Jan
20
2013

# What is a Good GRE Score (again)?

Earlier this week, my manager sent a “last 30 days” report to the blogging team. The report featured data about this blog‘s page views, visit lengths, and other interesting statistics. The one that made me giggle was the list of the most common search keywords by which people found our blog. While the list was 25 items long, well over half of them were some variation on, “What is a good GRE score?”

Indeed, the top search result for that phrase is this entry, which has over 400 Facebook shares and nearly 13 thousand tweets. Heck, it’s possible that you’re only here because you just searched for the phrase yourself. And I can’t fault you. If you know nothing or very little about the GRE, then “What’s a good score?” is a reasonable first question to ask.

But to us GRE teachers, man is it a silly question. I laughed and laughed. The entry I linked earlier provides a very serious, very professional answer to the question. Here’s a more colorful version.

For starters, there’s no such thing as a “good GRE score,” because there’s no such thing as a “GRE score,” period. When you take the GRE, you get three different scores: an essay score from 0-6, a quant score from 130-170, and a verbal score from 130-170. These scores are not added. If you get a 4, a 150, and 150, that is not a 304. It’s a 4, a 150, and a 150.

“Oh, come on, Boris. Clearly people use the phrase ‘GRE Score’ as a convenient linguistic shortcut for ‘The set of your three individual scores.’ Quit being a prat,” you might say. Very well. Even then, we’ve got several problems if you want an answer to the question “What’s a good GRE score?” Here, I’ll tell you: a 6, a 170, and a 170. That’s a good GRE score. It’s the maximum possible score, and surely the maximum is good! Ooo, how about this one: a 6, a 170, and a 169. Not quite the maximum, but hey, it’s close. Or how about this: a 5, a 168, and a 169. Or how about…

See the problem? “What’s a good GRE score?” is not an honest question. Nobody literally wants to know what “a” good GRE score is. The singular article “a” doesn’t make any sense. It makes the question trivial — you can look at the official scoring scale and see what ALL the good scores are. Hardly a mystery, that.

Be honest with me. You’re not asking “What’s a good GRE score,” are you? What you — and everyone — really want to know is, “What’s the rock-bottom minimum score I can get while still looking good to the grad schools I wanna get into?” There’s no shame in that question! It’s a good, strategic question. If a 160 on the verbal section does you no more good than a 145, then exerting extra effort to overkill the GRE is inefficient.

But even that question is impossible to answer. As you probably know, lots of people take the GRE — from medieval poetry critics to theoretical physicists. For a chemical engineer, a “good” quant score is probably much higher than for someone who wants to study Japanese history. And a scholar of Italian theater probably needs a higher verbal score to look “good” than a number theorist does.

You can’t answer, “What’s a good GRE score?” Thankfully, you can answer, “What’s my good GRE score?” Google doesn’t have that answer (as, having found and read this entry, you might have just been disappointed to discover), but your target grad programs do. Contact them and ask what scores they’re looking for and what the benefits (if any!) of an ultra-high GRE score are. Once you have those numbers, you’ll be able to put forward an efficient study plan without wasting effort seeking unproductive score increases.

## Related Posts

#### About the Author: Boris Dvorkin

After picking up degrees in English and computer science from Case Western, Boris Dvorkin worked for six unfortunate months as a computer programmer before finding a home at Kaplan in May 2008. He is now a full-time GRE faculty member on-site and online, and he's worked on Kaplan's curriculum for the recent GRE revision. Boris was named Kaplan's Teacher of the Year for 2010. When he's not gushing about standardized test trivia, Boris enjoys playing obscure strategy board games, and is the proud owner of no less than three different board games about Portuguese spice merchants.

• MildlyInterestedParty

Here’s an interesting variation on that question: “The old GRE scoring method (when I took the GREs many years ago) was on an 800 scale. What would be the equivalent to a 550, a 600, a 650, a 700, and a 750 on the essay, the quant, and the verbal of the modern GRE? [One way to do this would be by pivoting through the percentiles.] Are the scores linear, or are they non-linear? Actually, what are the percentiles on those scores?”

• Boris Dvorkin

Now THAT is a fabulous question. And I’m happy to say the test makers have put together a very good answer:

http://www.ets.org/s/gre/pdf/concordance_information.pdf

This concordance table is a one-stop-shop for everything you were looking for. It maps old GRE scores to their equivalent new GRE counterparts, and includes percentiles for good measure. You’re right that the percentiles are the key link. Fortunately, with that table you don’t have to do any pivoting yourself!

You know what they mean, And since you work here, you must know that everyone ignores the essay score, it remains a joke. Quit posturing.

• Boris Dvorkin

Hi there! Please don’t be rude.

Schools only “ignore” the essay to the extent that they don’t much care whether you get a 4, 5, or 6. But they DO care if you get a 3 or lower — that looks bad.

One of the most common questions I hear on Day 1 of a new GRE class is, “Will we cover the essay?” Many GRE takers are international students, and getting a 4 or higher is definitely far from a “joke” to them.

• Fuzzy

How about posting average admission criteria by school type? Give us something!

• Boris Dvorkin

Alas, the current scale is so new that the data doesn’t exist yet. Once it exists, we’ll have it!

This is the worst article on GRE scores I have ever read

• Boris Dvorkin

• Mimi

What should I do regarding study when the school (anthropology) says “the GRE score isn’t the most important factor” yet they still require it?

• Boris Dvorkin

Ah, that depends on where you got the information! If you pulled the quote from a website, then you still need to contact the school yourself and ask a live person what GRE scores would look good to the school.

But if what you quoted *did* come from a live person, then it means that the admissions people at that school deliberately hedge with respect to the GRE — they just don’t want to commit to any comment about scores. In that case, since you’re going for anthro, the rule of thumb would be that quant is borderline irrelevant while verbal should be as high as you can make it.

• James T

Wow, it took a lot of words for the author to say that.

• why are you so lame

whats the point of writing on a topic without actually saying anything. Maybe you could have done some research on the topic instead of just being a douche

• boris sucks

Worst article ever. More pointless than the US Congress right now. That’s how bad it was.