One question we at Magoosh get asked a lot is “What is a good GRE score?” Here’s the first thing you need to know: GRE score range from 130 to 170 per section. Combined GRE scores range from 260-340.
Another important fact to keep in mind when considering “good” GRE scores:
The average GRE score is approximately 304, or 151 in Verbal and around 153 in Quant.
However, even that info only tells us so much. The GRE score range for students admitted to different graduate schools, and even different programs at the same school, varies widely. All in all, several factors will affect what good GRE scores are for you.
Determining what a good score is for you will take some time and research. But if you can identify your target score early in your GRE prep, you’ll be more likely to hit that target since you can focus your study plan accordingly. It’s well worth it!
So with that in mind, let’s take a look at some of the factors that make a good GRE score—and see how you can maximize your score in the process.
Table of Contents
GRE Score Range
If you have friends or relatives who took the GRE prior to 2012, you (or they) might be looking at the new GRE score range with a puzzled expression. Today, the GRE score range runs from 260 to 340—NOT from 200 to 800, as it used to. (This post can help you out with a GRE score conversion!)
Because the combined score is of relatively little importance, here are those numbers in a slightly different form:
GRE Score Range
It can definitely be confusing to contextualize your scores, especially because comparing Verbal scores to Quant scores can feel like comparing apples to oranges. So let’s take a look at sectional scores and break it down a little more.
GRE In-Section Scores
Because it’s so important, here it is one more time:
Perfect GRE scores are 170 in each section, 340 combined.
Keep in mind that, depending on your program, your scores in one section may be weighted much more strongly in admissions. Potential English Lit MAs don’t have to worry about Quant quite as much as potential Engineering PhDs. However, scoring high in both sections is a definite plus.
For more about the importance of in-section scores by program, check out our following posts:
- GRE Scores for Business Schools
- GRE Scores for Social Science Programs
- GRE Scores for Education Programs
- GRE Scores for Science Programs
- GRE Scores for Life Science Programs
Understanding GRE Percentiles
In short, a percentile describes the percentage of test-takers who scored lower than you. If you scored in the 75th percentile, for example, that means that you scored better than 75 out of every 100 GRE test-takers.
You can check out our run-down of GRE percentiles here, but here are some salient points for take-away:
- You can’t score higher than the 97th percentile in Quant: about 3% of students taking the exam get a perfect score in this section.
- The same thing isn’t true for Verbal, where only 1% of students get a perfect score (so guess which section most test-takers consider harder?)
- The top 10% of test-takers score 162+ in Verbal and 166+ in Quant
- The bottom 10% of test-takers score below 140 in Verbal and 141 in Quant
In terms of percentiles, most people would consider scoring within the top 10% of all test-takers pretty good!
But, at the end of the day, a good GRE score is the one that helps you get into the program of your dreams. And for the top programs in different fields, that can be pretty high…
GRE Test Score Range by Program
A good score on the GRE varies significantly by program. For instance, applicants admitted to the top 10 Engineering programs in 2015 had an average GRE Quant score of 165.6. That score is at about the 90th percentile on the GRE.
However, applicants admitted to the top 10 Education programs had an average GRE Quant score of 157.2(up from 156.6 last year), about 67th percentile on the new GRE. That’s a quite a difference!
To get an idea of what scores are like for programs you’re targeting, check out our GRE Scores Infographic to learn the average GRE scores of admitted students in your chosen academic discipline! Just click the image below to start identifying your target GRE score:
GRE Scores for Top Universities
Of course, which school you’re applying to will also have a lot to do with your target GRE score.
Students admitted to the most competitive program at Harvard—English— had estimated Verbal scores of 166-170 and estimated Quant scores of 152-156 (so you see, discipline does make a difference to the relative weight adcoms give too each section!).
But on the other hand, less competitive programs at Harvard admitted students with Quant scores as low as 152 and Verbal as low as 157. Again, it all depends on the program, as well as the school (for more on this, you can check out our post on GRE Scores for Top Universities).
How do I find out how my grad schools use the GRE?
Are you aiming for a top 10 school or a top 50 school in your program? Do you have a specific dream school? By answering these questions, you can better determine what type of score you’ll need on the new GRE.
As we’ve seen, what’s a good GRE score can vary from school to school. So how do you figure out how your schools use the GRE, especially if they’re not on the above list?
Find your schools’ stats
Start by looking up the stats for the programs you’ll be applying to. The US News & World Report has reliable data that you can use to ground yourself in the basics. But the best thing to do for the whole story?
Talk to current students and the admissions committee
Some schools care more about Quant and others care more about Verbal. So how can you tell?
- Find out which a target program/school is interested in by talking to the admissions committee and current students.
- Go to their website and find a contact to email. Let them know you are a prospective student and provide some background about yourself.
- In many cases, schools will try to connect you with a current student who has a similar background to you.
- Use that opportunity to learn about the admissions process and the program as a whole.
Average GRE Scores
If you’re still wondering how to evaluate your scores in terms of the general pool of test-takers, looking at average GRE scores can help. How? By providing a bigger picture of everyone taking the test and showing you were that middle point is.
Contextualizing your GRE Scores
A lot of students aim for the skies and think of their goals in terms of a perfect score—a 170. But the reality is that many of us don’t need to attain such a lofty score. Instead, your program might only require that you score 150 in each section.
Just how difficult is that? Wouldn’t it just be a 50 percentile score since 150 is smack dab in the middle of 130 and 170?
It’s actually not that straightforward. In fact, as we’ve already seen, it differs for each section.
In Quant, a 150 means that you scored better than 39% of test takers, whereas a 150 in verbal means you did better than 47% of test takers. Sure, these numbers differ pretty substantially, but what’s interesting is that both percentiles are less than 50%, with the math section being significantly so.
If you haven’t taken the test yet, and are worried about breaking 150 in each section, you don’t have to worry nearly as much as you would if a 150 in both sections corresponded to a 50th percentile mark.
Average GRE Scores by Section
So if you’re aiming to do better than average, what are those magic numbers?
The average Verbal score is 151, and the average Quant score is around 153.
(Actually, to be precise, they’re 150.22 and 152.47, but since those are impossible scores for an individual to get, we’ve rounded up.)
Okay…So What IS a Good GRE Score?
I can’t say it enough: good” scores depend on your particular target school and program. But if you’re going to push me for an answer…
In very general terms, above the 75th percentile in either section is good. That’s about a 160 or higher in Quant and a 157 or higher in Verbal.
Scores at least one standard deviation from the mean are even better, 161 in Quant and 159 in Verbal.
And scores two standard deviations from the mean put you in the top 5%, 166 in Quant and 165 in Verbal, at which point your GRE score will certainly not be an impediment.
And What’s a Bad GRE Score?
A bad GRE score is one that excludes you from the program that you want to attend. That’s all!
However, to put this in very general terms, the bottom 10% of test-takers score below 140 in Verbal and 141 in Quant.
Again—very generally!—a good goal is to score better than average on the GRE.
Can you get into your dream program with a below-average score? Sure.
But the admitted students who perform below average on the GRE may have extraordinary stories, great GPAs, and/or fantastic work experience. To improve your odds of acceptance, do better than average.
On the other hand, there’s no need to overdo it. If you are aiming for a program that has an average Quant score of 155, and you score 160, you likely don’t need to take the GRE again, even if you think you could get 165. You have already demonstrated that you have quantitative aptitude; now, it’s time to focus on the rest of your application.
What should I do if I don’t have a good GRE score?
No matter what the case, don’t despair! If you have taken the test and were, say, a 145 scorer in both sections (that works out to the 26th percentile in Verbal and the 20th percentile in Quant) then your road to improvement is pretty steep, but very doable.
That might sound counterintuitive. Why would a steep increase in percentages make something more doable?
Well, imagine you had to go from an 80% to a 99%, which is the same percentage difference as that between a 39% and a 20%. That’s going from better than most to the best of the best.
That is really hard to do.
If you’ve scored in the 80th percentile, you have most likely already been preparing for the GRE. On the other hand, many of those who initially score low went in cold (or at least lukewarm).
By prepping hard for a month or two, you should be able to jump from the lowly 20s to the respectable 37th percentile: a mere five points, but you never know! It could be the difference between getting into a program and not getting into a program.
How to Improve Your GRE Scores
With all of those factors in mind, it’s time to set your target score (or rather, target scores—one for each section). Why? It’ll help you enormously as you go forward in your prep.
Speaking of which, you can definitely boost your scores to where you want them to be.
Prep for the GRE with Your Target Score in Mind
You’ve already taken the first step to reaching your target score by reading through this post. By researching GRE scores ahead of time, you can determine what areas to focus on for your GRE prep. For instance, if your program is more interested in quant, then spend more time working on quant.
We also have a score increase guarantee for those re-taking the exam, and GRE Prep Apps (iPhone/Android) that allow you to take your prep on the go.