Understand The GRE Scoring System



What are you aiming for?

In order to achieve something in life, you first have to set an aim for yourself, without which you will drift around aimlessly as you will not be aware of the direction to be taken. The same holds true for the GRE too. If you wish to succeed in this examination, then you need to set an aim for yourself and that aim would be to achieve good scores. This is where most test-takers are at a loss as they are not clear about what good scores would be. Moreover, unless you are aware of how the GRE is scored and what the scoring scale is, it is difficult to achieve your aim as you might miss out on some important aspects of taking the test which could have an adverse effect on your scores; so awareness is primary.

Has the GRE scores scale changed?

If you have heard that the GRE format has changed, then you have the right information! Since August 1, 2011, the GRE has undergone a change. Although the test content is the same, the types of questions that are asked and the scoring methodology have been changed in the revised GRE. Here is a comparison of the scale for the two versions of the GRE.

  • Verbal Reasoning section
  • Current GRE: Scores were reported on a scale of 200-800 in 10 point increments.

    Revised GRE: Scores are reported on a new scale of 130-170 in 1 point increments.

  • Quantitative Reasoning section
  • Current GRE: Scores were reported on a scale of 200-800 in 10 point increments.

    Revised GRE: Scores are reported on a new scale of 130-170 in 1 point increments.

  • Analytical Writing section
  • No changes have been made to the scoring scale for the Analytical Writing section of the revised GRE. The scores for this test section will be reported in the range of 0-6 in half point increments.

How is the GRE scored?

Scoring for the GRE is a very detailed and systematic process. It takes into account different factors like the number of answers that you have given correctly and your performance in answering a set of questions subjective to the difficulty level of the questions. This is what makes this test such a reliable test.

  • Verbal Reasoning and Quantitative reasoning test sections
  • The scoring for the Verbal Reasoning section and that for the Quantitative Reasoning section is done on a similar basis. The questions presented to you in a particular sub-section within a section will depend upon how you have performed in the previous sub-section. This is referred to as the section-level adaption. You will earn a raw score depending upon the number of questions you have answered correctly. A process known as equating is employed to convert the raw scores to scores on the scoring scale. This process takes into account the minor differences in difficulty levels among different test editions and it also considers the difference in difficulty levels of the questions that were presented to the test-taker as a result of the section-level adaption. Therefore, this brings the results of all the test-takers on a common platform for the purpose of comparison irrespective of the GRE test edition taken by them.

  • Analytical Writing test section

    You will have to respond to two writing tasks in this test section. The writing tasks are in the form of an essay in response to an ‘Issue’ and an ‘Argument’ topic. Each essay is scored by two readers. This scoring is done using a six-point holistic scale. This implies that the readers have to score the essay based on how the test-taker has responded to the assigned task in keeping with maintaining a high quality of writing. If the scores assigned by the two readers differ by more than one point on the scale, then a third reader gives a ruling on the discrepancy. In the absence of such a situation, an average of the two scores is taken as the final score on the essay. The final scores on both the essays are then averaged and rounded to the nearest half-point interval to arrive at the score for the Analytical Writing test section. The official website of the GRE, www.ets.org contains a detailed description of what your Analytical Writing scores imply. You can also directly go to the link, www.ets.org/gre/revised_general/prepare/analytical_writing/score_level_descriptions for a description of the Analytical Writing section score levels.

What are good GRE scores?

An understanding of good scores will give a fair idea of how well you should perform in the GRE for your scores to be considered as good scores.

  • There is no definition for good GRE scores
  • An important fact to be kept in mind is that ‘good GRE scores’ is a relative term. This means that results which would be considered as good for a particular graduate program could be considered as unsatisfactory when considered in the context of admission to a reputed graduate program like those offered at Harvard, Stanford or Yale. Competitive scores in the Verbal Reasoning and Quantitative Reasoning test sections for reputed graduate programs like these would be above 780 as per the scoring scale of the old version of GRE.

  • How to identify good GRE scores
  • It is in your interest to find out the results of the students who were admitted to the graduate program of your choice in the last academic session. This will give you an idea of how high you need to score in order to meet the mark. This information will be available on the school website or on various blogs and communities across the internet.

  • Do not despair if you have not scored very high in the GRE
  • Keep in mind that GRE is not the only criteria being considered by schools for admissions to their graduate programs. So if you have not been able to do exceptionally well in the GRE, you still have a chance to be considered for admissions provided you excel in the other criteria being considered.

  • Percentile ranks
  • Your test scores are accompanied by the corresponding percentile rank. This percentile rank for a score is an indication of the percentage of the test-takers who took that test and received a lower score than you did. Therefore, your percentile rank is a good indication of how good your performance is, especially because it gives you a fair idea of where you stand in respect of the other test-takers and these are the test takers you will be pitted against while vying for admission to a reputed graduate program.

Important point to be noted!

Your result report will contain your scores from all the GRE administrations you appeared for in the past five years. This means that low scores from any GRE administration that you took without proper preparation will also be endorsed in your report and will be available to the school admission committees. So this means that you should not take this exam lightly and should be well prepared whenever you plan to take it!