Any answer to the “what’s a good GRE score?” question should come with a disclaimer. Do you want a good GRE score for a PhD program in medieval history, or for an EMBA at your state university? Do you have weak college grades but ten years of work experience, or are you a current student with a 4.0 GPA? The real question to ask is “what’s a good GRE score for me?”—and the simple answer is, a good score is whatever score will impress the programs you’re applying to!
But how good does your score need to be in order to do that? Most of my students are taking the GRE in order to get into MBA programs. Assuming that you’re one of those students, you’re probably reading this article because:
- you want to know what GRE score to target as part of your MBA application.
- you’re wondering whether to take the GMAT or GRE.
- you’re curious about how good a certain GRE score is, relative to the average.
We’ll address all three of those points in this article, starting with a deep dive into how GRE scoring works. (And if you’re not an MBA applicant, start with this article from Kaplan instead!)
What Makes Up a Good GRE Score?
Your GRE score isn’t just one score, it’s three. Schools can see your Quant score, your Verbal score, and your Analytical Writing score. You could have a good Quant score and a bad Verbal score, or vice versa—even on the same test!
By the way, you can’t submit only your Quant score, or only your Verbal score, to a school. You have to send all of the scores from a certain GRE together. You can submit results from multiple GREs, but schools generally won’t pick and choose your highest sections—they’ll look at each test as a whole.
Your GRE Quant score will be a number from 130 to 170. About 4% of test takers earn a perfect Quant score. At the opposite end, very low Quant scores are rare: only about 8% of test takers score in the bottom quarter of the range (140 or below).
A perfect GRE Verbal score is much rarer than a perfect GRE Quant score. The Verbal scale also goes from 130 to 170, but only 1% of test takers score a 169 or 170, and only 3% earn a 166 or higher. Almost all of us will score between 135 and 165 on Verbal.
Finally, your writing score will be a number from 0.0 to 6.0. Very high and very low GRE writing scores are uncommon. A 4.0, 4.5 or 5.0 is a good GRE writing score, and a 5.5 or 6.0 is exceptionally good. Even a slightly lower score might not seriously affect your applications, as long as you can demonstrate your writing skills in another way.
How Common is a Good GRE Score?
The ETS provides data about how common or rare each GRE score is. This can give you a broad sense of what counts as a good score. Here’s a summary of the data for GRE Quant, based on scores from 2014 to 2017.
So, 166 is certainly a good GRE Quant score: only one test taker out of every ten has a score that high. For comparison, in 2017, one out of every ten people in the United States earned more than $108,000.
Here’s the data for GRE Verbal:
Only one out of every hundred test takers scores a 169+ on Verbal, which is as rare as an individual in the US earning $300,000 a year.
The ETS doesn’t publish data on combined, or overall, GRE scores. However, schools that publish their average GRE scores will typically publish the Quant and Verbal scores separately, so you can compare them to your own scores.
Do You Need a Good GRE Score for Top MBA Programs?
A 166 on GRE Quant is a one-in-ten score, while a 160 is one-in-four. Those are both good GRE scores, since they compare well against the scores that most people earn. But in order to get into a great MBA program, do you need to be one out of ten, or is one out of four good enough?
As the GRE becomes more popular for MBA applicants, a number of top programs have started publishing their average scores online. This article from Poets & Quants analyzes the data. Here’s a sample of the average GRE scores earned by successful applicants to top MBA programs.
On average, successful applicants to top-10 MBA programs have both GRE scores in the high 150s to mid 160s. For most top-50 schools, a good GRE score is in the mid-to-high 150s on both sections. Based on this data, an overall GRE score of 310 to 315 is a good GRE score for MBA applicants, while a score of 325 is excellent.
What’s Better: A Good GRE Score, or a Good GMAT Score?
There are a couple of different ways to compare a GRE score to a GMAT score. For instance, you could look at the percentile that corresponds to your GRE score and find the GMAT score that’s at the same percentile. A 153 on GRE Quant is a 50th-percentile score; a 50th-percentile score on GMAT Quant, correspondingly, is a 44.
However, that would give you the wrong impression of your results. Percentiles compare you to everyone who takes a certain test. That’s fine when you’re taking the GMAT, since most people who take the GMAT are MBA applicants. But MBA applicants are only a minority of GRE test takers. Comparing your score to everyone else’s is like comparing apples to oranges.
One alternative is to use this tool, created by the ETS, to compare GRE and GMAT scores. It isn’t perfect, but it does suggest something interesting: schools seem to be accepting applicants with “lower” GRE scores, compared to their GMAT counterparts. Here’s an article that analyzes the GMAT or GRE scoring question in greater depth.
Does that mean that weaker test takers can use the GRE to get admitted to top programs? Possibly, but you should be skeptical.
First, the statistics can’t tell you whether you would get a good score on the GRE or GMAT. Across a large population, some people will perform better on the GMAT, and others will perform better on the GRE. If you’re stronger at the GMAT, your “GMAT advantage” will more than cancel out any “GRE advantage” in applications.
It’s also possible, without more data, that the GRE applicants were better than the GMAT applicants in other ways—aside from their test scores. The number of people submitting GRE scores to most top schools is relatively small, and we don’t know exactly what those applicants look like outside of their scores.
Your best bet is actually to decide which test to take independently: the GMAT or the GRE? Take your target schools’ average scores for both tests into consideration, but don’t assume automatically that you’ll have better chances with the GRE.
Once you’ve picked your test, research the score data for the schools you’re applying to. Start with the average score for admitted students. Then, set a target right around that average—or a few points higher or lower, depending on the rest of your application. For instance, if you’ve gotten weak grades in Quant-related classes in the past, you might aim for a slightly-higher-than-average GRE Quant score to show that you’ve mastered the subject.
What if your situation is more complicated, and you really don’t know what a good GRE score is for you? Consider contacting an admissions consulting service, such as mbaMission—they’ll even do a free half-hour phone call with applicants. Take a look at our guide to starting your GRE studies to learn what’s involved in taking the GRE, and consider signing up for a free trial session of any Manhattan Prep GRE course. 📝
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Chelsey Cooley is a Manhattan Prep instructor based in Seattle, Washington. Chelsey always followed her heart when it came to her education. Luckily, her heart led her straight to the perfect background for GMAT and GRE teaching: she has undergraduate degrees in mathematics and history, a master’s degree in linguistics, a 790 on the GMAT, and a perfect 170Q/170V on the GRE. Check out Chelsey’s upcoming GRE prep offerings here.