1. Most likely, you’re used to getting your exam score in an easy-to-understand 0 to 100 scale (or an A to F scale). The GRE test, however, doesn’t follow this tradition and instead reports your score on a different scale:  the lowest GRE score is 130, the highest GRE score is 170, and all the scores in between are normalized to test-takers from the last 3 years.  
    This normalization means that you can’t directly calculate your score from the number of wrong answers you made – getting 10% more answers correct will not give you a 10% increase in score!  So, what is a good GRE score? Well, if you’re short on time, take a look at the below table, which gives you the summary of all you really need to know. If you’d like to go a bit deeper, read on and find out!

     

    What is a Good GRE test Score?


    The GRE test is used as an admissions exam for a very wide and diverse set of programs.  As such, a good score depends not only on the school you’re applying to but also on the specific program within that school.  For most top-tier programs, a Verbal score of 158-162 is the average GRE score for accepted students, but an elite English program might bump that up to 163-167.  On the other hand, while most programs have average GRE Quant score of 160-164, a top tier engineering or physics program might require a near perfect 167-170. To find out which schools and programs your school is likely good for, ask an admissions consultant or inquire directly with your target school.

     

    From the highest to the lowest – understanding the GRE total score

    Now, it’s important to note that the above scores aren’t the average GRE score, that is the score that 50% of students get, but rather the average GRE score in top-tier programs.  In fact, the actual average GRE score is pretty low, and you definitely don’t want to get it.  So, how good do you have to be to get into a top-tier program? To answer, we’ll look at the GRE percentile rankings.

     

    GRE Percentile Verbal Score Quant Score How good is it?
    100% 170 170 Perfect!  The highest GRE score!
    90% 162 166 Good for most programs
    80% 158 162 This is about as low as the top programs go
    70% 155 158 Good for 2nd-tier schools
    60% 153 156 Getting really low….
    50% 150 153 The average GRE score.  You want more than this!

     

    GRE score vs. GRE percentile ranking

     

    In addition to a scaled number, the GRE also comes with a percentile ranking, which shows the percentage of total test-takers who scored at or below a certain score; the higher the percentile ranking, the more competitive the score.

     

    Continuing on the above, let’s look at the below table (taken from here) to see how high of a percentile you need in order to get into your dream program.  This table reflects official ETS statistics from July 2014 – June 2017, and tells you the percentile of test-takers who scored below a certain score.  So for example, a score of 160 corresponds to the 86th percentile in Quant and the 74th percentile in Verbal. Which means that to get into your ‘average’ top-tier program, you need to be at around the 90th percentile or so.  As mentioned above, use the below table along with information specific to your target school to figure out how high of a score you need.

     

    Another thing worth mentioning about the below table is that, as you can see, the percentiles for Verbal are consistently higher than those of Quant.  What this means is that more people managed to score, say, a 160 on Verbal than a 160 on Quant, and that this is true for any particular score. Why the difference?  This has to do with the relative difficulty of the Quant and Verbal sections, which we talk more about in a post about the structure of the GRE..

     

     

    Scaled score Verbal reasoning Quantitative reasoning
    170 99 96
    169 99 96
    168 98 94
    167 98 91
    166 97 90
    165 96 88
    164 94 86
    163 93 83
    162 91 80
    161 88 77
    160 86 74
    159 83 72
    158 80 68
    157 76 65
    156 73 61
    155 69 58
    154 65 54
    153 61 50
    152 56 46
    151 52 42
    150 47 38
    149 42 34
    148 38 30
    147 34 26
    146 31 23
    145 27 20
    144 23 16
    143 20 14
    142 17 12
    141 14 10
    140 11 8
    139 9 6
    138 8 4
    137 6 3
    136 4 2
    135 3 2
    134 2 1
    133 2 1
    132 1 1
    131 1 1
    130 1 1

     

     

    ©  ETS

     

    So how many mistakes can you make and still get your target score?  Follow this link to our score calculator, which will help you figure out exactly that.  

    In brief, the scaled score for your GRE Quant and Verbal sections are calculated based on your performance on two separate Quant sections and two separate Verbal sections.  We go into more detail about their exact structure here, but in the meantime, check out the above calculator for the bottom line.

    Summary and take home messages

    So, as you’ve seen, understanding your GRE score isn’t so hard after all!  To figure out your Total GRE Score, just add the GRE Quant and GRE Verbal scores together.  Each of Quant and Verbal scores are calculated from two separate sections, and you can know in advance approximately how many mistakes you can make in each section.  You’ll want ~90th percentile scores or better to get into top-tier programs, but because the GRE is accepted by such a wide range of different schools, you should take the time to find out the admissions requirements for your specific program.

     

    Finally, and most importantly, don’t forget that the GRE is only one part of your application!  While getting that perfect GRE score is of course the dream, don’t neglect your application essays, referral letters, field visits to your target schools, and interview preparation.  Your grad school application is holistic, and no parts of it should be neglected.

     

    Best of luck in your exam prep, and let us know if you have any further questions!

    mm
    Dave Green
    Senior tutor and professional test-prep writer. Interdisciplinary wizard, with Master’s degrees in economics, philosophy, and political science at HUJI.

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