When it comes to tests – or really grades in general – I am a perfectionist. Back in high school, even though a 91 and a 99 both counted as an A, and both benefited my GPA by the same amount, a 99 or even a 100 was just so much prettier. Every question I missed on a test was one that I could have gotten right. And if we were ever told just our grade, without a chance to look over the tests, I was the one who would angst over which questions I might have missed.
Yeah, not healthy, I know. And I got over it somewhat in college. I still worked my hardest and fought for those good grades, but with the increased difficulty of coursework as I got to my junior and senior years I focused more on comprehension of the material than on the actual numerical grade.
But now, as I’m studying and preparing for the GRE, I find those old attitudes creeping back. While I didn’t get a perfect score on my SAT, I did well. And I knew I did well, from the moment I looked at my score report, because I knew the average scores and where mine fell on the spectrum. But with the shiny brand-new scoring system I’m facing, I find myself wondering – what exactly constitutes a good score on the revised GRE? What’s the expected average score on the new GRE? And more importantly, what score do I need to get into the graduate program I want? To answer these questions, it behooves both me and you to take a closer look at this crazy new scoring system, and what the key differences are.
How is the new GRE scored?
- The essays – still scored on the old 0-6 scale,
- Math – out of 170 instead of 800
- Verbal – out of 170 instead of 800
The math and verbal sections are each scored on a range from 130 to 170, for a total out of 340, which (if my math is right) adds up to 81 possible total scores, in increments of one point each. So, split the difference, and an “average” score on each section would be somewhere around 150 to 155. But that’s only getting about half the questions right, and that definitely isn’t what I want to do. Looking at just the base percentages, anything over 160 on a given section would be decent, and anything over 165 would be pretty close to excellent. Unfortunately, this is all just speculation at this point, since no one has taken the test yet – so there’s no pool of data to work from.
So, why the change?
Well, ETS wanted scores that were obviously different from SAT scores, unlike the old 800-point scale, and one that didn’t overlap any of the numbers, so there wouldn’t be any confusion. If each section on the new GRE was out of 220, for example, but I took the old GRE and got a 220 on verbal, well… you get the picture. Way too much room for confusion in comparing scores. They also wanted colleges to have an easier time comparing students’ performances on the exams. If I got a 720 on the old GRE and you got a 730, that looks like a significant difference, even though it’s only one incremental score apart. But now, if I score a 324 and you score a 325, still one incremental score apart, it looks much closer.
So, obviously, colleges won’t have minimum or average scores for the new GRE yet, but you can still get a rough idea by looking at what they have posted on the old GRE scale. Here’s a rough equation you can use to figure out the approximately equivalent score for a section on the new scale:
- (Old score (out of 800) + 1750) /15
So, a 560 on the old scale would be about a 154 on the new scale. Keep in mind, this is just an estimate!
You can usually find minimum requirements on the web page for the actual graduate program, and information about the average score for the program or school on the college’s main website. Unfortunately for me, the Rice Linguistics department doesn’t have a minimum or recommended score, but after checking out their averages I have a much better idea of what kind of scores I want to get.
Oh, and one big thing to remember about scores on the new GRE! If you take the revised GRE in August or September, you shouldn’t expect to receive your scores until November at the earliest. After that, scores should be out within 2-4 weeks like before. So if you’re rushing to meet a deadline, keep that in mind!
EDIT: After hearing from students who’ve had the chance to take the revised GRE, it appears that you are provided with a rough estimate of your score – based on the old 800-point scoring system - immediately after you finish the test.
UPDATE: We are addressing all of your questions as best we can in a series of posts, the first of which can be found here.
UPDATE: If you want to know how your revised GRE scores relate to the old 800-point scale, you can find the tables released by ETS here.