A perfect GRE score can seem like a magic bullet that will make all your dreams come true. But is this really the case?
In this total guide to perfect GRE scores, we’ll discuss what a perfect score on the GRE is. Then we’ll delve into the potential benefits and drawbacks of pursuing a perfect score and the question of whether or not you need a perfect score. Finally, we’ll wrap up with some tips on achieving that GRE perfect score, should you decide to pursue one.
What Is a Perfect GRE Score?
What is a perfect score on the GRE? Well, it would be the highest score possible on each section: a 170 on the Verbal section, a 170 on Quant, and a 6 on Analytical Writing.
How does this mean you did compared to other test-takers? A perfect GRE score means you got a 99th-percentile score on Verbal, a 97th-percentile score on Quant, and a 99th-percentile score on Analytical Writing.
Do You Need a Perfect GRE Score?
Before we worry too much about getting a perfect GRE score, let’s think about this question: do you HAVE to have a perfect GRE score on EVERY GRE section for your graduate school admissions?
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The short answer is: probably not, in most situations. But in this section we’ll go after the benefits and drawbacks of getting a tip-top GRE score to help you assess if you need to pursue one.
Benefits of a Perfect GRE Score
- Because a perfect score on GRE Verbal, GRE Quant, and GRE Analytical Writing—all three sections—is quite unusual, a perfect score may stand out to admissions committees to show that you’re very well-rounded in all sections.
- Higher scores in general mean greater funding eligibility, and it doesn’t get any higher than a perfect score.
- For the most elite graduate programs (say at Harvard, MIT, or Stanford), you may be expected to get a perfect score on GRE Verbal or GRE Quant, depending on which is more relevant to your field of study. Remember that a perfect 170 GRE Quant score already places you at the 97th percentile – over 2% of all students get a perfect quant score.
Why You Don’t NEED a GRE Perfect Score
- Most graduate programs use the GRE as a kind of screening tool—they generally don’t look very closely at the applications of people with GRE scores well below their expected threshold. It’s important to get a GRE score that’s high enough to get a thorough look at your application, but benefits beyond that point are pretty marginal. That said, generally higher scores can mean greater consideration for funding.
- As a corollary to the above point, a perfect score on every section of the GRE (or even on one section) is almost never enough to get you into a graduate program on its own. Grad school admissions are not like college admissions, where a high SAT or ACT score can guarantee admission to many programs. Graduate programs usually have some pretty specific criteria (like demonstrated interested, professional experience, etc.) that they expect students to meet, and if you don’t have those, the highest GRE score won’t be enough to get you in.
- There’s very little practical difference between a very high score—say, a 167V/168Q/5.5AWA—and a perfect score. The percentile rankings are very similar and almost as impressive. With that said, in hyper-competitive programs, it may be expected that you receive close to a perfect score on a particular section. In this case the difference between a 168, a 169, and a 170 on Verbal and/or Quant may become pretty salient. But in that case, you should devote your energy to getting a perfect score on the more relevant section and not waste your time worrying about the other one.
- This brings me to my next point, which is that most programs only care about one section—Verbal or Quant—and programs care very little about Analytical Writing in general. So even if you feel you need a super-high score on one section, striving for perfect scores on both/all three sections is almost certainly a poor time investment. Spend that time working on the other parts of your application to a super-competitive program.
- Preparing for a GRE perfect score inevitably takes a lot of time. If you need to spend a lot of time to get a perfect GRE score, can you better use that time to improve the rest of your graduate application?
If you’re far away from a perfect GRE score, then trying to get a perfect score on the entire GRE test—all three sections—can be more trouble than it’s worth. However, you might need to aim for a perfect score on individual GRE sections. For hyper-competitive programs, you may be basically expected to get (or at least get very close to) a perfect score on GRE Verbal or GRE Quant, depending on which is more relevant to your field of study. In that case, it’s worth it to invest the studying time for that particular section.
Note that striving for a perfect on Analytical Writing is LEAST worth your time in terms of return-on-investment, since schools generally don’t care much about it.
For tips on how to get a perfect score on the GRE, read on! These tips apply both to those looking for a perfect score on the entire test and those who are only going for the perfect score on one GRE section.
How to Get a GRE Perfect Score: 10 Tips
You might wonder: is a perfect GRE score possible for me? Well, friends, it definitely is possible, although it will probably take a lot of work, depending on your starting point. Even if you are just going for a perfect score on GRE Verbal or GRE Quant only, expect to spend a lot of time studying and going over concepts and questions with a fine-tooth comb.
Below are my best tips on achieving that elusive perfect GRE score, but check them out even if you’re just shooting for a very high score (165+). They’ll be helpful all the same!
#1: Know What You Can Get Wrong
So how much can you get wrong and still get a perfect score? Not much. On Verbal, you can potentially afford to miss one question. On Quant, you can’t miss any. This means you should assume there’s no margin for error: you must answer every question and you cannot make any mistakes. On Analytical Writing, you need to get, at minimum, a 6 on one essay and a 5.5 on the other so your overall score is a 6—no easy task. You need to know exactly what the readers are looking for to achieve this.
#2: Be Motivated
To be able to engage in the frankly tedious, granular preparation you will need to get a perfect score, you have to be very motivated. You can’t just think a perfect score would be kind of nice if you happened to get one. You have to be determined to get it. Otherwise, you just won’t be able to prepare in a consistent, focused way.
When you study for the GRE, think about your goal (a perfect GRE score) and visualize what that will enable you to accomplish. Want to get into your top choice graduate school? Or get a grad school scholarship?
Use that inspiration to fuel your hard study times.
#3: Cultivate a Detail-Oriented Mindset
To get a perfect score on the GRE, you have to be willing to get fully immersed in the tiny details of content and test strategy. You need to know the necessary foundational content backwards and forwards, in every particular. You also need to be willing to make constant, minor tweaks to your test-taking strategy until taking practice tests feels as natural as riding a bike (assuming, that is, that you can ride a bike)!
To this end, you need to use your prep time in an active way. Don’t just mindlessly do the same three types of drills over and over again or rush through a chapter of a prep book every day. Instead, constantly consider how you can best target your weaknesses and improve your test-taking strategy.
#4: Use High-Quality Practice Material
If you don’t use good practice material, it won’t really matter how much prep you do—you won’t be able to get that perfect score. The best materials are official ETS materials, since they make the GRE. Their practice tests and questions are the most like what you will actually see on test day.
Beyond that, we’ve compiled the best available practice resources for every section of the test.
#5: Hone In on Your Mistakes
When you make mistakes on practice questions, you need to hone in on them in the most granular way possible. You need to mine as much information as you can from them. This is because the more closely you can identify your errors, the more you are able to fix specific weaknesses, which in turn makes you less likely to repeat those errors.
So it’s not enough to know that you’re weak on geometry questions. Which geometry questions are you weak on? Why are you weak on those questions in particular? Do you just not really know the properties of right triangles? If it’s not a content issue, then what’s going wrong? Are you getting confused by the figures? Feeling pressed for time? Why are you feeling pressed for time? This is the kind of in-depth analysis you need to be doing on all of your incorrect practice questions.
I advise keeping a journal where you analyze every single question you get wrong and why. This will aid in spotting patterns and help you turn your errors into tools to get that perfect score.
#6: Eliminate Careless Errors
When you’re striving for a perfect score, you can’t afford to make careless errors. This means no misreading questions or directions, no forgetting to put the answer in the right format, no calculation mistakes, and so on.
When you do make careless errors when you’re practicing for the test, consider exactly what went wrong. Did you have messy handwriting? Did you feel stressed? Target the underlying causes of these sloppy mistakes to eliminate them. And then practice until you aren’t making sloppy mistakes anymore!
#7: Invest Time…Wisely
You will almost certainly need to put a lot of time into GRE prep to get that top score. But you need to spend your time in a smart way. Assess whether what you are doing to prepare is actually working. Don’t just continue to mindlessly drill practice questions over and over without addressing any mistakes or strategies. Target your time to the gaps you actually need to fill. If you’re consistently scoring a 170 on practice Verbal sections, for example, but only a 166 on Quant, it makes sense to cut back on Verbal prep and spend more time on Quant.
#8: Time Management Is Critical
To get a perfect score, you don’t just have to be able to complete every question correctly—you have to be able to do it in the time allotted on the test. This means you need to know almost instinctively how much time you can spend on every question without having to check the timer every 5 seconds. Ideally, you will also have several minutes at the end of the section to glance over your answers and make sure you didn’t make any obvious mistakes.
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#9: Set Yourself Up for Test-Day Success
Once you do all of that preparation, you want to position yourself to make use of it on test day! So be sure to get a good night’s sleep in the few nights leading up to the test and eat a nutritious breakfast with protein and complex carbs. Also be sure to pack your bag the night before with all of your essential supplies—your approved ID, water, a snack, and anything else you need. This will help aid in a smooth, low-stress (as much as possible) test-day experience and help you get into a “game on” mindset.
#10: Have a Good Attitude!
Above all, stay positive. Even if you don’t get that mythical GRE perfect score you were going for, all of your preparation will still aid you in getting a stellar score. So even if you feel while taking the test like you already missed more questions than you can afford for a perfect, keep doing your best. A 169 or 168 is certainly nothing to sneeze at!
What You Need to Know About Perfect GRE Scores
What is a perfect GRE score? That’s a 170 on the Quantitative section, a 170 on the Verbal section, and a 6 on Analytical Writing—the highest scores possible.
Here are the benefits to a perfect GRE score:
- It’s quite unusual, so it will definitely stand out to admissions committees!
- Higher GRE scores often open doors to more grad school funding opportunities.
Here are the drawbacks:
- Prepping for a GRE perfect score is a big time investment, and it may not be the best use of your grad-school application prep time.
- Most graduate programs really only expect that you meet some sort of general GRE threshold. You only accrue marginal benefits in terms of admission for exceeding that threshold.
- To that end, a perfect GRE score isn’t enough to get you into a program if you don’t also meet their other criteria.
- There’s really not a great difference between a very high score (like a 168/168/5.0) and a perfect score in practical terms. However, hyper-competitive programs may expect a near-perfect score in one particular section. In this case, there may be a meaningful difference between a 168/169/170 on a particular section.
The majority of programs do really only care about one of your section scores—Quant or Verbal—and most don’t care much about your Analytical Writing score.
And finally, here are ten tips for you if you’re going for a top score, either on the whole test or on just one section.
- Know what you can get wrong (not much!)
- Be motivated
- Be detail-oriented
- Use the best practice materials
- Closely analyze your mistakes
- Eliminate careless errors
- Use prep time wisely
- Work on time management
- Use good test-day practices
- Maintain a good attitude!