GRE Scoring System
GRE scores are separated by section category: students receive individual scores for Verbal Reasoning, Quantitative Reasoning, and Analytical Writing. The Quantitative and Verbal Reasoning sections of the GRE are scored on a scale of 130-170, in 1-point increments. Half of the students who take the GRE score between a 145 and a 158 on the Verbal Reasoning, and between a 146 and a 159 on the Quantitative Reasoning. The Analytical Writing section is scored on a holistic scale from 0-6, in 0.5-point increments. Half of all students score between a 3.5 and a 4.5 on the Analytical Writing section.
Computer Test Adaptation
The Verbal Reasoning and Quantitative Reasoning sections of the GRE have an adaptive scoring system that adjusts the difficulty level of the second sections of each category based on the student's performance in their first sections. The first section of both Verbal Reasoning and Quantitative Reasoning is of an "average" difficulty, with a mix of easy and more difficult questions. After the first section is scored, the computer assembles a set of test questions for the second section, with the difficulty level determined by the score on the first section. Students who perform well on their first sections will "level up" and face more difficult questions in their second sections.
The difficulty level of the second Quantitatve and Verbal sections is taken into account when the final score is tabulated, a process known as "equating". Equating also accounts for variations in difficulty across test editions, as well as the differences introduced by the section-level adaptation. The equation process is intended to ensure that a given score level reflects the same level of performance regardless of when and where the test was taken, and how the adaptive algorithm was applied. For the paper-based test, there is no adaptive scoring, and all test sections will be of average difficulty.
Analytical Writing Scoring
Each essay is scored by at least one trained human reader, and also by the "e-rater" program developed by ETS, which is capable of identifying essay features related to writing proficiency. If the human and the e-rater scores are similar to each other, the average of the two scores is used as the final score. If the computer and human score disagree, a second human score is obtained and the final score is the average of the two human scores. A single score is reported for both essays.
The primary emphasis on scoring the Analytical Writing section is the critical thinking and analytical writing skill, rather than grammar or mechanics. ETS provides a list of every potential essay topic for both writing tasks and a categorical breakdown of every possible type of topic for either task. For students who are concerned about how their essays will be graded, ETS offers score level descriptions to describe general quality categories and also features a selection of sample essays from real GRE tests, along with their scores and an explanation of how the writing was judged.
2011 Test Revisions
In 2011, the scoring scales were adjusted to the current version from a scale of 200-800 in 10-point increments. This revision accompanied a wholescale redesign of the test, which was intended to help institutions more accurately differentiate between students with test scores near the maximum score. By changing the increments from 10-points to 1-point, test designers hoped to clarify that small point differences between student test scores are not indicative of significant aptitude differences. In addition, the old scoring system had a cluster of students who received top scores, which meant that they only achieved a percentile rank of 94% despite earning the maximum score. The new scoring scale has a wider distribution, making it possible for exceptional students to truly distinguish themselves. On the Revised GRE, the 99th percentile is a 170 or 169 in Verbal Reasoning, and the 98th percentile is a 170 in Quantitative Reasoning.
Another reason for the 2011 test revision was to differentiate the GRE from the graduate test used by most business schools, the GMAT. The GRE was updated so that it adapts after each test section, and the sections are independently timed so that you may review your answers at the end of each section. The GMAT, on the other hand, like the old GRE, adapts after every test question, has a timer for each question rather than the entire section, and grades each question immediately after your answer, preventing revisions. The GMAT focuses specifically on skills that are relevant to business school whereas the GRE tests skills relevant to any graduate school, including business. ETS has developed a score comparison tool to assist institutions who are comparing students with scores from the two different tests, and many business schools will accept either score.
The best way to get a sense of what score you will get on the GRE, including the Analytical Writing section, is to take numerous computer-graded practice tests. Manhattan Review offers one free practice test to all students, and additional tests to students who enroll in one of our programs. You may retake the test as many times as you like, to practice any issues that trouble you and to rewrite your essay to perfect your systematic approach to writing. ETS also offers a computer grading system, allowing you to choose two prompts to write about and have specifically graded by a computer similar to what will be used on test day.