What is a Competitive GRE Score?

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What is a Competitive GRE Score?

A “good” or “competitive” GRE score is subjective to the school you are applying for. According to ETS, an average score for all GRE test takers is 150 for Verbal, 152 for Quantitative and 3.55 points for the AWA.

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However, this test is used for several purposes and is required for admission in a wide range of schools; these scores will differ. You will receive three GRE scores on your score report. One for the Quantitative reasoning, One for Verbal reasoning and one for the Analytical Writing Assessment.

Before you sit for the GRE test, be sure to make some research on the school or program you want to enrol for. Some of these programs have a cut-off mark of which if you don’t meet up, they won’t even look at your application in the first place.

What Is A Competitive GRE Score? 

The Verbal and Quantitative reasoning is scored within the range of 130-170, with one point increments, which means there are 41 possible scores. The Analytical Writing Assessments are scored within the range of 0-6, with half-point increments which means there are 13 possible scores. Now, asides from these numeric scores, you will also see a percentile score which is a comparison between you and other people who took the test.

For example, if you see a 25th percentile (about 144 in Verbal and 146 in Quantitative), this means you scored better than 25% of people who took the test. This percentile alone is enough to tell you how well you did as compared to other people.

A 50th percentile (about 151 in verbal and 153 in Quantitative) means you did better than 50% of people who took the test. It’s not a competitive score as you are right in the middle of it.

A 75th percentile (about 157 in Verbal and 163 in Quantitative) means you did better than 75% of the test takers. Now, this is a competitive score because out there, your GRE scores are already better than most.

A 90th percentile (about 162 in Verbal and 166 in Quantitative) means you did better than 90% of the people who took this test. This is a great score, and with this, you would be able to hold your own out there. Most cut off marks are not even up to this, so you will also be reassured that you held it down in that aspect too.

For the AWA, the percentile range is quite different since it is scored 0 to 6, instead of 130-170. The average score in the AWA section is 3.5 points, and this comes with a 42nd percentile, which means you scored better than only 42% of people who took the test.

What Does A Competitive GRE Score Mean To You? 

It’s great to aim high and attain the best score on a GRE, but before you seat for the exam, you have to check with the school or program you are applying for. This would give you a better grip and also reduce the pressure you are mounting on yourself.

Some programs even require high scores in just one section of the overall test. For example, engineering programs would require you to score higher in Quantitative reasoning. You must know these things, so you know what to aim for.

The following points further explain what a competitive score means to you as a candidate.

  • Not all programs consider high GRE scores to be of utmost importance, they need it to compliment your other admission requirements and would need it to compare your abilities with other students applying for the same course.
  • Some programs, however, place great importance on it and would require you to score something between the 70th and 80th percentile even to be considered for admission. This is even more crucial for students who are hoping to receive funding from such colleges or universities.
  • Also, the program level also matters. Whether you are going for a PhD or master’s program determines how well you should score in the GRE. PhD candidates should have higher scores than Masters Candidates; this is just simple logic. And there are much fewer spots in the PhD levels, so you need to score higher to compete with the other candidates vying for the same spot. Again, just simple logic.
  • Another vital factor to consider is how competitive your school or program is.

If you are applying for programs in schools like Harvard, Stanford, Yale and the likes, then you know what this means. Every score matters. Every one-point increment, every half-point increment matters.

Thousands of people are applying for that same spot, so even if the cut off mark or average score is low, what will make you stand out from the thousands of people applying for that spot. Your GRE scores should be high to even put you in the competition in the first place. So, in this case, competitive scores mean a different thing.

Some programs at Stanford requires candidates to have a starting percentile of 80% to be considered, and some require 85% or lower. Be sure to check your school or program to be aware of this before you seat for the exam.


Just because you feel like a school or program doesn’t place much importance on GRE scores does not mean you should completely blow it off and score whatever you like. The school asked for this requirement, which means it would determine something to you on some level and it might be very crucial, so in whatever you do, be sure to do it well.

Also, don’t be overly caught up in the GRE to the point where you completely ignore the other necessary admission requirements. Your GRE scores would indeed ensure smooth sailing towards being picked, but it does not build the boat. It would be best if you built the boat first by making sure all the other necessary documents are ready and up to date.

These other documents may include:

  • Your GPA
  • Your undergraduate thesis.
  • Great recommendation letters.
  • Practical experience.

Just find out which of these factors your school needs, so you can craft your application in the perfect strategy that would ensure you at least stand a chance.

About the author

Indu has been educator since last 10 years. She can find all kind of scholarship opportunities in the USA and beyond. She also teach college courses online to help students become better. She is one of the very rare scholarship administrator and her work is amazing.