Most of those who prepare for GMAT come with a mortal fear of the quantitative section. Probability! Exponents and roots! The entire section seems like a parade of horrors. Most of us commit one big mistake, spending most of our time honing our math skills at the expense of our verbal preparation.
Obviously you need to have a good preparation in each section but lets get some facts out now. Experience has shown that an excellent verbal performance affects one’s overall score more dramatically than does an excellent performance in quantitative.
Let’s take a look at what happens at the highest levels of the exam: 700+. A recent test-taker received a scaled score of 45 in verbal (98th percentile) and 40 in quant (66th percentile) and an overall score of 700 (93rd percentile). Notice how much closer the overall percentile is to the excellent verbal percentile. This clearly shows that the overall percentile is not a simple average of both percentiles. If the overall percentile were simply an average of the individual percentiles, this person would have received about 640.
So why did this happen? How does it work then?
The reason for the higher overall percentile is because the combination of an outstanding verbal performance with a fair quant performance is so rare, the overall percentile and score will be much higher than the lower quant percentile. Another person, who scored 49 in verbal (99th percentile) and 37 in quant (56th percentile), received 710 (95th percentile), even though the quant performance here was a full 10 percentile points lower than that in the previous example. Again, an outstanding performance in verbal significantly offset a middling performance in quant.
Does this work in reverse? That is, will an outstanding performance in quant so dramatically offset a middling performance in verbal? No. This combination is much more common. Why? Because more and more international test-takers often have excellent math skills but relatively weak command of English. Even among native speakers of English, it is more common to see relatively high quant scores coupled with fair to middling verbal scores. Because these combinations are less rare, they are not rewarded as highly. For example, a test-taker recently received a 50 in quant (97th percentile) and a 37 in verbal (82nd percentile), but “only” a 670 overall (89th percentile). So the truly excellent quant performance was not enough to pull the overall score above 700.
Now, this does not mean that you drop your preparations for quants and start working towards the verbal section. While an excellent verbal performance can indeed take up some of the slack from a weaker quant score, keep in mind that most business schools want to see strong skills in both sections. In fact, some of the top 20 schools apply the “80/80 rule”, which requires that successful applicants reach at least the 80th percentile in both sections. So do not put all your eggs in one basket: make sure you prepare well for both sections.