Before we discuss what the average GRE score is, it is important to understand averages—you will need to know this for the Quantitative Reasoning section anyway. If you receive an average GRE score for a particular section, that means you scored in the 50th percentile. Hence, out of every 100 test-takers, your score was higher than about half of them.
The three portions that make up the GRE–Verbal Reasoning, Quantitative Reasoning, and Analytical Writing–all have different mean scores. If you know what “mean” is, you are well on your way to conquering the math portion. For those of you who are unsure, “mean” is another word for average.
You will write two essays, and have 30 minutes to complete each one, for your Analytical Writing (AW) Measure. Your score for both essays will make up your AW section score that will range from 0-6. The average Analytical Writing score is 3.5. A score of 3 is the 17th percentile and a 4.5 is the 82nd percentile.
You will have two Quantitative Reasoning (QR) sections that will make up your Math scaled score. The scaled scores range from 130-170. Your scaled score does not have a linear relationship with score percentiles. Hence, you cannot reason that since the difference between 170 and 130 is 40, the average Quantitative Reasoning score is 150.
In fact, the average Quantitative Reasoning score is a 153. A score of 148 is the 30th percentile and a score of 160 is the 74th percentile.
Similar to the math sections, you will have two Verbal Reasoning sections (VR) that will make up your scaled score that will range from 130-170. A Verbal Reasoning scaled score of 150 is the 47th percentile and a 151 is the 52nd percentile.
Hence, you will need a higher math section score to come in at the 50th percentile range than your Verbal score. This means there is a consistent group of test-takers who receive higher Quantitative scores than Verbal scores, increasing the average math scaled score needed for the 50th percentile.
Here is the ETS list of every section score percentile.
If you are familiar with the GRE, you might have had some discrepancies when I said you will complete two Math sections and two Verbal sections. It is likely when you take the GRE you will be given either three Verbal sections and two Math sections, or three Math sections and two Verbal sections.
The reason for this is ETS’ experimental section. They often give students an extra Verbal or Math section in order to gather data on the difficulty level of questions for future exams. If a lot of test-takers miss a question, they know that question should be considered hard. Your performance on the experimental section will not affect your GRE score.
Once you finish the Analytical Writing section, and if you go directly into the Verbal portion, that will be the measure you complete three times (same for Math). While you will know whether or not your experimental section is going to be Verbal or Math, you will not actually know which out of the three sections it is. Hence, even though the experimental section does not count towards your GRE score, you must treat every section as if it does.
You might be wondering if an “average” GRE score is considered a “good” GRE score. Unfortunately, if you were to ask almost any GRE instructor what a “good” GRE score is, they will likely answer “it depends.” The reason for that is because every graduate or MBA program has different expectations when it comes to the GRE section scores they are looking for from applicants.
This is why it is important to do your research before preparing for the GRE. Some programs might not put too much value on GRE scores. For example, a master’s program in performing arts could put more emphasis on an applicant’s audition than their GRE score. An engineering graduate program might accept incoming applicants who scored average in Verbal Reasoning but require a Quantitative Reasoning score in the 90th percentile. There are also programs that require high percentile scores on all three measures of the GRE.
When it comes to success on the GRE, it is important you have an effective timeline. This timeline needs to allow you the weeks and/or months needed to submit what would be considered a competitive GRE score for the graduate or MBA program you are applying to (by their deadline). What is considered a competitive score for the school you want to attend is what would be a “good” GRE score for you.
There are two questions you will want to answer in the early stages of your GRE preparation:
Most schools will provide the average GRE scores for their admitted applicants on the program’s website. A competitive GRE score will be at least a little above this average. With that said, it is important to keep in mind the other application requirements.
Obviously, a big factor to consider is GPA. The program is also going to provide the average GPA for their admitted applicants. If your GPA far exceeds their average, perhaps it is okay if your GRE score is not above their average GRE scores. However, if your GPA is far below their admitted applicants’ average, you will likely want your GRE score to be well above their requirements.
Once you consider the graduate or MBA program averages, and consider your application as a whole, decide what GRE score you will need for all three sections: Verbal Reasoning, Quantitative Reasoning, and Analytical Writing. These will be your target scores.
In order to answer questions such as “How long will I need to study?” “Should I enroll in a GRE prep class?” “Which GRE books should I purchase?” you need to have an idea of how close or how far you are from your target scores. The best way to get this information is to take a diagnostic test or practice full-length exam, which many companies offer for free. Check out this article for a list of practice tests.
Once you get your score, compare it to your target score. Perhaps you are already above where you want to be for Verbal Reasoning but are pretty far below where you need to be for Quantitative Reasoning. If this is the case, you can enroll in a class meant to help students with only the math section, or purchase a book for the same purpose. Also, if you only need to work on one section you might not have to dedicate months to studying.
On the other hand, if you are far from your target score in every GRE section, you will want to set aside at least three months to study and plan on taking the GRE at least twice. Keep in mind, once you take the GRE you will have to wait 21 days before you can take it again. The farther away you are from your target score, the more meticulous you need to be with your timeline. You have to take the GRE with the intention to hit your target score roughly three weeks before your school’s GRE score submission deadline.
In summary, the average GRE score for Analytical Writing is 3.5, Verbal Reasoning is 150, and Quantitative Reasoning is 153. However, the average GRE scores may or may not be good enough for you and your desired programs. Take some time to research what would be a competitive GRE score for the programs you are applying to.