Many students are confused by the scoring used by today’s GRE. The GRE is composed of three distinct scored sections—the Quantitative section, the Verbal section, and the Analytical Writing section—and the scores for these three sections appear as follows:
A Quantitative score reported on a 130-170 score scale, in 1-point increments
A Verbal score reported on a 130-170 score scale, in 1-point increments
An Analytical Writing score reported on a 0-6 score scale, in half-point increments
Each of these three sections will be discussed at length below, but before we examine the sections individually, let us first discuss the computer-adaptive nature of the GRE. Because the GRE is often administered on a computer (as opposed to the more traditional paper-and-pencil format), the test exhibits certain unique characteristics.
The test makers give the following description of the computer-based GRE:
“Your scores on the Verbal Reasoning and Quantitative Reasoning measures depend on your performance on the questions given and on the number of questions answered in the time allotted.
The Verbal Reasoning and Quantitative Reasoning measures are section-level adaptive. This means the computer selects the second section of a measure based on your performance on the first. Within each section, all questions contribute equally to the final score. For each of the two measures, a raw score is computed. The raw score is the number of questions you answered correctly.”
In other words, the first section of Verbal and Quantitative will be a medium difficulty section. If you score well, the computer will supply a somewhat harder second section on the assumption that your score is somewhere above that level. The questions within that section will then be used to help determine your exact score.
The Quantitative Section
As outlined by ETS, the Quantitative Reasoning section “Measures your ability to analyze and evaluate written material and synthesize information obtained from it, analyze relationships among component parts of sentences and recognize relationships among words and concepts…The content in these areas includes high school mathematics and statistics at a level that is generally no higher than a second course in algebra; it does not include trigonometry, calculus or other higher-level mathematics.” Your performance on the 40 total questions in the Quantitative section are used to determine a score from 130-170, with scores assigned in 1-point increments.
The Verbal Section
The test makers describe the Verbal section as, “The Verbal Reasoning measure of the GRE revised General Test assesses your ability to analyze and evaluate written material and synthesize information obtained from it, analyze relationships among component parts of sentences and recognize relationships among words and concepts.” As with the Quantitative section, the Verbal section has its own individual scoring scale ranging from 130-170.
The Analytical Writing section is composed of two separate essays, an Analyze an Issue task and an Analyze an Argument task, with allotted times of 30 minutes each. As described by the test makers, “The analytical writing section tests your critical thinking and analytical writing skills. It assesses your ability to articulate and support complex ideas, construct and evaluate arguments, and sustain a focused and coherent discussion. It does not assess specific content knowledge.”
You will receive a single score for the Analytical Writing section, produced by averaging your scores from each of the two individual essays. ETS states, “each essay receives a score from two trained readers, using a six-point holistic scale. In holistic scoring, readers are trained to assign scores on the basis of the overall quality of an essay in response to the assigned task. If the two assigned scores differ by more than one point on the scale, the discrepancy is adjudicated by a third GRE reader. Otherwise, the scores from the two readings of an essay are averaged. The final scores on the two essays are then averaged and rounded up to the nearest half-point interval. A single score is reported for the Analytical Writing section.
Ultimately, this discussion of the GRE scoring scale does not change the inherent and obvious truth of the test: to score well you must answer questions correctly. However, a familiarity with the nature of computer adaptive score-determination is an invaluable asset to test takers, and you should make sure you understand all the facets of GRE scoring before you take the test.