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How the GRE Works

GRE Scores

Before you register and study for the GRE, do some research to determine the expectations of your prospective graduate schools. Some schools look at the whole score, while others are interested only in certain parts [source: Gradsource].

On the current GRE, scores in the verbal and quantitative reasoning sections range from 200 to 800 in 10 point increments. As we have discussed, ETS uses the adaptive test model for these sections, which means some people may answer moderately difficult questions, while others may only answer moderately easy questions. So, how can these sections be scored fairly? ETS uses a complex algorithm, which analyzes:


  • The number of questions answered
  • The number of questions answered correctly
  • Level of difficulty among other factors of each question answered

[source: ETS]

Because these two sections are scored as the test is being taken, scores are immediately available at the end of the test. Instant gratification sounds good, until you read the fine print, which says that you must decide to accept or reject the results before you see them. If you decide to accept the results, then you can see them immediately. But, suppose you have a bad feeling about your performance on the exam. If you choose to cancel your results, you will never see your score. However, the fact that you canceled your scores will be part of your record [source: Princeton Review].

The new 2011 GRE will score the verbal and quantitative reasoning sections on a scale of 130 to 170 in one-point increments. In the analytical writing section, the scoring will stay the same. Two experts read and grade your essays on a scale of 0 to 6, with half-point increments. The essay scores are averaged to obtain your final analytical writing grade.

For those who take the online version of the test, scores for all three sections are available 10 to 15 days after the test date. Paper version test results are mailed approximately six weeks after the test is taken.

Finally, at the time of your exam, you may designate up to four schools to receive your scores. The schools will be sent a report including any additional GRE scores you have earned in the past five years. Then it is up to the institution to weigh your GRE results along with your past academic performance and a variety of other factors to determine if you will pursue your next degree from their graduate school.

Related HowStuffWorks Articles


  • About the GRE General Test.
  • Get a Jump Start on the GRE. GradSource Magazine.
  • GRE General Test: How the Test Is Scored.
  • GRE General Test: Prepare for the Test.
  • GRE Subject Tests: About the GRE Subject Tests.
  • GRE General Test: Send Score Reports.
  • GRE FAQs. Princeton Review. (Feb. 15, 2010)
  • Jaschik, Scott. "The New GRE, Redux." Inside Higher Ed. Dec. 7, 2009. (Feb. 11, 2010)
  • McNutt, Mark. Public Relations Manager, GRE Program. Personal interview. Feb. 12, 2010.
  • "Preparing for the GRE or the GMAT - There are iPhone apps for that too." Feb. 1, 2010. (Feb. 9, 2010)
  • Testmasters. The GRE Scoring Scale.