The GRE, or Graduate Record Examinations, is an entrance exam that individuals take when they want to apply to graduate school. Though no longer an absolute requirement, it can still be helpful to take the GRE and submit your scores with your grad school application. So how is the GRE scored? It’s complicated, so let’s dive deeper.
GRE Scoring Guide
Now let’s dive into how the GRE exam is scored. There are three steps to figuring out your score.
1. Scores By Section
There are three main sections — Analytical Writing, Verbal Reasoning, and Quantitative Reasoning — and each are scored separately so you won’t get a cumulative score like you do on the SAT or ACT.
- Analytical Writing: 0 – 6 (measured in half-points, as in 0, 0.5. 1, 1.5, etc.)
- Verbal Reasoning: 130 – 170 (measured in full points, as in 130, 131, 132…)
- Quantitative Reasoning: 130 – 170 (also measured in full points)
But it’s not that simple, and that’s not where the scoring process ends.
2. Scaled Scores
Obviously the point of taking any exam is to get the best grade possible. And while the GRE General Test isn’t graded, per se, it is scored on a scale. Those scores are then ranked in comparison to other test taskers’ results and assigned percentiles. Think back to your high school test curve days.
Those scaled scores are then converted into percentiles. Percentiles are determined by how well a score ranks compared to the scores of other test-takers. As a result, and as noted by ETS, “Percentile ranks for GRE tests may change over time because they are always based on the population of test takers who took the test within a given three-year period.”
Percentiles are ultimately important, so let’s take a closer look.
The Princeton Review provides us with an example, pointing out that “a scaled Verbal score of 150 on the GRE translates to roughly the 47th percentile, meaning that you scored better than 47 percent of other test takers — and worse than the other 53 percent of test takers.” Schools will take note of that.
ETS publishes a PDF of GRE General Test Interpretive Data to help demonstrate how scores can convert to percentiles. According to the PDF’s Table 1B and 1C, using scores from tests taken between July 1, 2017, and June 30, 2020, here are the conversions from that timeframe:
Converting Verbal and Quantitative Reasoning Scores to Percentiles
|Scaled Score||Verbal Reasoning||Quantitative Reasoning|
Converting Analytical Writing Scores to Percentiles
What Is A Good GRE score?
As you can probably guess, this isn’t an easy question to answer. Since your GRE scores are included in your grad school application, you want to score as high as possible to stand out from the other applicants.
The higher your scores, the more competitive your application looks to your college or university of choice.
Some schools may list a minimum score requirement in their application qualifications, but every school is different. An Ivy League school will most likely have a higher minimum score they consider “acceptable” while that same score would be considered “outstanding” to a local college. The bottom line on GRE scores is that every school is different.
- Some care about the GRE; some don’t
- Some used to care but don’t currently give it as much weight since the requirement was dropped
- The most prestigious programs, when they do care, may expect near-perfect scores because they can afford to be extremely selective
But even then, meeting any listed minimum scores may not guarantee you a place in the program. If everyone applying meets their minimum, they would still have to find other ways to narrow down the applicant pool.
GRE Scoring Example
As you can see, figuring out what a “good” GRE score is can be a challenge. Let’s return to ETS and review their Interpreting Your GRE Scores: 2021-2022 PDF.
- For the data range between 2017-2020, the mean, or average, test takers’ score for the Verbal Reasoning section was 150.37
- The mean for Quantitative Reasoning was 153.66
- The mean for Analytical Writing was 3.60
Understanding that these are averages, it’s safe to say anything over those numbers would be better than average.
GRE Scoring Summary
It’s also worth noting that GRE scores are only part of the equation of your application. All too often, applicants focus so much time on GRE prep that they neglect other aspects of their applications.
The co-founder of ArgoPrep, Anayet Chowdhury, explains that shooting for perfect on the GRE might not be worth the time. Chowdhury stated that “What you don’t want to do — a lot of students do this — is spend 100 or 200 hours studying for a particular section,” he says. “You know, what they want is to reach the 99th percentile, and that’s really not necessary unless you’re applying to a prestigious program.”
Instead, spend the extra time perfecting your essay or double-checking that there are no spelling or grammar mistakes on your application. Or get out and complete other experiences, research, education, or exams that will also help your application stand out amongst the crowd.
At the end of the day, the GRE is just one variable being considered when colleges review an applicant’s entire package. So study hard, focus on the three evaluated categories, and take the GRE or GMAT early in case you don’t get the scores you’re hoping for and want to take it again. Lastly, though the GRE is important, make sure the rest of your application is also top-notch and provides a full picture of how great you are as a grad school candidate.