Over the past few weeks I’ve written quite extensively on GRE, along with my colleagues here at Magoosh, of course. The question a lot of folks out there still seem to be facing is “What exactly is the GRE score range?” We’ve all become so accustomed to that nice-sounding 800 scale. Shooting for a 700 means something. But this new GRE score scale is a doozy to wrap your head around, at least initially. Okay, I’ll jump right in.
New GRE Score Range
So there you have it. The scale runs from 130 to 170 in both sections. As you can see, the new (okay, it’s not so new anymore) GRE score range isn’t exactly the most straightforward scale. Your maximum score in each section is 170? A total of 340? Yeah it’s definitely strange to wrap your head around. It’s hard to know exactly what a good score is. Also pretty hard to get excited about.
“Yay! I got 165 in math! I’m so smart!” you’ll exclaim to your friends and family, who will already be dialing up the looney bin to cart you off.
So what’s up with this new GRE score scale?
I know it seems like the ETS came up with a pretty arbitrary scale, but I promise they had their reasoning. In fact, once you understand the percentiles, I think it’s all pretty smartly conjured up.
Most notably, and most impactful, is the decision on a one-point scale, instead the traditional ten-point scale. Why’d they do this? This is from the brochure they put out on the matter:
“For example, in the case of the Quantitative Reasoning scale, this will reduce the portion of test takers’ scores that are “bunched” at the upper end of the scale — as has been the case in the past — providing better differentiation between top-scoring applicants.”
That’s actually really useful to admissions committees looking at bunch of really high scoring applicants. While many may argue that the old scale could have done the same, it would have been hard to make that change because of legacy scores. Sure they could’ve easily started spreading the top quant scores more evenly in the upper 600s and and 700s, but that would’ve created a lot of confusion and consternation if adcoms were to compare an applicant who’d taken the old version version the new one. The one-point scale is a great way to press the restart button.
A scale to avoid confusion
Relatedly, they intelligently made the decision to make scores (nearly) impossible to mix up with the old scores. They knew there would be a lot of confusion when the revised scores started rolling around, so they made sure that it was tough for those adcoms still scratching their heads to mix a new score with an old score. For example, a perfect quant score?
That’s an entirely impossible score to get on the old GRE score scale. There’s absolutely no overlap between a single section old score and a single section new score. You’d have to try really hard to mix up the scores, though if an adcom confuses your new combined score as old single section score, he or she should probably put the applications down and take a coffee break because your future’s in dangerous hands.
And a conspiracy, naturally
Another thought I have about this whole GRE scores range topic is the ETS’s massive push to be accepted by business schools. An entirely different scale is a way to differentiate themselves when being compared to the GRE. From the perspective of someone who’s on the test prep side of things, it’s an interesting battle to watch being waged.