Everyone wants a high GRE score, but what actually makes a score impressive? What score should you aim for as you prepare for the exam?
This varies depending on major and test section
Grad programs often have separate standards for different sections of the GRE. Schools for math-heavy fields like business and engineering typically have high standards for GRE Quantitative Reasoning. At the same time, these programs put less emphasis on Verbal Reasoning scores. A good GRE score in math-oriented programs is usually 160 or more in Quant, while a Verbal score as low as 150 can still be good enough for entry into a top school.
Conversely, grad programs in the arts and humanities have higher standards for Verbal than Math. In this case, the business and engineering numbers are flipped. A 160 plus is a good GRE Verbal score for these fields, while Quants can be as low as 150. And the split between AWA in arts and humanities versus math-heavy majors is even more dramatic. Arts and humanities graduate degree programs may ask for a 4, 5, or even a 6 in AWA, while programs in subjects like business and engineering might only require an AWA of 3. And some engineering programs won’t even look at your AWA score at all!
Those who hope to get a grad degree in the physical or life sciences face the highest requirements for a “good” GRE score. Because science requires rigorous data analysis and large amounts of reading and writing, applicants to these programs will usually need to get 160 or higher in both Verbal and Quants, and will likely need at least a 4 in AWA. Here, a good GRE score will be an exceptionally high one across the board.
Look at how your peers are doing.
Of course the minimum required scores for acceptance into a program are just that—the minimum! The minimum is good in the sense that it can get you into school. But to know just how good your score is in the bigger picture, you’ll want to see how your score measures up to the scores of other test-takers in your field.
To measure your score against colleagues and peers, you won’t need to awkwardly ask anyone how they did on the exam. There is plenty of publicly available data on GRE percentiles. An exam percentile measures the percentage of test takers who got less than a given score. For instance, if you are studying in the life sciences and you got a 160 in GRE Verbal, you are in the 90th percentile among your peers. 90% of graduate life sciences scholars get less than 160 in GRE Verbal.
ETS has collected and published pages and pages of data on GRE percentiles, by nation, year, and academic discipline. To see where you might stand among your peers check out this article about what is a good GRE score. Here you’ll find a breakdown of scores by field of study, as placed in average, good, and very good percentile ranges.
David is a test prep expert at Magoosh. He has a Bachelor of Social Work from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire and a Masters in Teaching English to Speakers of other Languages from the University of Wisconsin-River Falls. He has been teaching K-12, University, and adult education classes since 2007 and has worked with students from every continent.