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Are My Test Scores Good Enough to Get Into Grad School?

Ana-Marcela Lopez

If you’ve thought about grad school, chances are that you’ve thought about whether your test scores are good enough to get in. And while they are not the sole focus of your graduate school application, they are definitely an important factor. 

So, are your test scores good enough? The answer to that question depends on a few things: your school, program, and the other components you submit on your application. University admissions officers consider your undergraduate transcripts, undergraduate GPA, recommendation letters, personal statements and, in many cases, GRE test scores to determine eligibility. Some disciplines—like law, business, and medicine—might require other examinations, but more often than not, most graduate programs require scores from the Graduate Record Examination (GRE). 

What Is the GRE?

The Graduate Record Examination (GRE) is a multiple-choice, standardized exam that is almost universally required by graduate programs. Developed by the nonprofit Educational Testing Service (ETS), the GRE measures a student’s preparedness for graduate-level coursework in three subjects: analytical writing, verbal reasoning, and quantitative reasoning. 

GRE Sections:

  • Analytical Writing 
      • The analytical writing section of the GRE measures critical thinking as well as your ability to explain and support nuanced ideas with concrete examples. You should expect to understand and articulate the evidence of complex subjects. 
      • Scored on a scale of 0-6 in .5 increments
    • Verbal Reasoning 
      • This section of the test measures your ability to analyze and draw conclusions from discourse and incomplete data. You will be tested on how well you understand multiple levels of meaning, such as figurative meaning, author intent, and major and minor points of a text. 
      • Scored on a scale of 130-170 in 1 point increments
  • Quantitative Reasoning: 
    • This portion of the exam tests your ability to apply basic arithmetic, algebra, geometry, and data analysis to solve problems. If your program is STEM focused, you’ll want to make sure you score highly in this section. That doesn’t mean you can slack if you’re in the humanities, but a lower score in this section won’t kill your chances. 
    • Scored on a scale of 130-170 in 1 point increments

How to Know Whether Your Test Scores Measure Up: 

First thing’s first: there is no universal GRE score that is “good enough.” The distinction largely depends on your school and the program, so it’s up to you to do the research to find out how your scores compare to your desired school’s expectations. Some schools provide their preferred test scores, but if they don’t, you will need to take the time to find out on your own. Here are some factors to consider: 

  • Type of program: Truthfully, most schools don’t explicitly state the scores they’re looking for, so trying to find scores for specific schools can be frustrating. Rather than spending hours scouring school websites or online forums, simply look up the average scores of the type of program you’re applying to. For example, arithmetic-focused graduate programs will naturally require higher scores in the quantitative reasoning section while overlooking lower scores in the verbal section. The same logic can be applied to a program in the humanities; lower quantitative scores may be accepted with higher verbal reasoning scores. 
  • Competitiveness: A school’s selectivity can give you a good idea of how high your scores need to be. Generally, the more selective the program, the higher the required GRE scores, especially in the section relevant to your program. Comparing the selectivity of your list of schools can give you an idea of the range of scores required for each. 

What to Do If They’re Not Quite Good Enough: 

Test scores are important, but they’re not everything. If your test scores aren’t satisfactory, don’t lose sight of your graduate school dreams just yet. There are steps you can take to improve your test scores and bolster your application.

  • Get help: Studies have proven that standardized tests aren’t always accurate reflections of a student’s academic ability and potential, with the GRE being no exception. Just because you aren’t a great test taker, that doesn’t mean you don’t have the chops to succeed in graduate school. If you do struggle with taking tests, think about getting professional help. Test prep courses and tutors can help you understand the ins and outs of the GRE while providing tools for you to improve your test taking abilities. Resources like Magoosh, an accessible, affordable, and effective test prep resource, can also help you improve your scores. A word of caution from experts: don’t throw all your time and money at test prep services. There is only so much you can do to raise your scores. Rather than agonizing over scores and percentiles that you might not be able to change, focus on supplementing the rest of your application. 
  • Supplement your application: While the GRE might be the most intimidating and time-consuming aspect of your graduate school application, it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t pay significant attention to your letters of recommendation, personal statements, and work experience. If your test scores aren’t quite high enough to get into the master’s program you want, use the other components of your application to prove your worthiness. 
    • Letter of recommendation: A testament to your character and work ethic, a stellar letter of recommendation can show admissions officers that you deserve a spot. Ask an undergraduate professor or supervisor who will endorse your research, writing, and communication skills. 
    • Personal statement: Use your personal statement to vouch for yourself. This is your chance to speak candidly about your goals and how you plan to achieve them in your desired program. Carve out time to write a killer essay. Admissions officers will recognize and condemn a gimmicky essay, so make sure your individuality, passion, and drive shine through with authenticity. 
    • Work experience: Real-world experience can demonstrate your ability and potential that might not otherwise reflect in your test scores. Make sure to highlight any internships, assistantships, or jobs that showcase your skills and experience. 

The path to a master’s degree has plenty of twists, turns, essays, and exams. A hard part of this journey is making sure your test scores are good enough to get in. An even harder part is knowing whether they are and what to do if they aren’t. Don’t stress too much. There are plenty of steps and resources you can take to improve your test scores and enhance your application. And if you’re still trying to decide which schools to apply to, we’re here to help. Abound: Grad School narrows down your options and gets you in touch with schools that we can confirm are Accessible, Affordable, Accelerated, and Advanced. Take a look at the schools that cater to non-traditional students and find the program that works for you.

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