One of the most common questions on this blog is, “What is a good score on the GRE?” Invariably, the answer is “it depends,” and it does. Generally speaking, whether a GRE score is good (or not) is relative to the goals of the individual test taker. Please keep this in mind as we explore the question, what is a good score on the GRE?
The ETS, the makers and administrators of the GRE, recently released a report entitled A Snapshot of the Individuals Who Took the GRE revised General Test. This report is primarily intended “to provide score users with the most relevant information” possible about the GRE test taking population (‘score users’ means admission officers, university administrators and faculty, etc.). Much of the information within this report will not be particularly useful to you as an individual test taker; however, this report does give us a great deal of insight into what constitutes a good GRE score in terms of means and averages and (more importantly) field of study. Let us take a look.
The table above doesn’t quite answer the question what is a good score on the GRE?, but it does tell us what is an average score on the GRE. This table shows us that the mean Verbal Reasoning score is a 150.6 and the mean Quantitative Reasoning score is a 152.2. For those of you not familiar with Standard Deviation, in this case, it simply tells us how close to the mean most students scored. This indicates that the majority of GRE test takers scored between 142.3 to 158.9 on Verbal Reasoning and between 143.4 to 160.4 on Quantitative Reasoning.
This gives us a basic understanding of what constitutes a “good” score: if you are scoring below the standard deviations you have a bad score, if you are scoring above the standard deviations you have a good score, and if you are scoring in between, then you have a relatively average score.
This information is useful in understanding how GRE scores are broadly evaluated; however, as many university admission officers will be quick to point out, every applicant is evaluated individually. For example, you would not expect a person applying to a Masters of Fine Arts program to have a better Quantitative Reasoning score than somebody pursuing a Doctorate in Engineering. This means that when you are trying to determine whether your GRE score is good or not, you should consider it within the context of your application.
Luckily, the GRE Snapshot Report contains information relevant to this endeavor. Consider the following chart:
This spreadsheet shows the average Verbal and Quantitative Reasoning scores by intended graduate major; this shows how you compare to students who plan on pursuing a degree in the same field as you. For example, say you score a 155 on the Quantitative Reasoning section. This score is several standard deviations above the aggregate mean of 152.2, and so could be considered a relatively good score, unless, of course, you intend to apply to an Engineering program, in which case it would be several deviations below the mean of 159, and a relatively bad score. The above information should give you a good grasp of what constitutes a good GRE score by field of interest.
As many of this blog’s readers are international students, it is worth noting that your international status will be taken into account when you apply for a graduate program in the United States. For example, admission officers do not expect a potential graduate student from South Korea or India to score as well on the Verbal Reasoning section of the GRE as a native English speaker. If you are an international student, refer to pages 40-45 in the GRE Snapshot Report to get an idea of how you compare to other international students.
At the beginning of this article I mentioned that whether a GRE score is good (or not) is ultimately relative to your own personal goals. If you are planning on applying to an elite university or program, then you will need a correspondingly higher score; conversely, if you are targeting a less prestigious institution or degree plan, then a good GRE score for you may be slightly lower than what is traditionally considered an exemplary score. On this note, let me remind you how important it is that you research the institutions you are planning on applying to so that you know what GRE score will be good for you.
ETS’ GRE Snapshot report attempts to break down the GRE scores of the global test taking population into more distinguishable categories. This means they examine average GRE scores by gender, race, nationality, educational objectives and fields of interest, among other categories. By and large the specific sub-categories and cross categorization of these breakdowns are of no interest to most of us; however, knowing the average GRE score for students planning on pursuing a graduate degree in your field gives you the significant advantage of having a score to compare your own to. Hopefully the information above has helped you determine whether you have a good GRE score (or not); of course, if you need more help or have additional questions, please feel free to comment below or Ask Test Masters!