You probably have a decent understanding of the GRE sections and distinct question types, but do you know the average test scores and GRE percentiles for your target graduate school programs? Are you curious what GRE score or score range you should aim for? Does your total score matter more than the individual Verbal and Quantitative section scores?
For this article, I’ll break down what you need to know about GRE scores and percentiles. After reading, you’ll have gained the knowledge to develop your goal score range so you can then begin to create a personal study plan and select a GRE prep course.
What is a Good GRE Score?
For the individual Verbal Reasoning and Quantitative Reasoning sections, the lowest GRE score is 130 while the max score is 170. Thus, the composite score may range from 260 points to 340 points. The question, “What is a good GRE score?” may more appropriately be framed, “What is a good GRE score for you?” Of course, this is a personal question, and the answer will depend on the characteristics of your graduate school application, personal goals, and perhaps most importantly, the GRE score distributions of your target programs. In some cases, your target programs will be more interested in one section over another.
What is a Low or Bad GRE Score?
A low GRE score is considered to fall around the 25th percentile or lower. In terms of GRE verbal percentiles, this would equate to a GRE scaled score of 145; and, for the quantitative percentiles, this would equal a 147 scaled score. What is considered a bad GRE score is subjective, but could most easily be defined as a score significantly lower than the median of your target graduate school programs.
Average GRE Score
According to the ETS (makers of the GRE), the average (mean) GRE score for the Verbal and Quantitative sections are 150 and 153 respectively. The median (or 50th percentile) Verbal Reasoning score equates to a scaled score of 151, and the median Quantitative Reasoning score is approximately a 154 scaled score. So, if your only goal is to score a little higher than average, aim for a total score above 306.
What is a Competitive GRE Score?
Simply put, a good GRE score is one that will get you into your graduate school programs of choice. We’ll dive into that a bit deeper in the GRE Percentiles section, but what if you’d like to know what a widely agreed upon number for a “good” or “competitive” GRE score is? A Verbal Reasoning score of 159 or a Quantitative Reasoning score of 163 would place you around the 80th percentiles respectively. This would place you in the top 20% of all GRE test-takers and could be compared to achieving above an 1800 on the SAT.
GRE Writing Score
Generally speaking, admissions officers tend to think of your GRE writing score on a “threshold” basis. A below average score may hurt your chances of admission, but an above average score won’t necessarily count for much more than a check in the box. The latest ETS data reports a mean Analytical Writing Measure score of 3.58. I think it’s best to place students into three buckets:
- Above average scores (4.0 or higher) – you are better off investing your prep time for the main Verbal and Quantitative sections of the GRE
- Slightly below average to average scores (2.5 to 3.5) – you should allocate some prep time to the Analytical writing section but not to any greater extent than the other sections
- Significantly below average (less than or equal to 2.0) – a score in this range would raise a red flag; consider spending substantial time improving this section or perhaps hire a GRE tutor
GRE Raw Score Conversion
The GRE quantitative and verbal sections contain 40 questions each, and there is no penalty for incorrect answers. Thus, your GRE raw score is simply your total number of correctly answered questions. The final score report takes your raw score points and rates them on a scale of 130-170, adjusting the points you earn based on the relative difficulty of the questions. Due to the section-level adaptive nature of the GRE, it’s significantly challenging to translate the number of questions missed to a particular scaled score with any meaningful precision. However, the team over at Brightlink Prep collected sample scores of actual GRE test takers and made the following approximations:
- Quant 160-165: at least 15/20 correct on each section
- Verbal 160-165: at least 12/20 correct on each section
As a general rule of thumb, you should aim for a score at or slightly above the median (or average) for your target graduate school programs to increase your chance of acceptance. You’ll need to take into account other characteristics of your admissions profile such as GPA, relevant research experience, and quality of recommendations and essays. Sometimes programs don’t explicitly state their average scores and instead note their GRE percentiles buried in a Q&A section. For your reference, I’ve included a copy of the latest GRE scaled score percentiles for Verbal and Quant, so you can translate as needed.
|wdt_ID||GRE Score||Verbal Reasoning Percentile||Quantitative Reasoning Percentile|
GRE Score for Grad School
It’s time to dive into some numbers! We’ll first take a look at the distribution of GRE scores by intended graduate major field before noting the distributions of several frequently queried school and program combinations (naturally, due to the large number of graduate school and program combinations, you’ll likely need to search on your own for the median or GRE percentiles of your target programs).
What is the Average GRE Score by Major?
The following data was obtained from ETS and covers the time period between July 1, 2016 and June 30, 2019.
Average GRE Scores for Grad School
See below for a sample of GRE scores by program. Please note that some graduate school programs did not require the GRE for the 2020-2021 admissions cycle due to COVID-19. Let us know in the comments if there are any programs you’d like us to add to the list!
|wdt_ID||Program||Quant (Average)||Verbal (Average)|
|1||Politcal Science PhD - Duke||162||164|
|2||Psychology PhD - University of Michigan||160||161|
|3||Economics PhD - George Mason University||158||160|
|4||Education PhD - University of Virginia||156||160|
|5||Engineering PhD - Georgia Tech||163||155|
|6||Statistics PhD - Stanford||166||159|
|7||Public Health MPH - UCLA||159||156|
GRE to GMAT Conversion
While the ETS provides data to allow for comparison between GRE and GMAT scores, keep in mind that natural differences exist in the two applicant pools and the percentile scores should be considered a rough comparison at best. See below for the GRE to GMAT conversion chart (data provided by the official GRE Business School Comparison Tool).
|wdt_ID||GRE Verbal Reasoning score||GRE Quant Reasoning score||GRE Score||GMAT Score|
GRE Scores for Business School
In this section, we’ll assume that you are planning to take the GRE for business school and want to know how high of a score you will need for admission to some of the top programs. GRE scores for most of the top business schools are just as competitive as GMAT scores; applicants should not assume they will have a leg up in the admissions process by scoring a comparatively higher GRE score. MBA GRE scores for the top programs may be found in the chart below.
|wdt_ID||MBA Program||Quant||Verbal||GRE Total Score|
|3||University of Pennsylvania (Wharton)||161||161||322|
|5||University of Chicago (Booth)||163||161||324|
|6||Northwestern University (Kellogg)||163||163||326|
GRE Scores for Law School
Although a growing number of law schools are now accepting the GRE in lieu of the LSAT, it likely isn’t the best option for most law school applicants. The GRE is probably not an appropriate substitute for the LSAT if you fall into one of the following categories:
- You have the capacity to achieve the median LSAT score of your target school
- Your target schools include mostly top 20 law schools, and you’d like for your application to be as competitive as possible
- You are interested in a school that doesn’t accept the GRE
- You are aiming for merit scholarships
If you decide to take the GRE in lieu of the LSAT, know that for the most part the ETS’s GRE to LSAT converter is dismissed by many admissions professionals. These professionals are predominantly interested in the percentiles of your GRE section scores. Applying to law school with only a GRE score may be appropriate if you have a very compelling reason for doing so. Specifically, reasons may include:
- You are applying to dual-degree programs which require the GRE (and know the respective law schools are okay with dual-degree applicants taking only the GRE)
- You are less interested in applying to the very top programs
- You are not concerned with the impact this decision may have on merit scholarship selection
- You have completed a full LSAT study program, taken multiple LSAT practice tests, and have come up short in your efforts to achieve the median LSAT score of your target school.
What are the Average GRE Scores for Law School?
For those still interested in taking the GRE for law school, we’ve included a partial list of schools that accept the GRE along with the converted GRE score.
|wdt_ID||Law School||GRE Total Score|
|1||Yale Law School||332|
|2||Wake Forest University School of Law||314|
|3||University of Virginia School of Law||328|
|4||University of Southern California, Gould School of Law||319|
|5||University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School||328|
|6||University of Chicago Law School||328|
|7||University of California, Los Angeles School of Law||324|
|8||University of California, Davis, School of Law||314|
|9||University of Arizona James E. Rogers College of Law||314|
|10||Pepperdine University Rick J. Caruso School of Law||312|
How Long are GRE Scores Valid?
GRE scores are valid for five years after your test date for all GRE tests taken on or after July 1, 2016. However, if you took the exam prior to July 1, 2016 then your GRE score expires according to a “testing year” period (July 1 – June 30). For example, if you took the exam in May 2016, your GRE scores expire July 1, 2021. Also, once your scores expire, ETS deletes them and you will not be able to retrieve them again.
How Long Does it Take to Get GRE Scores?
Official GRE scores are available approximately 10-15 days after your exam date in your ETS account. However, your unofficial GRE scores take no time at all. You’ll see your scores at the test center if you choose to report scores upon the completion of your exam. Specifically, you will see your unofficial Verbal Reasoning and Quantitative Reasoning scores which should most likely be the same as your resulting official GRE scores.
How Long Does it Take to Send GRE Scores?
After you complete the exam, you will receive an email notification within 10-15 days confirming that your GRE score reports have been sent to your selected schools. Note, if you elect to send scores on test day, you will have the option to send either your most recent score or all GRE scores, from the last five years, to four schools for free. Assuming you’re applying to more than four schools, or wait until after test day to send your scores, you may order additional score reports online in your ETS account. ETS states that it will take them approximately five business days to send your score reports.
Cost to Send GRE Scores
If you wait until after test day, it will cost $27 per school recipient to send GRE scores. However, in addition to having the options to send your most recent score or all scores, you will also have the option to select any valid GRE scores of your choosing. Note, some programs may require applications to report all of their valid GRE scores so be sure to check with the programs to which you are applying.
How to Predict Your GRE Score?
Unlike the LSAT, it is a bit more difficult to predict your GRE score prior to taking the exam. It’s not that it can’t be done, it’s simply that the section-level adaptive nature of the GRE adds a few more kinks in the prediction process. That being said, the best way to predict your GRE score is by taking multiple ETS PowerPrep practice tests under near exam-like conditions. Many GRE prep providers recommend taking around 5 GRE practice tests though high-scoring students often report taking several more of them. So, to predict your GRE score, take the average of your most recent practice exams then add and subtract three points to generate your probably GRE score range. As an alternative, Magoosh GRE prep has an estimated GRE score predictor built into their online prep dashboard.
How to Cancel Your GRE Score?
After completing your GRE exam, you will have the option to view and report, or cancel your scores. Although it’s generally ill-advised to cancel your score, there is an option to reinstate your canceled score for a $50 fee within 60 days of your exam date.
What are the Average GRE Scores for MPH Program?
While this is highly dependent on your target schools, many public health graduate programs require applicants to earn around the median GRE score of all test-takers (though average test scores for the higher ranked programs fall closer to the 80th percentile).
1 thought on “GRE Percentiles: What is a Good GRE Score?”
Thanks a lot!