- A competitive GRE score would be around the following:
- Verbal: 158-162 (78th-89th percentile)
- Quantitative: 159-164 (74th-88th percentile)
- Analytical Writing: 4.5
- The average score for all GRE test takers is:
- Verbal: 150
- Quantitative; 153
- Analytical Writing: 3.5
If you’re planning on taking the GRE General Test, you’re about to embark on an important step towards your future. Maybe you need good GRE scores for grad school, like business or law, or maybe you just want to explore your options. Whatever your reason, no doubt you’ll be looking to get a ‘good’ score.When it comes to the GRE, you may be asking yourself; what is a good GRE score? What GRE score will get me on to my program of choice? How much weight does a good GRE test score carry?What is deemed as a ‘good’ GRE score is highly variable, and will depend on the programs and schools you’re considering. Here, we’ll break down the GRE scoring system and how to determine what a good GRE score is for you.
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GRE Score Range
The GRE General Test is broken down into three sections; Quantitative Reasoning, Verbal Reasoning, and Analytical Writing. So when you receive your GRE score report, there will be three GRE scores on there, one for each section. These scores have been converted from a GRE raw score (known as the GRE raw score conversion).
The GRE score range for each section is shown in the chart. For the Verbal and Quantitative Reasoning, the score range is 130 – 170. The scores go up in 1 point increments. For the Analytical Writing, the score range is 0 – 6, and the scores increase in half-point increments. In all cases, the higher the number, the better your GRE score.
To give you a little insight, according to the ETS (the Educational Testing Service) GRE score charts, the current average score for all GRE test takers is 150 for the Verbal Reasoning and 153 for the Quantitative Reasoning. For Analytical Writing, 3.5 is the average score.
GRE Score Percentiles
Each GRE score has a corresponding component known as a GRE percentile rank. This rank is important as it indicates how your GRE score stacks up against those of other GRE test takers – your percentile ranking shows what percent of test-takers you scored better than and worse than. The basic principle is that the closer your GRE percentile is to 100, the better you would have done compared to the others…
For instance, if you scored in the 25th percentile, you scored better than 25% of the test takers but worse than the other 75% (the vast majority) of test-takers. This would be considered a low score. To receive an about average GRE score, you would need to score in the 50th percentile, as this is bang in the middle. You scored better than 50% but worse than 50%. Still, room for improvement. If you end up with a 75th percentile score, this means you scored better than most of the other test-takers (75% of them). Looking much better. If you manage to hit the 95th percentile, this means you are in the top 5%. Pretty good going!
If you look at the GRE percentile chart, you’ll see that the percentile rankings differ for the Quant and Verbal scores. So say you scored 158 on your Quant, this would have you scoring in the 67th percentile. But if you scored 158 on your Verbal, you would be in the 80th percentile. This means that more students tend to score higher on the Quantitative Reasoning section than on the Verbal Reasoning section.
Related: Plan Ahead with These GRE Test Dates
GRE Score Percentiles
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GRE Score Percentiles for Analytical Writing
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5 Steps in Determining a Good GRE Score for YOU
When it comes to a good GRE score for you, what you’re after is a score that is high enough to meet the requirements for the program you wish to attend. How much weight a program places on your GRE score tends to come down to how competitive the admissions are for the program.
For the more competitive and selective programs, every number will count. So a good GRE score will make your admissions experience that much smoother. It can also help you qualify for other educational programs, like scholarships, where admissions rely heavily on GRE scores as a way to rule out the weaker applicants.
It’s worth noting that some schools will place importance on your GRE composite score, which is determined by combining your total scores for the Verbal and Quant Reasoning. There will be a corresponding GRE percentile score for this GRE composite score. Other schools will be more interested in your section-by-section GRE scores.
Here are five steps to help determine a good GRE score for you!
Step 1: Identify Your Target Score
Firstly, you need to identify your target GRE score. This is important as it enables you to figure out what you’re aiming for, and therefore how much work you’ll need to put in before the test day comes round.
Some schools will offer up a cutoff score, giving you a benchmark number to aim for. As we mention below, it’s certainly better to shoot higher than this, but at least you’ll know the lowest score they’ll accept.
If a school doesn’t quote a cutoff score, it’s worth finding out the average scores for the previous year’s incoming class. You may have to do some good old-fashioned googling into the grad or business school you’re hoping to go to in order to find out this information.
Step 2: Shoot for an Above-Average Score for your Target School
While it’s great to have a target or cutoff score for your school of choice, it really is important to shoot higher than this. Although some schools may not overly emphasize the importance of the GRE score, it does offer admissions a great platform to compare applicants from and pick out the strong from the weak. A below-average score will place doubt over your academic preparation.
The more selective the program is, the higher your good GRE score will need to be. Top-ranked schools and programs want the best of the best. What these schools deem a good GRE score will be different to what a less selective school deems a good GRE score. So while one school may view a 160 as outstanding, another may view it as below par.
We suggest that you work out what your target program’s minimum scores are, and then aim for 2 points higher than these scores. This leeway of 2 points will elevate you high enough that you’re in an acceptable range, but not so high that you’re pushing your limits. You need to conserve some energy for other areas of the application. If you’re looking at more than one school, work out the highest score needed out of all the programs, and then use this score as the benchmark from which to add 2 points too. This will then become your target good GRE score.
And remember, as it’s dependent on the schools and programs of your choice, your target good GRE score will be different from the next person. Don’t just aim for the same good score as your friend.
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You may notice that some well-known MBA programs are not on this list, such as Harvard, Chicago-Booth, and Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management. This is simply because they do not report their average admitted GRE scores. The reasoning behind this lack of information is not known, yet there may be some whispers that it’s to help protect their rankings if they are admitting lower GRE scores. When you look into their admissions profile, you will find that they may often provide a range of scores as well as median scores, which generally are higher than an average score.
Related: 7 Best GRE Prep Books
Step 3: Look At Your Program’s Section-Specific Expectations
It’s important to look at your program’s specific expectations for each section, as these expectations will differ. For instance, the average Quant score for a program may be higher than their average Verbal score. It’s not one size fits all. You’re likely to find you have a different target good GRE score for each section. This is why it’s important to do your research.
These score distributions tend to depend on the program you’re applying to, with certain programs placing more relevance on a specific section. A Literature program is likely to place more importance on the Verbal section, therefore will have higher Verbal averages. An Engineering program, on the other hand, will reflect a more Quant-heavy average. If this is the case, you may be able to afford to make your target score a little bit under the preliminary benchmark for the less important section, placing more effort and work on the more important one.
Some programs, like those at business schools, will place a high level of relevance on both sections and will be more interested in your GRE composite score. If this is the case, you’ll need to ensure you aim higher than the benchmark scores on both sections.
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Step 4: Assemble Program and Score Information in a Chart
You’ll need to research all the available GRE information there is for all your programs of interest. You may find the information readily available on the school’s web page for prospective applicants (possibly in a section about GRE test scores or perhaps on their FAQs). Ideally, you want a Verbal Score guideline and a Quant Score guideline.
If the school doesn’t give their GRE information, you may just have to dig a little deeper to get what you need. Calling the admissions office could be a good starting point, however, they may resist giving away specific GRE score numbers. The next place to check is program rankings – you could try places like US News. Also, look up the acceptance rates if you can.
While you may not have a specific GRE score number, you can use these snippets of information to put the puzzle pieces together yourself… Assume the more highly ranked the program is and the lower their acceptance rate is when compared to other programs in the same discipline, the steeper the competition will be for that program and therefore the more selective they’ll be with their applicants. For these top-ranking programs, expect that you’ll need a pretty much bang on GRE perfect score.
It may also be worth checking out sites like Reddit and GradCafe who may offer further guidance from current students on their GRE scores. This may help you figure out and refine a preliminary GRE goal score for your target programs.
Once you have as much relevant GRE information as you can gather, assemble it into a chart, like the one below. You can then use all this to identify the highest target GRE score you need to aim at for each section of the test. Then add those 2 points to shoot higher!
Related: So.. How Many Times Can You Take the GRE?
Step 5: Look at the Rest of Your Application
How strong is the rest of your application? It’s important to remember that the admissions committees don’t just rely on your GRE score, it’s a pretty holistic process.
Schools are after the full package – there are other expectations and components that they desire from an applicant. So while you may get an excellent GRE score, you may lack an essential standard elsewhere in your application. How much relevant weight is placed on the GRE score will vary between fields and between schools.
The other components of admissions may be interested in are:
- Your GPA
- Relevant research/work experience
- Letters of recommendation from professors or luminaries
- Standardized test scores
- Statement of purpose
- Undergraduate coursework
Don’t just rely on that good GRE score. The reality is that if you have a weak application or don’t meet the other admission qualifications, a GRE perfect score may not get you in.
So you’ve read up on the GRE and what a ‘good’ GRE score means. Now you need to get prepared for the test itself. Buckle down, do your research and set YOUR target GRE good score. Remember, whatever you’ve worked out is the benchmark GRE score for your programs of choice, always shoot that little bit higher. Good luck!
Check out our curated list of top GRE prep courses for high scorers!