Standardized tests can be stressful because they can have a significant impact on your life. The GRE is important because it plays a role in determining what graduate schools you can get into.
A good GRE score can help you get into the program you prefer, while a bad score might leave you settling for a program you were less interested in.
Most standardized tests, including the GRE, don’t use the letter grading scale or the 0% – 100% scale that most students are familiar with. That can make it hard to know whether your score is good or not.
In this article, we’ll walk you through the GRE grading scale, what a GRE report looks like, how to get a good GRE grade, and other important information you need to know to get you into the grad school of your choice.
What is the GRE grading scale?
Like most standardized tests, the GRE doesn’t use the typical letter-based or 0% – 100% grading scale that many students are familiar with. It uses a unique grading scale, with a different range for each section of the exam.
Verbal and Quantitative Reasoning Sections
The Verbal Reasoning and the Quantitative Reasoning sections are both scored on a scale from 130 to 170, in one-point increments. Higher scores are better than lower scores. You can also receive a “No Score” result if you fail to answer a single question in a section.
ETS, the company that runs the GRE, generates your scores using a “section-level adaptive” scoring method. What this means is that both the Quantitative Reasoning and Verbal Reasoning portions of the test will contain multiple parts.
During the first part of the exam, you’ll answer questions that have a medium level of difficulty.
Based on your performance on the first part, the GRE automation will select questions for the second portion of the exam. If you did well in the first part, you’d face more challenging problems in the second. If you did poorly, you’d face easier questions.
The type of questions that you struggle with won’t determine the questions that appear later in the test. Only your overall performance plays a role in determining the difficulty of future questions.
Based on the number of questions you answer correctly and the difficulty of the questions you answer, ETS will scale your raw test score into the 130 to 170 point scale.
What this means is that two people, each of whom gets 40 out of 50 questions correct, could get different scores based on the difficulty of the questions they face.
Analytical Writing Section
The Analytical Writing section of the exam is scored on a scale from 0 – 6 in half-point increments.
That means that you can earn an Analytical Writing score like 4.5 or 3.5. Each essay is read by a human grader and a computer program that assigns a score based on writing skills it identifies.
If the scores are similar, the average of the two scores becomes your final score. If the scores differ, a second human grader grades the essay, and the final score is the average of the two human graders’ scores.
What is a good GRE score?
With its unusual grading scale, it might be hard to know what counts as a good score for the GRE. On a normal test, a 130 would be a fantastic score, plus extra credit. On the GRE, 130 is the lowest score you can receive.
Fortunately, ETS sometimes releases data that shows average test scores, as well as scoring percentiles, which you can use to gauge your performance.
Between July 1, 2016, and June 31, 2019, roughly 1.64 million people took the GRE. The average GRE score was:
- Verbal Reasoning: 150.37
- Quantitative Reasoning: 153.39
- Analytical Writing: 3.58
If you receive a score above these numbers, you can feel relatively confident that you’ve beaten the average GRE score.
But, if you’re aiming to get into a top graduate program, you may feel like you have to do more than beat the average.
The table below shows the score breakdown by percentile. For example, to be in the 90th percentile (top 10%) of GRE takers, you have to earn the following scores:
- Verbal Reasoning: 162
- Quantitative Reasoning: 167
- Analytical Writing: 5.0
Top programs may primarily admit students who are in a high GRE percentile. For example, at UPenn, the average score in each section of the GRE for the class entering in the Fall of 2020 was as follows:
Many schools will post information about the average GRE score of their entering class, so if you want an idea of the target score you should aim for, you can research your preferred programs.
While getting a score above the average for your target program won’t guarantee admittance, it can’t hurt your chances either.
How long does it take to get your GRE score?
When you take an exam, especially one as important and stressful as the GRE, you’ll be anxious to get your results back as quickly as possible.
The good news for a GRE test taker is that you can get most of your results almost immediately.
Because the GRE Is a computer-based test, the computer can grade the Quantitative Reasoning and Verbal Reasoning sections immediately after you take them. These scores are unofficial but will give you a sense of your final score for the exam.
Because the Analytical Writing portion of the exam must be graded by a human, you have to wait to receive your score for that section of the test.
It takes 10-15 days after you take the GRE to receive your official scores for all three sections.
Do you have to send GRE scores to schools?
The point of taking the GRE is so that you can send your scores to graduate programs as part of the application process. However, you don’t want to send a poor result to a school, as that can hurt your chances of getting into the program.
The good news is that you don’t have to send scores to schools if you don’t want to.
When you finish taking the GRE, you’ll get two options: to cancel your scores or to view your unofficial scores for the Quantitative Reasoning and Verbal Reasoning sections. If you feel like you did very poorly, you can cancel your scores without sending them to any school.
If you choose to view your unofficial scores, you’ll see your unofficial results in the Verbal Reasoning and Quantitative Reasoning sections. You’ll then have the choice to immediately send scores to schools or to wait. You can send scores to up to four schools for free.
After test day, you can still send your scores to the graduate programs of your choice. You can choose to send all of your test results, just your most recent results, or you can pick and choose which results to send.
You’re never obligated to send scores to schools when you take the GRE; however, many programs have a GRE requirement, so you’ll have to send results from at least one test if you want to be accepted.
What does a GRE score report look like?
Your GRE score report contains all of the information that you need to know about your GRE scores, including your score and percentile rank for each section. If your scaled score is above the 50th percentile, you performed better than half of the people who took the GRE exam.
The score report will also contain information about what schools you’ve sent GRE results to, as well as the dates that you sent those results.
You can view your official score report on the ETS website. If you want a paper copy for your records or other purposes, you can print one out.
How important is a good GRE score?
One of the primary reasons to take the GRE is to use your test results when applying to graduate programs. Getting a good GRE score is important and will definitely help your chances of getting into the program of your choosing.
But the GRE isn’t the be-all, end-all when it comes to your application’s chances. You can still get into a good school with a low GRE score.
Graduate programs will look at many things when making a decision about your application.
Your college grades, what college you went to, what you hope to study, letters of recommendation, any essays included in your application, and dozens of other factors can play a big role in whether you get into a grad school.
Some programs may have a minimum GRE score that they require, or at least heavily encourage applicants to meet. So, ultimately, getting a good score on the test is important and will give you a better chance of getting into graduate school.
But don’t worry if your score is less than perfect. You still have a chance of getting into a good program.
How can I get a good GRE score?
One of the most important things to do to help you earn a good score on the GRE is to prepare. That means studying, taking practice exams, and getting a good night’s sleep before the test.
It’s good to start studying for the test a few months before you sit down to take the GRE. You can use this time to do some general study as well as take practice exams.
ETS, the company that designs the GRE, has many test preparation resources available on its website. This includes essay prompts that can get you ready for the Analytical Writing section of the exam as well as practice tests.
Some experts recommend focusing on studying the math sections, as it’s easier to raise your math score than your verbal score through preparation.
There are also third-party test GRE prep books. It can be beneficial to try a few different test preparation books or tools as each will have strengths and weaknesses. This can give you a more well-rounded preparation experience and help get you ready.
Getting a good score on the GRE is one of the most important steps toward getting into your preferred grad program. With proper preparation and good test-taking practices, you should be able to perform well on the test and put yourself on the path to graduate school.