Why Quant Is More Important than Verbal in GMAT, and How to Compensate for a Low Score?

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A low Quant score in GMAT/ GRE can hurt you more than a low Verbal score can.

It’s not difficult to see, why.

(Note: Admission policies of schools and guidelines for standardized tests can change. Refer to their website for the most updated information.)

Why schools prefer high Quant score?

An MBA program is unapologetically quant-heavy. Courses in finance, economics, and even marketing require foundation in algebra, calculus, and statistics, without which you’re likely to lag behind. Although case studies, a common method of instruction at B-schools, look innocuous and verbose in the first glance, they often require serious manipulations with numbers. And as the curriculum moves to electives in the second half of the program, quant-focus becomes even more accentuated.

So, if you aren’t comfortable in math, you may struggle in the fast-paced MBA curriculum, which leaves little time to work on things as basic as math. Therefore, B-schools assess your proficiency in math as an insurance against your possible struggle in their curriculum.

Dee Leopold, managing director of admissions and financial aid at HBS, emphasizes this point:

… At the end of the day, this is a school and people have to be able to do the analytics. Not everyone has to be an Excel monkey and build models, but you do have to be numerate and not phobic about numbers. When you don’t see evidence to do the guts of the work here, you realize you are putting this person at risk unnecessarily.

Dawna Clarke, admissions director at Tuck, reiterates the same point:

Last year, we had an applicant who presented many strengths in his application including his professional work experience, strong letters of recommendation and a solid interview.   Our primary concern was that he was not quantitatively prepared for Tuck. The applicant took advantage of the opportunity to get feedback from an admissions officer and the re-applicant was proactive in making improvements to his application. The feedback included improving his quantitative skills, retaking the GMAT, and he was given feedback on his essays.

Haas, in its admission requirements:

… The Admissions Committee looks carefully at quantitative proficiency when making its admissions decisions.

Many schools also recommend foundational courses in Math for you to be better prepared for the MBA curriculum. Wharton, for example recommends:

There are no specific majors or courses required for the MBA. However, a strong grounding in quantitative areas is important. Calculus and statistics are excellent foundation courses for an MBA.

What do I do if I’ve a low Quant score and/or less exposure to math?

You’ve to balance it out.

In her blog on 25th August 2014 Dee Leopold talked about how HBS interprets test scores:

Those are the numbers, but the reasoning behind how we look at the scores is probably important for you to understand. We care less about the overall score than we do about the components. And we look at the subscores in the context of the candidate’s profile.

For example, an engineer with top grades who’s been doing highly quantitative work doesn’t need a high GMAT/GRE-Q to convince us he/she is capable of doing the quantitative work at HBS. But an English major whose transcript shows no quantitative coursework and has not done anything quantitative professionally or in post-college academics would be helped by a strong GMAT/GRE quant score. The corollary is true too: candidates who don’t have a background that demonstrates extensive practice in reading and writing may be helped by strong verbal subscores.

If your Quant score is low (say, 70 percentile or less), you need to compensate it with other evidences of proficiency in math – good grades in math courses in undergrad/ grad, a degree that is quantitative in nature (engineering, for example), or exposure to quantitative analysis in your profession. Most of it can be directly inferred from your resume, but if you think it may not be, then feel free to explain the evidence in optional essay.

And vice versa: if your undergrad/ grad courses didn’t have much of math or you fared poorly in them, then you need to balance it out by scoring well in the Quant section of GMAT/ GRE.

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Your proficiency in math is particularly important to B-schools. Although the Quant score is an important determinant of your proficiency in math, the schools look for other evidences (such as pre-MBA academic work and professional career) as well.

If your Quant score is poor and if other factors too aren’t favourable, then it’s better to retake the test or enroll in few quant-heavy courses in subjects such as calculus, statistics, accounting, and finance at an accredited university. And, needless to say, perform well.

Bottom-line: if you don’t have a decent background in math, try getting at least 80% percentile in Quant. The higher, the better.

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