage points. In Verbal, you can drop thirty percentage points, too, but the raw point difference is twelve versus eight.
The total score is based on you as a complete student. It is more common, given the trend in the pool of test-takers, to do well in Quant and okay in Verbal than it is to do well in Verbal and okay in Quant. Thus, the latter score COMBINATION is more rare in the total pool of test-takers and results in a higher total percentile. Your Verbal score and percentile is the driver of your total score and percentile.
How does this scoring quirk affect prepping for the GMAT? For one, it can be used as a tool to alleviate fear of the Quantitative section. Panic is the X-factor on the exam and can easily paralyze a student, especially early on in the test and especially for very high-scoring students who are seeking perfection. If a student understands that he/she can get a competitive score (a.k.a. 700+) without hitting 80% in the Quantitative section, it might help them move on when they inevitably get stuck. Keep in mind though that many business schools adhere to an 80/80 rule or at least benchmark, meaning they'd like to see students hit at least the 80th percentile in each section.
Second, it further reinforces the view that not only is it more probable for a student to achieve mastery in Verbal than in Quantitative but it is also arguably more important (not only&but also&nice!). During practice, fully read and re-read the explanations provided in prep material (particularly the ETS Official Guide for GMAT Review to learn the GMAT test writers' rules, logic and rationale).
The bottom line is that each test taker must discover and make the most of his or her own strengths and weaknesses. For many, the verbal section is easier; and for others, it's the math section. Still, it's helpful to know the trends and have as much information as possible when you are just getting started with your preparation for the GMAT and Business School.
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