Scoring well on the Graduate Record Examinations (GRE) test is crucial for admission into competitive graduate programs. But with a total possible GRE score ranging from 260 to 340, what exactly constitutes a good GRE score?
The answer is more complex than it may seem. Unlike standardized tests such as the SAT or ACT, graduate schools focus more on your individual GRE section scores rather than your total composite score. So instead of worrying about your overall GRE score out of 340, you need to understand what comprises a competitive score for the Verbal Reasoning and Quantitative Reasoning sections specifically.
This guide will explain everything you need to know about GRE scoring, percentiles, and what good GRE scores are for top graduate programs.
- Overview of the GRE Test Format and Scoring System
- Why Schools Focus on Section Scores Rather Than Overall Scores
- Interpreting Your GRE Score Percentiles
- What is Considered a Good or Bad GRE Score
- Setting Target Scores Based on Your Graduate Programs
- FAQs on GRE Scoring and Performance
Overview of GRE Test Format and Scoring
Before determining what makes up a good GRE score, it’s important to understand the exam format and scoring system.
The GRE test contains three sections:
- Verbal Reasoning – Measures reading comprehension and critical thinking skills.
- Quantitative Reasoning – Tests mathematical and analytical problem solving abilities.
- Analytical Writing – Assesses critical thinking and analytical writing skills.
The Verbal Reasoning and Quantitative Reasoning sections are scored on the same 130-170 point scale in 1-point increments.
The Analytical Writing section has a different scoring scale that runs from 0.0-6.0 in half-point increments.
To calculate your total GRE score, the Verbal Reasoning and Quantitative Reasoning section scores are combined. So the maximum possible total is 340, with a score range of 260-340.
However, most graduate programs focus more heavily on your section scores rather than the total GRE score. The reasons behind this are explained next.
Why Schools Emphasize Section Scores Over Overall Scores
An important thing to note about the GRE is that your Verbal and Quant section scores are not weighed equally for all graduate programs.
Programs in mathematics, science, engineering and other technical fields tend to place more weight on your Quantitative Reasoning performance. Meanwhile, humanities and social science programs emphasize your skills in Verbal Reasoning and Analytical Writing.
Therefore, admissions committees focus more on your section scores rather than adding them together into an overall GRE score out of 340. They want to see excellent skills in the areas most relevant to the graduate program curriculum.
Additionally, the Analytical Writing score provides useful information about your critical thinking abilities. But since Analytical Writing uses a different scoring scale and holds lower weight overall, it does not factor into your total GRE score calculation.
So in summary, graduate programs care much more about your competency in Verbal Reasoning vs Quantitative Reasoning individually rather than a combined total score.
Understanding the importance of section scores is key when interpreting your performance through GRE percentiles and score averages.
Interpreting Your GRE Score Percentiles
Your official GRE score report includes percentile rankings along with your section scores. These percentiles indicate how your performance on each section compares to other test takers from the past 3 years.
For example, scoring in the 80th percentile in Verbal Reasoning means you performed better than 80% of exam takers in Verbal skills.
The table below shows the latest average GRE scores and corresponding percentiles:
*Data from ETS for test takers between July 2019 – June 2022
- A percentile above 50% is generally considered good, indicating above average performance compared to peers.
- 75th percentile or higher in a section is very good.
- 90th percentile and above is excellent, putting you in the top 10% of test takers.
Also notice that the same percentiles correspond to higher raw scores in Quantitative compared to Verbal. This demonstrates the increased competitiveness and higher average scores in the Quantitative Reasoning section.
So when evaluating your GRE test performance, be sure to account for the differences in average scores and percentiles between the two sections.
Now let’s examine some overall guidelines for what is perceived as good, average or poor GRE scores.
What is Considered a Good, Bad or Average GRE Score?
Although definitions vary between graduate programs, below are some general perceptions on Total and section-wise GRE score performance:
Good GRE Score:
- Total – 308 or above
- Verbal Reasoning – 157 or above
- Quantitative Reasoning – 160 or above
Average GRE Score:
- Total – Around 300
- Verbal Reasoning – Around 153
- Quantitative Reasoning – Around 155
Below Average or Weak GRE Score:
- Total – 292 or below
- Verbal Reasoning – Around 148 or less
- Quantitative Reasoning – Around 150 or less
However, keep in mind these classifications are broad generalizations. The most important judge of a “good” GRE score is the average scores and expectations of your target graduate programs specifically, which we’ll cover next.
Finding Your Target GRE Scores Based on Graduate Programs
Rather than worrying about overall GRE scores, you need to research the average accepted scores for your desired graduate programs.
Top graduate programs publish score averages and ranges for admitted students. Examples include:
- Master of Business Administration (MBA)
- Masters of Arts (MA)
- Masters of Science (MS)
- Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Compare your GRE scores to the published averages. Equaling or exceeding the averages is ideal, while falling significantly below them can hurt your chances for admission.
Steps to Find Your Target Scores:
- Search online for average scores, ranges or minimum requirements published by your target graduate programs
- Record averages for all your desired programs in a table like this:
|Example University MBA
|Another Uni MA Psychology
- Identify the highest averages for both sections across your programs
- Set your target scores to equal or exceed these highest values
Also account for weaknesses elsewhere in your graduate application. For example, if your GPA is lower, aim for GRE scores at the higher end to compensate.
Key Takeaway: Focus on the average accepted GRE scores for your individual graduate programs rather than overall test wide averages or percentiles.
This methodology will give you the best sense of what you need to score competitively and be considered a strong applicant.
Frequently Asked Questions on GRE Scoring
Below are answers to some common questions on understanding GRE scoring and performance:
What is considered a good GRE score for top colleges?
For the most selective graduate programs in the Top 25, good GRE scores generally fall in at least the 80th percentile, including:
- Verbal Reasoning – 160 or higher
- Quantitative Reasoning – 166 or higher
Ivy League business schools for example expect average scores around 167 Quantitative and 163 Verbal for incoming MBA classes.
If I only take the GRE once, which scores do colleges see?
All the scores from a single test session are reported to your designated graduate programs by default. You only have the option to pick and choose scores from multiple attempts through the ETS Score Select option.
Is a high GRE score enough to get into top graduate programs?
No – stellar GRE scores alone will not guarantee admission at highly competitive colleges. Top programs take a very holistic approach, accounting for factors like:
- Undergraduate GPA and course rigor
- Letters of Recommendation
- Personal Statements and Essays
- Relevant work experience
So aim for a strong overall application rather than relying solely on high GRE scores.
How do I prepare for the GRE to maximize my scores?
Follow these best practices when preparing for the GRE exam:
- Take official ETS practice tests under real timed conditions
- Work through practice questions focusing on your weakest areas
- Master GRE question formats and commonly tested concepts
- Enroll in an online GRE prep course for expert video lessons
- Take practice tests regularly to track score improvements
A “good” GRE score is primarily based on the average accepted scores at your target graduate programs rather than any absolute total score out of 340.
Make sure to carefully research the published score expectations and ranges for all your desired programs. Compare your own GRE section scores and percentiles to these averages to have the best sense of your competitiveness.
Meeting or exceeding your programs’ score expectations can give your graduate application a major boost, while falling significantly short of them can potentially hurt your chances, especially at highly selective colleges.
Through a data driven approach and effective GRE test prep strategies, you can set yourself up for success on this critical exam and take the next step towards your graduate degree aspirations.