Understanding Your Test Scores

Q: What range of scores can you get on the GRE?

A: The scores on the Revised GRE don’t look like the old 200-800 scale of yore. Now the scores in math and verbal range from 130-170, innocuous numbers that were chosen perhaps to avoid all previous associations with any grade scores anywhere! A 150 in math and in verbal can be thought of as the national average, or the 50th percentile. (Actually from test to test there are minor variations in the national average of all test takers because, despite the ETS’ precision efforts at keeping the question “mix” at a predictable level of challenge, the tests vary a bit in their difficulty for the year’s test-takers).

A few points up or down can drastically change the percentile.

For instance, consider a score of 155 in Math. It’s just 5 test-points above the average 150, the 50th %-ile. But it is the 61st %-ile, 11 percentile points above the 50th. Another example, a 155 in Verbal is the 68th %-ile,an 18%-ile jump! A 164 in math is the 91st %-ile while in Verbal 164 is the 94th %-ile! See ets.org/gre/concordance for tables of comparison. Meanwhile, the Critical Writing score is simply a 1-6 with .5 point increments. A “4” is just below national average (48th %-ile) while a 4.5 is the 72nd %-ile! And a 5 is the 87th %-ile! Generally a 4 writing score will, for a wide array of college admission committees, not trigger any “reject” reflexes, in that your admission essay and other course grades will indicate your writing ability sufficiently to assure them you can write in grad school. The math and verbal scores often prove more critical in admissions.




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