The GRE (Graduate Record Examinations) is a series of 3 standardized tests that are used as a significant factor in a graduate school’s decision to admit or reject an applicant. The three tests include the verbal, quantitative reasoning, and writing tests–each of which provides your desired school with a generalized picture of your academic ability. Because the GRE is a factor in a university’s admission decision, many prospective students find themselves in the position of asking: “What is a good GRE score?”
How Is the GRE Scored?
Before we dive into answering that question, it’s important for you to know that the GRE was revised in 2011 and the scoring was changed. For GRE exams taken prior to August 1, 2011, the Verbal and Quantitative sections of the exam were scored from 200-800 in 10-point increments, and from 0-6 in half-point increments for the Analytical Writing portion of the exam.
The GRE revised General Test (this includes all tests taken on or after August 1, 2011) is the most current form of the exam. The GRE Verbal and Quantitative sections are now scored between 130-170 in 1-point increments, with 170 being the highest GRE score possible for the overall Verbal and overall Quantitative scores. The Analytical Writing score range has remained the same: it is still scored from 0-6 in half-point increments.
In order to get a solid GRE Score, you should remember that this computerized test is section-adaptive. That means that how well you perform on the first type of a specific section will determine how hard the second section of that type will be. It is a good idea to go back and check your answers carefully in the first section of each type (i.e. Verbal or Quant) to maximize your opportunity for doing well in that section so you will be offered an even harder section next in order to get the highest possible score.
How Important are GRE Cutoff Scores?
Before we look at the range of possible GRE scores, it is important to have a clear understanding of the relative importance of GRE cutoff scores in determining your potential admission to graduate school. When a graduate school looks at your application, they are looking at a wide variety of factors that tell them whether or not you may be a successful student in their program; the GRE scores that you submit are merely one of these factors. If your score is below their “cutoff” point, your application will be thrown out before you’re even considered.
Universities use GRE cutoff scores as a convenient way to weed out low-level candidates that they would likely not consider for admission anyway.
Finding those cutoff scores is as easy as going to the web page of your chosen program in your college or university and looking at their admissions requirements. These cutoff scores do not answer the question, “What is a good GRE score?”, but they will let you know the lowest possible score that the program will accept, which is a good first step in preparing for the GRE. To the right you’ll see the Top Ranked MBA Programs and their Cutoff Scores for the GRE.
What is a Good GRE Score FOR YOU?
The GRE score you will need to be admitted to a specific graduate program will depend on the requirements of that program and how competitive it is. Most graduate schools have information posted on their sites about the average GRE scores of their most recent incoming class. You can also consult the annual graduate school rankings by U.S. News & World Report for GRE score ranges, or browse graduate student forums to get an idea of the GRE requirements for specific schools and programs.
ETS does not publish median GRE scores, however, based on the scores of a majority of test takers in recent years, the median hovers around 150-151 for the Verbal and Quant sections of the exam, and is about 3.7 for the AWA. To be competitive, you will need scores that are well above the median totals of around 303-306.
Some graduate programs have total cut-off scores (as mentioned above); other departments are only interested in the Verbal or the Quant sections of the exam. Most programs look at GRE scores as only one element of your application package, which includes letters of recommendation, your undergraduate transcripts and GPA, and your statement of purpose. Beyond the simple measure however, knowing what score you should aim for becomes a little more tricky.
Your target GRE score is dependent on a number of factors, including both the school as well as the specific program to which you are applying.
Other factors considered in graduate school applications include:
- Undergraduate GPA
- Professional resume
- Statement of Purpose
- Letters of Recommendation
Ultimately, the answer to the question, “What is a good GRE score?” can only be answered once you know the school and the program to which you are hoping to apply. We break that down for you further, below.
GRE Score Percentiles Breakdown
GRE score percentiles are printed on your score report so that you (and graduate schools) can tell how well you did in comparison to all other test takers since August 1, 2011. Specifically, the score percentile shows the percentage of test takers who scored lower than a specific scaled score. For example, if you got a scaled score of 163 for the Verbal section, that is equivalent to a score percentile of 92, which means that 92% of all test takers scored lower than you for the Verbal portion of the exam.
GRE Percentile Scores for Verbal, Quantitative, and Analytical Writing
|GRE SECTION||90th Percentile Score||80th Percentile Score|
|Analytical Writing Score||5.0-6.0||4.5-5.0|
As a rule, the following scores are considered very competitive:
- Verbal Score between 158-162 (equivalent 0f 78th-89th percentile in 2014)
- Quantitative Score between 159-164 (equivalent of 74th-88th percentile in 2014)
- Analytical Writing Score above 4.5
Likewise, the following scores are considered decent (better than 50th percentile), and may be good enough to get you into some of the programs that interest you:
- Verbal Score between 152-158 (equivalent of 54th-78th percentile in 2014)
- Quantitative Score between 153-158 (equivalent of 52th-71st percentile in 2014)
- Analytical Writing Score of 4.0
Accepted GRE Scores by School
Your GRE score will likely be an important factor in your application package. The GRE is accepted by very many different schools and programs in a large variety of disciplines (the Arts, Social Sciences, Natural Sciences, Engineering, Business, Foreign Languages etc.), so it is difficult to give an overall answer about what kind of GRE score will get you into a particular program.
Many programs in the humanities are less concerned with your performance on the Quant section of the exam, whereas Engineering departments are likely to care more about your scores in that section. That said, the better your score on the GRE, the more options you will have when it comes to graduate school admissions. In general, top schools (for example, Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Stanford, MIT, UC Berkeley, Duke, Columbia, UCLA, and Cornell) will prefer candidates who score in the 80th percentile or above on either the Verbal or the Quant section of the exam, depending on the type of graduate program.
Your best bet is to research those programs that interest you most to find out the typical score range of admitted students. For example, Princeton University publishes detailed statistics on the GRE scores of applicants, admitted students, and those who enrolled each year. For 2014, average GRE Verbal scores for admitted students across all departments ranged from 159-164. The average GRE Quant scores for admitted students ranged from 156-165. You can reference the cutoff scores for top schools in the infographic above.
Just like different schools have different GRE score requirements, so too do different academic programs within a school. The question however, is less about the requirements of a given school or program, and more about what score will actually make you a competitive candidate for your chosen program. For this, it is useful to look at average GRE scores, rather than low-end cutoff scores.
Luckily, ETS maintains statistics on average GRE scores of students entering a wide variety of academic programs.
Average GRE Score by Program
In general, if you plan on attending a minimally or moderately competitive school, and your scores are above the average for the program to which you are applying, your application is likely in good shape, given that all of the other application components are high quality. At a highly competitive school, your scores will likely need to be higher in order to make your application stand out from the rest of the pack.
The best place to start, is to see if you can get the information from your school on the average GRE scores for the current academic year. This will give you a benchmark to shoot for so that you have a more concrete idea of the minimum score you are trying to achieve.
*Data Sourced from ETS
You should also remember that having an excellent (or even perfect) GRE score is no guarantee that you will be admitted to a particular program. Graduate school admissions committees in the U.S. tend to look at a student’s entire application, and may place as much emphasis on your GPA, your letters of recommendation, and your personal statement as on your GRE scores.
What GRE Study Materials and Resources Should I Use?
All of this emphasis, real or perceived, on standardized tests in the graduate admissions process, has many prospective students wondering how to get a good GRE score that will get them into their ideal program at the school of their dreams. Unfortunately, there is no easy answer or quick fix for this available. Preparing for the GRE in a way that is meaningful and will actually improve your score can take up to six months, dependent on the amount of time you have to work and your individual aptitude for the material.
Fortunately, there are a number of products on the market that take the guesswork out of studying for the GRE so that you are using your time in the most efficient way possible, but they are not cheap, and do not take a one-size-fits-all approach to improve your GRE score.
GRE Prep Courses
Different GRE review programs will work for different people, depending on your learning styles. I recommend comparing the top GRE review courses to find the right one for you. Most GRE prep courses have a free trial available if you’re unsure about a specific program. If you know what program you want to go with, make sure you check out these exclusive GRE discounts so you’re not spending more than you have to.
Once you have found a program that works for you, it is important to really stick with it. You will learn more and improve your GRE score by a wider margin if you set aside a little bit of time each day so that you can practice in short spurts, rather than trying to cram it all in at once. Like anything in life, you will only get out of the test prep program what you put into it in terms of time and effort.
Different programs and schools use different formulas, but you can use a GRE calculator or a GRE/GMAT admissions calculator (readily available online) to determine the minimum GPA and GRE (or GMAT) scores you will likely need to get into a particular program. In addition, many GRE prep courses include practice tests as well as score predictors that give you a projected GRE score based on the scores you get on the practice exams.
GRE to GMAT Conversion
If you are applying to business school, you may be interested in a GRE to GMAT Conversion tool. Business schools that are more familiar with the GMAT than the GRE may want to look at the score range you would likely have gotten on the GMAT if you had taken it instead of the GRE.
ETS provides a relatively reliable tool to help institutions interpret GRE scores in comparison to GMAT scores. The GRE Comparison Tool for Business Schools helps predict GMAT scores for applicants based on their GRE Verbal Reasoning and Quantitative Reasoning Scores and is available on the ETS website. (ETS provides a predicted score range instead of specific scores because GRE scores may not be exactly equivalent to scores individuals would get on the GMAT. This is because of the measurement of error in both tests.)
There is no GMAT to GRE Conversion tool, but you could check the numbers for various GRE to GMAT conversions using the tool on the ETS site and work your way backwards to approximate the scores you might receive on the GRE based on your GMAT scores.
7 Steps to Getting a Good GRE Score
1. Determine the top 3 schools/ programs that you’d like to get into.
Any conversation about what a “GOOD” GRE score looks like has got to begin with the school and program you are applying to. Each institution and each program have different standardized test requirements. So it would only make sense to have your top three choices in mind before you start trying to figure out what kind of GRE score you need.
2. Find the average scores of applicants to those programs.
Many schools and programs will provide you with not only the low-end GRE cutoff scores for their programs, but they will also give you information on the average GRE score of applicants who have actually been admitted into the program. This will give you a better idea of what your ideal institution sees as a “good” GRE score, and may prove to be invaluable information when you begin preparing for the GRE.
3. Register for the GRE test.
Once you know what kind of scores you are aiming for, it is time to register for the test. Make sure you choose a day for your GRE test that will not have any interference from other obligations, and register for the test far enough in advance so that you have time to prepare. If you have just graduated from your undergrad program, 1-3 months is likely enough prep time, but if you have been out of school for a while, keep in mind that you may need a little more time to prepare and refresh your memory on important concepts. I oftentimes recommend 6 months to these individuals. You can learn more about how to register for the GRE on ETS’s registration page.
4. Prepare for the GRE test.
While it is possible to prepare for the GRE test yourself with the sample questions ETS provides and other online resources, investing in a GRE test prep program can save you a lot of time and frustration in the long run. GRE test prep programs and software are professionally created by GRE experts to help you study in the most effective and efficient way possible, allowing you to focus on what is the most important–learning what you need to know to master the GRE test. We have reviews of a wide variety of test prep programs to help you choose one that will best fit your learning style.
5. Take the GRE test.
It should go without saying, but on the day of the GRE test make sure that you are well-rested and have eaten. Arrive at the testing center a little early so that you can make yourself feel comfortable in the space before your test begins. It is important to eliminate as much distraction as possible so that you can do your very best on the test.
6. Complete the Application Process.
After you take the GRE test, it takes about 2 weeks to get your scores. However, this does not mean that you have to pause the rest of your application process while you’re waiting on them. In fact, preparing the rest of your graduate school applications while your wait for your test scores can help you to see yourself from a more positive perspective. After all, there is a lot more to you than just a test score. The process of writing your Statement of purpose, gathering letters of recommendation and polishing your resume can help you to realize this–so that when those scores do become available, you can see them for just what they are–a small part of the overall picture.
7. Revise/ Replan/ Retake if needed.
Once you have your scores in hand, you can make your final decisions. If you are pleased with your performance, then your application process is complete. If not, then you can choose to revise your plans or retake the test. Whatever the outcome, it’s important that you do whatever works best for you and your own circumstances.
When Do I Find Out My GRE Score?
On the test date, you will see your unofficial score report for the Verbal and Quant sections immediately after the exam if you took the computerized version of the test. (The Analytical Writing score must be graded by hand, so it is not available the same day.)
About 10-15 days after your test date, ETS will submit official Graduate Institution Score Reports to all authorized score recipients you previously selected. You will also receive an email from ETS to notify you that your official scores have been posted in your My GRE account, and that official score reports were sent to the programs you designated. If you take a paper-and-pencil exam, your scores will be available approximately 6 weeks after you sit for the test.
What if I don’t get the GRE score I need?
Whatever you do, don’t let anxiety about a possible negative performance on the GRE stop you from taking it altogether. You should not let test anxiety stop you from furthering both your education and your career. If you take the GRE and don’t get the score you would like on the first time around, you actually have at least a couple of options (other than giving up!):
- You can always take the test again after completing a test prep program. Many test prep programs offer a guaranteed score increase to those who have already taken the GRE and been unhappy with their scores. Kaplan, The Economist and Target Test Prep have different score guarantees worth looking into. If, after you complete the program, you do not improve your score, these programs refund your money for the test prep program, thereby reducing your financial risk.
- You can focus on making the rest of your graduate school application really shine. Improve your resume, revise and improve your Statement of Purpose; seek out excellent recommendation letters. Look for those things that will make you stand out so that your test scores are really a non-issue. Graduate schools lend more gravity to these other parts of your application than your undergrad program likely did, so use it as an opportunity to showcase your positive attributes and show what you will add to the university.
Do not let yourself give up. That may seem like the easy way to handle it, but honestly, it’s really lame to give up on your plans because a test gave you a bit of a challenge. So get over it, and try again.
Hopefully this helped you understand how to best set and achieve your GRE goals! What questions do you have? How did you determine your “good” GRE score? Let me know in the comments section below!