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GMATPrep exams are realistic, full-length practice tests available from GMAC, the maker of the GMAT. If you're not familiar with them, I suggest you read my earlier article about them. You might also peruse this article, which compares the accuracy of various types of practice tests.

GMATPrep tests are the most realistic practice CAT tests available, but they aren't perfect. They give you a very good idea of what the test experience will be like. They also use test questions that are very similar to what you can expect on test day. Despite all this, the score requires some interpretation.

From GMATPrep To the The Real Thing

There are three main reasons why your GMATPrep score is unlikely to be identical to the score you get at the test center:

1. There's a natural variation in test scores, due in part to luck, and in part to the questions that pop up on your test. This variation might be as much as 60-80 points. If you took the test three days in row with no additional studying, you might get a 600, a 570, and a 630, simply because of good or bad luck.
2. No matter how calm and collected you think you'll be in the test center, it's tougher to take the real thing than it is to work through a practice test. This applies to almost everyone.
3. Because of the steadily increasing number of GMAT test-takers and the quality and degree of preparation available, the curve keeps getting a little steeper. At the same time, the GMATPrep tests have been the same for years.

The last two of those are reasons why your actual GMAT score is likely to be lower than your most recent GMATPrep score. It's not a guarantee--I've had students who matched their most recent GMATPrep score on the real thing, or even outperformed by a few points--but it is by far the most common experience.

How Many Points?

On average, I'd say that the difference between a GMATPrep test score and an actual GMAT score taken within a week or so is 40 points. As I say, some people go up a bit, but some unfortunate souls see their scores drop as much as 100 points.

If you do find yourself at the bottom end of that range, you can probably attribute some of the difference to bad luck. While it does happen, it's uncommon to go from, say, a 650 GMATPrep score to a 550 GMAT score. If it happens to you, I strongly encourage you to keep studying and retake the test as soon as possible (you can only take the GMAT once every 31 days). You may not get back to that 650, but the odds are strong that you'll beat a 550.

The important thing is to keep your expectations reasonable. One 720 on a practice test hardly means you're guaranteed a 700-plus on the real thing. Recognizing this adjustment should help you calibrate your study time so that you do have a good chance of reaching your score goal.

About the author: Jeff Sackmann has written many GMAT preparation books, including the popular Total GMAT Math, Total GMAT Verbal, and GMAT 111. He has also created explanations for problems in The Official Guide, as well as 1,800 practice GMAT math questions.

 Total GMAT Verbal The comprehensive guide to the GMAT Verbal section. Recognize, dissect, and master every question type you'll face on the test. Everything you need, all in one place, including 100+ realistic practice questions. Click to read more.