Gre Essay Score Percentiles

When the revised GRE scoring scale was introduced, it often left test takers (and admissions folks!) scratching their heads, trying to make sense of the 130-170 scale. But now that it’s been a few years and we’re all accustomed to the scoring scale, there are new questions about GRE score percentiles, and what they mean for you.

Whether you took the old or new GRE, you’re probably wondering what a good GRE score percentile is, and what you should aim for. In this post, I’ll also address some of the most frequently asked questions Magoosh has been getting. These questions concern the three benchmarks: the 50th percentile, the 60th percentile, and the 155 Verbal/Quant score. And of course, I’ll show you the current Verbal and Quant GRE score percentiles (using the ETS’s GRE percentiles 2017 data). Let’s get to it!

What is a good percentile on the GRE?

By their very nature, no GRE score percentiles or GRE section scores are created equal. Many degree programs especially favor those 50th and 60th GRE percentiles. Similarly, many graduate admissions offices like to see you reach that 155-point benchmark.

Where these benchmarks are concerned, GRE percentiles and scores will be different for each section of the exam. Additionally, some admissions programs may ask for one of the “big three” benchmarks on one section of the GRE, while asking for a different benchmark on another section.

To get an idea of how this works, let’s look at a few example standards for GRE percentiles. The Economics program at the University of California Davis currently requires 60th or higher GRE score percentiles in Verbal, and at least the 70th percentile in Quant. Or, as another example, Harvard’s Graduate School of Education advises a minimum of the 50th percentile for Verbal, while Quant scores can be as low as 30th percentile.

As you can see, a “good” GRE percentile varies a lot, depending both on the school and the type of program. With all of that in mind, let’s look at each of the 50th/60th/155 benchmarks that many schools highlight. Again, we’ll be looking at standards as of 2017.

What is a GRE score in the 50th percentile?

GRE score percentiles will vary from section to section.

For Verbal, 150 is the 48th percentile, while 151 is the 52nd. So either of those scores will put you close to the 50th. However, only a score of 151 or higher will put you above this benchmark for the Verbal section.

Quant scores for the 50th percentile are just slightly higher. A 152 in GRE Quant is 47th percentile for the section, while a 153 is 51st percentile. So here, 153 is your minimum to be above the 50th.

In the Analytical Writing Assessment (AWA) section, there are far fewer points to be had. With a score range of 0 to 6 in 0.5 point increments, there are a limited number of possible scores. This means there are only 10 possible GRE percentiles for AWA. And as you can imagine, there is a pretty big point spread between these percentiles. A 4.0 puts you in 60th percentile, a full 10 percentiles above the benchmark. But the next score down, a 3.5, places you at the 42nd percentile. This is almost 10 percentiles below the benchmark, a dramatic drop!

What is 60th percentile on GRE?

Like I mentioned above, a 4.0 in AWA hits the 60th percentile for GRE right on the nose. Just one bracket lower at 3.5, however, and you are way off.

For 60th percentile, your Quantitative score will again need to be slightly higher than your Verbal score. For GRE Verbal, a 153 puts you at the 61st percentile. Just one score point lower, a 152 bumps you down to the 56th percentile.

For Quant, the cutoffs are much closer. A 155 in GRE Quant is just under, at the 59th percentile. And a 156 sits in the 62nd percentile, just above the benchmark.

What percentile is 155 on GRE?

As you might expect after reading the previous sections, a 155 means a higher percentile for Verbal and a lower one for Quant. There are exactly 10 points of spread between Verbal and Quant GRE percentiles. A Verbal score of 155 puts you in the 69th percentile, but the same score in Quant is in the 59th percentile.

With the AWA’s very different range and scaling, there isn’t actually a 155 score. Still, a 4.0 AWA score is the closest equivalent to a 155 Verbal/Quant score. This will put you in the 60th percentile, which is not too far off from the Verbal and Quant percentiles we mentioned above.

What are the current GRE score percentiles? (ETS’s GRE Percentiles 2017)

ETS is kind enough to post their GRE score report with percentile rankings and a conversion chart. I’ve reproduced the charts of the GRE score percentiles below:

Verbal GRE Score Percentiles

ScorePercentileScore Percentile
1709915048
1699914943
1689814839
1679814735
1669714631
1659614527
1649414424
1639314320
1629114217
1618814115
1608614012
159831399
158801388
157761376
156731364
155691353
154651342
153611332
152561321
151521311

Quantitative GRE Score Percentiles

ScorePercentileScore Percentile
1709715038
1699614935
1689414830
1679214727
1669114624
1658914520
1648714417
1638414314
1628114212
1617814110
160761408
159731396
158691384
157661373
156621362
155591352
154551341
153511331
15247132-
15143131-

So… What percentile should I aim for on the GRE?

You’re probably wondering how your GRE score percentiles affect your chances of admission. As you saw earlier from my UC Davis and Harvard examples, in a very broad sense, a “good” GRE percentile is the percentile your target school would ideally like to see. But “aim for what your school wants” is perhaps too broad to be helpful. And there are certainly a few ground rules for GRE percentiles, no matter where you want to go to school.

Avoid the bottom half of the percentiles

Obviously, it’s best not to be below the 50th percentile, because that puts you in the bottom half. Most schools post a recommended or required score that is 50th percentile in at least one section. If you’re below the 50th percentile in a section of the GRE, that may be acceptable in some cases. However, even if your target school allows for this, such a low score could still be a red flag for an admissions officer. And if you’re below the 50th percentile in Verbal, Quant, and AWA, your score probably isn’t going to impress anyone. So although being below 50th percentile in just one section of the test isn’t always a deal-breaker, you should avoid being in the bottom half of the percentiles if possible.

Check the scores for your academic discipline

If, for example, you’re wondering about GRE scores for your Engineering program, then your peers aren’t going to be exactly the same as the standard GRE test taker (think: lots of math). In Bhavin’s post on average GRE scores, you’ll see that the average Verbal score for Engineering majors is 148, the 39th percentile. In this case, being at 50th or just over could make you quite competitive. On the other hand, the average Quant score is 158. So if you want to go to grad school for Engineering, you’ll need a Quant score that’s 69th percentile or higher. To figure out the best minimum percentile for your disciple, check out the rest of that table in Bhavin’s post. Then compare your average score to the percentile information in this post.

For a detailed and a bit complicated breakdown of GRE percentiles by major, see pages 26-29 of the official GRE Guide to the Use of Scores.

Look at requirements for your target school’s program

Of course, Bhavin is looking at academic fields as a whole. School-by-school percentile requirements are all different. And top schools like Harvard, Stanford, and the like are looking for higher GRE score percentiles than your discipline might require. This is where our post on GRE scores for top schools comes in. You can use this post to compare the scores needed for your discipline against your target school to find which GRE percentile to aim for.

To use one last example, let’s say you want to study Biological Sciences at UCLA.

Therefore, you’ll want to aim for well above the 50th or 60th percentile for this program.

How can I compare old GRE percentiles to new GRE percentiles?

If you took an 800-point GRE, those scores are (of course!) expired. Still, you may wonder how your percentile on the older GRE measures up to the GRE percentiles 2017 data in this post.

Though we’ve updated this post to contain only the most recent information, the ETS has you covered when it comes to finding those old GRE percentiles. On their official website, you can find a concordance table that compares old GRE scores to new GRE scores. This table will also help you understand how old GRE percentiles relate to the newer standards. So be sure to check out ETS’s old GRE percentiles vs. GRE percentiles 2017 table!

Old GRE percentiles vs. GRE percentiles 2017: How not to compare

It’s very important to understand why older GRE scores are treated as expired. For one thing, older formats of the GRE don’t completely reflect the academic standards of the present-day test. So even with a concordance table, you’ll never see a perfect match.

This is true even of “new GRE” scores that predate the statistics we use today. Old GRE percentiles from, say, 2011 or 2012 may be based on the current 130-170 GRE score range. However, the test was still different back then, in subtle but important ways. The stats for GRE test takers were also different back then. The exact nature of the grad school applicant pool is in fact always changing. That’s why the GRE percentiles table draws from multiple years. With year-to-year variation in the applicant pool, a “big picture” is needed.

Above all, the big picture shows that old GRE percentiles aren’t closely correlated to the percentile you might get on the test today. So if you have a much older GRE score, don’t use your old GRE percentiles to predict how you’ll do the next time around. The GRE percentiles 2017 data in the tables above should be your real guide.

Notes about “What are my chances for admission?” comments, in relation to GRE score percentiles

While I’d love to give everyone some hard and fast GRE score percentiles that guarantee your chances (it’s a nerve-wracking, opaque experience, I know), I unfortunately can’t. This is because there are numerous factors involved in the admissions decisions and most of those aren’t determined by the GRE alone.

My universal recommendation is that you check where you stand compared to the GRE score percentiles above. Then have a look at the forums to see other students’ experiences. Of course, if you have questions about methodology or how to achieve certain scores, or pretty much anything outside of “what are my chances?” or “where should I apply?” then I’ll be happy to answer them.

And if you’re looking to improve your GRE score percentile, think about giving Magoosh GRE prep a shot. You can start with our free GRE Prep App and see if a little extra dedication to prep helps your confidence. Good luck!

Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in April 2013 and has been updated for freshness, accuracy, and comprehensiveness.

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By Brett Ethridge / August 10, 2017 / Blog

Almost all success and personal development literature talks about the importance of not comparing yourself to others, to running your own race and not getting caught up in what everyone else is doing. One of my mentors talks about not comparing your back stage to someone else’s front stage (meaning that you’re still in process, and you can’t always know the real story behind someone else’s apparent success), and I think that’s great advice in most cases.

But not on the GRE.

In the world of graduate and business school admissions, we have to be honest about the reality that you’re competing against your peers for select and coveted spots at the top schools. And while numerous different aspects of your candidacy are evaluated, one of the more black-and-white elements of your application is your GRE score.

So the question becomes: How does your GRE score stack up against your colleagues? And, what is a good GRE score anyway?

It turns out there’s a pretty concrete answer to those questions in the form of the GRE Percentile Rankings published by the Educations Testing Service (ETS), the organization that administers the GRE exam. Let’s take a closer look.

GRE Percentile Rankings – Tables and Analysis

Below are tables containing the percentile rankings for the different sections of the GRE based on the performance of all individuals who took the GRE between July 1, 2013 and June 30, 2016, of which there were approximately 1,740,000.

In each table you’ll see a number next to each GRE score. This number represents what’s called the “percentile ranking” for that score. You can think of it as the percent of other test takers worldwide who scored worse than that given score. For example, if you look down at the table for quantitative GRE scores, you’ll see a 76 next to the score of 160. What that means is that if you score a 160 on the Quantitative Reasoning section, you will have scored higher than 76% of other test takers worldwide. Not bad!

Just a quick reminder that on the GRE, you receive three separate scores — one score on a scale from 130-170 for Quantitative Reasoning, a second score also on a scale from 130-170 for Verbal Reasoning, and a third score on a scale from 0-6 for Analytical Writing.

Here are the score data for all three sections.*

Quantitative GRE Score Percentiles

Scaled ScorePercentile Ranking
(Percent of Test Takers Scoring Lower Than Scaled Score)
Scaled ScorePercentile Ranking
(Percent of Test Takers Scoring Lower Than Scaled Score)
 17097 15038
 16996 14935
 16894 14830
 16792 14727
 16691 14624
 16589 14520
 16487 14417
 16384 14314
 16281 14212
 16178 14110
 16076 1408
 15973 1396
158691384
157661373
156621362
155591352
154551341
153511331
15247132
15143131

 

Verbal GRE Score Percentiles

Scaled ScorePercentile Ranking
(Percent of Test Takers Scoring Lower Than Scaled Score)
Scaled ScorePercentile Ranking
(Percent of Test Takers Scoring Lower Than Scaled Score)
 17099 15048
 16999 14943
 16898 14839
 16798 14735
 16697 14631
 16596 14527
 16494 14424
 16393 14320
 16291 14217
 16188 14115
 16086 14012
 15983 1399
158801388
157761376
156731364
155691353
154651342
153611332
152561321
151521311

 

Analytical Writing Score Percentiles

Score LevelsPercentile Ranking
(Percent of Test Takers Scoring Lower Than Selected Score)
 6.099
5.598
5.093
4.582
4.060
3.542
3.018
2.58
2.02
1.51
1.0
0.5
0.0

 

What is a Good GRE Score?*

Now that you know the hard and fast scoring data for the different sections of the GRE, how do you know what represents a “good” score?

Let me start by giving you the simplest and most important definition of a good GRE score: A good GRE score is any score that gets you in to your target graduate or business school!

Period. It’s as simple as that.

The GRE is a means to an end, and its purpose is to show potential graduate programs that you’re equipped to succeed in their classrooms. From that standpoint, then, a “good” GRE score is relative from person to person.

Consider Candidate A who is applying to a school whose median GRE score of admitted applicants is 155Q, 153V. For her, anything in the ballpark of 155Q and 153V is a good score!

Now consider Candidate B who is applying to a top-20 school whose median GRE score is 162Q, 160V. For him, anything over 160 on each section is a good score.

(To see the average GRE scores for the top business schools, check out our article “Average GRE Scores at the Top Business Schools”).

But wait, you say. Isn’t a 160 always better than a 155? No! For Candidate A, a 155 is perfectly acceptable if that’s what she needs to get in to the graduate program of her choice.

Now of course a higher GRE score can open the door to more potential schools for you. It gives you more possibilities. And some schools offer merit-based scholarships to applicants with high GRE scores, so certainly you should try to do the best you can. Indeed, I encourage you to check out our comprehensive online GRE prep courses to help boost your scores significantly.

But just remember, you can leave your pride at the door when it comes to your GRE score. As long as it gets you where you want to go, that’s the goal!


* Note:
According to ETS, the mean (average) Quantitative GRE score from 2013-2016 was 152.57. The average Verbal GRE score was 149.97. The average Analytical Writing score was 3.48. Notice that these don’t quite match up with the 50th-percentile ranking for each section, as those represent the median scores of each type.

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