GRE Scoring 101

The GRE Scoring Basics

Judges Score
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No matter the standardized test that you take, the scoring systems are always a little bit difficult to understand. There are raw scores and scaled scores, percentiles and means. Sometimes, there are penalties for incorrect or incomplete answers and sometimes, there are not. So, what makes the Revised GRE scoring system tick? How are points tabulated and reported? Here is your GRE scoring rundown – the good, the bad and the ugly.

GRE Scoring By The Numbers

On the prior GRE format, you could earn between a 200 – 800 on the GRE. Now, the range of scores for the Verbal Reasoning and Quantitative Reasoning sections of the Revised GRE General Test is 130 to 170, in 1-point increments. The range of scores for the Analytical Writing section is 0 to 6, in half-point increments. (So a 4.5 is a score you could possibly earn on your essay).

GRE Scoring Penalties

On the Revised GRE, you'll need to at least answer one question in each one of the sections. I know this seems obvious, but if you choose for some insane reason not to answer anything on the Verbal Reasoning section, for instance, you'll get a NS (no score) for that section of the test. You are not penalized for incorrect answers or blank answers unless you leave it all blank.

GRE Scoring Scales

If you take the GRE more than once, or like to compare your scores with those of your buddies, ETS kind of recommends against that practice. Why? The scales are different on different exams. Since the test questions are not identical, the GRE scoring scales for each test are different, too. So, how do you compare how you've done if a 165 on a February exam is not identical to a 165 on a test given in May? Use the percentile ranks on your score report to compare your relative performance among your different tests. The ranks are based on all the testers who've taken the exam in the most recent two-year period. That way, your comparisons are accurate across the board because your sample size is much greater.

How Your Verbal and Quantitative GRE Scores Are Tabulated

If you take the computer-based Revised GRE, your Verbal Reasoning and Quantitative Reasoning scores are based on two things:

  • The number of questions you've answered correctly
  • The difficulty level of each of the test sections

Obviously, the paper-based GRE is not computer-adaptive, so your score is only based on the number of questions you've answered correctly. The bonus, of course, is that you're not penalized for incorrect answers on either version of the exam.

How Your Analytical Writing GRE Scores Are Tabulated

ETS likes to use the highest possible technology available, so for the Analytical Writing section, they use a combination of human ingenuity and computer design to grade your essay.

If you take the computer-based GRE, your essay will be graded by at least one trained reader, using the 0-6 holistic scale. They'll look at the overall quality of your essay in relation to how well you've responded to the assigned writing prompt. Then, your essay will be turned over to the e-rater®, which is a computerized program developed by ETS. Basically, it's designed to monitor the human grader, assuring accuracy and fairness. If the e-rater evaluation and the human score agree, the human score is used as the final score and you'll see that on your score report. If they disagree by a certain amount, a second human set of eyes is asked to go through your essay, and the final score is the average of the two human scores.

For the paper-based GRE, you'll get a score from two trained human readers. If the two assigned scores differ by more than one point, a third reader will go through your essay and resolve the dispute, and your score will be the average of the ratings given to the two essays.

Old GRE Scores

If you took the GRE before it changed to the Revised GRE in August of 2011, when you request a score report, you'll get no only your scores in the prior scale (200 – 800), you'll also get an estimated score on the new 130 – 170 scale so admissions counselors can make informed decisions based on your scores. Plus, you'll get a percentile rank using the same data as testers who took the new test between August, 2011 and April, 2013.

GRE Score Select

In July of 2012, a fantabulous thing happened: Score Select. This option allows you to choose which scores from the past five years to send to graduate schools. So, if you bomb a particular GRE (stayed up late, didn't prepare, what have you), you can opt not to show those scores to your first choice, for instance. You'l always be able to see the scores for all of your test administrations, though, in you’re My GRE Account on the ETS website unless you choose to cancel a set of scores on a particular test day.