When students are starting their GRE prep, one of the first questions they ask is, “What is a good GRE score?” It’s no wonder why–if you are far from obtaining a “good” score, there could potentially be a high cost to you of time and money (such as needing to take time off work to study or purchase tutoring).
Ultimately, what a good GRE score is, is one that will gain you acceptance into the program you are applying to. I often have students get so hung up on obtaining a high GRE score, they completely neglect the other elements that make up their admissions packet. So before we jump into GRE scores, it is important to see the big picture–receiving your acceptance letter–and understand all of the admissions requirements will be important.
“Ultimately, what a good GRE score is, is one that will gain you acceptance into the program you are applying to.”
However, your GPA and GRE score are the gatekeepers. The more applicants a program receives, the more important these two elements will be. Admissions departments only have so much time to review applications. If your GPA and GRE score
Below are the score percentiles for the GRE. It is crucial you research the programs you want to apply to in order to figure out what percentile your score needs to fall into for a given section. Some of my students simply need a minimum overall score, while others have programs that emphasize Verbal over Math or Math over Verbal. For example, it is likely an accounting program will be looking very closely at your Quantitative score.
The Verbal and Quantitative sections of the GRE are scored between 130-170. The Analytical Writing section of the GRE is scored between 0 and 6.
A quick refresher on what “percentile” is. If your score is in the top 10%, that means that out of every 100 test takers you got a higher score than 90 of them. When you receive your official GRE score report, you will be notified of your percentile.
I always say, know where you’re at and know where you’re going. Once you have done your research and you know what GRE score you will need to obtain for the programs you are applying to, it is important for you to get an idea of how close, or how far, you are from that score. Do not assume.
A big misconception among my students is that if they have an undergraduate degree that emphasized math or reading, they will automatically achieve a high percentile in that category without much effort. The Quantitative section is not simply a math test, it is a Quantitative Reasoning test (same for Verbal). Your undergrad might have prepared you for one of these sections, but that is not necessarily going to be the case.
For example, I have had many students with engineering degrees walk away with lower math scores than those who had performing arts degrees. Just because you took a high volume of math or literature classes does not mean you have mastered the GRE strategies required in order to achieve a top-percentile score.
Whenever I have a student say they want a “perfect GRE score,” my first response is “why?” Usually, it is because they have a very low GPA and/or they do not want to put much effort into their statement of purpose. If this is you, a perfect GRE score will not necessarily be the ace in the hole you are hoping for.
As I mentioned earlier, your GRE score can act as a gatekeeper. It can get you through the door to speak when it comes to an admissions officer really looking at your application. If you go onto your program’s website, their required GPA and GRE scores might come in the form of the minimum they will accept. If your GPA is close to their minimum (or below), obtaining a top-percentile GRE score can only help you. However, a perfect GRE score will not automatically be enough to replace a GPA that is below what they are asking for.
A high GRE score might be enough to get you through the gate, but that is only half the battle. Your statement of purpose, letters of recommendation, and perhaps your resume outlining your job experience and/or past research will also be important. Hence, if you dedicate all of your time to preparing for the GRE and then write your statement of purpose the night before the deadline, your high score could be in vain.
All I can say is, you might. However, often students need to take the GRE two or three times before they reach their target score. If you tell yourself you will only need to take the test once, not walking away with the score you hoped for the first time will leave you very discouraged. I have seen students throw in the towel after one attempt.
It is crucial you have the proper mindset and realistic expectations from the start so you don’t give up. This test is hard! It will likely take more than one try before you are happy with your score.
In summary, a good GRE score is one that will optimize your chance of acceptance and your chances of acquiring one will increase through prep courses and practice books. However, a good GRE score will not replace the other material on your application.