What Is a Good GRE Score?

What Is a Good GRE Score?
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By Tyler Epps

Published on February 22, 2021

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The Graduate Records Examination (GRE) is the most commonly required test for admission to graduate school. If you're planning on applying to graduate school, you're probably wondering, "What is a good GRE score?" The short answer is that it depends.

Because graduate programs maintain different admission requirements, GRE score expectations can vary greatly by school and field of study. In other words, what qualifies as a good GRE score for you will depend entirely on the programs you're applying to.

Before we explain how to determine what a good GRE score for you is based on your goals, let's go over the GRE scoring system.

What Is a Good GRE Score Overall?

The GRE consists of three sections: Verbal Reasoning, Quantitative Reasoning, and Analytical Writing (AW). The Verbal and Quant sections are scored in 1-point increments on a scale of 130-170, whereas the AW section is scored in half-point increments on a scale of 0-6.

In addition to the scaled score, every GRE score has a corresponding percentile rank. Your percentile rank is the metric you really want to pay attention to, as it indicates how well you performed compared to all other test takers. For example, a 163 Quant score corresponds to the 80th percentile, meaning you outscored 80% of test takers (but scored lower than 20%).

While there's no blanket cutoff that directly constitutes a good overall GRE score, any score above the 50th percentile, or median, can be considered a good score, since this would mean you outperformed more than half of all test takers.

Median GRE Scores (2019)

Verbal

Median GRE Scores (2019)

Quantitative

Median GRE Scores (2019)

Analytical Writing

Refer to the table below for a condensed look at Verbal and Quant scores based on percentiles from individuals who took the test between 2016 and 2019. Note that percentile rankings for scores can change slightly from year to year.

GRE Score Percentiles, 2016-19
Scaled GRE Score Verbal Percentile Quantitative Percentile
170 99 96
165 96 85
160 85 72
155 67 55
150 45 36
145 25 18
140 11 7
135 4 2
130

Source: ETS

How Will Your GRE Scores Be Used?

Before you can set a target GRE score, you'll need to figure out which scores will be used and how they'll be used. This requires you to do some research on the programs you plan to apply to.

Some colleges use GRE scores for scholarship consideration.

Many schools weigh GRE scores in their admissions processes, and some colleges also use GRE scores for scholarship consideration. This is especially the case for schoolwide scholarships, where standardized test scores may be one of the few meaningful ways to compare applicants across different fields of study.

Furthermore, some graduate programs may only look at your Verbal score, while others may only look at your Quant score, and vice versa. If you're applying to a graduate program that only cares about your Quant score, you know which section to study for.

For now, let's assume the program you're interested in considers all parts of your GRE score.

What Is a Good GRE Score Based on Your Program?

As mentioned earlier, a good GRE score is relative to the programs you're applying to. Some programs require a minimum score for admission, while others use admitted students' average GRE scores as benchmarks for new applicants.

If you don't meet a program's average GRE scores, you may still be accepted into the program. Your GRE scores won't help your chances, but your scores also won't disqualify you in many cases. On the flipside, matching or exceeding a program's average GRE scores may increase your chances of getting into a program, though it won't guarantee admission.

Consider two factors when setting your target score: your program's GRE score expectations, and how competitive the program is to get into. To find this information, go to your school's official graduate admissions page and look for GRE requirements.

If Your Program Provides GRE Score Stats

Many schools provide GRE score statistics and clarify the weight they place on your score in the admissions process. In general, your target scores should be comparable to or higher than those of admitted students in your program. This is even more true for "top-tier" graduate programs for which admission is highly competitive.

For example, let's say you're applying to Stanford University's MBA program — an extremely competitive graduate program with an acceptance rate just above 5%. In many cases, matching the average GRE scores may not be enough to influence your admission chances. If you wanted to be truly competitive for this program, your target scores would need to be higher than the averages, even if just by a point or two.

The same applies to competitive graduate programs that require a minimum cutoff score. Generally speaking, merely meeting a program's cutoff score does not make you a competitive applicant. If your program states that GRE scores are competitive or important, every number will count. The more competitive the program, the higher your GRE scores need to be.

But not all schools and graduate programs give significant consideration to GRE scores for admission purposes. If a program explicitly states that it takes a holistic approach to admissions, your target scores can comfortably sit around the provided averages.

If Your Program Does Not Provide GRE Score Stats

Some schools don't require minimum scores for admission or publish the average GRE scores of admitted students. In most cases, these schools take a holistic approach to applications. Nevertheless, if they ask for scores, they will use them — don't assume any score is fine.

If you can't find any average scores on the school's website, it never hurts to ask for that information directly from a program administrator. If the school does not provide average GRE score information, you should aim for around the national mean GRE scores. If the program is on the more competitive side, however, aim for scores higher than these averages.

Mean GRE Scores (2019)

Verbal

Mean GRE Scores (2019)

Quantitative

Mean GRE Scores (2019)

Analytical Writing

What Is a Good GRE Writing Score?

In addition to the Quant and Verbal sections, the GRE includes an Analytical Writing portion that involves two timed, 30-minute essays.

The AW essays use a different scoring scale and are reviewed by two readers: one automated scoring e-rater and one trained GRE reader. Each reader assigns a score on a scale of 0-6. The scores for your two essays are averaged separately at first and then together to arrive at a final AW score, rounded to the nearest half-point.

Refer to the table below to see how percentile ranks correspond to AW scores based on tests taken in 2016-19. Remember that GRE score percentiles can change slightly each year.

GRE Analytical Writing Percentiles, 2016-19
Scaled Analytical Writing Score Percentile Rank
6.0 99
5.5 98
5.0 92
4.5 80
4.0 55
3.5 38
3.0 14
2.5 6
2.0 1
1.5
1.0
0.5
0.0

Source: ETS

Like the Quant and Verbal score, a good AW score is one that's the same as or higher than the cutoff or average scores provided by your school. If, however, your program does not provide GRE score expectations, the average score of your intended field of study is a good benchmark to use when setting your target score.

Intended Major Analytical Writing Mean Scores, 2016-19
Business 3.6
Education 3.7
Engineering 3.4
Arts and Humanities 4.1
Law 4.0
Life Sciences 3.8
Physical Sciences 3.5
Social and Behavioral Sciences 3.9

Source: ETS

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