What is a Good GRE Score? Know How You Need to Score 2020

The GRE is a test you take before applying to graduate school. Most graduate schools take a close look at your score before they admit you. So what score should you aim for?

The Graduate Record Examinations (GRE) is the standardized test by the Educational Testing Service (ETS) that assesses your verbal reasoning, quantitative reasoning, and writing skills.

Your score in this test provides the evidence that you’re able to cope with the academic requirements of graduate school. A low score in the GRE may be enough to keep you out of the graduate school of your choice. This is especially true for highly regarded graduate schools that attract many more applicants. Particularly if you are looking at a competitive program in a top school, it’s therefore imperative that you do well in the GRE.

How Is the GRE Scored?

The GRE has 3 sections (which are also known as 3 “measures”): verbal reasoning, quantitative reasoning, and analytical writing. In 2011, the scoring system was revised to its current format. The scores for both verbal reasoning and quantitative reasoning range from 130 to 170 points, and the scores are in 1-point increments.

For analytical writing, the score ranges from 0 to 6 points, and the scores are in half-point increments. This means you can score a 4 or a 4.5, but not a 4.2 in this section.

The GRE, however, can be different depending on the form you take it. You can go with the pencil (or pen) version, which has a fixed set of questions.

But the computerized version of the GRE is different. It’s an adaptive test, especially in the verbal and quantitative reasoning sections. This means that in these sections, the subsequent questions you get will depend on the correctness of your answers to the prior questions.

It’s therefore clear that you should really check the answers in the first section of each measure. These answers will then affect the subsequent sections. If you’re able to get the answers of the first section right, then the next section may offer more difficult questions (and therefore more points for you).

The good news is that in the computerized version of the GRE, there are “mark” and “review” features that let you identify questions that you want to recheck at a later time.

What Are the Average Scores by Program?

“Good” scores depending on your choice of graduate program. If you’re looking at a particular graduate program, here’s an estimated range of scores you’d want to get for each measure of the GRE.

Grad Program Verbal Quantitative
Biological Sciences 156-166 154-164
Chemistry 156-166 158-168
Computer Science 155-161 161-168
Earth Sciences 163-167 155-165
Economics 161-167 163-170
English 164-170 152-159
Fine Arts 156-166 151-161
History 163-169 152-159
Mathematics 160-166 166-170
Physics 165-169 168-170
Political Science 166-170 158-162
Psychology 161-165 155-159
Public Administration 162-166 156-160
Social Work 157-161 150-154
Sociology 162-166 155-159

 

What you need to keep in mind is that each graduate program will have its own priorities, whether leaning more towards verbal or Quant (math). For example, Computer Science places a greater emphasis on quantitative reasoning compared to the verbal reasoning measure. For a Mathematics grad program, you’ll basically need to get a perfect score in the Quantitative measure, at least if you want to get into the best schools.

Likewise, with subjects such as English, you’ll want to get as high a grade as you can in the verbal section. Though you shouldn’t disregard the Quant section, it may not be as critical to your program. For Social Work, even a 150 in the quantitative measure may be fine.

These estimates are just for the top schools in the US. In some schools, you may be able to get in with lower GRE scores than the ranges given above.

What are the average scores by school?

Each school will have a different set of GRE requirements depending on the graduate program. Your combined GRE score for Harvard and Stanford should be within the 332 to 337 range, if you want to be competitive. These are among the best universities in the world, and the competition for admission will be fierce. You’ll be jockeying for position with some of the top applicants in your field.

On the other hand, the schools that are ranked in the #51 to #100 range will require a lower range, at about 310-314 (combined score). These are still excellent schools, but the competition won’t be as cutthroat.

We took a look at some schools and came up with some estimates of what scores you need for each of the GRE measures.

University of Pennsylvania

Program Verbal Quantitative
Biological Sciences 160-164 157-161
Chemistry 160-164 161-165
Computer Science 155-159 161-165
Earth Sciences 157-161 155-159
Economics 161-165 163-167
English 166-170 155-159
Fine Arts 160-164 154-158
History 163-167 152-156
Mathematics 160-164 166-170
Physics 163-167 165-169
Political Science 164-168 155-159
Psychology 161-165 155-159
Public Administration 160-164 153-157
Social Work 155-159 147-151
Sociology 160-164 152-156

Cornell University

Program Verbal Quantitative
Biological Sciences 160-164 157-161
Chemistry 162-166 164-168
Computer Science 157-161 164-168
Earth Sciences 161-165 158-162
Economics 161-165 163-167
English 166-170 155-159
Fine Arts 156-160 151-155
History 163-167 152-156
Mathematics 160-164 166-170
Physics 165-169 168-170
Political Science 164-168 155-159
Psychology 159-163 152-156
Public Administration 160-164 153-157
Sociology 160-164 152-156

UCLA

Program Verbal Quantitative
Biological Sciences 160-164 157-161
Chemistry 160-164 161-165
Computer Science 155-159 161-165
Earth Sciences 161-165 158-162
Economics 161-165 163-167
English 166-170 155-159
Fine Arts 162-166 157-161
History 165-169 155-159
Library Sciences 164-168 152-156
Mathematics 162-166 169-170
Physics 163-167 165-169
Political Science 164-168 155-159
Psychology 161-165 155-159
Public Administration 160-164 153-157
Social Work 155-159 147-151
Sociology 162-166 155-159

USC

Program Verbal Quantitative
Biological Sciences 156-160 154-158
Chemistry 160-164 161-165
Computer Science 155-159 161-165
Earth Sciences 161-165 158-162
Economics 161-165 163-167
English 164-168 152-156
Fine Arts 156-160 151-155
History 163-167 152-156
Mathematics 160-164 166-170
Physics 159-163 162-166
Political Science 164-168 155-159
Psychology 159-163 152-156
Public Administration 162-163 156-160
Social Work 155-159 147-151
Sociology 160-164 152-156

NYU

Program Verbal Quantitative
Biological Sciences 156-160 154-158
Chemistry 156-160 158-162
Computer Science 155-159 161-165
Economics 161-165 163-167
English 164-168 152-156
Fine Arts 160-164 154-158
History 163-167 152-156
Mathematics 162-166 169-170
Physics 163-167 165-169
Political Science 164-168 155-159
Psychology 159-163 152-156
Public Administration 162-166 156-160
Social Work 155-159 147-151
Sociology 160-164 152-156

Yale University

Program Verbal Quantitative
Biological Sciences 162-166 160-164
Chemistry 160-164 161-165
Computer Science 155-159 161-165
Earth Sciences 161-165 158-162
Economics 163-167 166-170
English 166-170 155-159
Fine Arts 162-166 157-161
History 165-169 155-159
Mathematics 162-166 169-170
Physics 163-167 165-169
Political Science 166-170 158-162
Psychology 161-165 155-159
Sociology 160-164 152-156

Columbia University

Program Verbal Quantitative
Biological Sciences 160-164 157-161
Chemistry 162-166 164-168
Computer Science 155-159 161-165
Earth Sciences 163-167 161-165
Economics 163-167 166-170
English 166-170 155-159
Fine Arts 162-166 157-161
History 165-169 155-159
Mathematics 162-166 169-170
Physics 165-169 168-170
Political Science 166-170 158-162
Psychology 159-163 152-156
Public Administration 160-164 153-157
Social Work 157-161 150-154
Sociology 160-164 152-156

Princeton University

Program Verbal Quantitative
Biological Sciences 162-166 160-164
Chemistry 162-166 164-168
Computer Science 157-161 164-168
Earth Sciences 163-167 161-165
Economics 163-167 166-170
English 166-170 155-159
History 165-169 155-159
Mathematics 162-166 169-170
Physics 165-169 168-170
Political Science 166-170 158-162
Psychology 161-165 155-159
Public Administration 162-166 156-160
Sociology 162-166 155-159

UC-Berkeley

Program Verbal Quantitative
Biological Sciences 162-166 160-164
Chemistry 162-166 164-168
Computer Science 157-161 164-168
Earth Sciences 163-167 161-165
Economics 163-167 166-170
English 166-170 155-159
Fine Arts 160-164 154-158
History 165-169 155-159
Mathematics 162-166 169-170
Physics 165-169 168-170
Political Science 166-170 158-162
Psychology 161-165 155-159
Public Administration 162-166 156-160
Social Work 157-161 150-154
Sociology 162-166 155-159

MIT

Programs Verbal Quantitative
Biological Sciences 162-166 160-164
Chemistry 162-166 164-168
Computer Science 157-161 164-168
Earth Sciences 163-167 161-165
Economics 163-167 166-170
Mathematics 162-166 169-170
Physics 165-169 168-170
Political Science 166-170 158-162
Psychology 161-165 155-159

Stanford University

Program Verbal Quantitative
Biological Sciences 162-166 160-164
Chemistry 162-166 164-168
Computer Science 157-161 164-168
Earth Sciences 163-167 161-165
Economics 163-167 166-170
English 166-170 155-159
Fine Arts 160-164 154-158
History 165-169 155-159
Mathematics 162-166 169-170
Physics 165-169 168-170
Political Science 166-170 158-162
Psychology 161-165 155-159
Sociology 162-166 155-159

Harvard University

Program Verbal Quantitative
Biological Sciences 162-166 160-164
Chemistry 162-166 164-168
Computer Science 155-159 161-165
Earth Sciences 163-167 161-165
Economics 163-167 166-170
English 166-170 155-159
History 165-169 155-159
Mathematics 162-166 169-170
Physics 165-169 168-170
Political Science 166-170 158-162
Psychology 161-165 155-159
Public Administration 162-166 156-160
Sociology 162-166 155-159

What Is a Good GRE Score Goal for You?

As you may have already realized, it depends greatly on the graduate school you’re pursuing, and the school you want to get into. Depending on your program of choice, you may want to focus more on the verbal or quantitative reasoning measures, but you should consider your overall score as well.

Schools such as Harvard and Stanford will require you to try to get the highest scores you can. If you’re trying to get into MIT, you really want that perfect score in the Quantitative measure. Lower-ranked schools will probably have much lower GRE requirements.

A good goal for you to aim for is to match the average GRE score of the incoming class of the grad school you picked. You don’t have to score a perfect score on each section, but you should try to match the competition of the other students coming in. If you would like see the percentile scores across the board for all GRE test takers, the chart below will be helpful.

Scaled ScoreVerbal ReasoningQuantitative Reasoning
1709996
1659685
1608572
1556755
1504536
1452518
140117

How to Get a Good GRE Score

If you’re intent on getting a GRE score that you’ll be satisfied with, start with the following steps.

  1. Identify the graduate programs and schools you want to apply to. That way, you can do some research on the specific GRE scores you need to aim for. Many of these universities post the average GRE scores of their incoming classes each year. You may find other websites (like the US News and World Report) that also publish their research on these subjects.
  2. Set specific goals for your GRE score.
  3. Take a diagnostic practice test for the GRE. This will then give you a fair idea of your current skills that suit the GRE test. You’ll also get a good idea of your weaknesses, and how much work you have to go through to improve your scores.
  4. Enroll in a GRE prep program. Many of these prep courses offer free trials. The free trials should give you an idea of how to prepare for the GRE even if you are unable to continue with course because of the price.
  5. Take the prep course seriously. Even if you’re studying on your own, make time in your schedule for GRE prep. In a way, it’s like studying for an important final exam.
  6. Take official practice exams. That way, you can get a better idea of how well you’ll perform in the real test. You may even want to use an online score calculator to predict your score, given your current performance on practice tests.

How to Understand My GRE Score

If you took the pen and paper version of the GRE, you’ll have to wait for about 5 weeks before you get your score.

For the computerized version, the scores for the verbal and Quant will be shown right after you finish the exam. The score for the analytical writing section will take a little longer since it will be hand-graded. The ETS will send your official score to your selected recipients after about 2 weeks. You’ll also get your official score in your ETS email account.

So let’s start with the averages. The ETS revealed that the mean verbal reasoning score is about 151. For the Quantitative section, it’s 152.8. The mean score for analytical writing is 3.5.

If you want to be competitive, “average” won’t be enough. You will need to score more than 150 verbal, 153 Quant, and 3.5 in analytical writing to make an impression.

To be even more competitive, you should aim for ranking above the 75th percentile in both sections. That means you should get at least 157 in verbal, and then 161 in Quant.

What If I Get a Bad Score?

If you’re in the bottom 10th percentile, you’re really not in a good position. That means you got less than 139 in verbal and less than 141 in Quant. Even getting an average score may translate as having a “bad” score, especially if you’re serious about getting into MIT, Stanford, or Harvard.

But don’t panic. Take a deep breath, and consider your situation calmly.

First of all, it not the end of the world. It is still possible to get into the school and program of your choice. That’s because most grad school admission panels these days use a “holistic” approach to selecting their incoming class.

Aside from the GRE score, they’ll also check out your GPA. You may also be able to overcome a bad score if you have a terrific work experience. Even a compelling life story can help you out, such as if you come from extremely challenging circumstances. Make sure you have a comprehensive grad school application that highlights any and all of your positive attributes to help overcome the “low” GRE score.

It’s also not too late to improve your GRE score. You can hit the books again, and now you will know what you really have to focus on. Trying out a GRE prep course the second time around can be especially helpful. These may come at a cost, but many of these courses come with refund policies if you’re unable to improve on your GRE score by a certain amount after going through their prep courses.

Conclusion

The GRE can greatly influence the rest of your life, since it can very well decide whether you can get into the grad school of your choice. Your academic background usually sits as the very foundation on which you’ll build your future career. Take the exam seriously, which means prepare for it seriously.

You can get the good GRE score you want by taking a proper prep course, and then sticking to it with the utmost discipline. Take time to determine your weaknesses, and then work on those areas. If you’re new to the GRE, take lots of practice tests so you won’t be distracted by the format or caught off guard by the questions you encounter.

Doing well in the GRE is like getting better in sports or with a musical instrument—you need to practice and prepare!