Understanding the GMAT CAT: Verbal Success is More Important than Quantitative Success

A lot of the students who come to me looking for tutoring are looking for intensive work in the Quantitative section of the GMAT. This, of course, makes sense. Many people studying for the GMAT haven’t taken a math course since high school, and the idea of doing a weighted average question in Data Sufficiency often inspires a reaction somewhere between mild dread and existential terror. But a look at the breakdown necessary to achieve certain composite scores on the exam reveals an alarming fact: If you’re looking to score 700+ on the GMAT, success on the Verbal is more important than success on the Quant.

Let’s look at some score breakdowns.

If you score 99th percentile on the Verbal (48) and:

39 Quantitative (57th Percentile), your overall score is: 730, 96th Percentile
41 Quantitative (63rd Percntile), your overall score is: 730, 96th Percentile
43 Quantitative (70th Percentile), your overall score is: 740, 97th Percentile

Now, if you score 99th percentile on the Quant (51) with corresponding percentile scores on the verbal, you get the following composite scores:

30 Verbal (57th Percentile), your overall score is: 670, 85th Percentile
32 Verbal (65th Percentile), your overall score is: 690, 88th Percentile
34 Verbal (70th Percentile), your overall score is: 710, 92nd Percentile

So, what do these data tell us? The GMAT’s scoring algorithm is more rewarding for success on the Verbal than for corresponding success on the Quantitative section.

Why?

This fact seems counterintuitive, but, when you consider the demographics of GMAT test-takers, you’ll notice an important trend: More than half of the test-takers are international students. Coming from countries such as India and China (whose educational curricula place a heavy emphasis on Quantitative reasoning), these students nail the Quant portion of the exam, but, being non-native English speakers, have trouble on the Verbal. Thus, success on the Verbal is not as frequent as success on the Quantitative section, and the GMAT’s scoring algorithm rewards those who perform above the curve on Verbal.

Of course, these data don’t mean that you should drop that Number Properties book and go memorize every idiom in the English language. But when you’re scoring comparably on both sections of the exam, spending time to nail those tougher Verbal questions should be well worth it.


Erfun Geula

Erfun Geula is a professional GMAT tutor, based in New York City. He has scored in the 99th-percentile of the GMAT three different times, he has written and edited hundreds of practice GMAT questions, and he has over 7,000 hours of tutoring experience.

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