Understanding and Interpreting Your GRE Scores

When you are looking at your General Graduate Record Examination Test scores otherwise known as the GRE General Test scores, you may just see a bunch of numbers. You know those numbers mean something to someone, but you might not have any clue how to understand and interpret your score. Let’s take a look and see if we can break each section down and help you better understand what your GRE scores mean.

First of all, the test is comprised of three main sections. Verbal Reasoning, Quantitative Reasoning and Analytical Writing are the three areas in which you were evaluated when you took the GRE test.

Verbal Reasoning and Quantitative Reasoning sections are scored on a 200 – 800 point score scale with a 10 point increment. The Analytical Writing section is scored on a 6 point score scale with a half point increment.

One of the most important aspects to understand about your GRE score on the multiple-choice section of the test is that the number of correct answers you marked on your test won’t necessarily equal the number of correct answers someone else with the same GRE scores marked on their test. The GRE test is not measured in such a way. Instead, when you sit for the exam, the computer-adaptive test will adjust your questions according to your answers. If you answer a question correctly, the next question presented to you will be more difficult and this will be considered when deriving your final score. Inversely, if you answer a question incorrectly, the next question will be easier and your score will also be adjusted accordingly.

Obviously, the paper-based test can’t be handled in the exact same way. However, the Verbal Reasoning and the Quantitative Reasoning sections are scaled through a process known as equating. Accounting for differences in difficulty among the different test editions, equating insures that the GRE scores are scaled similarly as the computer-based testing results. That’s why the scoring on computer-based tests when compared to scoring on paper-based tests is so similar that the method is not reported when your scores are sent to the institutions of your choice.

When assessing your performance on the Analytical Writing section, the two essays that you wrote are averaged. Present Your Perspective on an Issue and Analysis of an Argument are the two essays you submitted and they are graded by two independent graders. For the paper-based Analytical Writing section, two readers grade each of your essays and if those grades are not within one point, the score is adjudicated by a third reader.

For the computer-based Analytical Writing section, a human reader and an e-rater, a computerized program that is used to monitor the human reader, are used to calculate your score. If those grades aren’t within one point, another human reader is used and the final score is the average of the two human readers. When you see your test scores, you will also see the mean score, the percentile ranking and the standard deviation. These scores help you understand how you did in comparison to everyone else who took the test.

The mean score is the sum of all scores divided by the number of test-takers. The percentile ranking is the percentage of test-takers who scored below a certain score. Finally, the standard deviation is an index that indicates how the test-takers GRE scores generally differ from one another. When you look at your GRE scores, you will be able to see how you rank according to other test-takers. You can first see if you scored above the mean score. You can then see the percentile ranking where your score falls. That will give you an indication of how well you did and whether or not your score was “good enough” as most test-takers are interested to know.

When you look at your score, you can first start by looking at the mean score and seeing if yours is above the mean. If so, then you are off to an above average start.

If you scored 700 on the Verbal Reasoning test and you looked at the Percentile Ranking chart, you might find that you scored in the 96 percentile ranking. That means that 96% of the test takers who took the test between the indicated test dates scored below that 700 score. This puts you in the top 4% of all test-takers for that particular timeframe.

But, that same numeric score might only put you in the 70 percentile ranking for Quantitative Reasoning. It’s not a pass or fail test. The GRE test rates you according to how you compare to other test-takers. If only 70% of the test-takers scored below 700 in Quantitative Reasoning, your performance wasn’t quite as good as it was in the Verbal Reasoning section for that same score. This doesn’t necessarily indicate that you did not perform well. It only gives you an indication of how well you did when compared to other prospective graduate school students.

Performing well on the test is obviously very important. So, prepare for the test as well as you can and include excellent aids like our GRE Test Simulator in your preparations. But, keep in mind that your GRE test scores aren’t the only factor considered when applying for a graduate program. Your scores will represent your ability to do graduate level work, but your undergraduate success will speak for you as well.

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