The new GRE scale may seem pretty arbitrary. After all, who has ever been graded on a test from 130 – 170? Not that the 200 – 800 scale was standard, but, still, there was a certain panache when someone could say they got an 800 (getting 170 sounds like you actually didn’t do too well). And, just to clarify, both these scales apply to the verbal section and math section, so, technically, the new GRE is out of 340.
So, why the strange range (pardon the rhyme)? Well, according to ETS, it wanted to stick to three-digits, so the colleges wouldn’t have to overhaul all the textbox entries that call for three digits. Fair enough. And to avoid confusion with the current scoring system, ETS made sure the two score ranges didn’t overlap (had they made the new GRE out of 200, then a person who’d gotten that score on the current GRE would suddenly look a lot smarter if they were to say a few years from now, Hey, I got a 200 on the GRE verbal section).
On the surface, the new GRE scoring range appears to be more limited than the current system. After all, 200 – 800, based on 10-point intervals, allows for only a 61-point spread, compared to the new GRE’s 41-point spread, based on one point intervals. The new GRE makes up for this more limited range by giving more significance to the extreme ends of the scale. For example, on the current GRE, there really isn’t much difference between 730 and 800 on the verbal—they are both at the 99 percentile range. On the new GRE, the difference between 168 and 170 will actually be between 99 percentile and 96 percentile (I’m kind of estimating these numbers, but you get the point).
At the end of the day, you are not going to be tested on these statistical nuances. The important thing to remember is that many colleges base their rankings on a percentile score. Anyway, exactly what is considered “good” on the new GRE has yet to be determined. Coming in November, after enough students have taken a test, there will be a conversion scale between the old GRE and the new GRE. And, if you’ve just finished taking the current GRE, and have absolutely no desire to study for the new GRE, don’t despair—your score will be good up until 5 years from the date that you took the actual exam.