How Is the GRE Scored?
Preparing for the GRE is difficult enough without needing to worry about how the exam is scored, but not understanding how the GRE is scored before you actually take it is a serious mistake. Many test takers will waste time on this exam worrying over how many points they will receive on each question and how much time they have to complete each section; save yourself this trouble by understanding how the GRE is scored before you walk into the exam room on test day.
How is the GRE administered?
Before we give you a score breakdown of the GRE, we need to go over the ways by which the exam can be administered. The GRE can be administered in two ways - by paper, or by computer. Both versions of the exam will require you to go to a testing center to take the exam (you cannot take the computer-version of the GRE at home). It does not matter which type of GRE a student takes - scores from both administrations will be viewed equally by the schools you send them to.
Now, if you’re concerned about picking one form of the GRE over the other, understand that this decision truly comes down to where you live, and whether or not the GRE is given at a test center with computers near you. If you live in an area where the computer-driven GRE is offered (this is the case for most areas of the world) you will need to take the computer version of the exam; you cannot choose to take the paper version of the GRE if the test center you go to administers the exam via computer. If you live in an area of the world where the computer driven GRE is not available, a paper version of the GRE will be given up to three times per year.
No matter how you take the GRE, you can have your score sent to up to four schools. If you take the paper GRE, you must specify which schools you want your scores to go to when you register for the exam. If you choose to take the computer-delivered GRE, however, you can specify which schools you want to send your scores to at the testing center on test day. If you want to send your scores to more than four schools, you can order more score reports online for an additional fee.
How many points can you get on each section of the GRE?
The GRE is made up of three main sections: the Analytical Writing Section, the Verbal section, and the Quantitative section. Here is a breakdown of the maximum number of points you can get on each of these sections:
|Section||Length of Section||Total Questions||Minimum Points||Maximum Points|
|Analytical Writing||60 minutes||2 essays||0||6|
|Total||3 hours, 30-45 minutes||80 questions and 2 essays||130 / 130||170 / 170|
As you examine the chart above, a couple of questions will probably pop into your mind, the first of which is, “Why is there such a variation in the section time?” There is variation in section time because, depending on whether you take the computer-delivered or paper GRE, the time you have to complete each section may vary just a bit. If you take the paper GRE, you will have 35 minutes to complete the Verbal Reasoning section and 40 minutes to complete the Quantitative Reasoning section, but if you take the computer GRE, you will be given only 30 and 35 minutes to complete these two sections, respectively.
Another question you may be asking yourself is, “Why do you get two final scores?” The GRE does not give you one final score like many standardized exams do. Instead, you are given two scores - your Quant score and your Verbal score. These two scores are the scores that you will submit along with your grad school applications, and they are the scores that schools will care about in evaluating your candidacy.
The scores you receive on the Verbal and Quant sections will be determined by the number of questions you answer correctly in each section, and both sections are scored in one-point increments. If you answer a question incorrectly, or if you do not answer a question at all, your score will not be affected. Unlike some standardized tests, the GRE does allow you to skip questions and go back to them before the end of the section you are working on, which can be an advantage to many test takers.
The Analytical Writing section is scored differently than the other sections of the GRE. During this portion of the exam, you will be asked to complete two different writing “tasks” - to write an essay that analyzes and issue, and to write an essay that analyzes an argument. If you choose to take the paper form of the GRE, you will write your essay by hand, but if you choose to take the computer form of the exam, you will write your essay via a word processor that has been developed by ETS. Your essays will both be scored on half-point increments from 0.0 - 6.0, and scores you receive on both writing assignments will be averaged into a single Analytical Writing score. The Analytical Writing section does not factor into your final scores, however the score you receive on it may still be taken into consideration depending on what type of graduate program you are applying to.
What about the Experimental Section?
In addition to the three major sections mentioned above, the GRE also contains a fourth section called the “Experimental Section.” This section can come in the form of either an additional Verbal section or an additional Quant section, and its purpose is to allow ETS (the creators and owners of the GRE) a chance to test out new questions with real test takers to evaluate their difficulty and potential to use in future exams.
The Experimental Section does not count towards your official GRE score, but here’s the catch - you will not know which section is the experimental one. You will simply be given a test that has either two Quant sections and one Verbal section, or two Verbal sections and one Quant section. This is to avoid any test taker bias in answering these questions (test takers cannot simply slack off knowing that the section will not count towards their score) so that ETS can determine just how difficult the new questions are.
What is the average GRE score?
According to ETS, the average GRE score is about a 150 on the Verbal section, 153 on the Quant section, and between 3-4 on the Analytical Writing section. Keep in mind, however, that 50% of GRE test taker scored above this level, so if you want your graduate school application to stay competitive, your GRE score will need to be much higher than this.
Now, what a “good” GRE score is depends entirely on both the type of graduate degree you are pursuing, as well as the individual programs you are applying to - at Veritas Prep, we typically recommend to graduate school applicants that they aim for a score that is no less than a few points lower than the reported average GRE score at the school you are applying to. Keep this in mind as you begin preparing for the GRE - although the graduate school admissions process is a holistic one, having a high GRE score will make your application more competitive and help you stand out from other applicants.
How will all of this knowledge increase your GRE score?
So, how will an understanding of how the GRE is scored help you on your quest for a perfect score? Knowing exactly how the GRE is scored will allow you to do a few things:
1) Focus on the task at hand. On test day, this knowledge will allow you to focus more of your mental energy on answering the questions at hand rather than worry about how many points certain questions will be worth.
2) Set up a plan of attack. Knowing how the GRE is scored will allow you to set up the perfect plan of attack for test day. For example, understanding that the GRE does not penalize you for answering a question incorrectly can help you determine whether to skip or guess on a difficult question.
3) Determine your strengths and weaknesses. Now that you know how the GRE is scored, you can better determine what your own strengths and weaknesses are on this exam. For example, knowing that you will receive both a Verbal and a Quant score, and that both of these scores are equally important, you can take a practice test and focus on the subject that you get the lowest score on.
4) Practice your pacing strategy. As you can see from the chart above, you are only given 60-70 minutes to finish each section the GRE. This knowledge will serve you well in your GRE prep, as it will allow you to practice your pacing strategies before test day.
If you are considering taking the GRE exam but you still don’t know where to start, Veritas Prep has you covered. Check out one of our many free GRE resources - whether you are already determined to ace the GRE, or you haven’t quite decided to take the exam yet, these resources are a great way to learn more about this exam and begin your test prep.