“What is a good GRE score?” isn’t as important a question as it was a decade ago. The reason being that more and more graduate school programs – – have either dropped the GRE requirement from the admissions process entirely or made it optional. The reasons why are something we’ll touch upon briefly, but more important is the fact that even with this new development, many programs do still require the GRE. So, maybe finding out “what is a good GRE score?” is important to you if your program is among them. There are several ways that the Educational Testing Service (ETS), which administers the GRE, organizes your results and we’ll go over them in this article. We’ll also mention how the GRE is used in graduate school admissions, what the scores ranges are for each GRE section, and how to improve your GRE score.
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The Graduate Record Examination (GRE) is the entrance exam used to assess whether you have the skills and abilities to enter grad school for any type of graduate degree. The GRE has three scored sections, and two unscored sections that are used to refine and test out new question types and categories.
The three scored sections are:
- Quantitative Reasoning
- Verbal Reasoning
- Analytical Writing
The score ranges for each section are:
- Verbal and Quantitative Reasoning Score Range: 130-170
- Analytical Writing Score Range: 0-6
As being a good graduate student and researcher requires you have a set of foundational and interdisciplinary skills, each of the three GRE sections tests something different. You will be tested on your vocabulary, ability to close-read and understand arguments within a specific context in the Verbal Reasoning section.
The Quantitative Reasoning section is where your basic math skills will be assessed. You will have to know how to determine averages, means and median figures, write and solve algebraic equations, analyze and interpret data from different stimuli and problem-solve using an array of different variables and factors.
The Analytical Writing section is divided into two writing exercises that involve you being able to both identify the key elements of an argument and knowing how to formulate, organize, and write an essay with a coherent, logical argument supported by evidence. The Analytical Writing section has its own score range.
The GRE was created to give graduate school admissions committee a neat and easily-interpreted number to assess whether you have to knowledge, and skills to get into graduate school. Even though things such as a , and personal statement have long been part of the admissions process, the GRE was meant to make it easier and quicker for admissions committees to review your application in an “objective” way.
We say “objective”, because, for a long time, the GRE was thought to be free of bias and a good measure of whether you’d succeed in graduate school, the way a good does for law school students. However, in the last four years, several studies (including ones commissioned by ETS) have come out disputing those claims.
Some of these studies have also found that the GRE discriminates against particular groups, most notably women, and racialized students. We won’t get into all the particulars of each argument from each faction (pro or anti-GRE) but these things are important to know if you are thinking about whether to take the GRE, and whether you want to apply to a program that still requires it or not.
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Your GRE score is grouped into three different categories:
- Your raw score (how many answers you got right)
- Your scaled score (the raw score converted to a number between 130-170)
- Your percentile score (your score compared to all the other test-takers in your test cohort)
As with the LSAT and the , there is a margin of error within each scale that ETS accounts for when calculating your raw scores and converting them. The organization also takes into account the increase in difficulty that occurs during the test automatically. The computer program that runs the GRE tabulates your performance as you are writing the test and changes the difficulty of the subsequent questions in the next sub-sections.
Average GRE Scores
Verbal Reasoning: 150-155
Quantitative Reasoning: 153-157
Analytical Writing: 3.6-4.0
The above figures represent the average score range that most people fall into on their first try, and maybe these scores are enough to get you into grad school at some programs, as long as you have an otherwise stellar application that includes a high GPA, top-notch extracurricular activities, an exemplary , and fawning . But it depends on what your plans are and what kind of program you want to enter.
As is the case with all other major standardized test scores, the most elite, high-ranking graduate schools (like , , and ) have higher standards than most. For example, the lowest GRE score range for the Verbal Reasoning section at Harvard for students entering the Computer Science program is 153-157, while the lowest for the Quantitative Reasoning section is 155-159. But the highest ranges for the same school – Harvard – are in programs such as:
- Economics (VR: 160-164; QR: 167-170)
- Physics (VR: 162-166; QR: 167-170)
- Chemistry (VR: 159-163; QR: 163-167)
What does all this mean?
It means the same answer applies to the question of “what is a good GRE score?”, as it does to “what is a good LSAT score?”, “”, and “”, which is – the higher, the better. The higher your score in each section, the more you will stand out to graduate school admissions committees, especially if you are in one of the higher percentiles, such as 70th or even 90th. However, there are caveats to that answer when it comes to the GRE.
Your total score matters, depending on the school or program you are applying to, but your individual scores matter as well, especially if that particular section is germane to your program; for example, Verbal Reasoning to the humanities or Quantitative Reasoning for STEM subjects.
Of course, you want to score high in all three sections, which means putting several hours (up to 100 or more) into studying for the GRE. But, if you find that even with hours of study, you still only manage to get average scores, you shouldn’t take that as a defeat. You can still either:
- Choose not to submit your GRE scores (if they are optional)
- Take the test again and focus specifically on one area where you scored lower
Verbal Reasoning: 164-169
Quantitative Reasoning: 164-169
Analytical Writing: 4.0-5.5
The above scores are more than exceptional; they’re near-perfect. You might be surprised to find out that it is not rare for test-takers to get near-perfect or perfect GRE scores. The percentages of students who got a score within the 90th or 99th GRE percentile is higher than for students who got a perfect score in the LSAT, which, across a four-year span, only 0.1% of test-takers were able to do.
However, according to ETS data, in the same four-year span, there were several groups of students (divided into the fields they were entering) who were able to get perfect scores, but, not in all three GRE sections. The fields these students were entering is also important to consider. As, similar to what we said before, students who came from text and writing-heavy disciplines were more likely to get high scores in the VR and AW sections, while students from STEM disciplines got higher scores in the QR section.
For example, 5% of students going into Philosophy scored a perfect 170 in the VR section; an astounding 23% got near-perfect scores within the 165-169 range, while 13% scored within the 5.5-6 range for the AW section. Unsurprisingly, the students who tended to score the highest on the Quantitative Reasoning section were students entering graduate-level math or life sciences programs. According to the four-year test results, 18% of math students got a perfect 170 in the QR section, while a significant 40% placed within the near-perfect range of 165-169.
We say all this to help guide your study and preparation for the GRE. Not all students who go into grad school enter programs related to their undergraduate career. However, most do, and if you are going into a program that is related to your bachelor’s degree, you will probably fare best in the GRE section that is related to your field, as demonstrated by the percentages above. This means that if you do have to take the GRE, you should focus your study time on the section that is most unfamiliar to you, while dedicating less time to the sections you know.
Verbal and Quantitative Reasoning: anything lower than 150
Analytical Writing: anything lower than 3.0
We established what average and excellent GRE scores look like, but what about less-than-average scores? Well, those are not hard to figure out. We gave you what the mean scores are for each of the three GRE sections, and anything well-below that average (less than 150, or less than 3) might have a negative impact on your application, especially if your programs require the GRE. Poor scores can be attributed to anything (lack of preparation and strategy, nerves) but the important thing to remember is that you will have plenty of time to retake the GRE.
But only if you planned ahead and gave yourself enough time to retake the test should you get a less-than-satisfactory score. Planning out when to take the GRE should be a part of your . In your planning, you should factor in the mandatory wait period to take the test again (21 days), which you should spend studying, and, of course, your graduate school application deadline, so you’ll have enough time to study, retake the test and submit your full application on time.
Plan Your Study Schedule
Applying to grad schools involves a lot, especially if you have to take the GRE. But as pre-law students should create an to help guide their efforts, you should also create a schedule to organize your time. Armed with a schedule, you can devote as much time as you need to studying for the GRE, but also giving yourself enough time to retake the test, if necessary, while also having enough time to contact your referees for your letters of recommendation, preparing a , or preparing for a possible .
Be Strategic in your GRE Preparation
What we mean by this is reiterating the fact that you will probably do well – maybe, even, with little to no studying – in the areas of the GRE where you are strongest. If you spent the last four years reading and analyzing difficult texts, while also writing countless essays on these subjects, then you may not have to spend 10 or 20 hours a week practicing for the Verbal Reasoning or Analytical Writing sections. The same goes if you are coming from a math or science background regarding the Quantitative Reasoning section. If you do have to take the test to get into your program, focus your study time on the section that will be most difficult for you, as you’ll most likely bring up your score in that section, while also scoring high in the sections easiest for you.
Use Free and Paid Study Resources
Both ETS and many other non-profit and for-profit companies offer resources, such as diagnostic tests, study aids and guides, or even the services of a private . These resources are essential tools to help you prepare for the GRE, and you should take advantage of the ones that would help you the most. But you should also be selective. If you are more comfortable with one section of the GRE over the others, then you should use the free diagnostic tests or GRE sample questions you can find online. But if you know a specific section will cause you more trouble, maybe investing in a premium guide or GRE prep course full of strategies and tips will help you overcome this difficulty.
Take a Lot of Practice Tests
Taking a GRE practice test is probably the first step you should take when preparing for the GRE. A practice test can help you determine how long you should study, what you should study and what your time and scores are based on the first-time you take the test, which can be useful in determining the former. You can take timed and untimed tests at varying points, as they will both help in acclimating you to the real-world test conditions and give you a timetable for how long you should spend on each question, sub-section, and GRE section.
“What is a good GRE score?” is, ultimately, not a hard question to answer. The higher, the better is an obvious answer, but as the GRE score is split between three sections, getting high scores in one section might be enough for you, if that section is relevant to your program, so you don’t have to strive for the highest in each section. This article has hopefully given you an idea of how your GRE is scored, what some of the top-ranked graduate school programs are looking for in a GRE score, and how you can prepare, strategically, for taking the test.
1. What is a good GRE score?
A good GRE score can be anywhere from the average score for the VR and QR sections – 150 and up – and the average score for the AW section – 3.0 - and higher. There are different ranges and percentiles, but if you can get a score a little higher than average that would also be a good score.
2. What is an excellent GRE score?
An excellent GRE score is somewhere in the near-perfect range of 165-169 for the VR and QR sections, and somewhere in the range of 4.0-5.5 for the AW section.
3. Is taking the GRE worth it?
It is worth it if your program requires it. But, given that it is not uncommon for people to get perfect scores in the sections that are related to their field of study, you might question whether you really need to take the GRE, especially if your program makes it optional.
4. Is the GRE hard?
We compared the difficulty of getting a perfect score in the LSAT with getting a perfect score on the GRE, which showed you that is much easier to do so with the GRE than the LSAT, so while the GRE is not easy, it is much less difficult than other standardized tests such as the LSAT or MCAT.
5. How can I get a good GRE score?
Getting a good GRE score or being placed within top percentiles require you prepare strategically, meaning that you take a diagnostic test and determine which sections are the most difficult, and the easiest for you. You should then devote anywhere between 1-3 months to studying, while also repeating practice tests to see if your score and time has improved.
6. How can I prepare for the GRE?
You need to give yourself enough time to study for the first test, and also make room for any possible retakes. You should read incessantly from graduate-level texts such as scholarly articles, research papers, long-form journalistic articles, personal essays and even technical or trade journals for the VR and AW sections. But the QR requires you sharpen those rusty math skills, and practice writing down and interpreting various formulas that will help you navigate the quickest way to answer difficult math problems.
7. Will a good GRE score help me?
Yes, it will help if you’ve scored at least above-average in each of the three sections, especially if your program requires you take the GRE. It will not be the only thing your program looks at, and you have to devote an equal amount of time to preparing your supporting documents as to studying for the GRE.
8. Can I take the GRE at home?
Yes, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, ETS began offering an online, proctored versions of the GRE that you can complete at home.