GRE: How Does Scoring Work, and What’s a Good Score?

You’re poised to sit for the GRE as you seek admittance into the graduate program of your choice. The question invariably arises: What’s a good score on the GRE? Perhaps to your chagrin, the answer will also invariably be: It depends… The GRE is used for admissions to such a diversity of graduate programs (now including business and law schools) that there is no single answer to the question. But a little research into the type of program to which you seek admission will help you to establish a reasonable score goal for each area of the test. How does GRE scoring work? We’re here to give you an overview.

How Does GRE Scoring Work?—An Overview

The Educational Testing Service (ETS) creates the GRE and provides full information about the scoring of the exam. There are three separate areas on the GRE for which you are given scaled scores:

  • Verbal Reasoning: Score Range: 130 – 170 (one-point increments)
  • Quantitative Reasoning: Score Range: 130 – 170 (one-point increments)
  • Analytical Writing Assessment: Score Range: 0 – 6 (half-point increments)

Of course, just as with many other standardized tests, the GRE’s scaled score has little meaning unless it is matched against the corresponding percentile score, the metric that compares you to your peers who recently took the test. The 50th percentile, for instance, points to the average GRE score for that section—that is, the score above which half the pool of test takers scored.

GRE Scoring—Quant and Verbal Stand Apart

One interesting aspect of GRE scoring (unlike the GMAT, for instance) is that the test-makers do not issue a formal composite score that combines the Verbal and the Quant. For convenience’s sake, some students or admissions offices may combine the two scores by adding them together (for example, a 320 would indicate an average of 160 Verbal and 160 Quant), but officially, the scores are issued separately. This means that your relative strengths and weaknesses in the two areas will stand out more forcefully. Ideally, the goal would be to strive for as much balance as possible between the two areas.

How Does GRE Scoring Work?—What Percentiles Should I Strive For?

Once again, we offer the same annoying answer: It depends! One consideration is the mean (or median) acceptance scores for the particular program to which you are applying, another factor that could affect the Quantitative/Verbal balance issue discussed above. A masters program in art history, for instance, may place more emphasis on the Verbal score, while a similar program in physics may put greater weight on the Quantitative side. This is a major reason that the question of “How does GRE scoring work?” is a complicated one. It is incumbent upon you to do your homework on the schools and programs you have targeted, thus allowing you to set appropriate score goals.

If pressed, however, we will admit that—as a very general rule—scores in the 60-75th percentile range are good; scores in the 75th-90th range are very good; finally, scores in the 90th percentile range are excellent.

Here is a rough guide to scaled scores and their corresponding percentiles:

Scaled Score Verbal Reasoning Quantitative Reasoning
170 99 96
165 96 85
160 85 72
155 67 55 (Approx. Mean)
150 48 (Approx. Mean) 36
145 25 18
140 11 7

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