Why a Low GRE Score is Not the End of Getting into Grad School
5/5/2021 by HIGHERGRAD
The Graduate Record Exam, or GRE, is the SAT of graduate school. Almost every university requires you to take this exam and submit the results as part of your graduate school application. But does a low GRE score mean your graduate school aspirations go out the window? Not necessarily. Let's discuss how to compensate for a low GRE score and get into graduate school.
A low GRE score is below 151 on verbal reasoning and below 154 on quantitative reasoning. For the analytical writing portion of the GRE, a low score is less than 4.0. All three of these results relate to the 50th percentile of all recent exam takers. This means if you score below these values 50% or more of those taking the exam have scored higher than you.
GRE General Test Score Percentiles
The GRE General Exam, most commonly taken by prospective graduate students, has scores that range from 130 - 170 for verbal and quantitative reasoning and a score of 0.0 - 6.0 for the analytical writing portion. The table below shows different scores and what percentile (percent of test-takers you score better than) that score falls within. For example, if you score 155 on verbal and quantitative portions of the exam, you scored better than 67% and 55% of others respectively.
Verbal and Quantitative Score Percentiles
Analytical Writing Score Percentiles
*Data above references the GRE General Test Interpretative Data from July 2016 to June 2019 for over 1.63 million test-takers. Complete data can be found here.
An average GRE score is 150.4 for verbal, 153.4 for quantitative, and 3.6 for analytical writing*. Between these averages and the tables above with percentiles, you can start to see what makes up a low GRE score and what constitutes some of the highest GRE scores.
The GRE score recently revised how scores are calculated. If you are used to the old scoring methodology or if a university references the old score in their admissions language (i.e 700), PrepScholar has a great old to new conversion article.
How Low GRE Scores Impact Your Grad School Application
GRE scores are only one part of your graduate school application. Standardized exams like the GRE are used to gauge an applicant's capability among others. Today, the GRE plays a smaller role than it did years ago when it comes to getting accepted to graduate school. However, it still has its place in your complete graduate school application.
A low GRE score will be noticed by a university. Many universities do not have minimum GRE scores for admission. Certain universities and/or programs do however have strict requirements for GRE scores. You should know all the admission criteria before applying so you know what your target score should be before taken the exam.
In contrast, universities will also notice a high GRE score. Programs may weigh one section he GRE of higher than another. For instance, a science or engineering graduate program will look more at your quantitative score and less at your verbal score. Whereas, an MBA program (see the advantages of getting an MBA degree in our article) may consider all sections equally for admissions. In the end, it is not an application killer unless minimums are explicitly specified by the university.
Program competitiveness comes into play sometimes with a GRE score. For example, the more competitive the program (or University), the more likely every applicant will have a great application package (resume, GPA, coursework, etc.). In these cases, the GRE score often can be used as a first cut criterion to weed out a portion of applicants. Schools will take the highest GRE scores and reject all the other applications. So if you are striving for an advanced degree from a prestigious program, the better you will need to perform on the exam.
How to Compensate for a Low GRE Score
The best way to compensate for low GRE scores is to have a stellar GPA, additional coursework, extracurricular activities, a pure desire to continue your education, and passion for the field. Unfortunately, the GRE exam takes place after everything else can't be improved. You likely won't be able to improve your GPA or add much more to your resume after the GRE scores come back. The best thing to do is to focus on writing the statement of purpose for your application. This document is where you can go into detail about your goals, experience, and passion and how it aligns with the university and the program you are applying to. To learn more about writing a statement of purpose, read through the 5 most common questions people have when writing one.
Another way to compensate for a low GRE score is to simply take it again. You can't take the GRE an unlimited number of times but rather you can take it up to 5 times in a year. You also have to wait 21 days between exams. If you decide to take it again, consider these five tips to improving your GRE score:
Don't consider a low GRE score something that ends your grad school chances. There are ways to compensate for less than average GRE scores. Remember that you can retake the exam. Also what you have done as an undergrad is usually much more important to an university than a GRE score.