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Every year, hundreds of thousands of students ponder over one of the most intriguing questions of the recent past – What is a good GRE score?

Well, 330 is a good score, isn’t it?

But do you really need 330?

Not at all. A vital fact that many students forget is, graduate admissions do not solely depend on your GRE score. Admissions officers look at your overall profile, including your undergrad scores, work experience, research work, and extracurricular activities among a few other parameters, and then decide if they should let you in or not.

As you can see, you don’t need a 330+ score to get into your dream school, even if it is in the top 10. So, what does a good score actually mean?

There is really no straight answer for a question as vague as this. But, we thought we should give you our perspective on this frequently debated question among the GRE multitude.

How do you define ‘good’?

No, we’re not asking you to answer this age old philosophical question.

We’re asking you to determine what a good GRE score means to you as an individual, because at the end of the day, each one of us has a different idea of what a good GRE score is. To us, a good score might be 330+, whereas for an average student, a score around 310 can seem more than good. But, can we go by the average GRE test taker? Or should we find out what the experts are saying?

There are a few ways to find out what is a good GRE score. We have listed down the various methods you can use to come to a conclusion, and figure out your target GRE score. Remember that each of the following methods may arrive at a different score for what can be considered as ‘good’, but we hope it will give you a general idea of what a decent score on the GRE is like.

What ETS is saying

According to the official reports by ETS – the creators of the GRE – the average quantitative score of a GRE test taker worldwide, is 151.3, with a standard deviation of 8.7. And the average verbal score of a GRE test taker worldwide, is 150.8, with a standard deviation of 8.5. Now, what this means, is that the world average for the composite GRE score is 151.3 + 150.8 = 302.1. So, if you scored above 302, you’re better than half the test takers around the world.

Does ‘better than average’ correspond to ‘good’? Definitely not!

That’s where the standard deviations come into play. If you add up the average scores and their respective standard deviations, you arrive at a quant score of 160, and a verbal score of 159.3. This means, your composite score one standard deviation above the average score would be 160 + 159.3 = 319.3. Now, that looks like a good score, doesn’t it? If you ask us, yes, that is definitely a good score.

So, you may assume from this little calculation that if you score somewhere around 320, you can consider your score as good. Especially because 320 corresponds to somewhere around the 80th percentile, meaning you scored better than 80 percent of the test takers around the world. Now, that’s surely a good score.

But then, the numbers we’ve provided above are the averages of scores for all programs. Below are the average scores and their standard deviations for the most sought after graduate programs.

Graduate Program Average Verbal Score Verbal Standard Deviation Average Quant Score Quant Standard Deviation
Engineering 150 9 159 6
Physical Sciences 153 9 158 7
Social Sciences 153 7 150 8
Business 150 7 152 8

If you are looking for the average scores for the other graduate programs, check out this statistic given by ETS.

What Universities are saying

When it comes to the average GRE score, another important perspective you need to consider is that of the universities that you are applying to. Almost all universities publish the average GRE scores of their incoming class every year, and this data can turn out to be invaluable, if you are looking for a ‘good’ GRE score according to the admissions committee of a particular university.

For example, the average GRE score of a successful admit at UC Berkeley’s Graduate School of Education for Fall 2013, was 313. Now, if you add one standard deviation to that score, (which is around 15-17 points approx.) you will end up with a score around 328-330. Now, that is a really good score if you are looking for graduate studies in Education at UC Berkeley.

So, this is how you calculate what a really good GRE score is, for a particular university. Mind you again, though, the GRE score is not the only important factor when it comes to admissions. Universities look at your overall profile in order to decide whether or not to let you in, but the average GRE score requirement gives you an idea of how much you need to score if you want to apply to a particular university.

Here’s what an admissions officer at the UC Berkeley’s has to say about minimum GRE score:

What the numbers are saying

They say numbers don’t lie. We concur too.

If you want to get a general idea of what a good GRE score is, then you should probably resort to GRE score percentiles. Percentiles are pretty accurate when it comes estimating whether a score can be considered good or not, because they tell you how well you have performed in comparison to everyone who has taken the test along with you, and before you as well. That is why, you can understand if your GRE score is good or not, based on where it stands in the GRE score lineup.

Now, the 80th percentile score for the GRE is around 320. Most schools in the top 30 consider this a competitive score, which means if you score around this mark, your chances of getting admitted into one of the top 30 universities will be quite significant. Similarly, the 90th percentile score is somewhere close to 328, which means most schools in the top 20 would find it good enough to give you an admit, if everything else in your profile meets their requirements.

So, as you can see, you can guestimate if your GRE score is good or not for the university you are applying to, based on the score percentiles and the university ranking. However, if you are still unsure, we already have a list of universities based on GRE scores.

What is a good GRE score for you?

Even though universities give out average scores for their programs, it is important to know that your overall profile will also have to qualify as good, in order to get an admit. So, if you think your overall profile is excellent, you can get away with the average GRE score of that particular university. If your profile is good but doesn’t really stand out from the crowd, then you will need a GRE score that is at least one standard deviation above the average GRE score of that particular university.

However, if your profile is not as good as the average applicant’s profile of that university, then you may need to increase your target score even further, in order to compensate for it.

Now It’s Your Turn

So, as you can see, it normally isn’t very easy to tell if your GRE score can be considered good or not, but if you go by the aforementioned methods, you can easily guestimate whether your score is considered passable or not at your dream universities.

What do you think? Do you have any other ideas on how to tell if a GRE score is good or not? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.

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