How is the GRE Scored?

By Rachel Shapiro Updated February 03, 2021

The scoring process for the GRE feels mysterious for many test-takers. If you’re taking the GRE soon, you may be wondering what the highest score you can get is. You may also be curious about how the GRE is scored exactly. Read on to learn all about the scoring process and what you’ll see on your score report.

The Three GRE Scores

After you take the GRE, you’ll get three scores: Verbal Reasoning, Quantitative Reasoning, and Analytical Writing. The Analytical Writing section is scored on a scale of 0 to 6 in half-point increments. The Verbal and Quantitative sections are scored on a scale of 130 to 170 in one-point increments. Your Verbal and Quant scores are reported separately.

How the GRE Is Scored

Verbal and Quantitative

The GRE consists of two Verbal sections and two Quantitative sections. Both of these sections feature computer adaptive questions. This means that if you score well on one section, the next one will be harder.

The first section you take will have medium-level difficulty questions. Depending on how well you do on this section, the second section will have either mostly easy, medium, or challenging questions. This doesn’t mean that every question will be hard if you did well on the first section. It just means that your second section will be a bit more difficult than it will be for someone who did poorly on the first.

Because of the way adaptive testing works, the first section is weighed more heavily than the second. For example, let’s say one person got 11/20 on the first section and 20/20 on the second. Then, let’s say another test-taker got 19/20 on the first section and 12/20 on the second. Even though both test-takers got 31 questions right, the second person will have a higher scaled score. This is because they had more challenging questions in the second section.

After you finish the exam, you’ll have a raw score. This is the number of questions you got right plus 130. For instance, if you got 32 questions right, your raw score would be 162. To compute your official score, the computer will take your raw score and convert it into a scaled score. This is done through a process called ‘equating.’

Equating is done to account for minor variations in the difficulty between exams and exam questions. If the version of the GRE you took is more difficult than one someone took months ago, equating ensures that your score isn’t unfairly impacted. Equating also takes into account how tough your questions were.

As an example, if you got 32 questions right, your raw score and equated score might both be 162. On the other hand, your equated score might be 161 if your questions were easier than average. Or, your score might be 163 if your questions were harder than average.

While it’s helpful to know how equating and scaled scores work, the most important thing to focus on is getting as many questions right as possible. This is the best way to get a good GRE score.

Analytical Writing

The Analytical Writing section is scored differently than the other two sections. The section consists of two essays: an argument essay and an issue essay.

The two essays are scored by both a human rater and a computer program called an e-rater. If there’s a difference of more than one point between the human rater and e-rater’s score, a second human rater is brought in. Then, your score will be the average of the two human raters’ scores. To get your overall score, your scores on the argument and issue essay are averaged and rounded to the nearest half-point interval.

When scoring your essays, the human rater and the e-rater will follow a rubric. This rubric considers things like the logical flow of your essays, the strength of your arguments, skillful sentence usage, and analysis of ideas.

Viewing and Sending Your Scores

After you finish the GRE at the testing center, you’ll have the option to report or cancel your score. If you choose Report Scores, you’ll see your unofficial Verbal and Quantitative scores. These scores will then become a part of your reportable history. Since it takes more time to grade the Analytical Writing section, you won’t see your score on test day. You’ll only be able to see it on your score report.

You can also cancel your scores. However, the catch is you have to cancel your scores before you see it. You also can’t cancel only one section of the test. You have to cancel your entire score. Because of that, you need to think very carefully before canceling your scores. At the end of a tough four-hour test, you’ll be tired. You may feel like you did worse than you actually did. Unless something happened—such as you got sick and didn’t complete half the test—canceling typically isn’t a good idea.

After you view your scores, you can send them to different universities. You can send your scores to four universities for free on test day. If you choose to send your scores after test day, you’ll have to pay a small fee.

ETS gives you the option of sending your best GRE scores with ScoreSelect. When you see your unofficial Verbal and Quant scores, you can decide if you want to send those scores. Or, if you took the test before and scored higher that time, you can send those scores instead. The one thing you can’t do is mix-and-match sections from different tests. You’ll have to send one test.

Some schools require students who took the GRE more than once to send all of their test scores. Be sure to check with the programs you’re applying to about their GRE score requirements.

What’s on Your GRE Score Report

Your score report will typically be ready about 10 to 15 days after you take the test. ETS will send you an email when your score report is ready to view. You’ll see your scaled Verbal, Quantitative, and Analytical Writing scores on your score report. Next to those numbers, you’ll see your score percentile.

The GRE score percentiles show how your score compares to other people who took the GRE within the most recent three-year period. The percentile shows the percentage of test-takers you scored higher than in each section. For instance, if you got a perfect 170 on a section, that would put you in the 99th percentile. Percentiles are a useful metric for comparing yourself to other test-takers. Many schools also consider percentiles when choosing applicants.

Underneath your scaled score and percentile, you’ll see the list of universities you’re sending your scores to. You’ll also see information about score reporting policies, percentile rank, and how to re-take the GRE if you aren’t happy with your score.

How to Get a Higher GRE Score

Do Practice Tests and Practice Questions

One of the best ways to raise your GRE score is by doing practice tests. These tests will give you a feel for the GRE’s computer adaptive nature. ETS has two free practice tests on their website. Many test prep companies also offer a free practice test. If you pay for prep courses, you’ll get access to more practice tests.

It's also a good idea to do practice questions. You’ll find some free GRE practice questions online. There are also some free or low-cost apps with practice questions you can download. You can also sign up for a prep course and get access to thousands of questions. Doing practice questions is one of the best ways to get a good sense of what test day will be like.

Learn Time-Saving Strategies

Time passes quickly when you’re taking the GRE. Plus, unlike some other standardized tests, wrong answers count against your score on the GRE. Because of that, you want to try your hardest to answer every question on the test. One of the best ways to do that is to learn time-saving strategies.

There are lots of resources online that provide GRE time-saving strategies. GRE prep textbooks and prep courses also teach you strategies. When you’re doing practice tests, try to test out some of these strategies.

Summing Up

The GRE is a computer-adaptive test that isn’t completely straightforward with its scoring method. To ensure that you get the best score possible, spend time studying GRE practice questions to familiarize yourself with their format. This will leave you feeling prepared and ready to get the best score possible on test day.