What’s A Good GRE Writing Score? A Bad GRE Score?

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The GRE writing score is perhaps the most confusing part of your score report. What does it mean? Do schools care about it at all?

In this article, we’ll clarify all of that and explain how you can figure out what a good GRE Writing score is for you. We’ll go over percentiles for the GRE Writing as a whole as well as  average and cut-off scores for grad programs and how you can use all this information to choose a target GRE Writing score.

feature image credit: Good Two/used under CC BY 2.0/Resized from original.

 

How Do You Figure Out What a Good GRE Writing Score Is?

A good GRE Writing score is one that gets you into the program you want to get into. For the most part, graduate schools don’t even really care about applicants having a high GRE Analytical Writing score – it’s more a matter of applicants avoiding elimination because their GRE Writing score is significantly below that of the average applicant for their program.

To figure out where you stand compared to other applicants, the first step is to look at the GRE Writing score percentiles (released by ETS), shown in the table below.

 

GRE Analytical Writing: Score Percentiles

Score Levels % of Test Takers Scoring Below
6.0 99
5.5 98
5.0 93
4.5 82
4.0 60
3.5 42
3.0 18
2.5 8
2.0 2
1.5 1
1.0 < 1
0.5 < 1
0.0 < 1

We’ve divided the table into different colors based on whether the GRE analytical writing scores would be considered low (0.0-3.0), average (3.5-4.0), high (4.5-5.0), or excellent (5.5-6.0).

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If your GRE Writing score is a 4.5 or above, you’re in good shape for most graduate programs, compared to all other GRE takers.

 

GRE Writing Scores and Fields of Study

Another important factor that determines a good GRE Writing score is the field of study you’re interested in pursuing.

Different fields of graduate study vary tremendously in what scores they want to see on GRE Analytical Writing. Programs in engineering and the sciences tend to have lower average GRE Writing scores and score cut-offs, while programs in the humanities, arts, and social sciences tend to have higher ones.

Take a look below at average GRE Writing scores by intended major field, keeping in mind that these aren’t the Writing scores of admitted students, just the scores of test-takers who intended to apply to graduate school in these fields.

Intended Graduate Major Field Analytical Writing Mean Score
Business 3.4
Education 3.6
Engineering 3.2
Humanities and Arts 4.0
Life Sciences 3.7
Physical Sciences 3.4
Social Sciences 3.9
Other Fields 3.6
Undecided 3.0
No Major Provided 3.3
Total 3.5

The difference between the field with the highest average analytical writing score (Humanities and Arts, 4.0) and the fields with the lowest average analytical writing scores (Undecided, 3.0) is one full point, or two 0.5 score increments. On a measure where the difference between a 3.0 and a 4.0 is 42 percentage points, this is a pretty significant variation – percentile-wise, prospective Humanities and Arts students tend to get way better GRE Writing scores than Engineering students.

More important than the scores of potential grad school applicants, however, are the GRE Writing scores of students actually admitted to various degree-granting programs. Below, I’ve compiled a list of nine different programs from seven different schools around the country.

 

Admitted Applicant GRE Analytical Writing Scores

Degree Field of Study School GRE AWA Score
MA Sociology University of Houston 3.5 min.
MSN Nursing University of Pennsylvania 4.0 min.
MS Engineering Stanford 4.5 min.
MA, Ph.D. Media & Journalism University of North Carolina 4.5 min.
Ph.D. Psychology UC Berkeley 4.6 avg.
Ed.M. Education Harvard 4.6 avg.
Ed.L.D. Education Harvard 4.8 avg.
Ph.D. Education Harvard 5.0 avg.
Ph.D. Political Science University of Chicago 5.1 avg.

The first four schools on the lists have GRE Writing score cut-offs (students must get a minimum of these scores or above), while the last five schools all provide GRE Writing score averages. As you can see, scores vary a little bit among the different subject areas, but for the most part the differences in GRE writing scores among the different programs are negligible.

The biggest difference on this table is between the cutoff score for the MA in Sociology at the University of Houston and scores for other schools that specify a minimum or average GRE Writing score. There are two possible reasons for this discrepancy: the University of Houston program is a master’s program (rather than a doctoral program, like many of the others on the list) and it isn’t as highly ranked as the other programs are in their respective fields.

The takeaway is that even the most competitive grad programs aren’t going to require you to have a 6.0 GRE Writing score; practically speaking, a 5.5 or 6.0 is exceptional, and a 4.5 or 5.0 is all that’s required, even for the highest-ranked of programs.

 

Determining Your Personal GRE Writing Score Target

It’s possible to get a rough sense of what GRE Writing score you should aim for just by looking at the above assortment of schools – humanities and social sciences want higher scores than engineering/other STEM fields, and Ph.Ds require higher scores than Master’s programs. But when it comes to setting goals for your studying, having a particular score to aim for is always better than ballparking it. And the best way to figure out what a good GRE Writing score for you is to base it off of the scores of schools and programs you’re planning on applying to.

In this next section, we’ll take you through how to find the Analytical Writing GRE score that will get you into grad school.

What’s a Good GRE Writing Score for You: A Step-by-Step Guide

#1: Search “[school or program name] average GRE writing score” or “[school or program name] required GRE writing score”

You may have to check the program website or unofficial message boards if this search does not turn up any promising results. You can also always call the school’s admissions office if you’re particularly worried about it.

#2: If the school doesn’t have information available about the average GRE Writing score, your best bet for estimating what the average GRE Writing score might be is look up the school’s percentiles for other GRE scores and then cross-check these percentiles with the percentiles list for GRE Writing.

For instance, if the average GRE Verbal score is in the 85th percentile, it’s reasonable to expect that the GRE AWA score should also be somewhere around there (which is about a 4.5). You should treat this estimate with a bit more leniency than you’d treat a listed score, however, because of how little weight GRE Writing scores often carry in graduate admissions decisions.

#3a: For schools with minimum required GRE Writing scores: List all the scores for all the programs you’re applying to. The highest minimum score should be your cut-off.

#3b: For schools who provide information about average GRE Writing scores: Average the AWA scores for all the programs you’re applying to.

#4: Average the scores from steps 3a. and 3b. If the cutoff GRE Writing score (from 3a.) is higher than this average, than this should be your target score; otherwise, use the average of the cutoff score and average GRE Writing scores as your personal target Writing score.

 

Breathe, focus, release/used under CC BY 2.0/Resized from original.
Breathe, focus, release/used under CC BY 2.0/Resized from original.

 

Bottom Line: What’s a Good GRE Writing Score?

Even a perfect 6.0 Writing score is unlikely to offset low Verbal or Quantitative Reasoning scores; if you’re doing well on the rest of the GRE, you’ll probably do well enough on Writing, but hitting the school’s average GRE Writing score isn’t really going to boost your chances.

Most grad schools don’t care enormously about GRE Writing scores when considering your application, and a 4.5 and above is fine for most programs, even at top schools. As long as your Analytical Writing scores aren’t way out of alignment with the rest of your application, you should be fine.

 

What’s Next?

Wondering how exactly how your GRE Writing score is calculated? Learn how the GRE essays are scored in this article.

What if your GRE Writing score isn’t quite where it needs to be? Then you’ll benefit from our great tips and strategies to improve it!

Looking for a way to conquer GRE Writing, once and for all? Read our guides on how to get a perfect score on the “Analyze an Issue” and “Analyze an Argument” questions.


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Author: Laura Staffaroni

Laura graduated magna cum laude from Wellesley College with a BA in Music and Psychology, and earned a Master's degree in Composition from the Longy School of Music of Bard College. She scored 99 percentile scores on the SAT and GRE and loves advising students on how to excel and fulfill their college and grad school dreams.

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