GRE Score Breakdown: Understanding Your Scores

What’s the GRE score breakdown? What scores will you actually receive after taking the exam, and how are these scores calculated? In this guide, we explain the GRE scoring breakdown so you can understand what your GRE scores mean and how you can use this information to maximize your GRE score.

 

What Is the Overall GRE Score Breakdown?

In your GRE score report, you’ll receive three GRE scores, one for each of the exam sections: Analytical Writing, Verbal Reasoning, and Quantitative Reasoning. Analytical Writing is scored from 0-6, in half-point increments. Both Verbal Reasoning and Quantitative Reasoning sections are scored between 130 and 170, in one-point increments. But how do exam graders calculate these scores? Keep reading to find out.

 

What’s the GRE Score Breakdown for Verbal Reasoning and Quantitative Reasoning?

For both Verbal Reasoning and Quantitative Reasoning, you’ll receive a score between 130 and 170. You’ll only answer 40 Verbal questions and 40 Quant questions, so how are these scores calculated? Is it just 130 + the number of questions you answered correctly? Not exactly.

You earn one point for each question you answer correctly. For questions with multiple blanks or parts to answer, it’s all or nothing. You must get the entire question correct to get the point; there is no partial credit. You don’t lose any points for incorrect answers. So, if you got 33 Verbal questions right, your raw score for Verbal would be 33. You won’t see your raw scores though because raw scores are converted to scaled scores (the scores from 130 to 170) before they are included on your GRE score report.

In order to make sure your GRE scores are as fair and accurate as possible, two processes occur when your raw scores are converted to scaled scores: adaptive testing and equating.

 

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Adaptive Testing

If, like most people, you take the GRE on the computer, your Verbal Reasoning and Quantitative Reasoning sections will be adaptive. On the GRE, both Verbal and Quant have two sections, referred to as “measures” by the ETS. Because they’re adaptive, how well you do on the first of these measures determines the difficulty of questions in the second measure.

Your first measure for both Verbal and Quant will have medium-difficulty questions, and your second measure for each could have questions pulled mostly from either the easy, medium, or challenging question banks. For example, if you do very well on the first Verbal Reasoning measure and only get two questions wrong, your second Verbal Reasoning measure will have more challenging questions, compared to the second measure of someone who only got half the questions on the first measure correct.

The types of questions you answered incorrectly on the first measure don’t matter. If you got all the algebra questions wrong on the first Quant measure, that doesn’t mean only algebra questions will be easier in the second measure; the only thing that matters for adaptive testing is the total number of questions you answered incorrectly.

Adaptive testing creates more differentiation between the scores of test takers so GRE breakdown scores are more accurate. If you got 10/20 questions correct on the first Quantitative Reasoning measure and then a perfect 20/20 on the second measure, your final section score won’t be quite as high as someone who got 19/20 questions correct on the first Verbal measure and then 11/20 on the second measure. Even though you both ended up answering 30/40 questions correctly, the person who got 19/20 questions correct on the first measure will have been given more challenging questions than you did on the second measure. The increased difficulty of these questions results in a slightly higher final score.

Remember though that when you’re taking the GRE, you won’t receive any of your scores until the end of the test, so you won’t know how well you did on the first measure or which difficulty level your second measure questions are. Just do your best on every question and don’t stress yourself out trying to figure out if you got “easy” or “hard” questions for the second measures.

 

Equating

Equating is another process used to make sure GRE scores are accurate and fair for all people who take the test. ETS using equating to take into account small variations in difficulty between different GREs. If the GRE given in October ends up being more difficult than the GRE given in November, equating will be used to make sure that the people who took the October GRE aren’t unfairly penalized with lower scores because they took a harder exam. For example, people who took the easier November exam and got 30 Quant questions correct might receive a scaled score of 160 (130 + 30 correct answers). People who took the October test and got 30 Quant questions correct may receive a score of 161 or 162 because the questions were harder.

It’s impossible to have every version of the GRE be exactly the same level of difficulty, so equating is used to make sure that average scores stay consistent across different versions of the test. ETS doesn’t disclose the exact process they use for equating but, like adaptive testing, it won’t have a huge impact on your final GRE scores. Just know that it’s done to keep everything fair, and remember that your main goal is still to answer as many questions correctly as you can.

 

 

To sum up, you receive one point for each question you answer correctly in Verbal or Quant. These points will be added up to get your raw score (0-40) for each section. Your raw scores will then be converted to scaled scores (130-170) which take into account both adaptive testing and equating.

So, if you answered 30 Verbal questions correctly, you may, for example, get a final Verbal score of 157 if you had an easier exam and/or you scored low enough on the first Verbal measure to get easier questions in the second measure. Or, you could answer 30 Verbal questions correctly and get a score of, say, 162 if your GRE was harder and/or your second measure was adapted to have more challenging questions. On your GRE score report, you’ll only see your final scaled scores, so you won’t know how equating or adaptive testing affected your final GRE score breakdown.

 

What Is the GRE Score Breakdown for Analytical Writing?

For the Analytical Writing section, you’ll need to write two complete essays, an Argument essay and an Issue essay, but you’ll only receive one score from this section, between 0 and 6.

Each essay you write is read by at a trained grader and given a score from 0-6. Then the essay is scored by an e-reader, a computer program created by ETS to grade writing skills in multiple areas. If the human grader’s and e-reader’s scores are within one point of each other, then the average of those two scores is used as the final essay score. If they disagree, a second human grader scores the essay, and the average of the two human scores is the final essay score.

To get the final Analytical Writing score, the two essay scores are averaged, and that value is rounded to the nearest half-point. The graders use rubrics to decide which score to give each of your essays. Below, we give the key parts of each of the two rubrics so you can better understand what essay graders are looking for and how they decide on your score.

 

Scoring for the Argument Essay

Below are the different characteristics of essays scoring a 6, 4, or 2 on the Argument task. It includes the main writing characteristics and skills graders are looking for. You can also see the complete rubric on the ETS website.

Score Overview Specific Items
6 (Outstanding) In addressing the specific task directions, a 6 response presents a cogent, well-articulated examination of the argument and conveys meaning skillfully.
  • clearly identifies aspects of the argument relevant to the assigned task and examines them insightfully
  • develops ideas cogently, organizes them logically and connects them with clear transitions
  • provides compelling and thorough support for its main points
  • conveys ideas fluently and precisely, using effective vocabulary and sentence variety
  • demonstrates superior facility with the conventions of standard written English (i.e., grammar, usage and mechanics), but may have minor errors
4 (Adequate) In addressing the specific task directions, a 4 response presents a competent examination of the argument and conveys meaning with acceptable clarity.
  • identifies and examines aspects of the argument relevant to the assigned task, but may also discuss some extraneous points
  • develops and organizes ideas satisfactorily, but may not connect them with transitions
  • supports its main points adequately, but may be uneven in its support
  • demonstrates sufficient control of language to convey ideas with reasonable clarity
  • generally demonstrates control of the conventions of standard written English, but may have some errors
2 (Seriously Flawed) A 2 response largely disregards the specific task directions and/or demonstrates serious weaknesses in analytical writing.
  • does not present an examination based on logical analysis, but may instead present the writer’s own views on the subject
  • does not follow the directions for the assigned task
  • does not develop ideas, or is poorly organized and illogical
  • provides little, if any, relevant or reasonable support for its main points
  • has serious problems in language and sentence structure that frequently interfere with meaning
  • contains serious errors in grammar, usage or mechanics that frequently obscure meaning

Overall, a high-scoring Argument essay will:

  • Limit its discussion to identifying and explaining the parts of the argument that are relevant to the essay task
  • Develop its ideas logically
  • Be organized and connect ideas smoothly
  • Include support for the main points of the author’s analysis
  • Be well written

 

Scoring for the Issue Essay

Below are descriptions for 6-, 4-, and 2-scoring Issue essays. You can find the complete Issue rubric here.

Score Overview Specific Items
6 (Outstanding) In addressing the specific task directions, a 6 response presents a cogent, well-articulated analysis of the issue and conveys meaning skillfully.
  • articulates a clear and insightful position on the issue in accordance with the assigned task
  • develops the position fully with compelling reasons and/or persuasive examples
  • sustains a well-focused, well-organized analysis, connecting ideas logically
  • conveys ideas fluently and precisely, using effective vocabulary and sentence variety
  • demonstrates superior facility with the conventions of standard written English (i.e., grammar, usage and mechanics), but may have minor errors
4(Adequate) In addressing the specific task directions, a 4 response presents a competent analysis of the issue and conveys meaning with acceptable clarity.
  • presents a clear position on the issue in accordance with the assigned task
  • develops the position with relevant reasons and/or examples
  • is adequately focused and organized
  • demonstrates sufficient control of language to express ideas with acceptable clarity
  • generally demonstrates control of the conventions of standard written English, but may have some errors
2 (Seriously Flawed) A 2 response largely disregards the specific task directions and/or demonstrates serious weaknesses in analytical writing.
  • is unclear or seriously limited in addressing the specific task directions and in presenting or developing a position on the issue or both
  • provides few, if any, relevant reasons or examples in support of its claims
  • is poorly focused and/or poorly organized
  • has serious problems in language and sentence structure that frequently interfere with meaning
  • contains serious errors in grammar, usage or mechanics that frequently obscure meaning

To get a high score on your Issue essay, your essay must:

  • Make sense logically
  • Be precise in its discussion of the issue and the author’s stance on the issue
  • Include support for the author’s position that persuades the reader to the author’s point of view
  • Be organized and flow smoothly from idea to idea
  • Be well-written

 

 

How Can You Use GRE Scoring to Your Advantage?

There are lots of processes that occur before you get your final GRE breakdown of scores. How can you use all of this information to your advantage? We discuss three key ways below.

 

#1: Pay Particular Attention to the First Measure of Verbal and Quant

Because the GRE is section-level adaptive, how well you do on the first measure of Verbal Reasoning and Quantitative Reasoning determines the difficulty of the second sections. Your score on the first measure of both Verbal and Quant affects the difficulty of the questions you get on the second measures. You can only get a top GRE score if your second measure questions are the highest difficulty level.

This means the questions in the first measures of Verbal and Quant are slightly more important than those in the second measure since they determine the difficulty of the second measure questions. Don’t get too hung up on this though since, on the whole, adaptive testing won’t have a huge impact on your score. Your goal should always be to just answer as many questions correctly as you can.

 

#2: Don’t Spend a Lot of Time on One Question

Remember, every Verbal and Quant question is worth one point if you answer it correctly, so don’t spend a ton of time trying to get one question right if it causes you to run out of time and not get to look at multiple other questions in a section.

Timing is very important for the GRE, and because you have to answer a lot of questions in a limited amount of time, don’t let your timing get derailed by agonizing over one question.

You should spend about 90 seconds on each Verbal question and 105 seconds on each Quant question in order to complete all the questions in a section on time. Remember this GRE time breakdown, and, if you find yourself spending longer than this on a single question, make your best guess on it, then move onto the next question and only come back to it if you have time at the end of the section.

 

#3: Answer Every Question

Remember, you don’t lose any points if you answer a GRE question incorrectly. This means you should answer every question, even if you’re just making a complete guess. You may guess right and get another point!

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Summary: GRE Sections Breakdown

You’ll receive three scores for the GRE, and scoring for the exam is much more complicated than simply adding up the number of questions you answered correctly. For Analytical Writing, your GRE breakdown of scoring will be from 0-6. Each of the two essays you write will be graded by both a human grader and a computer program.

For both the Verbal and Quant sections, you’ll receive a score from 130-170. You’ll get a point for each question you answer correctly, but your scores may also be affected by adaptive testing and equating. Knowing this GRE test breakdown can help you raise your GRE score by remembering to be especially careful on the first measure of Verbal and Quant, not spending too much time on any one question, and answering every question on the exam.

 

What’s Next?

Just how long should you study for the GRE? Learn exactly how many hours you should study for the GRE to get the score you want.

Looking for other GRE tips and resources? Check out our complete collection of GRE practice tests and our picks for the top GRE study materials.

Need help registering for the GRE? Check out our step-by-step guide to GRE registration to learn every step in the process.


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Author: Christine Sarikas

Christine graduated from Michigan State University with degrees in Environmental Biology and Geography and received her Master's from Duke University. In high school she scored in the 99th percentile on the SAT and was named a National Merit Finalist. She has taught English and biology in several countries.

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