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GRE, which stands for Graduate Record Examination, is the gateway for those who want to study abroad further after completing Bachelors in any stream. The test comprises of the Quantitative reasoning, Verbal reasoning, and Analytical Writing skills. A typical GRE official scorecard will contain the Verbal reasoning score within a range of 130 -170, Quantitative reasoning score within a range of 130-170, and the Analytical Writing score within a range of 0-6. The percentile scores on these areas are also mentioned on the official score report. The students get to see the unofficial Quantitative and Verbal score soon after the completion of the exam, while the AWA scores come only with the official score report. The official report usually takes 15 to 20 days to reach the student from the date of taking the test. The official GRE score remains valid for 5 years from the date of taking the exam.

What is a good GRE score?           

GRE scores are used by admission and fellowship panels to supplement CGPA or GPA scores of undergraduate level along with other qualifications for MS and PhD programs. The admission into a MS/PhD program depends on the overall profile of the student, supplemented by a good GRE score. The GRE score acts as a cut-off, which entails that a low GRE score may lead to a summary rejection of application despite a high GPA, secured by the student at UG level. On the other hand, a good GRE score may offset a bad GPA.  With higher scores, a student may even attain scholarships.

Therefore, the GRE is a necessary evil. Sometimes colleges may look for only a good Quant score while others may look for good scores in Verbal and AWA depending on the stream applied for by the student. For instance, on average, the GRE scores of IVY LEAGUE admitted applicants range from about 155 to 166 for Verbal and 155 to 170 for Quant, with many programs wanting scores in the 160s, or the top 10-15 percent. Typically, Quant expectations are higher for science/technology oriented programs, while Verbal expectations are higher for arts/humanities and social science oriented programs.

Likewise, MIT GRE scores are also very competitive. On average, the GRE scores of admitted applicants range from about 155 to 163 for Verbal and 155 to 167 for Quants, with many programs wanting scores in the minimum 160s, or the top 10-15 percent. 

So how do we define a good GRE score? A score which would help you seek admission into a desirous course in a university of your choice. But to be on the safer side, the student is encouraged to get a 320+ on the GRE and a 4.5 on the AWA. 

Let us take a quick look at the Schools/ Programs and their Average GRE Scores cut off;

Target Schools School / Program Average GRE Score
UCLA Management PhD 329
MIT Aeronautics and Astronautics 329
UT Austin Economics 328
Harvard Chemistry 329
Carnegie Mellon Public Policy and Management  PhD 330
Stanford Sociology PhD 329
Rice Bioengineering PhD 326
UPenn Political Science PhD 326
NYU Physics 325
Duke Public Policy Studies PhD 320
UC Berkeley Clinical Science 326


How the sections on the GRE are scored?

Verbal and Quant Sections

Scores on the Verbal and Quant sections depend on the performance on the questions posed and also on the number of questions answered in the given time. The Verbal and Quant sections on the GRE are section-level adaptive. This means the level of difficulty of the second accountable section is based on the performance of the previous accountable section. All questions within each section contribute equally to the final score. A raw score is first computed from the number of questions answered correctly and then this raw score will be converted to a scaled score by a process called ‘equating’.

Analytical Writing Section (AWA)

For the AWA section, each essay receives a score from an expert reader on a 6 point holistic scale. The same essay is then assigned a scored by the computerized program developed by ETS called e-rater. If the human score and e-rater score are almost close to each other, the average of the two scores is the final score. If there is much deviation, then the essay is graded by another expert reader and the final score is the average of the two human scores. A final AWA score is the average of the two essay scores on a 0-6 scale in half-point increments.

Can I repeat the GRE? Is my score likely to improve?

If a test taker has not achieved his target score, he may appear for the GRE again subject to conditions. GRE can be repeated only after 21 days of the previous attempt and cannot be repeated more than 5 times in a rolling 12 month period. This applies to a test taker who had cancelled his/her score on the previous test.

A study done by ETS revealed that most test takers improved in all three sections when they retook the test.

So what does a percentile mean?

Your GRE score percentile tells you how your score compares to all the other GRE test-takers. The higher the GRE percentile, the better your score is compared to other test-takers. For example, a 99th GRE percentile score means you scored better than 99% of test-takers, and you’re in the top 1%. A 170 on Quants corresponds to 97th percentile while the same score on verbal would mean 99th percentile. A 165 would mean 89th percentile on Quants and 96th on Verbal. You can see how the percentiles on the Quants drop steeper than in Verbal.

Average (Mean) GRE score for Verbal reasoning is 150.0(rounded to 1 decimal place), average GRE Score for Quant reasoning is 152.6 and that of Analytical writing skills is 3.5. Most of the scores lie in this region and even an increment of 3 or 4 points would increase the percentile value by a huge number giving a better chance for admissions to top Universities/Colleges for the test taker.

The takeaway from the above information; before taking the test, Set goals.

Do a research to identify what should you score to get into your desired program in the dream University. Fix your target. Take a mock test to know where you stand, and formulate a study plan that will help you to achieve your score in the real test.

Ideally, to reach a top score the student should look into the following;

  1. Know what is tested on the GRE
  2. Learn to manage time and live with stress
  3. Identify weaknesses and practice on those areas to overcome them
  4. Learn ways to improve vocabulary and hence improve the verbal score
  5. Closely analyse mistakes and find solutins
  6. Get tips and tricks to reach 170 in Quants
  7. Practice and review mock tests and drills.