5 Things To Think About If Your GRE Score Is Lower Than You Want

Sad Keanu...got a 400.

So you didn’t get the score you wanted. It’s a heartbreaking feeling to see the lower-than-expected numbers pop up on the computer screen after four grueling hours of taking the GRE and who knows how many hours of preparation.

Chin up, friend. The battle to get into graduate school is far from over. If you didn’t get the score you wanted, here are five things to take into consideration.

1. Do I Have Time to Take the GRE Again?
I don’t just mean is there time to take the GRE again before your application deadline (though that, too, is important). What I mean is: do you have the time to continue your practice and preparation? If you weren’t happy with your score this time, then it’s unlikely that you’ll magically improve your score without more preparation. Taking the GRE again will mean that you continue doing whatever you were doing to prepare before. Vocabulary flashcards at every spare moment, practice tests on the weekends, hours devoted to perusing prep materials — do you have the time to repeat all that?

2. Which Section of the GRE Counts the Most?
Remember that graduate school isn’t like undergrad — nobody is going to expect a potential grad student of medieval English literature to get an 800 on the math section of the GRE (I doubt that admissions officers for that kind of program would even care if he or she did get an 800). If your score is below your target score, think about whether or not that actually matters. Not all sections are weighted equally — some are more significant than others. If you’re applying to grad school for engineering, a lower verbal score may not matter; if your goal is to dissect the journals of French noblemen during the French Revolution, then you probably don’t need a really high math score.

3. Can I Improve My Score Significantly?
If your score is lower than you hoped but not outside of the realm of expected deviations, then it may be a waste of time to quibble over those lost points. On the other hand, if the school you’re applying to has a limit of some sort, say at least 1000, and you scored a 980, then those twenty points are extremely significant! What counts as significant isn’t for me to decide — it’s for you to decide. If you regularly scored 1000 points higher on your practice tests than you did on the real thing, though, that’s almost definitely significant. If you’re confident that you can raise your score significantly by taking the test again, then, by all means, do it!

4. Should I Delay My Application?
Here we return to the issue of time. If you don’t have time to take the GRE again before deadlines, then the real question is going to be, “should I apply anyway, or should I delay my application until the next application cycle?” To spout a cliche: there’s no right answer, only what’s right for you. A lower-than-expected GRE score isn’t the end of the world; it just means that you need to re-evaluate your options. Is it worth waiting another year to go to your first-choice school? Possibly, but possibly not. Consider doing both: apply to some other schools and take the GRE again. Then, if you get admitted to a different school, you can decide whether you want to go there now or if your GRE score is good enough for you to apply to your top choice next year.

5. Can Other Parts of My Application Make Up for My GRE Score?
The GRE is a big deal, but it’s not the be all and end all of admissions criteria. If you have a great undergraduate GPA, tons of research experience, a significant amount of work experience, an amazing essay, or approbatory recommendations, then a sub-par GRE score may not affect your admissions as much as you think. It’s easy to lose perspective when it comes to the GRE. Just remember: it’s only one part of a whole package!

12 Responses to “5 Things To Think About If Your GRE Score Is Lower Than You Want”


  • Hi,
    I did good on my verbal and my essay portions (both 85%), but scored much lower (77%) on my math than I did on all my practice tests (90%+). I am applying for an engineering program, so the math is obviously important. If I retake the test, can I simply skip all of the verbal and essay sections, and only take the math section? That would make it easier to concentrate on the math section, but would result in 0 scores for the english and essay. Is this ok?

    • @ Solon,

      DO NOT skip the verbal sections when retaking the GRE. The GRE does not allow you to send colleges your scores for individual sections, so colleges would also see your low verbal scores. Focus on doing well on all of the sections; grad schools appreciate candidates who are well-rounded. Hope this helps!

  • I have taken the GRE test almost 4 years ago. My quantitative score was high, but my verbal and essay scores were low. I am considering retaking the GRE but skipping the quantitative part and report both GRE tests (2004 and 2012) to institutions I plan to apply for. I am also planning to mention this to the admission committee. Do you think this is a good idea or should I complete all sections?

    • Because you took the test four years ago, it is likely that universities will strongly prefer more recent scores. While GRE scores are technically valid for five years, if you take the test again and your quantitative score goes down but your verbal score goes up, admissions officers will interpret that to mean that you have gotten worse at math and better at verbal over the past four years. Also, when you send scores to universities, universities see both quantitative and verbal scores from each exam you send, so you can’t just send your quantitative score from one exam and your verbal from another exam, although for exams taken recently, universities will generally consider the best scores from each exam you send. According to the official GRE website (http://www.ets.org/gre/revised_general/scores):

      “The new ScoreSelectSM option lets you decide which test scores to send to the institutions you designate. You can send scores from your most recent test administration or scores for all of the times you’ve taken a GRE test as part of your four free score reports. After test day, you can send scores from your Most Recent, All or Any specific test administration(s) for a fee when ordering Additional Score Reports. Just remember, scores for a test administration must be reported in their entirety.

      “This new option is part of the more test-taker friendly GRE® revised General Test. It helps you approach test day with more confidence, knowing you can send scores you feel show your personal best. The new ScoreSelect option is available for both the GRE revised General Test and GRE Subject Tests, and can be used by anyone with reportable scores from the last five years.”

      Remember, if you decide you want extra help preparing for the GRE, you can always study with GRE experts at Test Masters (www.testmasters.com).

  • hi,
    sir I have taken gre and I got q-156, v-152, aw-3.0.and my gpa is 3.69. im an international student and I want to apply in ohio state university in mechanical engg. I meet there min requirement but I don’t think it will get the job done. so, can I retake the test after I apply and then send them my new score? also my toefl score is 91

    • Dear Bhulinder,

      When you talk about minimum requirements, it is important to keep in mind that though OSU does have minimum requirements regarding graduate admissions, the standard requirements for admissions vary from department to department. This means that different programs will have different “standards” when it comes to admissions. Because OSU is a very good engineering school, their College of Engineering standards are a bit more stringent than some of their other graduate programs. You can find their requirements here. In particular, you’ll notice their ME TOEFL score average is a 104.

      It is possible to submit multiple scores for both the GRE and TOEFL. If you plan on submitting multiple scores you should be primarily concerned about two things. First, make sure to prepare thoroughly for your exam. It is far more efficacious for you to spend extra effort preparing before one exam than it is to intermittently prepare between multiple exams. This brings me to my second point; the most important thing to keep in mind, especially if you are planning on taking the GRE and TOEFL multiple times, is that there is a deadline for your application materials. At some point you will need to have all of your scores and other pertinent materials in; you should be aware of that deadline and plan accordingly. You can find information about the OSU ME application deadlines here.

      Hope this helps!
      Bill

  • hi,
    i appeared for gre on 9th jan,2013 any my score was 300 as 142(verbal) and 158(maths)..this was way below den my xpctatns…since i’ll be graduated in 2014..i have plent of time for preps..kindly suggest some important points as am really down on moral coz i was xpcting my score 2 be smwr arnd 320..!

    • Dear Yash,

      Before you get too down on yourself, let me point out a couple things about your score. First, a 158 on your Quantitative section is very good; anything above a 155 on that section is considered good. Second, your score is not below average, it is simply average. A single point, in either direction, is significant on the GRE, so with a little work on the Verbal portion of the GRE, you should be considered a viable applicant for many graduate schools.

      It is important to keep in mind that most universities do not “Superscore”; that is, universities do not usually combine your best section scores to make a single “Superscored” GRE score. You will probably want to take the GRE at least one more time to improve your Verbal score. As you prepare for your next GRE, make sure not to let your Quantitative score go down while you work to improve your other section score; only your highest GRE score will be considered when a university is making an admission decision.

      As far as preparation for the GRE goes, there are a number of resources available to you; you can find plenty of free GRE resources on this blog site, but if you are interested in a more thorough, professional exam preparation, we recommend the Test Masters in-class or online GRE course.

      Hope this helps!
      Bill

  • Siddhartha shrivastava

    Sir, i appeared for gre on this very january. My score was 314 (160 quant, 154 eng) but i was expecting greater than 325. So i have decided to appear again in near future may in august. So please tell me what decision i should take so that i will be accepted in top universities. My gpa is 7.5 and 2 internships.

    • Siddhartha,

      There are a number of factors that go into making yourself a competitive candidate for a top tier graduate program. I would recommend reading this article to help you make a decision on whether your GRE score is sufficient for your school of choice (btw – a score of 314 is actually considered well above average!).

      Hope this helps!
      Bill

  • I took the gre and i have 163 in quant but 148 in verbal. I want to apply to universities for the masters in finance program but i am not able to decide if i should take it again to improve my score? (particularly my verbal score)

    • Shefali,

      Whether you should take the GRE again is relative to your own goals and needs. If you are targeting a top 10 or similarly competitive graduate program, then you should definitely take the GRE at least once more. If you are not, then visit the websites of the universities to which you are applying to see what their median scores are (some universities are a little reluctant to share such information online – if it’s not available on their webpage, just call the admissions office directly). If your scores are consistent with the median averages of accepted students, then you have nothing to worry about; if they are not, then you should take the GRE again.

      Hope this helps!

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