What’s a good GRE Score?

Published by Anirban Bose on

What's a good GRE Score

Just search online for “what’s a good GRE score?” and you will be hard pressed to find an article that doesn’t say “it depends.”

Add to that the fuzzy information about acceptable GRE scores on University websites and you somehow know less now than when you started. Most schools give vague data such as average scores or average sectional scores, this is often followed by statements like “the GRE score is just one component of your application.” That doesn’t help, does it?

You want to know what’s a good GRE score?Well, here is the answer.

Let’s hear it from the horse’s mouth: ETS

What does ETS consider to be a good GRE score?

At the outset, let’s understand the scoring system. The GRE consists of 3 scores: the verbal reasoning score, the quantitative reasoning score and the analytical writing score.

Verbal                  –              130 to 170 (in 1 point increments)

Quantitative      –              130 to 170 (in 1 point increments)

AWA                     –              0 to 6 (in 0.5 point increments)

So, you can get 41 possible scores on verbal or quantitative: 130, 131, 132, ….169, 170

AWA scores will be 0, 0.5, 1, … , 5.5, 6

The AWA Score

Let’s get the AWA score out of the way.

A score of 4 or 4.5 is great. While anything above 4.5 doesn’t help much, scores below 3.5 (i.e., 3 or lower) pose a problem. 3.5 is a passable score and will not cause a problem unless the verbal score is too low.

A word of caution: In and by itself the AWA score means nothing. Though a good AWA score cannot support a bad GRE score an extremely bad AWA score (less than 3) will negatively impact even the best of GRE scores.

Strategy for AWA: No matter the program you are aiming for, admissions committees place lowest importance on Analytical Writing scores. Don’t focus on it and don’t completely ignore it. Definitely, don’t leave it blank. Improving your AWA score beyond 4.5 is an absolute time-waster.

Now to the part you have been waiting for: What’s a good GRE score?

GRE Sectional Scores

Score    Verbal %ile    Quantitative %ile

150             48                                           38

155              69                                           59

160             86                                           76

165             96                                           89

170            99                                           97

According to ETS, the average quantitative score of GRE test takers worldwide, is around 153 and the average verbal score of GRE test takers worldwide, is around 151. That’s a composite score of 304.

Clearly, the composite score of 304 keeps you in the top half of test takers.

Now, here’s what you need to know. Most top programs need a 75%ile on each section. You need around 160 on the Quantitative measure and 157 on the verbal. That’s a composite score of 317. In fact, Q 160 and V 155 is good enough to open most doors. That’s a cumulative 315.

And, there’s your answer: What’s a good GRE score? It’s a composite score of 310 to 315.

That sounds doable. It does, and it is. Bear in mind though that you need Verbal 155 and Quant 160 to get that 315.

What does that mean?

Though a Q 165 and V 150 also adds up to a 315 it isn’t quite the same because you will be almost 90%ile on the quantitative but at less than the 50%ile for the verbal section. Your ‘less than average’ verbal score will shut some doors. Not to worry, many will still remain wide open.

So 310 to 315 is a good GRE score. But, is it enough for all programs?

No, it isn’t. The most popular and sought after programs will need a little more but how much more exactly, is what we need to find out.

Typically, engineering programs have the highest GRE cut-offs and they focus on quantitative scores over verbal scores. A 80%ile verbal and 90%ile quantitative score will easily get you in the ‘under consideration” pile for admission to a top program. That’s Q165 and V160 for a composite of 325. That’s pretty much the max you need as an entry requirement.

What’s an Entry Requirement?

GRE scores are often used as entry barriers. Admission committees use GRE scores to eliminate the weakest applications, therefore, a low GRE score can ruin your chances. Scores above the threshold will not gain you admissions but will put your application in the “under consideration” pile. However, scores that meet the program expectations won’t matter much if you lack some other essential criterion set by by the admissions team (like work experience, research experience or strong academics).

A high GRE score may help in other ways though like compensating for

  1. a slightly lower GPA,
  2. having graduated many years ago

In both cases, a good GRE score shows the applicant is up to the task of taking on the academic rigors of the program.

So as an entry requirement, a 325 on the GRE is the most that any college wants. This means that at 325 your application is definitely in the “under consideration” pile for ALL/ANY program you are applying to. To summarize, the entry requirement for all programs is a GRE score of 300 to 325.

300 to 310 – low and mid-level programs at good colleges

310 to 315 – low and mid-level programs at great colleges

315 to 325 – all programs at any college

Of course, scoring more than 325 will help you more, but how much more let’s see.

325 and Beyond

So, we know a 325 is the max you need to be in consideration even for the best programs. The question now is how much more than 325 do you really need to cinch the admission?

The answer is: not much. Here’s why.

Beyond acting as an entry requirement, the GRE score doesn’t do much. Most programs do not give any importance to the GRE score once you are in consideration. There are bound to be exceptions to this, but it’s the dominant approach in admissions. A good GRE score will get your foot in the door, but it won’t get you a red carpet welcome. Your profile, experience, recommendations, and purpose will have to do that.

NOTE: A particularly good score can also help you qualify for scholarships, particularly ones that use GRE scores and/or GPA in comparing applicants.

When it comes to super-competitive programs scoring as much as possible is a good idea both for gaining entry as well as vying for scholarships. But how much more than the entry requirement do you really need? 

GRE Composite Scores

In order to understand how much more than the entry requirement is needed we need to understand composite scores. Unlike the GMAT, the GRE does not tell you the percentile score for the composite score. For example a GMAT 710/800 is a 91st %ile score. There are many ways of getting there such as a Q 86%ile and V 81%ile or even a Q 69%ile and a V 89%ile. The GRE does not give you percentiles for composite scores. Or does it?

ETS provides a very useful tool to convert  your GRE score to its GMAT equivalent. You can see the tool here.

How does that help?

GMAT composite scores (out of 800) have clearly defined %iles so your composite GRE scores now get a percentile too.

According to ETS, the average quantitative score of GRE test takers worldwide, is around 153 and the average verbal score of GRE test takers worldwide, is around 151.

Does this mean that the world average for the composite GRE score is 151 + 153 = 304? Is 304 a 50%ile composite score.

Not, really.

While 50% of GRE test-takers will score above 153 on quant, not all of them will also score above 151 on verbal. So the number of people who score both above 153 on quant and above 151 on verbal will be lower than 50% of the population. So, composite scores tend to be higher.

Composite Score Percentiles

Let’s look at some important composite scores on the GMAT and figure out their equivalent GRE scores.

Keeping in mind, the GMAT requirements

  1. 660 – 77th %ile opens almost all doors

Using the convertor tool, we get V156 and Q164 = 320

  • 710 – 90th %ile opens ALL doors

Using the convertor tool, we get V157 and Q168 = 325

  • 730 – 95th %ile beyond this, scores don’t matter

Using the convertor tool, we get V162 and Q167 = 329

So, between 320 and 325 all doors are open. Beyond 329, your scores don’t really matter.

What’s the 99th %ile score on the GRE?

Many applicants feel getting a very high or near perfect score will work wonders for the application. It won’t.

Above the 95th %ile, scores make little impact. The admissions committee has already acknowledged that you are smart (or at least standardized test smart) and that you will be able to take on the academic rigor of the program. A 96th %ile or a 98%ile does not really improve on that. So if you are already scoring in the 325 to 330 range you should not worry about an extra 2 points. Sure a 330 sound good, but to an admissions officer it’s the same as a 329 or even a 328.

Clue: It’s not 339

Now let’s say you are someone who has for some reason set their eyes on the 99th %ile, how do you know when you have reached there.

Many make the error of assuming that sectional %ile averaged gives you the overall percentile

Score    Verbal %ile            Quant %ile

160             86                           76

165             96                           89

170             99                           97

That logic would mean a 340/340 score would only be (99+97)/2 = 98th %ile. In other words, 2% of all GRE test takers score a perfect 340. That’s not likely (less than a 10th of a percentage point score 339).

On the GMAT, anything above 750 is the 99%ile. So whether you get a 760 or 800 you are in the same percentile.

Using the convertor tool, we get V163 and Q169 = 332

332!

Yes, that’s it. A 332 is the same as a 335 or a 338 or even a 340. So, don’t sweat it. Even if there is some elite scholarship that needs a 99%ile score (though that’s a highly unlikely criterion), you can easily apply with a 332 you don’t need to worry about the chap who’s got a 335.

So take a load off your shoulders and focus on the prep without fretting about the perfect score.

Happy Prepping!

The author has a 99%ile score on the GRE and conducts GRE batch classes on the weekends at Whitefield, Bangalore. Online LIVE Classes for the GRE are held on Weekdays late evenings. You can get in touch for batch classes (classroom or online) or special one-to-one online tutoring.

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