Graduate school hopefuls who are unsure how they should perform on the Graduate Record Exam need to understand that different programs have different expectations. Admissions experts advise that this is something you should know.
Admission officers recommend that prospective students check the GRE scores of admitted students at schools they are interested in and verify that these schools meet GRE requirements.
You can find out which GRE scores you are eligible to be accepted at your desired program by researching statistics on graduate school admissions.
Pierre Huguet (CEO and founder of admissions consultancy firm H&C Education) wrote in an email that "a good GRE score depends on the program you are applying to." The best way to evaluate the value of your GRE score, is to check the most recent GRE data for the program to which you are applying. These numbers may not be available online. If you have any questions, please contact the department. They are often very willing to assist prospective students with their applications.
The GRE gives three scores to those who take it: verbal reasoning (quantitative reasoning), and analytical writing. The Educational Testing Service, a non-profit organization that administers the GRE, explains how scoring works.
GRE Score Ranges
For those who aren't sure what type of graduate program to choose, GRE test-takers can consult the following ETS data to help them decide. This chart shows the approximate percentiles of those who took it between July 1, 2018, and June 30, 2021.
GRE Verbal Reasoning and Quantitative Reasoning Percentiles
99 169-170 --
95 165 169-170
90 162 168
85 160 166-167
80 158-159 164-165
75 157 162-163
50 151-152 154-155
Analytical Writing Percentiles
Guidelines for setting GRE score targets
ETS reported that the average verbal reasoning score of all GRE test-takers was 150.61 between July 1, 2018, and June 30, 2021. The mean quantitative score was 154.34, while the average analytical writing score was 3.
Ryan Starr, an instructor at Manhattan Prep, a Kaplan test prep company, said that a score of above 155 on the quantitative section would put a test-taker in "pretty decent shape" especially for programs that focus less on math. A score of 160 or higher is sufficient to be admitted to most programs. However, top programs that are primarily math-focused might prefer scores closer to 160. Starr states that a score of 150 or higher is acceptable for verbal scores.
Experts believe that grad programs in math tend to prefer students who have high quantitative scores, and less emphasis on verbal scores. However, students who are interested in grad programs in humanities tend to have high verbal scores.
Huguet states that a low score in math won't affect your chances of being accepted to great humanities or social sciences programs. A low verbal score will not necessarily impact your chances of being accepted to a math-based competitive program.
Andrew Selepak is the program coordinator for the University of Florida's graduate program in social media. He says that GRE scores high enough to allow someone to apply for one program might not make them a good candidate for another.
Selepak wrote an email that it was important for applicants to know the minimum score required for the program to which they are applying. A few points can make a big difference in graduate school applications. It is important that the applicant not only keeps this in mind but also knows the minimum score.
Numerous law schools across the U.S. and internationally accept the GRE instead of LSAT scores. The EST tool converts GRE scores into equivalent LST scores. Law schools may have different views on GRE scores.
Percentiles and their importance
Sometimes, admissions officers to graduate schools care just as much about a candidate’s GRE percentiles (the percentage of test-takers that the candidate scored higher than them on each section) as they do about actual GRE scores.
Nellie Gaynor is a counselor for graduate school admissions at IvyWise. She says that they are interested in how you compare to other applicants. A score of 160 on one test could be different from 165 on the other. It's important to understand the context.
Gaynor states that anything in the 75th percentile (or higher) in all three tests will be sufficient to be accepted into most competitive graduate programs. Some prestigious programs might prefer higher scores.
U.S. News data shows that some grad programs admit students with exceptionally high GRE scores. This includes the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's School of Engineering. In fall 2022, the average GRE score for MIT engineering Ph.D. candidates was 161 on the verbal section, 4.4 on the writing section, and 167 on the quantitative section.
What is the importance of GRE scores
Many grad programs have made it optional to take the GRE since the COVID-19 epidemic. While submitting GRE scores can be beneficial to an application, it is not always necessary. Experts recommend weighing the costs and time involved in test preparation against the benefits.
Starr states that applicants who have struggled with their undergraduate programs can show academic prowess by scoring well on the GRE. Experts say that applicants applying to grad school with low test scores may be able to make up for it by writing strong admission essays and submitting strong resumes.
Starr states that schools consider both your GRE score as well as your academic transcript together. If the bucket isn't full of academic transcripts, then you add a good GRE score to show schools that you are capable of handling the rigors and demands of an academic program.
Experts say that many grad programs offer waivers from the standardized test for candidates with high school grades or work experience. Candidates may be interested in this option.
Graduate school applicants who plan to take the GRE should prepare for it thoroughly. Gaynor states that most test-takers spend at least two to three months studying for the exam, but this can vary.
Huguet states that GRE test-takers with lower scores than expected should not assume that this will stop them from applying to grad school.
He says, "Of course test takers should strive to obtain the highest possible score on the GRE exam." However, many graduate school applicants believe that your GRE score will determine whether or not you get accepted. The GRE score is just one of many factors. Research, work experience, and published papers are more important than the GRE score in a graduate school application.
Gaynor stresses that admissions officers to grad schools look at applicants' credentials holistically, including evaluating GRE scores and other information.
She says, "I think it's important to realize that it's only one piece of the admissions puzzle." You can show your quantitative or verbal skills in different areas of your application. There are many options available for applicants in a GRE-optional environment to show their best foot forward while still being competitive at top schools.
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