Most students applying to a graduate school take the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) as part of the process. Many of those same students also took the ACT before and now wonder if their test scores on the ACT can be used to predict their GRE score.
As someone who has helped hundreds of students achieve their academic dreams through test education, I can shed some light on this subject.
Summary of the Key Findings
- The ACT is a college entrance exam whereas the GRE is a grad school entrance exam.
- There is no official comparison between ACT and GRE scores endorsed by either testing service.
- It is possible to use percentile equivalents to get a rough estimate of how ACT test scores might convert to GRE scores.
What are the ACT and GRE?
The ACT is an exam taken by high school students to assess college readiness, apply for undergraduate admissions, and demonstrate eligibility for scholarships.
This test has five subjects to test your knowledge: English, Math, Reading, Science, and Writing.
The first four sections are scored on a scale of 1-36. The scores for those individual sections are averaged together to get a final composite score between 1 and 36.
The writing section is graded separately on a scale of 1-12.
The GRE is administered by the Educational Testing Service (ETS) and is predominantly known as a graduate school admissions test.
The exam format measures knowledge and critical thinking skills in Analytical Writing, Verbal Reasoning, and Quantitative Reasoning.
The Verbal Reasoning and Quantitative Reasoning sections are scored on a scale of 130-170. The GRE scores for the individual sections are then used to determine the final composite GRE score that ranges between 260 and 340.
The Analytical Writing section is graded separately on a scale of 0-6 in half-point increments.
There is no official conversion chart between the ACT and the GRE. The ACT and GRE have many differences, and they may not entirely correlate.
Firstly, there is a difference as to when students take the exam. The ACT is taken in high school, while the GRE is usually taken four years later with a substantial amount of additional education under one’s belt. This higher education and difference in maturity may impact how test-takers perform on the exam.
Secondly, there is a difference in content. The ACT has a science section, whereas the GRE is focused only on math and language skills.
Furthermore, the ACT combines English and reading as separate language arts areas, but the GRE combines vocabulary and reading comprehension into a single score.
Finally, the GRE and ACT have significantly different grading systems. Thus, it isn't easy to directly convert between any two scores.
Can the ACT Predict the GRE Scores?
The above reasons prevent us from having a one-to-one ACT to GRE score conversion. However, it is not unreasonable to think that the higher the score on the ACT, the more likely it is for someone to have a good performance on the GRE.
Individual study efforts make the biggest difference. The harder the test-takers study, the higher their scores tend to be.
As such, someone who studied little for the ACT but did a lot of GRE prep might achieve better score outcomes because of those efforts.
Also, there is the fact that fewer people take the GRE than the ACT. Thus, the GRE is a more competitive test, and it may be harder to achieve the same comparative performance level that you would on the ACT.
Of course, that doesn't mean we can't use some mathematical analysis to examine how an ACT score could relate to the GRE.
ACT-to-GRE Conversion Model
We have already discussed that the tests are scored on different scales: the ACT is scored from 1 to 36, and the GRE is scored from 260 to 340. However, those grading scales can be converted to percentile measures.
A percentile is the percentage of scores at or below a particular level. For example, if your test was in the 80th percentile, then 80% of all other test takers got lower scores than you did.
Thus, both the ACT and GRE percentiles are determined by how test-takers perform on the exams relative to everyone else.
This means that converting from the ACT to GRE percentiles is simple. All you have to do is look at your ACT score, determine its percentile, and convert that percentile rank to a GRE score.
How Hard Is the GRE Compared to the ACT?
The vocabulary and writing sections on the GRE are considered more difficult than those on the ACT. However, the math section on the GRE is not usually considered harder than that of the ACT.
You can take a GRE practice test to see how difficult these sections seem to you.
What’s the Average GRE Score?
The average GRE score varies depending on the section. The Verbal Reasoning average is 150.4, while the Quantitative Reasoning average is 153.7. The average score on the Analytical Writing sections is 3.6.
What’s the Average ACT Score?
The mean result on the ACT is 19.5, which rounds to an average score of 20.
The average score on the writing section is 6 .
How do the SAT and ACT compare?
Both tests are considered acceptable for college admissions at most universities.
The vast majority of colleges allow you to submit either ACT or SAT scores. You may want to take a practice test to see which one is better for you.
But some colleges have a preference for one or the other, and it is best to research and take whichever exam is preferred by most of your college choices.
Although it may be possible to use percentile rankings from the ACT to predict your performance when you take the GRE test, it just isn't that simple.
But if all things are done equally (study habits and such), there is likely to be a similar score outcome between these two tests. However, your individual level of effort will make a big difference.
If you are interested in a GRE prep course to help you get a good GRE score no matter what your ACT scores are, check out our review of the best GRE courses on the market.
About the author