Almost all success and personal development literature talks about the importance of not comparing yourself to others, to running your own race and not getting caught up in what everyone else is doing. One of my mentors talks about not comparing your back stage to someone else’s front stage (meaning that you’re still in process, and you can’t always know the real story behind someone else’s apparent success), and I think that’s great advice in most cases.

But not on the GRE.

In the world of graduate and business school admissions, we have to be honest about the reality that you’re competing against your peers for select and coveted spots at the top schools. And while numerous different aspects of your candidacy are evaluated, one of the more black-and-white elements of your application is your GRE score.

So the question becomes: How does your GRE score stack up against your colleagues? And, what is a good GRE score anyway?

It turns out there’s a pretty concrete answer to those questions in the form of the GRE Percentile Rankings published by the Educations Testing Service (ETS), the organization that administers the GRE exam. Let’s take a closer look.

GRE Percentile Rankings – Tables and Analysis

Below are tables containing the percentile rankings for the different sections of the GRE based on the performance of all individuals who took the GRE between July 1, 2013 and June 30, 2016, of which there were approximately 1,740,000.

In each table you’ll see a number next to each GRE score. This number represents what’s called the “percentile ranking” for that score. You can think of it as the percent of other test takers worldwide who scored worse than that given score. For example, if you look down at the table for quantitative GRE scores, you’ll see a 76 next to the score of 160. What that means is that if you score a 160 on the Quantitative Reasoning section, you will have scored higher than 76% of other test takers worldwide. Not bad!

Just a quick reminder that on the GRE, you receive three separate scores — one score on a scale from 130-170 for Quantitative Reasoning, a second score also on a scale from 130-170 for Verbal Reasoning, and a third score on a scale from 0-6 for Analytical Writing.

Here are the score data for all three sections.*

Quantitative GRE Score Percentiles

Scaled Score Percentile Ranking
(Percent of Test Takers Scoring Lower Than Scaled Score)
Scaled Score Percentile Ranking
(Percent of Test Takers Scoring Lower Than Scaled Score)
 170 97  150 38
 169 96  149 35
 168 94  148 30
 167 92  147 27
 166 91  146 24
 165 89  145 20
 164 87  144 17
 163 84  143 14
 162 81  142 12
 161 78  141 10
 160 76  140 8
 159 73  139 6
158 69 138 4
157 66 137 3
156 62 136 2
155 59 135 2
154 55 134 1
153 51 133 1
152 47 132
151 43 131

 

Verbal GRE Score Percentiles

Scaled Score Percentile Ranking
(Percent of Test Takers Scoring Lower Than Scaled Score)
Scaled Score Percentile Ranking
(Percent of Test Takers Scoring Lower Than Scaled Score)
 170 99  150 48
 169 99  149 43
 168 98  148 39
 167 98  147 35
 166 97  146 31
 165 96  145 27
 164 94  144 24
 163 93  143 20
 162 91  142 17
 161 88  141 15
 160 86  140 12
 159 83  139 9
158 80 138 8
157 76 137 6
156 73 136 4
155 69 135 3
154 65 134 2
153 61 133 2
152 56 132 1
151 52 131 1

 

Analytical Writing Score Percentiles

Score Levels Percentile Ranking
(Percent of Test Takers Scoring Lower Than Selected Score)
 6.0 99
5.5 98
5.0 93
4.5 82
4.0 60
3.5 42
3.0 18
2.5 8
2.0 2
1.5 1
1.0
0.5
0.0

 

What is a Good GRE Score?*

Now that you know the hard and fast scoring data for the different sections of the GRE, how do you know what represents a “good” score?

Let me start by giving you the simplest and most important definition of a good GRE score: A good GRE score is any score that gets you in to your target graduate or business school!

Period. It’s as simple as that.

The GRE is a means to an end, and its purpose is to show potential graduate programs that you’re equipped to succeed in their classrooms. From that standpoint, then, a “good” GRE score is relative from person to person.

Consider Candidate A who is applying to a school whose median GRE score of admitted applicants is 155Q, 153V. For her, anything in the ballpark of 155Q and 153V is a good score!

Now consider Candidate B who is applying to a top-20 school whose median GRE score is 162Q, 160V. For him, anything over 160 on each section is a good score.

(To see the average GRE scores for the top business schools, check out our article Average GRE Scores at the Top Business Schools).

But wait, you say. Isn’t a 160 always better than a 155? No! For Candidate A, a 155 is perfectly acceptable if that’s what she needs to get in to the graduate program of her choice.

Now of course a higher GRE score can open the door to more potential schools for you. It gives you more possibilities. And some schools offer merit-based scholarships to applicants with high GRE scores, so certainly you should try to do the best you can. Indeed, I encourage you to check out our comprehensive online GRE prep courses to help boost your scores significantly.

But just remember, you can leave your pride at the door when it comes to your GRE score. As long as it gets you where you want to go, that’s the goal!


* Note:
According to ETS, the mean (average) Quantitative GRE score from 2013-2016 was 152.57. The average Verbal GRE score was 149.97. The average Analytical Writing score was 3.48. Notice that these don’t quite match up with the 50th-percentile ranking for each section, as those represent the median scores of each type.