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Has Verbal Become Tougher and Quant Become Easier on the GMAT?

Posted on September 04, 2013

Firstly, let us define what we mean by “tougher” or “easier”. For the sake of simplicity, let us consider a particular test of 100 marks. Previously, 80% of the students scored above 50 marks but now only 70% of the students score above 50 marks. Would you say the test is now tougher?


How does this compare with the GMAT, you might ask? 🙂


Well, here is what someone who took the GMAT in August 2011 could have seen on his screen


GMAT Score: 730 (96th%ile)


Quant: 50 (92nd %ile)


Verbal: 38 (83rd %ile)


Here is what someone taking the GMAT in August 2013 (i.e. now) sees on his score report:


GMAT Score: 730 (96th %ile)


Quant: 50 (89th %ile)


Verbal: 38 (84th %ile)


So, what do you think has happened here? The Quant percentiles are going down and Verbal percentiles are going up i.e. for the same raw score you would have got a higher percentile in 2011 than in 2013.


Let us look at the published data from www.mba.com on the percentile charts.


In 2011, this is how the percentile charts looked:




Today if you go here, this is how the percentile charts look:




What does this mean?


This means that TECHNICALLY speaking, more people are scoring higher in Quant than a few years ago, and fewer people are scoring as high in Verbal now than a few years ago.


Please note that these percentiles have been calculated for the student population across the last 3 years. With over 750,000 people taking it worldwide during this period, it is statistically difficult for this data to be corrupted by any single phenomenon.


Why did this happen?


There are 3 reasons why this can happen:


1) The GMAT is getting tougher in Verbal and easier in Quant. So you have relatively easier questions giving you a higher score in Verbal while the opposite is happening in Quant.


However, this is NOT true. GMAC clearly says that it is as difficult for you to score a 51 in Quant as it was 5 years ago. The correspondence between “what it takes” and the “raw scores” has not really changed. Remember that only the percentiles have changed for the corresponding scores. So this reason is ruled out.


2) Test-takers are getting better at Verbal than at Quant thanks to the plethora of available material on the Internet and/or the techniques taught by GMAT prep companies are getting better.


Again, this looks tempting, but if you look at it closely then there is no major change in the approach to questions – I mean let us not kid ourselves. There are no magic solution to scoring a 760. There never was – there never will be 🙂


3)More test-takers are coming from a strong Quant background and a relatively weaker Verbal background.


However, improbable this might seem – this is the reason! With more people taking the GMAT from India, China and Asian countries the average Quant scores are going up and Verbal scores are going down.


Here is the table from the GMAC Geographic Trend Report for 2012. Note that TY means “Testing Year” – more like “Calendar Year”.








You can see that East & Southeast Asia have shown a sharp increase from around 40,000 test-takers to almost 78,000 test-takers, while US has gone down from 126,000 to 117,000 test-takers. Enough to statistically skew the averages.


Well! That was MY interpretation.


Now you can choose the order in which you want to take up the sections before starting the test. This is a recent change to the GMAT test structure. It was introduced in July 2017. This might cause more and more test takers to perform better on the Verbal section. I have done a detailed analysis of what this means to an Indian GMAT test-taker in the this blog

GMAT Section Selection – Everything you need to know


I would like to know your thoughts and am happy to interact with you in the comments section below 🙂

What do you think? Leave your comments in the comments section below!
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