What Is a Good GRE Score? A Bad One? An Excellent One?

still-life-851328_1280

As with any test, if you’re taking the GRE, you probably want to know what a good score is. The short answer is, it depends! The long answer is this article.

In this guide we’ll go over what a good GRE score is in terms of the entire GRE test-taking population, what a good GRE score is for you, and how to set a goal score. You’ll be on your way to a good score for you in no time!

 

What is a Good GRE Score Overall?

It’s hard to say with certainty what a “good” GRE score is in absolute terms, because there is so much variation in program expectations (more on that in the next section).  But if you want to know how a particular score stacks up against all other test-takers, you can check out the official GRE score percentiles. A percentile ranking shows what percent of test-takers you scored better than. For example, if I’m in the 25th percentile, I scored better than only 25% of students.

The average (or 50th percentile) GRE score is a 150 on Verbal and a 152.6 on Quant (152 is a 47th percentile score and 153 is a 51st percentile score). For Analytical Writing, a 3.5 is the average score.

Here’s a general breakdown of some score percentile benchmarks for the Verbal and Quantitative Reasoning sections:

 

Score Percentiles for Verbal and Quant

Score Verbal Percentile Quant Percentile
130 <1 <1
135 3 2
140 12 8
145 27 20
150 48 38
155 69 59
160 86 76
165 96 89
170 99 97

 

Quick side note: we've created the world's leading online GRE prep program that adapts to you and your strengths and weaknesses. Not sure what to study? Confused by how to improve your score? PrepScholar guides you, step by step.

I want to be clear - you don't NEED a prep program to get a great GRE score. But we believe PrepScholar is the best GRE prep program available right now, especially if you find it hard to organize your study schedule and don't know what to study.

Click here to learn how you can improve your GRE score by 7 points, guaranteed.

There are a couple of things to note from the above chart. First, that Quant scores tend to be a little bit higher than Verbal scores. How can we tell? Because percentiles for Quant are lower. So while a 165 has you scoring higher than 96% of test-takers on Verbal, you’ve only scored higher than 89% of test-takers on Quant with that score. So, more people scored higher than 165 on Quant than on Verbal (11% versus 4%).

The second thing to note is that test-taker scores tend to cluster around the middle of the scale. A five-point increase from 150 to 155 nets you a 21-point percentile increase on either section! By contrast, a 5-point increase from 165 to 170 only nets you a 3-percentile increase on Verbal or an 8-percentile increase on Quant. Essentially, you get a little more bang for your buck with point increases if you are starting out closer to the middle of the scale than at the ends.

In terms of how your score compares to all test-takers, a 25th percentile score (about a 144 on Verbal and a 146 on Quant) is a low score as it means 75% of test-takers—so, the vast majority—scored better than you. A 50th percentile score (about a 151 on Verbal and a 153 on Quant) is about average—you scored right in the middle of the pack. So not bad, but not awesome either.

A 75th percentile score (about a 157 on Verbal and a 160 on Quant) is pretty good: you’ve scored better than most of the other test-takers. A 90th percentile score (about a 162 on Verbal and a 166 on Quant) is excellent and will be competitive for most programs (but not necessarily all! More on that below).

 

goats-692660_1280
A 90th-percentile score makes you the winning goat in this picture analogy.

 

The general shape of the score distribution for Analytical Writing is similar, with the most percentile gains coming from the middle of the scale:

 

Analytical Writing Percentiles

Score Percentile
1.5 1
2.0 2
2.5 8
3.0 18
3.5 42
4.0 60
4.5 82
5.0 93
5.5 98
6.0 99

 

As you can see, the biggest percentile gains occur between 3.0 and 4.5, with the more extreme ends of the scale having smaller percentile changes.

So, while it’s hard to say with certainty what a “good” score is in absolute terms, you can get an idea of how your score stacks up with all the other GRE test-takers. The higher the percentile, the more people you scored higher than. More important, though, is what a good GRE score is for you personally and what it can do for you.

 

What Is a Good GRE Score for You?

First and foremost, a good GRE score for you will be one that is high enough to get you into the program(s) you wish to attend—provided you meet the other qualifications the program is looking for.

GRE scores are often used by the admissions committee to rule out the weakest applicants. So a low score may well tank your chances, but a score within or even above program expectations won’t help you a whole lot if you lack some essential component desired by the admissions committee (like research experience or strong recommendations from professors). A high score may shore up a comparatively minor weakness, like a GPA a little below the program average, but it won’t make up for any truly glaring deficits in your application.

As with all advice as concerns the GRE, I’m sure there are exceptions to this, but that’s the common trend: a good GRE score will help you maintain smooth admissions sailing, but it won’t build the boat, so to speak. You have to do that.

Beyond that, a particularly good score can also help you qualify for fellowships and scholarships, particularly ones that are University-wide, where GRE scores and GPA may be the only meaningful ways of comparing applicants across disciplines.

So then, assuming you meet the general program qualifications, what is a good GRE score for you? Read on, friends.

 

ship-952292_1280
Your metaphorical graduate-school application boat.

 

Determining What GRE Score You Need: 5 Key Factors

Because graduate programs are so different from each other—vastly more so than undergraduate programs—there is no hard-and-fast rule as to what a good GRE score is for a particular type of program or discipline. The important part is that a good GRE score will get you into the programs you want to attend. What a good GRE score is for you depends on a number of factors, which I will review here.

 

Program Level: Master’s or PhD

In general, successful PhD candidates are going to have higher GRE scores than master’s candidates. This is simple logic; there are far fewer spots available in PhD programs than in master’s programs, and the applicant quality is usually higher. So because the competition for PhD spots is steeper, a higher GRE score is necessary to separate yourself from the pack.

For example, if you check out the average GRE scores for all graduate programs at Clemson, you can see that most PhD programs have higher GRE average scores than the corresponding master’s programs, particularly in the more relevant section. For example:

  • Bioengineering MS students had 153.5 Verbal/158.5 Quant averages, while PhD students had 157 Verbal/161 Quant averages.
  • Forest Resource MS students had 145 Verbal/149.5 Quant averages, while PhD students had 153 Verbal and 154.5 Quant averages.
  • Mathematical Sciences MS students had a 155 Verbal/158.5 Quant averages, while PhD students had 155 Verbal/164 Quant averages.

Of course there are exceptions to this trend, but we can see that in general, even across a variety of disciplines, there are higher average GRE scores among admitted PhDs as compared to admitted Masters candidates.

 

back-to-school-1210124_1280
Your back to school level affects the score you need!

 

Program Discipline

Different disciplines will tend to have different good GRE score expectations, particularly as concerns the different sections. Engineering, physics, and chemistry programs, for example, tend to expect relatively high Quantitative scores, with even decidedly mid-tier programs having average scores of 160+ for admitted applicants. (A 160 is a 76th-percentile score, by the way.) By contrast, they have lower expectations for Verbal scores.

The reverse is true of humanities-focused programs, which generally expect relatively high Verbal scores and may have fairly low average Quant scores for admitted students. So a good score for a Computer Science program won’t be the same as a good score for an Art History program, and vice-versa.

Programs of all types generally care the least about your Analytical Writing scores. Don’t just totally wing it with no prep or leave it blank, but you’ll generally get the lowest return-on-investment with score gains in this area.

 

How Important the Program Considers GRE Scores

Not all programs, even within the same discipline, consider GRE scores to have the same importance. Some place great stock in them, while others only see them as an ancillary or supportive piece in the application.

For example, the Aerospace Engineering program at Texas A&M says, “Significant consideration is given to GRE scores for student admission.  The minimum GRE for consideration is a Verbal minimum of 152 and a Quantitative minimum of 160.  The average GRE score of students admitted to our department is 321 (GRE V+Q) and most funded students are substantially higher.” So if you’re applying to this program, your GRE score is very important, particularly if you are hoping for funding.

Similarly, the Stanford Statistics Department writes, “We do not have minimums required for application, but do expect students to have earned high GPA and GRE scores….Average General GRE scores (in percentiles) of admitted applicants: Verbal 83%, Quantitative 91%, Analytical Writing 52%.” If a program explicitly states that they expect high scores or that scores are important, you know that outstanding scores are something to focus on as you put effort into your application.

By contrast, other programs take a more measured approach to the GRE: The Stanford Graduate School of Education states, for example, “The Graduate School of Education does not have a cutoff GRE score requirement. The evaluation of each applicant is based on all the materials in the file and is not exclusively based on test scores. The Graduate School of Education does not provide average GRE score information of previous applicants or current students.” They emphasize, then, a holistic approach to applications that takes into account all parts of the file. They take pains to downplay the GRE by emphasizing that they don’t have a cutoff score and that they don’t provide GRE average scores.

The Computer Science program at University of Washington reports, “The average GRE scores of recent applicants were: Verbal 83% (including international applicants), Quantitative 93%, and Analytical 61%. While grades and test scores form an important component of an applicant’s case for admission, letters of recommendation and other factors—such as undergraduate research projects or unusual experience that would predict excellence in graduate school—all enter into admission decisions in a significant way. No component in isolation will guarantee or preclude admission.” This program also emphasizes the holistic nature of its evaluation process, which implicitly downplays the GRE.

However, just because a school doesn’t seem to overly emphasize the importance of the GRE or GRE scores on their website, that doesn’t mean you can blow off the GRE and assume any score is fine. If they ask for the scores, they are going to use them to evaluate candidates on some level. It may just be that working on another aspect of your application—say, a portfolio or recommendation letters—will give you a higher return-on-time-investment than studying for a two-point GRE score increase, or that they will be more impressed by an all-around strong application than an overall weaker application with a GRE score 5 points higher.

And keep in mind that even though schools say they don’t have a GRE score cutoff, the reality is that you’re always being compared to other applicants. If your GRE score is significantly lower than most applicants, your academic preparation will be seriously in doubt. After all, there will be MANY students who think the GRE is fairly easy – if your score doesn’t reflect this, then they may doubt your academic preparation for a tough graduate program.


Want to improve your GRE score by 7 points? We have the industry's leading GRE prep program. Built by Harvard graduates and GRE 99th percentile scorers, the program learns your strengths and weaknesses through advanced statistics, then customizes your prep program to you so you get the most effective prep possible.

Check out our 5-day free trial today:


 

photo-book-1318702_1280
Other things that might not be worth the time investment: a sweet application materials binder.

 

Program Competitiveness

Regardless of how important the admissions committee says that GRE scores are (or not), the more selective the program, the higher your GRE score needs to be. Top-ranked programs want students at the very top of the pack, so a good GRE score for those schools will be much higher than a good GRE score at a mid-range or less selective school. For example, a 160 (on the more relevant section) might be phenomenal for a master’s at your local public university, but it will be almost certainly be pretty far below average for the #1 and #2-ranked programs in your field.

 

The Rest of Your Application

Another thing to consider: how strong is the rest of your application? If you have super-strong recommendations from luminaries in the field and tons of relevant research/work experience, you can probably afford a somewhat lower GRE score than someone whose other qualifications are just decent. But again, it’s worth noting that even a phenomenal GRE score won’t really help you get admitted if you don’t meet the other qualifications for admission or the rest of your application is weak.

 

An Aside: What If the GRE Is Optional?

Some programs are GRE-optional. This may be truly optional—you can send the scores if you wish—in which case, only send if you are taking the GRE anyways and you get a high score. An amazing GRE score will be a mark in your favor, but a mediocre one won’t help you at all.

Other programs only require the GRE if you did not meet a certain undergraduate GPA threshold. If this applies to you, performing well on the GRE is of critical importance to prevent your application from being immediately tossed aside. Since your academic record is weaker, you need to demonstrate that you have the capacity for difficult work through your good GRE scores. And of course, the more competitive the program, the higher your GRE scores should be.

 

capricorn-864790_1280
If you haven’t ascended the GPA wall, you may need to scale GRE heights.

 

I’ve given some general guidelines on what makes a good GRE score. But how do you set a specific goal score? Read on.

 

How Do I Set a Goal GRE Score?

There are two ways to set a goal score—one method for if the programs you are interested in give any kind of GRE score guidelines, and one for if they don’t.

 

Scenario 1: Programs Provide GRE Information

If the programs you are interested in provide the GRE score information of applicants, it’s fairly easy to set a goal score. Just follow these steps:

 

Step 1: Find Information

The first thing to do is to look up all of the GRE information available for your programs of interest. If this information is available, you can usually find this somewhere in the web page for prospective program applicants—either right in the section about test scores or in the FAQ (questions like “What’s the minimum GRE score for admission?” often provide this information).

 

Step 2: Assemble Information

Once you have all of this information together, it’s time to assemble it into a chart. Let’s go through an example.

Let’s say Amina is applying to computer science master’s degree programs. First, she’ll note down her programs of interest in this chart:

School What They Say Verbal Score Quant Score
Columbia
Portland State University
University of Washington
University of Illinois at Chicago

 

Now we’ll go through the list and note down the information we can find online, and what score that corresponds to. We’ll start with Columbia: “Most admitted applicants, however, have scores of 750 or higher on the Quantitative section of the test.”

Wait a second—750?? That score is on the old scoring scale, out of 800. Luckily, we can check the GRE concordance chart to see that a 750 on the old scale corresponds to a 169 on the new scale. Also note that they say “most” applicants have a score at this level or above, so you should aim higher if possible. Let’s write all this down in the chart.

School What They Say Verbal Score Quant Score
Columbia Most admitted applicants have scores of 750 or higher on the Quantitative section of the test. n/a 169 (minimum)
Portland State University
University of Washington
University of Illinois at Chicago

 

Now we can move on to Portland State. They say, “The minimum for acceptance as an MS student is 60th percentile in Quantitative and 25th percentile in Verbal.” Checking out our percentile chart, we can see that this corresponds to a 156 in Quant and a 145 on Verbal. Note that this is a minimum, not an average, so if you want to be a truly competitive applicant you should score 2+ points above this. Let’s note that down.

School What They Say Verbal Score Quant Score
Columbia Most admitted applicants have scores of 750 or higher on the Quantitative section of the test. n/a 169 (minimum)
Portland State University The minimum for acceptance as an MS student is 60th percentile in Quantitative and 25th percentile in Verbal 145 (minimum) 156 (minimum)
University of Washington
University of Illinois at Chicago

 

Moving on to the University of Washington, they say that “Average GRE scores for applicants accepted into the PMP are: Quantitative 83%…and Verbal 60%.” This corresponds to a 163 on Quant and a 153 on Verbal (let’s round up to be safe).

School What They Say Verbal Score Quant Score
Columbia Most admitted applicants have scores of 750 or higher on the Quantitative section of the test. n/a 169 (minimum)
Portland State University The minimum for acceptance as an MS student is 60th percentile in Quantitative and 25th percentile in Verbal 145 (minimum) 156 (minimum)
University of Washington Average GRE scores for applicants accepted into the PMP are: Quantitative 83%…and Verbal 60% 153 163
University of Illinois at Chicago

 

Finally, let’s check out University of Illinois at Chicago. They say that they require “A total score of 308 or above on the official GRE exam (153+ verbal, 155+ quantitative).” Again, this is a minimum. Let’s note it down.

School What They Say Verbal Score Quant Score
Columbia Most admitted applicants, have scores of 750 or higher on the Quantitative section of the test. n/a 169+
Portland State University The minimum for acceptance as an MS student is 60th percentile in Quantitative and 25th percentile in Verbal 145+ 155+
University of Washington Average GRE scores for applicants accepted into the PMP are: Quantitative 83%…and Verbal 60% 153 163
University of Illinois at Chicago 153+ verbal, 155+ quantitative 153+ 155+

We’ve got all of our information. What’s next?

 

science-fiction-441708_1280
Next, conquer the universe!

 

Step 3: Determine Your Goal Score

Once you have all of your information from your programs noted down in your chart, look to find the highest scores in each column. Then aim for 2 points higher than that score—this is high enough to put you squarely in the acceptable score range for that school (even if the number given is a minimum), but not so high that you’ll be wasting energy trying to get an unnecessarily high score when you could use that energy on other parts of your application. (Remember, a GRE score is mostly to get you in the door—a super-high score won’t necessarily be a huge additional boost to your application).

This is what we consider your Good GRE Score. This is the score YOU need to get into the schools of your choice. That’s why everyone has a different good GRE score target!

Let’s look back at our sample chart for Amina. We can see that the highest scores in each column are 154 for Verbal and 169 for Quant. Her goal scores, then, should be 156 for Verbal and 169-170 for Quant. She’s got her work cut out for her!

School What They Say Verbal Score Quant Score
Columbia Most admitted applicants, however, have scores of 750 or higher on the Quantitative section of the test. n/a 169+
Portland State University The minimum for acceptance as an MS student is 60th percentile in Quantitative and 25th percentile in Verbal 145+ 155+
University of Washington Average GRE scores for applicants accepted into the PMP are: Quantitative 83%…and Verbal 60% 154 162
University of Illinois at Chicago 153+ verbal, 155+ quantitative 153+ 155+
Goal Scores +2 highest score in each column! 156 170

 

Here’s a blank printable chart for you to use in your own goal-setting (click for PDF).

Screen Shot 2017-02-13 at 12.32.28 AM
But what should you do if your programs don’t provide any information on GRE scores of applicants? Read on, friends.


Want to improve your GRE score by 7+ points?

Check out our best-in-class online GRE prep program. We guarantee your money back if you don't improve your GRE score by 7 points or more.

PrepScholar GRE is entirely online, and it customizes your prep program to your strengths and weaknesses. We also feature thousands of practice questions, 2 official GRE practice tests, and personal feedback on your AWA essays from an expert instructor.

Check out our 5-day free trial now:


 

still-life-1037378_1280
This teddy bear is working very hard at setting a goal score.

 

Scenario 2: Programs Do Not Provide GRE Information

It can be frustrating when schools don’t provide information on GRE scores of applicants. You can of course call the admissions office of the program to see if they’ll give you any more concrete information, although it’s unlikely that they’ll give you specific numbers if that information is not available on the website. So if you can’t get numbers, how are you supposed to know what scores you need?

While it’s difficult to get an exact number, here is a process that will give you an idea.

 

Step 1: Check Program Rankings and Selectivity

This first thing to do is check the program rankings for the programs you are interested in at places like US News, and also look up the acceptance rate if available. The higher the program ranking and the lower the program acceptance rate compared to other programs in the discipline, the steeper the competition to get in is going to be. So assume that you will need a perfect or near-perfect score on the most relevant section to get into the top programs in a given discipline (a possible exception being those programs that require a portfolio, audition, etc).

Some fields (like engineering and education) even have GRE averages or ranges of admitted students published in US News.

Note down the ranking /selectivity of all of the programs you are interested in. Note down whether it’s very selective, selective, average, or less selective. It’s hard to give a hard guideline as to what ranking corresponds to these designations exactly, because different disciplines have different numbers of programs—the playing field is very different in a discipline with 20 ranked graduate programs versus one with 100 ranked graduate programs. As a pretty loose guideline, you can consider the top 10% of ranked programs most competitive, the top 30% of ranked selective, the top 60% of ranked programs average, and the rest less selective (you can consider programs where the ranking is not published or unranked less selective).

Let’s say that Hortense is applying to get a master’s in Education. US News has publicly ranked 180 graduate programs listed for Education. She’s interested in the Teacher’s College at Columbia University, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and BYU-Provo’s McKay school.

Looking at program rankings, Columbia is ranked 7th. As #7 out of 180 ranked programs, it’s in the top 10%, and we can consider it a top-tier/most competitive school. Let’s note this down in a chart.

School Ranking Selectivity Verbal Score Guideline Quant Score Guideline
Columbia Teacher’s College 7/180 Most selective
 University of Illinois
BYU-Provo

 

University of Illinois is ranked 24/180. This place it in the top 30% and makes it selective. University of Kentucky is ranked 62nd. This places it in the top 60% of programs and puts it at an average selectivity. Let’s note this in our chart.

School Ranking Selectivity Verbal Score Guideline Quant Score Guideline
Columbia Teacher’s College 7/180 most selective
U of I 24/180 selective
University of Kentucky 62/180 average

Now we can move on to step two.

 

crane-406631_1280
Selective schools are fancy like this crane.

 

Step 2: Check Your Score Distribution for Applicants in Your Field

So, you’ve noted down the selectivity of you desired programs. Next, you’ll want to check the ETS data for prospective graduate students in your area. The linked document includes score distributions on Verbal, Quant, and Analytical Writing scores for test-takers who stated they were interested in pursuing specific fields. Using this document, you can look up the score distribution for students in your prospective graduate area.

Continuing with our Hortense example, let’s look at the score distribution for students going into Education. She’s interested in going into Curriculum and Instruction, so we’ll check those numbers. We can see what percentage of prospective students in this field scored in different score ranges.

Here’s the data for Verbal and Quant:

Score range 130-134 135-139 140-144 145-149 150-154 155-159 160-165 165-169 170 Average
Verbal % .3 3.7 12.5 28.3 23.2 21.9 9.1 .7 .3 151
Quant % 1.3 7.1 19.2 27.9 23.2 14.1 4.7 2.4 0 149

 

A very competitive score for a given discipline would be within the top 5% of applicants (remember, this is applicants, not people who’ve been accepted). A competitive score would be in the top 20%. An average score would be in the top 40%. A less competitive score would be anything below the 50% mark.

So, for education, a very competitive Verbal score would be somewhere within the 160-165 range (select the top number to be safe, so, 165.) We know this because the top 1% of applicants score in the 165-169 range and the next 9.1% score in the 160-165 range, so the top 5% score has to be somewhere in the 160-165 range.

A competitive score—top 20%—would be in the 155-159 range, so we’ll make 159 our competitive score benchmark. An average score—top 40%—would be in the 150-154 range (so we’ll make 154 our average benchmark). Scores below 151, the average Verbal score, would be less selective.

Now, we need to align this information with the selectivity rankings we had for our schools. You’ll need a very competitive score for the most selective schools, a competitive score for selective schools, an average score for average schools, and a less competitive score for less competitive schools.

So, returning to Hortense, let’s note down these Verbal score benchmarks in our chart.

School Ranking Selectivity Verbal Score Guideline Quant Score Guideline
Columbia Teacher’s College 7/180 most selective 165
U of I 23/180 selective 159
BYU 78/180 average 154

 

Now let’s check Quant scores. The top 5% of scores is again somewhere in the 160-165 range, so we’ll note 165 as our target for most competitive schools. A top 20% score is in the 155-159 range, so we’ll note 159 again for selective schools. A top 40% score is in the 150-154 range, so 154 is our target again there. A 149 is the average, so anything below that would be a less selective score.

Let’s note this all down in our chart.

School Ranking Selectivity Verbal Score Guideline Quant Score Guideline
Columbia Teacher’s College 7/180 most selective 165 165
U of I 23/180 selective 159 159
BYU 78/180 average 154 154

 

To get a preliminary goal score, take the top score from each column in your chart. This should put comfortably in the appropriate score range for all of your given schools. So for Hortense, she should be aiming for a 165 on Verbal and a 165 on Quant for her top Education programs.

This process gives you a preliminary number to work with—but because we got this number through a lot of MacGyvering and circumstantial reasoning, there are a couple other things we should consider and strategies we can use to try to verify.

 

vintage-922933_1280
We figured out these scores with nothing but scissors, a pencil, an old nail and our own ingenuity!

 

Here’s a blank, printable chart for you to fill out (click for PDF):

Screen Shot 2017-02-13 at 1.19.59 AM

 

Step 3: Consider Which Section Is Most Relevant

In setting goal scores for Verbal vs. Quant, consider which section is more relevant to the program. For example, if you’re applying to engineering or physics programs, the most important section is Quant. If you’re applying to Comparative Literature or English, Verbal is more important.

For the most part, the score distributions released by ETS you used to set your preliminary benchmark will reflect this already—prospective applicants to more quantitative programs will have higher Quant averages, and prospective students to more verbal-heavy programs will have higher Verbal scores.

Even so, you can probably afford to get a couple points lower than your preliminary score in the less important section—especially if your score on the more important section is particularly strong. Returning to our Hortense example, if she got a 167 on Verbal and a 162 on Quant, she probably doesn’t need to retake her test for a higher Quant score and is still a competitive applicant.

That said, there are some programs where both sections are highly relevant—say, science writing or business school. In this case, sorry, you’ll have a little less wiggle room and will really need to aim for the benchmark scores on both sections.

 

eyes-102295_1280
Keep wiggling to a minimum.

 

Step 4: Use Message Boards for Verification

As a final step, I recommend checking Reddit or GradCafe to see if you can get guidance from current students or recent alumni of your program of interest on the necessary GRE scores. They may be able to tell you their own scores and credentials, which will help you get a slightly more precise idea of what GRE score it takes to be a successful applicant. If you notice that successful applicants to your program seem to consistently report higher or lower scores than your preliminary benchmark scores, you can adjust accordingly.

With these guidelines and the magic of program rankings and ETS scoring statistics, you can get at least a general idea of what goal score is appropriate for you.

 

A Good GRE Score: The Final Word

Many people talk about a “good” GRE score as though this is an absolute concept. While it’s true that your GRE score can be compared to all other test-takers via the GRE percentile chart, the most important thing about your score is that it sets you up to be a viable candidate at the programs you are interested in.

Here are some things to consider when trying to figure out what’s a good GRE score for you:

  • Program level: Master’s or PhD—In general, GRE score for PhD applicants are higher than those for Master’s applicants. This makes sense as PhDs are more competitive.
  • Program discipline: Different disciplines will have different score expectations, particularly in which section they consider more important. Verbal scores are more important for humanities graduate programs, while Quant is more important for science and math programs.
  • How important the program considers GRE scores: Even within the same discipline, some programs will emphasize GRE scores more than others. You can typically get an idea of this from admissions websites.
  • Program competitiveness: The more competitive the program, the higher your GRE score needs to be!
  • The rest of your application: If you are hoping that your GRE shores up a weakness in your application (like a low GPA), it’s important to get a high score to show that you are ready for graduate-level work.

Ultimately, you’ll want to set a goal score before you take the GRE. There are two ways to set a goal score, based on whether or not the programs you are interested in provide GRE information:

If the program provides GRE information:

  1. Find any available GRE information online.
  2. Record it in a table.
  3. Identify the highest score in your table for each section and then add 2 points. That’s your goal score!

If the program does not provide GRE information:

  1. Check program rankings and selectivity: the most highly-ranked and selective programs in a given discipline will expect a near-perfect or perfect score on the most relevant section.
  2. Cross-reference program selectivity/ranking information with ETS data on discipline-specific student GRE score data to get a preliminary benchmark goal score.
  3. Consider which section is more important—you can generally afford to have your goal score on the “weak” section be a little under the preliminary benchmark, particularly if your score on the more important section is on the higher side.
  4. Finally, check sites like Reddit and GradCafe to see if you can get guidance from current and recent students on their GRE scores, which will help you verify and/or refine your preliminary goal score.

 

rainbow-436171_1280
Double rainbow! It’s a sign that you can do it!

 

What’s Next?

Learn more about how the GRE is scored.  Then check out our complete guide to the score range of the GRE. And get more details on the lowest possible GRE score and the highest possible GRE score.

Wondering more about GRE score percentiles? See our guide. Or maybe you want to know more about GRE average scores. We also have guides to average GRE scores by major and average GRE scores by school.


Ready to improve your GRE score by 7 points?

We've written a guide about the top 5 strategies you must be using to have a shot at improving your score. Download it for free now:

FREE GRE eBook: 5 Tips for 7+ Points


Author: Ellen McCammon

Ellen is a public health graduate student and education expert. She has extensive experience mentoring students of all ages to reach their goals and in-depth knowledge on a variety of health topics.

1 thought on “What Is a Good GRE Score? A Bad One? An Excellent One?”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *