When you’re thinking about going to grad school, you might notice that you need to take a test called the GRE and receive a minimum score in order to be admitted.

Learning what exactly the GRE is, why you need to take it and how you can get the GRE max score is important before you apply to any graduate programs. Having knowledge about the test and properly preparing for it is going to set you up for future academic and career success.

What Is the GRE?

The GRE is the Graduate Record Examination. When you are applying for business or grad school, you may need to take the GRE depending on the program you want to pursue and school you want to attend. You might also look at the average GRE scores by school in order to determine if you qualify for certain programs.

The GRE is computer-based and contains multiple-choice selections. Like the SAT or the ACT, it is a standardized test. ETS developed and administers the GRE to grad and business school hopefuls. Grad school admissions directors are going to look at your undergraduate transcript, your GRE and your extracurricular activities in order to determine if you should be accepted and, possibly, receive scholarships.

The GRE includes sections like college-level vocabulary, geometry, algebra, basic arithmetic and data analysis, and it evaluates your critical thinking and problem solving skills.

How GRE Sections Are Scored

Before finding out the GRE max score, you need to know exactly how the GRE is scored. After you take the GRE, you will receive three scores in Analytical Writing, Verbal Reasoning and Quantitative Reasoning. There are corresponding sections for each of these scores.

The Verbal Reasoning and Quantitative Reasoning sections are each scored on a scale that ranges between 130 and 170 points. The Analytical Writing Assessment section is scored in half-point increments, from zero to six.

Breaking Down the GRE Sections and Scores

The Verbal Reasoning section has a total of 20 questions, which you have 60 minutes to answer. There are six text completion, four sentence equivalence and 10 reading comprehension questions.

For the Quantitative Reasoning section, there are seven to eight quantitative comparison questions and 12 to 13 problem-solving questions, and you get 35 minutes to complete each section of questions. For the Analytical Writing section, there are two tasks: Analyze an Issue and Analyze an Argument. You receive 60 minutes total to complete these two tasks.

A computer scores the Verbal Reasoning and Quantitative Reasoning sections, and you receive a score based on the number of questions you answered correctly. The computer converts the raw score to a scaled score, which is called equating. If you do very well on the first section of Verbal Reasoning, you will be asked tougher questions on the second section, and have the chance to receive the max GRE score. A human will analyze your Analytical Writing skills and give you the zero to six points based on his/her judgments.

The GRE Scores Percentiles

The Verbal Reasoning and Quantitative Reasoning sections are scored on a scale of 130 to 170. For the former, the mean is 151, and for the latter, it’s 153. The mean score for Analytical Writing is 4.0.

In terms of the GRE scores percentiles, the top 10 percent of all test takers receive a scaled GRE verbal score of 162. The top 25 percent score 157, the top 50 percent score 151 and the below 50th percentile score 150.

For Quantitative Reasoning, the top 10 percent score 166, the top 25 percent score 160, the top 50 percent score 153 and the below 50th percentile score 152.

GRE ScoreSelect Option

If you don’t do as well as you’d hoped on your GRE, you can take it again. You’re allowed to take it once every 21 days, a maximum of five times within any continuous rolling 12-month period, or 365 days. Taking it multiple times is not going to affect your chances of getting into grad school.

If you take the test more than once, you can decide which scores you send to the grad schools of your choice. You can also send all your scores if you’d like. Since you have to retake the entire test every single time, and you can’t mix and match scores from various sections and different times you took the test, you may want to put a cap on how many times you take it.

Doing the test one time is tiring and requires a lot of preparation and hard work. Each time you take it, you are bound to become more fatigued. Make the first time count, and if you need to retake it, you always have the option thanks to ScoreSelect. Once you receive the GRE max score you want, you can then send it off to your grad school programs.

What Is the GRE Max Score?

The GRE max score for Verbal Reasoning and Quantitative Reasoning is 170 each, and the GRE max score for Analytical Writing is six. Not many people are able to achieve the GRE max score; less than 1 percent get a 170 on Verbal Reasoning. The top 3 percent receive a 170 on Quantitative Reasoning, and the top 1 percent receive a six on Analytical Writing.

Though getting the GRE max score is tough, it’s not impossible. If you are looking into a STEM Ph.D. program, getting a perfect score on the Quantitative Reasoning section is expected. Also, if you do well, you may gain access to merit aid and fellowships for grad school.

Look at your average GRE scores by school for each program you are applying to, and then see how you stack up. Keep in mind that your grades, experience, extracurricular and other materials for your applications are also very important. Graduate schools want to see well-rounded applicants who are going to not only be good students but also excel in the outside world following graduation in the program. Don’t forget to prepare for things like your grad school interview and essay as well.

Studying for the GRE

If you are determined to receive the GRE max score, then you’ll need to study. Take a GRE practice test, so you know what kinds of questions are going to be asked on the real thing. See how well you do and what areas you need to improve upon.

Instead of doing marathon study sections, study 30 minutes a day, five days a week, for a few months. You don’t want to be rushed at the last minute trying to cram everything in. You should create flashcards and write notes down that you can study throughout the day whenever you have a free moment.

It’s also a good idea to take a GRE prep class and/or hire a tutor who can help you with one-on-one studying. Ask others who have taken the test what it was like and what you need to prepare for in order to get the GRE max score.

The test takes about four hours to complete, including breaks. Practice focusing for long periods of time and look into what to do during breaks to get your brain functioning at its highest level. This may include stretching, breathing properly, getting up and taking a walk or meditating.

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About the Author

Kylie Ora Lobell is a freelance writer in Los Angeles. She has written about education for topics for LegalZoom, Jewish Journal of Los Angeles, Cornerstone and WeWork.