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!

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

  1. Solon says:

    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?

    • Jocelyn says:

      @ 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!

  2. Huda says:

    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?

    • Jason says:

      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).

  3. bhulinder singh says:

    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

    • Bill says:

      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

  4. yash says:

    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..!

    • Bill says:

      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

  5. Siddhartha shrivastava says:

    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.

    • Bill says:

      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

  6. Shefali says:

    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)

    • Bill says:

      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!

  7. Kamal says:

    Sir I took the GRE test couple of days back.I got a score of 310 with 145 in verbal and 165 in qant.I am planning to apply for masters in Engineering and have a GPA of 9.03/10. I am worried about whether my verbal score hinders my acceptance. Besides my AWA dint go well and I am expecting 3. Do you suggest me to retake the exam?

    • Bill says:

      Aryal,

      Are you an international student? If so, I would recommend supplementing your application with a TOEFL score. A high enough TOEFL score (100+) would go a long way toward assuring admission officers that you are fluent enough in English to keep up in an academic environment. Your Quantitative Reasoning score is great! As are your academics! The real concern here is demonstrating a sufficient command of English to keep up in an English-only classroom. It is only the truly top flight universities (think Stanford or Harvard) whose average engineering graduate student has Verbal Reasoning scores higher than 155/160; unless you are targeting this type of school, you should not worry too much about this. For the same reason, you should not worry too much about your AWA score – this would really only be a cause for concern if you were planning on going into a field which relies on talent in writing, like being a technical writer, for example.

      Hope this helps!

  8. huma says:

    Hi,

    I’m wondering if I retake the GRE psych, can I select which one I want to send to the uni in case I somehow score worse this second time? Just curious if I should risk retaking it.

    Thanks

  9. Andrea says:

    Hello! I just took the GRE a couple of days ago. I got 159 verbal and 155 in quant. I think my AWA scores will be between 3.0 and 3.5. I graduated with a 3.2 GPA. My target MS program in biology reports an average fo 153.5 on verbal, 156 on quant and 3.8 in AWA for those who got accepted in the last five years. The average GPA of those accepted is 3.46. I have no research experience yet, and I still have to take the TOEFL. Should I re-take the GRE?

  10. Sheri says:

    I hold a GRE score of 318 with a break up of 161 in Quantitiative and 157 in Verbal. My Toefl score is 112 and my AWA is 4. I wish to apply for Graduate degree in Sciences. Would you suggest I retake my GRE?

  11. vamsi says:

    hello sir, i took my gre exam and i got 291 (verb 139, quant 152) and i also had my ielts with 6.5 but i hav a low awa score of 2.0 . is this awa score effect my admissions?

  12. raviraj deshmukh says:

    Hi,
    Sir I have taken GRE and I got quant-164, Verbal-144, (308) awa-2.0.and i m an international student and I want to apply for some universities, but some of them gave me a suggestion due to low awa score i should retake the GRE is it mandatory for me as i m prepairing for ielts i m not interested in retaking GRE plz let me know your Opinion………..
    Warm regards.

  13. RGS says:

    Hi

    I scored 324 (quant-166, verbal-158) on the revised gre and have a gpa of 3.2/4. I have little research experience. My university is well known in India atleast. What would be safe colleges for me to apply and which would be the ones where I would be punching just about my weight and which would definitely be difficult.

  14. Brock says:

    Greetings,

    I just received my scores: Verbal – 156; Quantitative – 157; AW – 5.0.

    I must humbly say that I am proud of my AW score as it surprised me. For my other sections, however, I’m not too sure. I’m applying to geology programs where the quantitative average is around 159-160. However, I’ve always had some disadvantage for standardized tests. I feel as if my double major, three years of research experiences, and other roles on campus may be able to effectively override it, but I’m just always on the cautionary side. I don’t know how weighted the AW is compared to the other sections, but I almost don’t want to retake it in case that reduces to 4.0 or 4.5. Would a higher quantitative score for a science student be worth that sort of drop in AW?

    Thank you much in advance!

  15. elive teke sandra wirdin says:

    pllease i am a student in cameroon with a low gpa but i wish to take a masters in biomedical sciences in any university in germany please do i still have an oppurtunity to make up for my low gpa and can i still make my dreams come true

  16. Rochelle says:

    Hi. I recently gave the GRE and scored 151 in verbal and 160 in quant. Im looking to do MS in construction project management in a good university in US. I have completed by bachelors with gpa 2.7 out of 4 and have experience of two years in the field. Should I write GRE again and which unis will i have a chance with?
    Thank you

  17. Reza says:

    hello dear bill,

    I just take the GRE test on 31th august. I got 154 in the verbal section and 158 in the quant section. I am very disappointed with the score of the quant section because the day before the exam I simulate the test in my home for my self and I got 162 for the quant which I was expecting to get better than this in the real exam which I couldn’t do.

    Now a quastion is constantly wandering in my head, I wanted to know that are my scores good enough for getting admission from University of Illinois at Chicago computer science department or not. I would really appreciate to know your opinion about my condition.

    thanks for your time

  18. Anonymous says:

    Mr. Bill and other commenters.

    I am Icelandic and I just took the GRE yesterday and scored 158 in verbal and 163 in quantatative. I had taken quite a few practice tests before taking the test and had never scored below 165 in quantatative.

    It is my dream to do my Masters at Stanford. In Iceland I graduated at the top of my field with a GPA of 4.12 (4.33 gpa scale). The average of stanford admittance to engineering is 3.82.

    I am very worried that my 163 score in quantative is insufficient, since the average to Stanford is 166 in engineering. However, taking the test again will take time from work which I need to make money to pay for Stanford.

    Should I take the test again?

  19. Rajan Patel says:

    Recently, I took GRE exam, and my score is 317 (q-167 and v-150). But, much to my surprise, I got low AWA score of 2.5 only. I am planning to retake GRE exam for improving overall score and specially my AWA score. Suppose, if I get a lower verbal score, higher quants score and higher AWA (assume 3.5-4.0) score, and I send both of my scores to any university. Which score are they most likely to prefer? please reply in context of AWA specially.

  20. Cris says:

    Hello,
    I am applying for PhD programs in Industrial & Organizational Psychology. I took the GRE once two years ago with no preparation (and an undergraduate degree in Communications) and scored 308 (154 Q, 154 V, 4.5 AW). I prepped a bit this summer and scored 314 on my retake (152 Q, 162 V, 4.5 AW). I’m trying to decide if I should retake again to improve my quantitative score. Not sure if it is worth the headache. Statistics is important in my field, and I am very strong in that form of math, but I don’t feel my score is representative of that.

  21. Tiana says:

    Hi there, thank you so much for posting this. It’s very helpful to see the score discussion with various programs in the comments. I’m wondering if you could provide feedback for me on my scores, too? I got a 152 in quant and a 167 in verbal, with a 5 overall for analytical writing. I have already signed up for another test at the end of the month to try and boost my quant score, but with how my work schedule is, it is difficult for me to find time to study. My top program has seen on average students with scores of 160 for each section. Would it be seriously detrimental if I can only boost the quant score by three or four points? I don’t want my admissions committee to see that I failed twice to get an adequate score…

  22. Hasibul says:

    Hello I took the GRE recently and scored 317. Quants-163, Verbal 154. I want to apply for Master’s in Biostatistics under public heath in University of Minnesota. The university website says the average score of admitted student is 320-165 for quants and 155 for verbal. So my quant score is 2 marks short of the average and verbal score is 1 mark short of the average. However the average GPA of admitted students for the department is 3.64 and my GPA is 3.73. So should I apply to the university(department) with my current GRE score or would it not be worth the effort?

  23. Bee says:

    Hi There,

    What do you think of a 159 Verbal score, and a 142 Quantitative score? I haven’t received my AW score yet. I have good research experience, good GPA (just passed the cut-off of 80% in Canada), and lots of work experience. I’m applying to Masters of clinical psychology programs in Canada. Please advise – thank you!!

  24. Amritanshu Singh says:

    My maths marks are low in my first three semester of B.tech and I am planing to give GRE .Will my maths marks will affect in selection process.

    • Bill says:

      Amritanshu,

      Low scores will impact the universities and programs for which you might be competitive. However, this can be surmounted with improved grades, good recommendations, and a stellar GRE score.

      Hope this helps!

  25. Vardhman says:

    Hi, My gre score s 300 Q-157, V-143 n AWA-2. Can I get addmission in decent university. I m applying for MS in Structural engineering(Civil). N i will take toefl in nxt month.

  26. Kriti says:

    Hi, my gre score is 142(verbal) = 16%centile, 158 (quant)=71%centile, and 3.5(AWA)=38%centile. I applied in Univ. of Cincinnati and got a rejection letter the next day before i could submit LOR or transcript. On calling them, they told me that my verbal percentile is very less in GRE. what should i do to apply in MS in MIS program for other univ for fall 2016?

  27. Kriti Srivastava says:

    I got 142(16 percentile) in verbal and 158(71 percentile) in quants and 3.5 AWA. Acad is 3.7/4. I applied for MIS in Univ of Cincinnati and got rejection the next day without submitting transcript or LORs. On calling them, they told me that my verbal percentile is very less. will i get admission with my current score or should i give GRE again?

  28. negin says:

    Hi ,

    I have taken GRE twice , on one test I got good quantitative reasoning score , on the other I got a good verbal reasoning score. what should I do? should I send both of them? I’m so scared to be rejected because of GRE. please help me.

    Thanks

    • Bill says:

      Negin,

      Many schools will “Superscore” your GRE scores. This means they will take your highest individual section scores and combine them into one “superscored” GRE score. Now, not all schools will do this; some schools will only consider your highest composite GRE score and others will average your scores. If you are worried about your scores impacting your competitiveness as a candidate to graduate school, you should consider targeting those programs that are known to superscore. If you are not sure whether a university superscores or not, just call the university directly! A lot times students are hesitant to contact schools directly, but I can assure you the school has trained and hired staff specifically to answer questions like this. If you have a question about a school, feel free to contact them directly.

      Hope this helps!

  29. Aneesh says:

    Sir, I have a score of 321 (162- quants 159-verbal). I also have a GPA of 7.2, 3 internships, 2 Ngo collaborations and a leadership position in College. What are my chances of getting into a top 20 university for a MS in Electrical and Computer Engineering course?
    Also should i consider giving the GRE again because of a slightly inferior GRE score?

    • Bill says:

      Aneesh,

      Your GPA approximately converts to a 2.88 on the 4.0 scale, which is more commonly used in the US. Also, the average GRE score for a Harvard engineering student is around a 326. Of these two items, your GPA will most significantly decrease your chances of admission to a top 20 school. You can try taking the GRE again, but your score is already competitive, and I don’t believe that a significant jump in your GRE score will be able to offset your GPA. In this case, my recommendation would be to try and pick up a few more classes at the college level, maybe some electives, and try to raise your cumulative GPA to the 3.0/4.0 equivalent (around a 7.5 on the 10.0 scale). You’re really not that far off! Also, you should plan on applying to both Tier 1 and Tier 2 universities. It is okay to be ambitious, but it also pays to be practical. Pursue your dreams! But also prepare a contingency plan just in case.

      Hope this helps!

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