What is a Good GRE Score?

May 21, 2012
Paula Martin

GRE BlogAlmost every student I have, in every class that I teach, asks, “What is a good score on the GRE?”

Most students don’t understand just how complex that answer can be. Sure, I could tell everyone, “You know, you really want to aim for a 165 or higher on both sections of the GRE.” That would be a completely truthful answer—anything at 165 or higher is an excellent score—but it may not be an appropriate goal for every student. Quite simply, it’s just not that simple.

For starters, here is what you need to know:

The GRE is scored on, essentially, a 41-point scale. That means that small improvements in performance can increase your score quite a bit. It also means that small improvements in your score can make a big difference in your percentile ranking (sometimes, a one point increase in your score can boost your percentile ranking by 5 points—check it out here).

The percentile ranking on the GRE forms a classic Bell curve. Here is a generic Bell curve, in case you’ve forgotten what one looks like:

GRE Blog

Because it falls on a Bell curve, your percentile tells the friendly admissions folks how well you did on the GRE compared with the students who have taken it over the last three years. (You can find that information here – But–fair warning–it’s pretty dry reading.)

Also, your GRE score does not stand alone. Whether or not you are admitted into a graduate program (and whether or not you receive scholarship money) depends on several factors, not your GRE score alone.  Do not put all of your eggs in the GRE basket. You can put 4-6 eggs there, but divide the remaining 6-8 between obtaining the best GPA possible, writing a spectacular personal statement, flattering professors and professionals into writing outstanding letters of recommendation, and rounding out your resume.

I imagine you’re a bit frustrated with me. Because you still want me to give you a number and say, “THIS is a good GRE score.” (I did that already, remember? 165….look back to the beginning of this blog entry if you’ve forgotten.)

The absolute best way I can help you is to provide some general guidelines on how to set a good GRE score goal for YOU:

  1. Do your research! This is important. What is the average GRE score of accepted students at the schools you’re interested in? What are the average scores for your specific programs? What do the admissions departments have to say about required minimum scores? Once you’ve done your research, use these numbers in your goal-setting process.  Remember also the meaning of an average score—students are accepted with higher AND lower scores than the average. Your entire application is important. Don’t become so focused on one number that you fail to present yourself in the best manner possible.
  2. Know that a good GRE score for YOU is the highest score you can possibly achieve after a reasonable amount of prep time (about 100 hours). Take a diagnostic test as you begin your studies (http://www.ets.org/gre/revised_general/prepare/powerprep2). If that diagnostic test places you in the 80th percentile or higher, you may be good to continue studying on your own. If you’re below the 80th percentile on either the Quantitative or Verbal section, consider signing up for a prep course. Kaplan has some great ones!
  3. When you begin studying, set your goal score at 20 points above your diagnostic score. Try to break that 20 point barrier in your studies. Raise your goal again—depending on how easy the first 20-point improvement was, raise your next goal by 5-20 points. Continue to raise your goal until about 2 weeks before your GRE test date. For those last 2 weeks, focus on holding steady and not losing ground.
  4. You want to get a score that places you in the 50th-99th percentile range (higher is better, of course). That means that your goal score should be somewhere between 151 and 170 on both portions of the test. (Notice how you could bomb the diagnostic, raise your score by 20 points as you study, and still get into the 50th percentile? Pretty cool, huh?)

Above all, study hard. Learn the test strategies. And walk out of Test Day knowing that there was no way you could have done any better!

Paula Martin Paula has taught for Kaplan since 2008. Her areas of expertise include GRE, GMAT and PCAT. She enjoys both the camaraderie of the classroom and the deeper relationship that is developed through tutoring. Paula loves to encourage and motivate her students. In 2001, Paula graduated from Emory University with a BS in Biology. Since then, she has lived in Honduras (where she taught English), worked as a researcher, served as a training and compliance coordinator, taught herself graphic design and explored the artistic outlets of painting and pottery. Paula plans to pursue a Certification in Biblical Storytelling in 2012 and to become a Master Biblical Storyteller by December 2013.

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