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In my last post I described how Data Sufficiency is, for many, the key to a high Quant score on the GMAT. I decided to continue this theme to discuss a related but, I think, more important point and one that I love to explain to people because it seems that so few people understand this fact: the key to a really high GMAT score is a high Verbal score.

On a general level, most people just tend to neglect the Verbal section of the exam. This is understandable: on the Quant section there is probably more to “learn” for most people, and this requires more time. But another factor is that for most people it is just more enjoyable to practice Quant. Verbal is like the redheaded stepchild of the family. Kicked to the curb, neglected, under-appreciated…you get the point. Oh, and Reading Comprehension? Forget about it. People NEVER practice reading comprehension. I mean, who wants to voluntarily read about a group of Pakistani poets or a new finding about globular star clusters (I hope I am not offending any fans of Pakistani poetry or would-be astronomers out there…I am actually a closet astronomy nerd so I genuinely LIKE those passages!).

GMATers just tend to ignore or neglect the Verbal part of the exam, to their own detriment. But people! The Verbal section makes up half of your score!!! More importantly, most people don’t realize that at the top end of the scoring spectrum, the Verbal score actually weighs in more heavily that the Quantitative score!!! Over the years I have tutored lots and lots of people who have Quant scores of 46-48 and Verbal scores of 35 or so and who want to focus almost exclusively on bringing their Quant score up. Nooooo!!!!!!!

Here’s the deal. Most people will not get above 48 or 49 Quant. Those are great Quant scores (you can’t just look at the percentiles, which are a little bit skewed by international applicants, many of whom do have Quant scores of 50 or in some cases 51). So for most people, it’s good to almost think of 49 as the ceiling for Quant. For reasons I won’t expound upon here, there is not that much of a difference between a 47 and 48 Quant or between a 48 and 49 Quant (in terms of how difficult it is to achieve those scores), but there IS a pretty big barrier between 49 and 50 and an even bigger barrier between 50 and 51, a barrier that most people will not cross. So if you are already at 47 Quant, you are probably near the maximum of where your Quant score will ultimately go. And bringing the Quant score from a 47 to a 49 will not have that big an impact on your overall score.

If you are at a score of, say, 47 Quant and 35 Verbal, there is much, much more room for growth on the Verbal side. And bringing your Verbal score to 40+ or, if possible, to something like 43 or 44 Verbal will do absolute wonders for your overall score. I recently tutored a girl who on her first actual GMAT got a 700 with a 45 Quant and a 41 Verbal. Now, first of all, that is a great score. She wanted higher, however, and was a little disappointed in the Quant score in particular. On her second try she got a 46 Quant and 46 Verbal for a 740!!! Now, this girl is probably capable of a Quant score of 48 or 49, but even if she had gotten a 48 Quant and combined that with her original 41 Verbal, her score would only have been about 720. I mean “only” probably isn’t the right word here, but relative to the 740 that she actually got, obviously 720 is not as impressive.

Part of the issue here is that the percentiles on Quant and Verbal can be misleading. A 49 Quant is 77th percentile whereas a 40 Verbal is 91st percentile!!! So it is really tempting to look at the Quant percentile and feel like you just aren’t doing that well. But at 49 Quant most people are probably at their ceiling! And getting a 50 Quant, while impressive, is not going to do much, if anything, to the overall score. Conversely, it is tempting to look at a Verbal score of 35 (76th percentile) and believe that you have done really, really well on Verbal. Don’t get me wrong, 35 Verbal is a good score, but that percentile is misleading for 2 related reasons. One, it is skewed by the fact that so many non-native English speakers take the GMAT. Two, it hides the fact that there is a ton of room to bring that score higher and have a huge (and I mean huge) impact on your overall score!

Again, at 40 Verbal (which really is an excellent Verbal score) it would be tempting to think that you have kind of topped out since you would be sitting at 91st percentile. Think about it from the perspective of the aforementioned girl with the 45 Quant, 41 Verbal, 700 overall. Her percentiles were 59th percentile Quant and 94th percentile Verbal!!! I almost can’t believe it now that I am writing it – those percentiles are pretty shocking. It would have been very tempting for her to completely ignore Verbal and just focus on Quant. But man, 46 Quant and 46 Verbal for a 740 is amazing and it never would have happened if she had just focused on Quant.

Now some of you out there may be thinking, yeah, but at 46 my Quant score just would not be high enough – schools want to see a higher Quant score than that. I have two things to say to that. First of all 740 is 740. That’s just a ridiculous score. Even if they want to see something more like 47 or 48+, it’s very hard for me to imagine they are going to turn away someone with a 740 on the GMAT, assuming they like everything else about the applicant. Second, and here’s the more important point: if you want a really high GMAT score (like 740 or 750), you almost certainly MUST HAVE a really high Verbal score.

For example, a 50 Quant and 38 Verbal would yield about 720. And a 49 Quant and 41 Verbal would yield about 730. And the fact of the matter is that of all the people I have tutored over the years (many hundreds so far), many more have had Verbal scores of 44 or higher than scores of 50 or 51 Quant. And of the people I have tutored who have had scores of 740 plus, more often they have had scores like 47Q/44V or 46Q/46V or even 48Q/44V than scores like 50Q/40V or 51Q/39V (both of which would “only” yield about 740, by the way!).

More and more lately I have had people come to me with the goal of 750 on the GMAT. I used to chuckle a little at that, not because I thought people were not capable of it but because that just seemed like an unnecessarily high score to strive for. Nevertheless, recently I have had many people come to me with that expressed goal. They often think that they need more help with Quant than Verbal (again usually these people have something like 47 Quant and 36 Verbal – something in that range – and are duped by the percentiles). And usually I explain to them that we can and should focus on Quant to try to get them to 48 or 49, but that we NEED to focus more on Verbal if they want to have any shot of getting close to 750.

So as you plan you overall GMAT study strategy and think about how you are going to allocate your study time, remember that at the higher reaches of the scoring scale the Verbal score becomes increasingly important. And more generally, be mindful of how misleading those percentiles can be – its better to focus on the actual scores for the Quantitative and Verbal sections. Scores like 47 Quant and 38 Verbal are both excellent scores. But if that is the range you are in or even close to, understand that there is MUCH more room for growth on the Verbal side and that bringing the Verbal score up is going to be necessary to see a big increase in your overall GMAT score.

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