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What’s a Good GRE Score in 2021?
An In-Depth Guide

Jordan Coleman
Published by Jordan Coleman
Last Updated On: October 18, 2021

Did you know that over 500,000 individuals take the GRE each year. As someone who's taken the GRE I understand the pressure of prepping for such an important exam.

Your GRE score is an important aspect of getting into the graduate school of your choice.

Knowing the average GRE score will help you determine what your next steps should be and how you want to study for this important test.

To find out the average score and the best ways to study for the GRE, keep reading.

What is the GRE?

Shading the answer sheet

GRE stands for ‘Graduate Record Examinations’. It is a standardized test that many graduate schools require.

The Education Testing Service, ETS, heads up the administration of the hundreds of thousands of tests taken each year [1].

Some schools even require a specific GRE Subject Test that assesses more technical knowledge related to a field of discipline.

A subject test might cover engineering or advanced math. Subject tests aren't required for most graduate programs.

“The GRE general test is similar to the SAT college entrance exam in that it assesses competence in math, reading, and writing.”

 

- Andrew Selepak, University of Florida program coordinator.

The skills tested by the GRE require advanced knowledge in all areas and are designed to test if individuals can handle the rigor of a graduate program.

Test takers will find their critical thinking skills being evaluated in the following areas:

  • Quantitative Reasoning
  • Verbal Reasoning
  • Analytical Writing

Admitted students will score well in all three areas of the GRE.

Related Article: How Many Sections Are There on the GRE Exam?

Why Should I Take the GRE?

A man thinking

To get into graduate school, you’ll need a good GRE score. Most graduate school admissions departments look for applicants that have average GRE scores or above.

Another reason to consider this test is for scholarships. Most graduate programs offer scholarships to their students based on merit.

You don’t want to miss out on a good program because you chose not to take the GRE.

If you are on the fence, consult the specific program you’re looking to get into as they may give you some good advice on this issue.

Some schools might not post their programs' average GRE score information on their website, so it's best to contact them directly.

This test will also help you see if your skills are up to the standards of grade school. The skills assessed are:

  • Verbal Reasoning: vocab knowledge and reading comprehension skills
  • Quantitative Reasoning: problem-solving and knowledge of fundamental math
  • Analytical Writing: ability to construct a clear essay backed with evidence and good grammar

Related Articles

GRE Score Range

Students showing their scores

It is important to know how the test takers receive their scores and interpret them. The main sections of verbal reasoning and quantitative reasoning give scores ranging from 130 to 170.

The analytical writing portion of the GRE is measured with a 0 to 6 going up by half-point increments. The higher your score in these ranges, the better you did.

A score percentile helps compare you to other GRE testers.

GRE Percentiles

GRE percentiles look at how often each score is given out. It helps you identify the average GRE scores. You’ll notice that the verbal and quantitative percentiles are different.

Here is a break down of the GRE score percentile benchmarks:

Verbal and Quant Scores Percentiles:

  • 130: less than 1%
  • 140: 12% verbal and 8% quantitative
  • 150: 48% verbal and 38% quantitative
  • 160: 86% verbal and 76% quantitative
  • 170: 99% verbal and 97% quantitative

Writing Score Percentiles:

  • 2: 1%
  • 4: 60%
  • 6: 99%

The quantitative reasoning scores percentile were lower than that of the verbal section. This is because most individuals do better on the quantitative portion of the GRE.

What is the Average GRE Score?

You can use GRE score percentiles to see where you stack up against your peers and see if you have a good GRE score.

The percentile ranking shows what percent of graduate hopefuls you scored better than. For example, scoring in the 36th percentile means you beat 36% of GRE test takers.

Average GRE combined scores are ones that place you at the 50th percentile. This means 150 for verbal, 152.6 on the quantitative, and a 3.5 for writing.

People tend to score better on the quantitative as compared to the verbal as shown. You can tell because of the difference in the average GRE scores.

As you take the GRE, you want to aim for that 50th percentile because it means you are right in the middle of the pack. It won’t be a bad score, but not a particularly good GRE score either.

Always remember that GRE scores are subjective as seen by the GRE scores range above.

What’s Considered a Good GRE Score?

Answer sheet with two pencils

There is no exact good GRE score because what is good for one program might be bad for another.

That is why a good GRE score is one that will get you into your dream program.

Most school programs and courses use the GRE scaled score as a way of weeding out the weakest applicants.

By performing at the middle or above average level of test takers, you could help make up for other weaknesses in your application.

Don’t rely on GRE scores as your ticket into graduate school. Admission committees also look for strong recommendations and experience.

Another way to know what a good GRE score is for you, whether it helps you qualify for scholarships or fellowships in your attended program.

You’ll find these are where your GRE score matters the most as you are being compared to similar peers.

What’s Considered a Bad GRE Score?

The opposite of a good GRE score is a bad one. It might look like an average score in analytical writing or simply not meeting your program's target GRE score. Either way, a bad score is subjective to your academic goals.

If the graduate programs require test scores above the 75 percentile, you won’t get in if your score falls at the 45 percentile. Admitted students prove through the GRE that they are ready for the rigor of the academic program.

If you fail at first, don’t give up. The Educational Testing Service offers GRE tests all year round, and there is no limit on the amount of times you can take the test.

4 Key Factors to Keep in Mind

A student with glasses thinking

A good score depends on a variety of factors. That is why you need to focus on how a good score will get you into your dream program.

A good GRE score depends on a variety of factors and here are five that will impact what a good GRE score means to you.

1. Program Level

First, consider the program level. Do you want to get your doctorate or masters?

Doctorate programs are much more competitive with only a few spots available each year, meaning the applicant quality also increases.

You’ll need a higher GRE score to stand out among the other applicants.

Test this for yourself by comparing the master level versus the doctorate program at your school.

For example, Clemson’s admitted students in the master programs had 153 verbal, while the doctorate candidates had a 157 [2].

2. Program Discipline

Another factor that affects your target score is the program discipline. Graduate programs won’t have the same score range or average scores.

The science fields of engineering, physics, and chemistry, tend to have exceedingly high quantitative scores, but lower verbal ones.

So an average score for a chemistry hopeful would be a 160 or up in that area, which is much higher than the overall GRE average [3].

A humanities program is the opposite. Applicants score higher verbal and analytical writing scores, but lower quantitative.

This gives you the flexibility to get a good GRE score for your program without worrying about what others are doing.

Score expectations vary depending on academic and professional goals. Students admitted to these programs need to meet the cutoff score for their program.

3. Program Competitiveness

It’s also important to weigh the specific program into your thinking because not all schools are alike. The average GRE score for Harvard is going to be higher than your state college.

This is due to program competitiveness. Tons of highly qualified individuals want to get into an elite school which means they have higher than average scores as a result.

Programs that are considered top-ranked want those elite students that are found at the top of the pack, so for them a good GRE score will be much higher than the typical graduate school average score.

4. Weight of GRE on Admission

Remember not to get too wrapped up on average GRE scores and studying for this test. The application has other factors that play a role in admission.

Admissions teams love seeing applications with strong recommendations and relevant work or research experience. These applicants can afford to have a somewhat lower GRE score.

A good GRE will get you in front of the admissions committee, but it won’t automatically grant you access into the school.

How Do I Improve My Score?

A notebook for reviewer

The first time you take the GRE might not give you the GRE score of your dreams, and that is okay. Standardized test scores aren’t set in stone.

You can always improve your score by doing a couple of things like test prep and studying.

The first being to study. Analyze your current GRE score report and identify your weakest areas.

For example, if your quant score didn’t fall in the target score range, work specifically in that area.

Likewise, you can do the same for analytical writing and verbal reasoning.

Most experts say that studying 15 hours a week will help you achieve that higher GRE score. Your score expectations depend on the factors discussed above.

“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”

 

- Nelson Mandela

You can also join a test prep group that specifically focuses on the GRE general exam. These groups help you identify your current percentile rank, the minimum scores you need, and creates a targeted study plan just for you.

Whether you need to raise your total score or specifically your quant score, prep programs can help.

Other Grad School Factors

A GRE score is helpful but not the only thing that matters to grad schools. Students admitted into these competitive programs should have a well rounded application.

Successful applicants have each of the following.

First is strong recommendations. This is how successful applicants who got lower scores or an average GRE score are still able to get into places like business school.

If a community leader, academic professor, or employer can vouch for your competency then your admission chances can double.

Your dream school’s admissions office will also be looking for work or research experience showing that you have a passion for your chosen profession.

This qualification will vary depending on your particular program. A general test isn’t the only way the admissions process determines if you are capable of handling rigorous work.

Should I Take the GRE if it’s Optional?

Close up hand writing an answer

This depends on you and your current situation. A business school might consider GRE scores optional, while engineering requires it.

Another may only ask for if you are lacking in another area like a lower undergraduate GPA.

If this applies to your situation, we recommend only taking the GRE if you had already planned on it and only to send in the score that is quite high or what you would identify as a good GRE score based on the scoring scale.

You want your dream school only to see good scores from the Verbal and Quantitative sections of the GRE.

Wrapping Up: The Importance of GRE Scores

In the end, GRE scores are just one tool that graduate schools use to measure an applicant's competency. They will use the score percentiles as a measure of your skills in the areas of analytical writing, quantitative reasoning, and verbal reasoning.

Having your GRE scores fall into the specific GRE score range set by your program of choice is important, but not the end of the world. GRE averages are just a helpful guide as you consider different schools and programs.

A GRE prep program can help you increase your quantitative score enough to make you a competitive applicant for engineering school. Or maybe you need to focus on raising that verbal score for your journalism program.

Whatever your academic goals, the GRE is the first step to getting there.

References:

  1. https://www.ets.org/gre
  2. https://www.clemson.edu/graduate/admissions/preparing-to-apply/median-scores.html
  3. https://www.prepscholar.com/gre/blog/good-gre-quantitative-score/

About the author

Jordan Coleman

Jordan Coleman

Jordan is a teacher who is in love with English literature and quality content. He uses his teaching experience to help both his own students and others around the world to improve their knowledge and self-confidence.

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