What Is a Good GRE Score? 2023-24

October 11, 2023

what is a good gre score percentiles

You’re writing your statement of purpose, you’re reaching out to mentors for letters of recommendation, you’re navigating universities’ maze-like websites, trying to figure out where on earth to mail your official transcripts. Applying to graduate school is essentially a full-time job, and the GRE is just one more complicated thing to juggle. Of course, you already know that doing well on the exam matters, but what is a good GRE score, how do colleges weigh it, and what exactly are your programs looking for? There’s a lot to consider, but have no fear—we’re here to help you understand the GRE (see GRE score percentiles chart below) and give you tools to help you strategize. Below, we’ll cover all your pressing questions:

  • What Are the GRE Score Ranges?
  • What Are GRE Score Percentiles?
  • Understanding GRE Score Percentiles
  • How Do Schools Use Your Scores?
  • What is a Good GRE Score for Your Program?
  • How Do I Improve My Scores?
  • Additional Resources

What Is a Good GRE Score – What Are the GRE Score Ranges?

The GRE is broken down into three parts:

  1. Verbal Reasoning (multiple-choice)
  2. Quantitative Reasoning (multiple-choice)
  3. Analytical Writing (essay)

For the multiple-choice sections, scores range from 130-170 and are distributed in 1-point increments. The maximum combined score for the multiple-choice sections is 340. For the essay section, the minimum score is 0 and the maximum is 6, and scores are distributed in .5-point increments. The table below shows you the average scores of all GRE test-takers between 2019-2022.

  Score Range Perfect Score Average Scores 2019-2022
Verbal 130-170 170 151
Quantitative 130-170 170 155
Analytical Writing 0.0.-6.0 6.0 3.5

Source: ETS

What is a Good GRE Score – What Are GRE Score Percentiles?

When you receive your GRE score, you’ll also receive a corresponding percentile ranking that tells you how well you scored compared to others. These percentile rankings work very differently than the grade percentiles you’re used to in your college classes. With the GREs, scoring in the 90% percentile doesn’t mean you got an A- on the test, it means you scored better than 90% of all other test-takers.

In a nutshell: Your GRE percentile is not your raw score or a grade; it is a reflection of how well you did compared to others. The two tables below break down multiple-choice and essay percentile data from 2019-2022.

Percentile Data Verbal and Quantitative Reasoning

Score Verbal Reasoning Percentile Quantitative Reasoning Percentile
170 99 94
169 99 91
168 98 87
167 97 83
166 96 80
165 95 76
164 94 73
163 92 70
162 89 68
161 87 65
160 84 61
159 81 58
158 77 55
157 73 52
156 70 49
155 65 46
154 60 42
153 56 39
152 50 36
151 46 33
150 41 30
149 36 27
148 32 24
147 29 21
146 25 18
145 22 15
144 19 13
143 17 11
142 15 9
141 12 7
140 10 6
139 9 5
138 7 4
137 6 3
136 5 2
135 4 1
134 3 1
133 2 1
132 2
131 1

Source: ETS

Percentile Data Analytical Writing

Score Analytical Writing Percentile
6.0 99
5.5 98
5.0 91
4.5 81
4.0 56
3.5 38
3.0 15
2.5 7
2.0 2
1.5 1

Source: ETS

What Is a Good GRE Score – Understanding GRE Score Percentiles

We’ve established that GRE score percentiles reflect how well you did in comparison to others. So, what does that mean for your GRE strategy? It means that your job as a GRE test-taker is not necessarily to get a perfect score. Rather, for admission to most graduate programs, you should aim for a higher-than-average score.

Generally speaking, a score above the 75th percentile in either section will make you a competitive applicant. That means aiming for at least a 157 in Verbal Reasoning and at least a 163 in Quantitative Reasoning. For Analytical Writing, where there is a wide percentile gap between a score of 4.0 and 4.5, a 4.5 will ensure you are above the 75th percentile.

If you’re applying to very competitive programs, you’ll likely want to shoot for scores in the 90th percentile or higher. For Verbal, that’s about 162 and above. For Quantitative, that’s about 169 and above.

That said, there’s no single rule to follow when trying to achieve a good GRE score. Target scores will vary from person to person. The score you aim for will depend on the programs you’re applying to and your intended field of study. To determine what makes a good GRE score for you, you’ll need to consider our next topic of conversation: how grad schools use your GRE scores.

What Is a Good GRE Score – How Do Schools Use Your Scores?

Since there’s no way to know how an admissions committee will feel about your statement of purpose, letters of recommendation, and writing sample (if applicable), it can be tempting to put the most pressure on the parts of your application packet that are easily quantifiable: your GRE scores and your grades. But that doesn’t mean that the latter two will automatically outshine the other parts of your application.

For most programs, you’ll want to earn a good GRE score, but it’s important to remember that this is just one part of your application. Each person applying to a grad program will have their own unique background and different experiences, so there’s no one measuring stick by which to measure all potential grad students. Many admissions officers will look at your application holistically, taking all pieces of the puzzle into consideration, but some types of programs do highly value the GRE.

To determine a good target GRE score, you’ll need to do some research into what your particular field and programs consider to be a good GRE score.

What Is a Good GRE Score for Your Program?

Different academic disciplines expect you to master different subject matter before beginning graduate studies. It goes without saying that an English graduate program will weigh your Verbal and Analytical Writing scores more heavily than your Quantitative scores, while a STEM program will likely pay closest attention to your Quantitative scores. Our general advice: We recommend you prioritize the part(s) of the test that matters most to your field.

But what about grad programs in fields that require verbal, quantitative, and writing skills? And how do competitive admissions impact a school’s GRE score expectations? While your GRE numerical scores may be cut and dry, what makes a good GRE score is not. To determine your target GRE scores, do your research on the school’s website (don’t forget to do a careful read of their FAQs!) and consider these factors:

Does the program have a minimum GRE score?

Some schools require a minimum score for admission. Be sure to make note of cut-off scores to avoid disqualification.

Does the program post average scores?

Many schools share average scores on their websites. If your scores are lower than average, you won’t necessarily be disqualified, but it may make your chances of admission less likely. Aim for higher than average for that school. If the school doesn’t publish average scores, consider contacting a program administrator to ask what they consider to be a good GRE score.

Does the program specify weight placed on GRE scores?

In recent years, some schools and disciplines have begun placing less weight on GRE scores or removing them as a requirement for admission altogether. This isn’t true of all programs, but your school may provide information on their website about how they weigh each part of your application packet. If they don’t, we encourage you to contact a program administrator to ask.

Is your program test-optional?

Many graduate programs made the GRE optional during the COVID-19 pandemic and haven’t looked back. But just because the test is optional doesn’t mean you should skip it entirely. If you struggled academically in your undergraduate program, for example, a good GRE score can be an alternate way to show academic potential. Still, applying to graduate school can be a full-time job, so taking the GRE may not be the best use of your time. When GRE scores are optional, it is a good idea to contact the program to ask how their program weighs optional scores.

Does your program require a GRE Subject test?

If so, the subject test may carry more significant weight than the general GRE. In this case, it’s again a good idea to contact the program to ask how their program weighs scores.

What Is a Good GRE Score – How Do I Improve My Scores?

Once you’ve determined your target score, we recommend taking the exam more than once. Like any standardized test, half the battle is simply learning how to take the test. The GRE is challenging and can be daunting on your first go-around, so knowing you’ll have multiple chances to do your best will ensure you’re able to head into it with a calm (or calmer) mind.

It’s a great idea to buy test prep books, watch strategy videos, and take practice tests well ahead of your exam date. In part, you’ll boost your mastery of the material. But you’ll also get a better grasp of the particular and sometimes peculiar ways that the GRE phrases their test questions so that you can spend less time reading and digesting the questions on the day of the exam. Taking a practice test as a first step a few months before your exam will help you know what to focus on while you study, allowing you to strategize how you invest your time.

What Is a Good GRE Score – Additional Resources