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Why do women score lower on the GMAT?

I’ve been curious to find out why women score lower on average than men on the Graduate Management Admissions Test – GMAT – when they apply for business school. Girls tend to achieve higher grades than boys in high school and college by now, and they make up an increasing proportion of college graduates. Women who graduate from Business School have, on average, GPA’s equivalent to those of men. How come then, that they don’t score at least as high as men on the GMAT? I decided to dig a little deeper, and have uncovered a few interesting statistics in the “Profile of GMAT Candidates“.

The facts…

In 2010 – 2011, women scored 24 points lower on the GMAT than men (530 vs 554).  This underperformance can be observed no matter how you look at the data – by region, by undergraduate degree, by business school programme – in as good as all groups, women reach a considerably lower score on the test.

There are however, two groups of women who reach or even outperform their male peers, and this is where it gets interesting: among test takers younger than 20, female test takers score 607 on average vs 586 for their male counterparts, outperforming them by 21 points! For those aged 20-21, the score is almost the same (568 vs. 571). With rising age, the gap between male and female test takers widens.

There is a second group of women who score just as high as their male peers: those from East and Southeast Asia. In every other ethnic group, men outperform women in the GMAT, but not among East Asian candidates, where both groups score 578 on average.

Could it be that we have the ambition gap at work again? I assume those candidates who take the GMAT in their teens are the most ambitious, driven candidates, and among those,  women even outperform men. Equally, those from a culture that values high achievement and high test scores do equally well in competition against their male counterparts.

For most other women, it looks like they might not set their bar very high when it comes to the GMAT. While male candidates aim for the perfect score or a 700+ score to reach a very high ranking, it appears that many female test takers do not aim as high, as long as they can gain admission to a good business school. Maybe men are more likely to set themselves an aspirational goal of scoring 800, while a female candidate might be more than happy with a 710 score.

I can only speculate that is is down to ambition – perhaps combined with lower self-confidence when it comes to the quantitative part of the test. But it is hard to accept that women could not do just as well as men on the test. Let’s hope the achievement gap narrows over the next years!

What do you think? Why do female candidates score lower on average on the GMAT? Is it ambition? Lack of self-confidence? Preparation? Let me know!


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{ 1 comment… add one }

  • Kate January 31, 2013, 6:05 PM

    It’s because women have a tendency to over analyze and over think!

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