What are GRE percentiles and why do they matter?

The GRE general test (Graduate Record Examinations) is a worldwide examination conducted by a company called Education Testing Service (ETS) and has a percentile pertaining to a particular score that tells where you stand in the competition. So naturally, a higher percentile would mean that you stand much ahead of the competition than your peers. The percentile against scores varies for the Verbal Section as well as the Quants Section.

GRE percentiles vs. scores

GRE score percentiles are awarded to all individuals appearing for the exam. The percentiles vary from 1 till 99 in the Verbal Section and from 1 till 97 in the Quantitative Section of the examination. Scoring a 99 percentile means you are in the top 1 percent of the test takers and you are ahead of 99 percent of the test-taking populace.

The Verbal section, the Quantitative Reasoning section,and the Analytical Writing section make the entirety of the GRE exam. The verbal and quantitative sections have one point increment starting from 130 and ending in 170 while the analytical writing section has .5 increments from a 0 to a maximum of 6.

Now let us understand how to convert GRE score to percentiles. For converting the respective scores into percentiles, a fixed pattern is followed. For example, a score of 131 in the verbal section converts to 1 percentile, the lowest percentile attainable, while a full score of 170 converts to a highest of 99 percentile in the verbal section. For the Quants section, however, the minimum attainable percentile comes with a score of 133.

The highest percentile obtainable in the Quant section is 97 for a full score of 170. For the AWA (Analytical Written Ability) portion, 1.5 converts to one percentile while a perfect analytical writing score of 6 translates to a 99 percentile.

The following table will help you visualize the score range and the percentile ranking associated with it-

Scaled Score Verbal Reasoning Percentile Quant Reasoning Percentile
170 99 97
169 99 96
168 98 94
167 98 92
166 97 91
165 96 89
164 94 87
163 93 84
162 91 81
161 88 78
160 86 76
159 83 73
158 80 69
157 76 66
156 73 62
155 69 59
154 65 55
153 61 51
152 56 47
151 52 43
150 48 38
149 43 35
148 39 30
147 35 27
146 31 24
145 27 20
144 24 17
143 20 14
142 17 12
141 15 10
140 12 8
139 9 6
138 8 4
137 6 3
136 4 2
135 3 2
134 2 1
133 2 1
132 1 -
131 1 -
130 - -

Analytical Writing forms an essential part of the GRE examination, and the following table will give you an idea about the scores vs. percentile in the Analytical Writing section of the examination-

Score Percentile
6.0 99
5.5 98
5.0 93
4.5 82
4.0 60
3.5 42
3.0 18
2.5 8
2.0 2
1.5 1
1.0 -
.5 -
0 -

The above tables will surely help you understand how the scoring scale works in GRE. The scores pertain to a unique percentile which helps you determine your stance against the whole population of the test takers. Education Testing Service (ETS) conducts the examination, issues the score reports and also assigns the percentile scores for test takers such as you.

What is a good GRE score

Ideally, there should not be a limit to what you can score, as you must always aim for the best percentile that you can get. But in general, it is advisable that you do not fall below the 50th percentile in any one of the three sections of the examination. Falling below the 50th percentile in any section or overall implies that half of the test takers have a score that is better than yours. This will severely hamper your chances of getting into your dream college. A good measure would be to ensure that you have enough preparation to score between the 70th and 90th percentile scores or even more, if possible. A 90th percentile score will boost your chances of getting through in your dream graduate or business school when compared to a 50th percentile score or even a 70th percentile score for that matter.

The following table illustrates what a 50, 70, 80 and 90 and finally, a 99 percentile score converts to in the three different sections-

Percentile Verbal Section Quantitative Section Analytical Writing
50 Between 150-151 Between 152-153 Between 3.5 to 4
70 Between 155-156 Between 158-159 Between 4 to 4.5
80 158 Between 161-162 Between 4.5 to 5
90 Between 161 to 162 Between 165 to 166 Between 4.5 to 5
99 170 170 (97 is the highest in the quantitative section) 6.0

Average GRE scores

GRE is a widely accepted and sought after examination, and the score that you get will determine your Graduate school or Business School for the next two years. The average GRE score depends as much on the degree preference and sections as upon which the individual colleges focus. The various sections include Verbal, Quants, and Analytical Writing while the multiple spectrums of master�s degrees include Life sciences, Arts, and humanities, Physical sciences, Social sciences, and Business. A Master�s degree in Engineering is termed as an MS in engineering, MS being short for Masters of Science.

Average GRE scores for top graduates schools and corresponding percentiles

It goes without saying that for the top-notch graduate schools, the average GRE scores will be definitely on the higher end. The following tables will give you a comprehensive idea about the average GRE scores required for various courses and for admission into the top colleges.

Average GRE Scores for MS in Engineering

Serial No. Name of the University Average Verbal Score Percentile pertaining to that score Average Quantitative Score Percentile pertaining to that score
1 Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) 162 93 167 92
2 Harvard 160 85 167 92
3 Stanford 159 82 167 93
4 Princeton 162 90 166 91
5 Yale 155 68 170 97
6 University of California-Berkeley 157 75 165 89
7 University of Pennsylvania 155 68 166 91
8 Carnegie Mellon University 154 64 161 79
9 UCLA 154 64 165 89
10 Cornell 154 64 166 91
11 Columbia University 155 68 166 91

You will notice after analyzing the table above that a percentile score range of 70 to 97 is required from any candidate who wishes to do his/her MS in Engineering from a international reputed college.

While graduate schools like MIT, Princeton, Yale, Harvard, and Stanford are at the top of the line, graduate schools like the University of Pennsylvania, University of California-Berkeley, and Columbia University are excellent options too.

Average GRE Scores for MS in Computer Science

Serial No. Name of the University Average Verbal Score Percentile pertaining to that score Average Quantitative Score Percentile pertaining to that score
1 Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) 160 86 164 87
2 Harvard 155 69 161 78
3 Stanford 160 86 164 87
4 Princeton 164 94 167 92
5 Yale 155 68 161 78
6 University of California-Berkeley 160 86 164 87
7 University of Pennsylvania 155 68 161 78
8 University of South California 155 68 161 78
9 UCLA 155 68 161 78
10 Cornell 160 86 164 87
11 Columbia University 155 68 161 78

Average GRE Scores for MS in Mathematics

Serial No. Name of the University Average Verbal Score Percentile pertaining to that score Average Quantitative Score Percentile pertaining to that score
1 Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) 165 96 167 92
2 Harvard 165 96 167 92
3 Stanford 165 96 167 92
4 Princeton 168 98 168 94
5 Yale 165 96 167 92
6 University of California-Berkeley 165 96 167 92
7 University of Pennsylvania 160 86 164 87
8 University of South California 157 76 162 81
9 UCLA 165 96 167 92
10 Cornell 160 86 164 87
11 Columbia University 165 96 167 92

The expected general score for the Quantitative section is higher when compared to the verbal section for a Master�s degree in any other subject/stream.

Average GRE scores for top business schools and corresponding percentiles

Although the number of business schools accepting GRE scores has steadily increased over the years, the exact average GRE scores for business schools is unknown. For you to be on the safe side, it is essential that you get a score more than the average score for that particular college. The average GRE scores are mentioned in the table given below-

Business School GRE Range (Estimated)
Harvard 332-336
Stanford 333-337
University of Pennsylvania (Wharton) 332-336
Top 10 MBA colleges 331-335
#11 till #25 324-328
#26 till #50 319-323

Generally, GRE scores are converted to a suitable GMAT score using a conversion chart that will tell your GRE score as converted into a GMAT score which can then be easily tackled and analyzed. Harvard, Stanford, and Wharton are some of the best business schools in the world and consistently rank amongst the top five colleges.

How to increase your GRE test scores

Improving your GRE scores is a real hurdle and is not so easy either. Consistent practice, taking mock tests regularly and motivation will help you achieve your dream score and ultimately your dream college. Seeing how your scores compare and stack up against the majority of test takers is also a significant way to analyze your shortcomings. This will lead to you getting higher GRE scores than you would have got previously. A good GRE prep will ensure that you are aware of the test patterns and have touched upon all the topics that are in the syllabus for the GRE. This will help you boost your test performance immensely, and you will be surprised to see how many people you have pushed down and scored higher.

It is difficult to say how much time any test taker can take to achieve a stellar 90 percentile in the GRE exam. This is because a good result depends on many factors like the time the individual devoted, the amount of practice the test taker did, the number of mock examinations the candidate appeared for and finally, the mindset and patience of the individual on the day of the examination.

There are no shortcuts for success. To improve your GRE score, you need to not only work hard but also work smart and by increasing your scores, you will be able to stand amongst the top 10 percentiles or even less. Thus, start working from now and improve your GRE which in turn will improve your chances of getting into your dream college.