Many graduate degree programs and business schools require applicants to take the Graduate Record Examination, or GRE. The three sections of the GRE -- verbal reasoning, quantitative reasoning and analytical writing -- are designed to test your ability to accomplish graduate-level thinking and assignments. Schools use your scores along with your undergraduate grades, work experience and other factors to determine whether you qualify for their program. When you receive your test report, you will notice a score for each section.
The verbal reasoning and quantitative reasoning sections of the GRE are scored on a scale from 130 to 170 in 1-point increments. If you do not answer any questions within a section, you will receive a NS, or "no score," for that section. Your score on the verbal reasoning and quantitative reasoning sections is determined by how many questions you answered correctly and the difficulty of the questions. The analytical writing section is scored holistically on a scale from 0 to 6 in half-point increments. GRE scores are considered separately by section rather than combined into a single score.
Determining the percentile rank of your score can help you compare your results with those of other candidates. The percentile rank of your score tells you how many test-takers scored lower than you. For example, if you received a score of 154 on the verbal reasoning section, about 61 percent of test takers scored lower than you in that section, according to Educational Testing Services. Your score report will include a table of the most recent percentile rankings.
Intended Major Average Scores
You can also compare your scores with those of other test-takers who plan to study in your field. This can help you compare yourself with other students who might be applying to a similar graduate program. For example, students who plan to study chemical engineering have an average quantitative reasoning score of about 160, while students entering the field of English have an average quantitative reasoning score of about 148. ETS publishes this data on its website.
How Schools Use Scores
Although the GRE is important, your score on the test shouldn't completely determine whether you're accepted into your dream school. Schools should not have a minimum cut-off score or use the GRE as the only factor in admissions, according to ETS guidelines. Schools also shouldn't use small differences in scores to differentiate among applicants. Contact the schools you are considering for more information about how they use your GRE score in admissions.
- ETS: 2012-13 Interpreting Your GRE Scores
- ETS: About The GRE Revised General Test
- ETS: General Test Percentage Distribution of Scores Within Intended Broad Graduate Major Field
- ETS: Verbal Reasoning and Quantitative Reasoning Interpretative Data Used on Score Reports
- ETS: Guidelines for the Use of GRE Scores
Rebekah Richards is a professional writer with work published in the "Atlanta Journal-Constitution," "Brandeis University Law Journal" and online at tolerance.org. She graduated magna cum laude from Brandeis University with bachelor's degrees in creative writing, English/American literature and international studies. Richards earned a master's degree at Carnegie Mellon University.