Maximizing GMAT Scores: The Early Testing Strategy

Posted by: Louis Lavelle on May 17, 2011

Wisdom is supposed to come with age, but calculus, trigonometry, the ability to balance a checkbook…these things don’t. In fact, the fall-off in math skills after college is about as steep and as scary as the drop in the value of a new car once you drive it off the lot. Let’s face it: youth has its privileges, and this is one of them.

This all came to mind recently when someone pointed out a little statistical anomaly published in a recent GMAC publication. At the age of 20 or 21, the average GMAT score is 575. At 22 or 23, it’s 536, a drop of 39 points. Things improve a few years later, when most people are actually taking the GMAT, but 575? In your dreams.

Which brings me to my point. If, after graduation, you suspect that you might be applying to b-school somewhere down the road, the wise choice would probably be to take the GMAT immediately—before you forget everything you learned in college. You just have to be sure to apply to an MBA program within five years, after which most b-schools will not accept those scores.

This little tidbit was brought to my attention by someone representing the GMAT test-prep outfit, Knewton, who of course had an ulterior motive—promoting the company’s services as a way to overcome the testing “deficiencies” that 25-year-old geezers are prone to.

Of course this strategy requires a great deal of foresight—most people haven’t a clue if they’re going to get an MBA right after college. But if you do, or if you don’t mind sitting through the GMAT on the off chance that an MBA is in your future, you’ve got a distinct advantage—a 39 point advantage—over folks who wait until the inevitable decline sets in.

Reader Comments


May 17, 2011 1:06 PM

I took the GMAT at age 38 and made a 740. It took six months of dedicated, at home studying to refresh the college level calculus, and to get reacquainted with the joys of a standardized test. The point is that there is not a steady decline in test taking capacity, even in your 30's and 40's.


May 17, 2011 2:14 PM

I did a 700 score, age 44, with 4 days of preparation, as a German, and under somewhat chaotic circumstances

BW's Louis Lavelle

May 17, 2011 6:19 PM

Fair enough, but Brian, it took you six months of studying (at 38) to hit 740--at 21, maybe you wouldn't have needed to study at all. Both of you sound like you would have scored on the high end of the grade distribution whenever you took the test. But if the average (at 21/22) is 575, then you guys are clearly the exception. Congrats on the great scores.

Louis Lavelle
Associate Editor
Bloomberg Businessweek


May 17, 2011 6:20 PM

You guys calling it hogwash must realize (having score so highly on your GMAT) that these are averages and your particular examples dont disprove the statistical norm.

Also the stats may actually be reflective of not a causation but rather a correlation (a lil Critical Reasoning thrown in for good measure). Perhaps its that 22/23 year olds tend to be arbitrary in their decision making regarding GMAT test taking and just take it on a whim with out prep, while those who are younger remember the content better and thus are less needful of math and those who are older are more cautious and thus prep for the test.

Neven Ferhatbegovic

May 18, 2011 1:27 AM

I'm finishing my first year in College this week and I'm already dreading the GMAT. Looking forward to applying myself and surpassing expectations though. Look for me in the Business world one day.




May 18, 2011 8:17 AM

I agree with this entirely. I just took it and got a 700, but my math score was definitely the weaker link. In high school, I got perfect scores on the math portion of the SAT's, SAT II's and the AP Calc exam. In college, I got nothing less than an A in all my math classes. Suddenly, I'm 28 and the math section of the GMAT kills me, and the verbal part I didn't even bother to study for. I will vouch for Kenwton though... I went from a 560 in my practice exam to a 700 in the real thing (and my verbal score stayed the same) using their training.


May 18, 2011 10:39 AM

It's an average. Getting a 700 is the 90th percentile. 640 is the 75th percentile. So.... the average is in the 500s which lines up with the data shown in this article.

There will always be exceptions, but the majority of people aren't attending a top MBA program. They are just trying to take the GMAT to get into an average MBA program. It is doubtful that the people who commented about breaking 700 later in life, have the same objective as the majority who take the test.


May 19, 2011 3:29 AM

I'm a bit baffled with some posters scores. I did horribly on the GMAT yet graduated from an MBA program (not UofP or some other online program) with nearly a 4.0 gpa.

What is the correlation with test scores and first year success? Isn't it something like .63? I'm still trying to figure out what good is the GMAT test if I can blast through an MBA program and do poorly on the test.

Meghan from Knewton

May 20, 2011 10:32 AM

Everyone here is bringing up really interesting points. The main point of this data, it seems, isn't to suggest that it's not possible to attain a high GMAT score after the age of 21. Of course that's not the case. Certain people will score an 800 on the GMAT whether they're 21 or 61. But if you're in college and debating whether to take the GMAT now or later, these numbers might help you make up your mind -- especially since you can file your scores away for 5 years until you're ready to apply. Might be worth it for the possibility of a 39 point boost (or more)...

Ed209, as to your question about the correlation between test scores and b-school success, here's what GMAC has to say:

"The most recent studies indicate that the average correlation between GMAT Verbal, Quantitative, and Analytical Writing Assessment (AWA) scores and mid-program graduate management school grades was 0.48 (where 1.0 indicates perfect accuracy of prediction)." (From )

BW's Louis Lavelle

May 20, 2011 1:17 PM

Thanks Meghan. Maybe the best thing to do is follow the belt and suspenders strategy. Take the test right after graduation from college to lock in a high score, then 4 years later, study your tail off to see if you can beat it. If you do, great; if you don't, you still have that 4 year old score to fall back on.

Louis Lavelle
Associate Editor
Bloomberg Businessweek


May 20, 2011 3:04 PM


May 20, 2011 11:33 PM


The entire premise of the article is questionable.

There is no way reasonable explaination for a major drop in GMAT scores between ages 20 and 23. It's most likely either bias in who is taking the scores or just stat noise.

The fact is you get better at the test the more you take it so age/score relationship would be very hard to really test.

I took the GMAT at age 36 and scored a 710. That is actually a crappy score when compared to my competition: a bunch of Indian Engineers. I'm sure I would have scored a 780 at age 21 (HA!)

The GMAT is also suffering from score inflation as somehow the avg. test score continues to creep up.

Saleem Khan

May 29, 2011 2:05 AM

By just looking at average score and no other factor can not reach us to right conclusion. Age can be one factor, but there are many other factors involved in reaching right conclusion.

As you grows, many other responsibilities deviates mind from preparing GMAT. As I'm facing these days. I started GMAT prep 3 months back and in first instance, I had feeling that I can't even solve few questions (though I'm Bachelor in Mathematics). Now as I'm giving more and more time out of my professional responsibilities, I am feeling that I can do it. My target is again Top Schools.

No doubt, memory starts decreasing as you gets older and older but I think GMAC must have considered all such factors while preparing GMAT test. Surely, it may require more time to prepare but Mid 30's are competing quite well with fresh applicants.


June 4, 2011 11:15 PM

It is funny: it seems everybody here did 700+ despite the fact tht in reality very few people score 700+... But even fewer will admit it!


July 16, 2011 1:50 AM

Could it be that the same people who take the GMAT in college are outliers who also tend to be more intelligent, more motivated, or better test takers than the average? Surely to take the GMAT in college one has to be an overachiever and we all know that those types of people are also likely to prepare more and score higher..

Furthemore, even supposing the stats do explain a pattern, why would you recommend taking it right after college? Most people right out of college are at age 22, the very age group you say does worse on the test

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