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What’s a good acceptable GMAT, AWA, IR score for top MBA programs?

Top MBA Admissions Officer - SudsEspecially in India, it’s safe to say applicants have GMAT at the top of their minds. Questions come stumbling out of candidate’s minds with a concern-filled tone and into the open at every single MBA admissions event I’ve been part of.

“What is a good enough GMAT score? Is there a good enough score?”
“How important is the GMAT score?”
“How important are AWA and IR scores?”
“What’s the break-up (verbal / quant / AWA / IR) of a successful candidate’s score?”
“How does the Admissions Committee view candidates with a low GMAT score that’s not up to the mark?”
“What if I have a low verbal score but high quant score? Or low integrated reasoning (IR) and AWA scores?”
“Which score will you consider if I take GMAT more than once?”

And I haven’t even touched the tip of the iceberg with these questions. I’ve seen candidates gloat about their scores and have this unmistakable sense of achievement if they have what they think is in the “safe zone.”

I’ve also seen candidates concerned about how to make the best impression on the Admissions Committee if they’ve not done as well as they thought they would. Suffice it to say the reaction of candidates to GMAT spans the gamut – from exhilaration on good performance to trepidation at the mere mention of it and everything in between.

Yes, doing well in GMAT bodes well to begin with, because it’s a standardized test and it’s sort of an indicator on how well one is able to assimilate the given (limited) information and reach a reasonable conclusion. It’s also supposed to showcase one’s comfort with numbers. These two are important skills to have for candidates who want to do an MBA – a degree which is often seen as a rite of passage for leapfrogging into corporate leadership roles in companies large and small around the world.

But are candidates over-emphasizing GMAT performance at the risk of submitting a less compelling application because somehow, they’ve been lulled into thinking that GMAT is the end-all-be-all and that, a good performance (in their view anyway) is somehow going to help the Admissions Committee gloss over the rest of the application?

In many ways, the answer is an uncomfortable, “yes.”

I’ve seen candidates fret about GMAT not once or twice or even thrice, but some have given the test something like seven, eight, or nine times in order to get that awesome (again in their view) score!

Giving GMAT multiple times is fine, but in your quest for that dream score, are you ignoring the remaining part of the application?

You’re exhausted after repeated attempts at GMAT and just want to get the application out of the way. It’s an understandable feeling, but hardly justifiable since a compelling application is a must to get into that dream school – not so much a dream GMAT score.

At the Tuck School of Business, we treat GMAT as just another data point regarding a candidate’s potential. Nothing more, nothing less. No application ever gets screened on the basis of one’s GMAT performance. We appreciate the efforts you have put in to submit your application, so we take the effort to read every bit of the application you’ve submitted irrespective of GMAT score. And we take a call on the application after a holistic review and not be biased one way or another because of a GMAT performance.

Just think about this for a second. Let’s say an applicant has done an all-round good job in the application, but wasn’t able to perform to her potential in the GMAT since she was either unwell, or had job-related pressures or a personal issue that came up or something else that impacted her.

Should her entire application be considered on the basis on her performance on that particular day? Should her future hang only on the basis of her GMAT score, when there was a genuine reason why she wasn’t able to put her best foot forward the day of the test? We think not.

In fact, we are pro-candidate to a fault. If a candidate has reached a high water mark in one section (e.g. quant section), wasn’t able to perform well in the others (verbal, AWA or Integrated Reasoning), has decided to take the test again, and this time scored high in the other section, but not as well in the section in which she did well earlier, we consider those independent high water marks as valid performances in GMAT.

What I’ve described above is a Tuck-specific approach, and so please don’t take this as the approach of business schools in general. For us, what matters is that we’re making the life of the applicant as easy as possible and allowing them to focus on what is important – the application. We want to get to know you and GMAT is an indicator but not a descriptor.

A stellar application will allow us to overlook your GMAT performance but not the other way around.

Somehow, applicants in India obsess over GMAT more than what I’ve seen in any other part of the world. I had a candidate tell me she was retaking GMAT since she thought her prior score of 750 was sub-par for an Indian applicant. Every candidate is welcome to her own judgment on what is a good GMAT score, and I respect that, but I have to remind everyone, “Don’t ignore the application itself at the end of the day.

Regarding the other components of GMAT (AWA and IR scores), again, there isn’t a magic number that pushes things one way or another, but what will get the attention of an Admissions Committee is an extraordinarily low performance on either of these sections that somehow is at odds with the skills we expect of a well-rounded individual at a certain point in her career.

All of these are data points along with the rest of the application and not a make-or-break input.
A perfect score in GMAT is not going to get you automatically admitted, and neither is a below average score going to get you automatically denied.

The application is, ultimately, the king!

Just make sure you put your best foot forward, do your research, and make an all-round compelling case for yourself. You’ll be in good shape!

Is TOEFL necessary?

A vast majority of schools want you to give TOEFL and demonstrate your proficiency in English.

At Tuck, again, we err on the side of the candidate, and as long as your undergraduate studies were conducted in English, we trust you’re able to communicate fairly well even if English is not your native language.

As such, very rarely have I seen applicants from India requiring TOEFL to apply to Tuck.

Related articles:
What is the minimum GMAT score for good MBA programs?
Average GMAT score for the top MBA programs
GMAT Score Percentiles for Quantitative, Verbal, IR and AWA sections
GMAT Scaled Score Table – GMAT Score Calculator

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Sudershan Tirumala
About Sudershan Tirumala
Suds' association with the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth (an Ivy League university) as Regional Director has given him rich & unique insights about international & Indian applicants that very few admissions officers have. In an exclusive series for MBA Crystal Ball, he writes on a wide range of topics from MBA admissions to careers.

12 thoughts on “What’s a good acceptable GMAT, AWA, IR score for top MBA programs?”

  1. Hi,

    Request you to please guide me through as I am highly confused and at the same time disappointed . I had started with GMAT preparation in feb but was never really serious and hence did not give the exam but was in touch with some of the contents like Sentence correct,Number properties , Geometry as far as theoretical I was done.

    Now came mid July, I enrolled to multiple resources starting with sentence correction again and till today I am in middle of sentence correction.To Go with Quant I am stuck in between algebra .

    Just wanted to have a guidance from your side :

    first GMAT mock Score in Aug – 460 (V:11 and Q:43) — GMAT PREP TOOL
    Second GMAT mock in Sep – 410 (V:18 and Q:28) source MGAT .

    Still there are many topic which I have dont know e.g. CR and RC are untouched by me completely .Quant also there is lots and lots to cover right from geometry to word problems.

    Yesterday I gave a GRE mock without preparation and had a score split of V142 and Q151 . So request you to please guide as I targeting the B-schools for round2 IS it advisable for me to switch to GRE rather than taking GMAT.

    Please suggest . I am Looking forward for your guidance ,


    • Rohit,

      Thanks for your note and for your questions. GMAT is not an easy test to crack, so a lot of fundamental skills need to be in place to get a good score. Based on what you’ve mentioned below, you’ll need to spend time honing your skills first before you take the test. There’s a reason it’s a management aptitude test – gives a sense of where a candidate stands with respect to data interpretation, language skills, etc.

      GRE on the other hand is not directed towards MBA, but towards graduate studies in general. Dare I say, people find it to be an easier test to crack compared to GMAT. As a result, many applicants prefer giving GRE for obvious reasons.

      Business schools in general prefer GMAT because that’s a better indicator of one’s preparedness to take up management education. However, schools are slowly beginning to accept GRE as well.

      That brings me back to your question. Take the test you think you can do well in – there’s probably a school out there that will accept it and you’ll do fine.

      On the other hand, be aware also, that if someone with an identical profile as you also applies, but with a good GMAT score, all else being equal, you may or may not get the response you’re looking for.

      Bottom line is, it seems like you have some catching up to do, so get going with brushing up the fundamental concepts and honing your skills. All the best!


  2. Hi Suds,
    Thanks a ton for your support and guidance .

    You have rightly figured out that first I need to get the fundamentals right in place and then accordingly apply whatever I have learnt . So I have started preparing once again with a more dedication . Also I need to have patience as there many topics which I have not attempted or prepared . So it’s very much important stay to keep myself motivated and towards the goal .

    Thanks again for your guidance.

  3. Hi Sir,
    I am Ayan and currently preparing for GMAT. My intention is to apply for Fall 2018 session. I have been an average student througout having scored around 80% in 10th and 12th and arond 6.5 GPA in engineering. Currently I am working with Accenture for close to 3 years; so by the time I go for my MBA nexy year it will be 4 years. I have done a course in Adobe from Hewlett Packard and secured top slot.
    I am currently preparing for my GMAT and I am 20% prepared; so i plan to give the exam in August end. Do you think it will be too late for Round 1 application? I want to get through a good MBA college abroad by end of the year and so trying my best to score well (above 670). Given my credentials, do you think:
    1) August end is good time to give the exam?
    2) My candidature is good enough for being accepted, if I have a fairly decent application?

    Please suggest

    • Hi Ayan,

      Thanks for your question. Whenever you feel confident about your level of preparation is a good time to give the GMAT. Note that mock tests are not a very accurate predictor of actual test performance. I’ve noticed people’s scores dropping a good 30-40 points in the actual test compared to their mock tests. Granted my sample size is small, but just something for you to think about. So make sure your preparation is top notch.

      You should apply when you think you have done everything you could to turn in a strong application. When you don’t believe your application is as strong as it could be, how will you be able to convince the admissions committee of any school that you are the right candidate for the school? So your belief in yourself is key for your next steps – so think through that carefully and confidently.

      Good luck with your application process!


  4. Hello Sir,

    I am 34 year old Indian Engineer with 9+ years of International experience (Japan) in electronics Industry. I am planning to apply for R1 of 1 year MBA programs (IIMs, Insead, LBS, Judge). I have 710 GMAT score(Q 50, V 35, AWA 4, IR 4). My concern is that are AWA 4 and IR 4 score considered extraordinarily low? I have hardly 2-3 months to prepare for application(Introspection, essays, LOR) and Toefl. I am not able to concentration on application process in the fear that what if regardless of my good application(whatever best I could manage), ultimately my low AWA and IR will break my chances for an admit. Please suggest should I move on and focus completely on application process or should retake GMAT to improve AWA, OR or few points in verbal. With a demanding job and 3 year old kid at home, I can only focus on application or GMAT at a time.


    • Hi Praveen,

      Thanks for your note and for your question. If you think your current GMAT score is not reflecting your true potential, then it may make sense to take it again. If it’s only to improve your IR, I don’t think it would be worth it, but that’s just my personal opinion. On the other hand, if you think your GMAT score is as good as it gets given your preparation, just focus on making the rest of your application the strongest it can be. The other thing I’d like to caution you against is racing against a deadline. Deadlines come and go, but rushing into things not fully prepared is not going to yield the results you’re looking for. So be thoughtful about prioritizing retaking test Vs. going ahead with the application. Hope that helps.

      Good luck with the application.


  5. Hi Suds,

    I’m an Indian CA working with Goldman Sachs in Bangalore. I’m a grad from IGNOU under the CA-IGNOU MoU where you’d just have to write minimum papers to get your grad.

    Would this be a disadvantage when I apply for top schools.


    • Siddharth,

      Thanks for your query. I’m not sure if minimum papers also means minimum effort in terms of GPA. Academic performance is expected by default, so it depends on how you’re able to articulate and showcase your academic accomplishments – transcripts or essays or some other way. So put your thinking hat on. Good luck!


  6. Hi Suds,

    My name is Sarrthak and I am currently working for a top credit rating agency in India. I am also a CFA and FRM. I have a total workex of more than 4 years and I plan to apply in the R1 for the academic session beginning 2018. I recently took gmat and scored a 720 (Q48, V40). This was a repeat attempt after ~20 days and I scored 660 (Q42, V40) in the first. I have been consistently scoring 49-50 on quant in mocks and see no reason of not doing so the real exam. I infact took the last exam with an injured right arm after a freakish accident. Would you suggest retaking the exam? Or should I just focus on applications now?


    • Sarrthak,

      Thanks for your note and for the query. A higher GMAT is only going to stand you in good stead, so if you think third time is a charm and you’ll do significantly better, I’d say yes. On the other hand, if you think you’ve done everything you possibly can and any change in future score is going to be incremental at best, I’d say don’t bother retaking it and focus on the application. Hope that helps.


  7. hi,
    I have a 720 in GMAT(Q50 V37) but got very poor score in IR 2.
    Do you think I should retake the exam?
    I have given the exam 2 times before and have scored IR 7/8.


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