All of us have heard of scores like 309 or a 324 on the GRE revised General Test. But are these scores decent enough? How is the GRE score computed? Can two candidates get the same score even though their performance in different sections were different? Do universities consider only the total GRE score or do they emphasize on the individual sectional scores as well? Is it even possible to get a full score on the GRE even without getting all questions correct?

These are questions that are asked all the time, and they are quite fundamental questions to which you should definitely know the answer! Let’s tackle them in this blog.

Introducing the GRE

The GRE is a test used by various universities all across the world for admission to their graduate and business program admission requirement. So, in case you are planning to do an MS in Computer Science or a PhD in Aerospace or an MBA in Finance from a reputed university, there is a possibility that you have to apply there with your GRE score.

In the test, you shall face 2 Analytical Writing tasks, 2 Verbal Reasoning sections, 2 Quantitative Reasoning sections, 1 additional Verbal / Quantitative Reasoning section that is not scored and 1 research section (might or might not come). Now, unlike most other tests that you would have taken in the past (for example, the paper-based high school exams of 100 marks) where each question carried assigned marks, GRE follows an extremely confusing and convoluted scoring algorithm that is difficult to comprehend in the first go. However, it is essential to understand how the test works and how the scores are computed even before you start your GRE preparation so that you have your test taking strategies right in place.

Interesting Trivia (that demonstrates how complex the GRE algorithm is!):

  • Even if you get all questions in a section incorrect, you shall still get 130 out of 170!
  • You can score 170 out of 170 without getting all questions correct on the test!
  • Two students apply to a university with the same 319 score on the GRE. However, the university treats the two scores very differently!
  • And, perhaps the most interesting one – while many of us only talk about a total score out of 340 (such as 309, 324 or 319 that I just mentioned), no such ‘total score’ is actually given in the test!

GRE Scorecard: A snapshot

Well, the best way to understand this test’s scoring mechanism is by starting with the GRE scorecard. Here is a snapshot:

As you can see, GRE doesn’t actually have an ‘out of 340’ score. The scorecard has 3 broad sections:

  • Verbal Reasoning: A ‘Scaled Score’ which shows your score in the verbal reasoning section (on a scale of 130 – 170) and a ‘% below’ which simply indicates the percentage of test-takers who score below you in this section.

The test-taker in this case scored 160 out of 170 in the Verbal Reasoning section. 84% of all test-takers score below this.

  • Quantitative Reasoning: A ‘Scaled Score’ which shows your score in this section (on a scale of 130 – 170) and a ‘% below’ score that indicates the percentage of test-takers who score below you in this section.

The test-taker in this case scored 167 out of 170 in the Quantitative Reasoning section. 94% of all test-takers score below this.

  • Analytical Writing: A ‘Score’ which shows your raw score in the AWA section on a scale of 0 to 6.

The test-taker in this case scored 3.5 out of 6 in the Analytical Writing section. 38% of all test-takers score below this.

GRE score: Mechanism

GRE is a computer based test that is section-level adaptive. In GRE, you will come across 2 verbal sections and 2 quantitative sections. There is a reason behind having 2 sections each for verbal and quantitative reasoning – the GRE test adapts between sections. Your performance in the first section shall determine whether you get an easy or difficult second section.

In the first section (of either verbal or quant), you shall see a random mix of easy and difficult questions. Within the section, the questions will be static – you shall be able to go back and forth, across all questions. Each question in the section will carry equal score – regardless of the varying difficulty level. The total score in that section will be the raw score. Based on your performance in this section, the computer will generate the next section. (If you perform well in the first section, the GRE will generate a difficult second section since it will try to assess how good you are and accordingly you score. Alternatively, if you did not perform well in the first section, you shall come across an easier second section as GRE will be considering you for a lower score range.) The raw score in the second section will be computed in a similar way. The two raw scores (from first and second sections) will then be converted to the scaled score through an ‘equating’ process which takes into account the variation in difficulty levels due to section-level adaptive nature of the test.

Have a look at the GRE score card below.GRE score snippet

Keep an eye on our next blog for a detailed scoring mechanism for Verbal and Quant sections separately.


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