The road to a top GRE score on test day can be quite a journey. In the final stages of this adventure—actually taking the test, getting your score, and sending it to schools—the exact nature of your score becomes more important than ever. Today, we’ll look at some news you can use about GRE scoring.
GRE scoring is good for five years
ETS, the company that makes and administers the GRE, will keep your scores on file for a full five years. In keeping with ETS’s standards, university admissions offices will also accept scores for tests taken up to five years ago. That being said, it may not hurt to retake the test if it’s been a while since you last sat for the exam. There’s always a chance you could get a higher score the second time around, and if you score lower on a second try, you can still choose to send schools only your earlier higher score.
ETS has a (somewhat) new GRE scoring system.
GRE exams taken after July 2011 are scored differently than the newer GRE. Previously, the GRE included a composite score for the whole exam. But now, GRE score reports include only scores for individual sections of the test.
The Verbal and Quantitative Reasoning sections are scored on a scale of 130-170, while previously they were scored on a scale of 200-800. Analytical Writing is still scored on a scale of 0 to 6. For this section, the only real change is that AWA is no longer factored into a whole-test composite score, as composite scores are no longer used at all.
Some schools still post the outdated score requirements on their admissions websites. And at the time of this writing, a few test-takers may have still-valid GRE score reports that were assessed under the old system. (All of these old-format score reports will expire by August 2016, however.) Fortunately, ETS has an official conversion scale for old GRE scores and new ones. Their conversion table can help clear up any confusion.
Because the GRE no longer has a whole-exam score, setting different requirements for different sections of the exam is more common than ever in university admissions. Typically, math-heavy programs in fields like engineering or informatics set high score requirements for Quants, with average to below-average minimum scores for Verbal and AWA. Conversely, grad programs in English and other humanities fields that require a lot of reading and writing will emphasize Verbal/AWA over quants. For more information, check out this chart of average section-by-section GRE scoring requirements at top schools.
The current adaptive GRE scoring system will probably not hurt your score
In the newest version of the exam, the Quantitative and Verbal sections are adaptive. What does this mean?
Well, each section has two subsections—there are two separate sets of 25 questions in Verbal, and two separate 25-question testing sessions in Quants as well. In both cases, the second question set will be adapted to a student’s demonstrated ability level in the first set. So if a test-taker does really well in the first round of questions, the testing computer will automatically generate a harder group of questions in the second round.
Some test-takers worry that doing well on the first set of questions in a section can actually hurt them—if good performance leads to harder questions, then doing well in the first half of a section can lead to more missed answers later. Fortunately, the GRE’s scoring system is also adaptive. If a test-taker gets more hard questions than average, their score will be adjusted upward, to account for that extra difficulty.
A second harder section can only hurt your score if your performance is shockingly bad—like if you get less than half of the adaptive questions right, for example. But this seldom happens, because the difference between a first section and a second, harder adaptive section is just not that dramatic.
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.
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