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GRE® Guidelines for the Use of Scores

Guidelines for Using Scores

GRE® scores are typically used to make decisions that affect people's educational and career paths, so all score users have an obligation to adhere to published GRE Program guidelines. Departments and programs have a responsibility to ensure that all score users are aware of the GRE guidelines, monitor the use of scores, and correct any instances of misuse. The GRE Program staff are available to assist institutions in resolving score-misuse issues.

The following guidelines provide information about the appropriate use of GRE test scores for those who use the scores in graduate and professional school admissions, including business and law, for fellowship selection processes, and for guidance and counseling for graduate-level study. Adhering to these guidelines can help protect applicants and programs from unfair decisions that may result from inappropriate uses of scores.

Guideline #1 — Use Multiple Sources of Information When Making Decisions

GRE scores have an important role in the admissions process because they serve as a common, objective measure to compare students from different backgrounds. However, no single test or source of information can provide all the information that a decision maker would like to know about an applicant. Therefore, it is important to use multiple sources of information during the decision-making process to ensure fairness and to balance the limitations of any single measure of knowledge, skills or abilities. Undergraduate grade point average, letters of recommendation, personal statement, samples of academic work and professional experience can also have an important role in the admissions process because they can be sources to learn about other desired experiences and applicant attributes, such as perseverance, integrity and work ethic. Using a minimum GRE score as the only criterion for denial or acceptance for admission or a fellowship award is not good practice because it overinflates the role of one measure of an applicant's value over others.

To ensure that all applicants have the opportunity to show evidence of the value they would bring to a program, ETS supports institutions' efforts to move toward a holistic admissions approach, in which every component of an applicant's application package is evaluated for evidence that the applicant is a good fit for a program.

Guideline #2 — Consider Verbal Reasoning, Quantitative Reasoning and Analytical Writing Scores as Three Separate and Independent Measures

Although all students in graduate and professional programs, including business and law, would benefit from having ability in verbal reasoning, quantitative reasoning and analytical writing, the skill level required for success in each of these three areas is unique to each program. Some programs may require a higher level of skills in one area but place lower emphasis on skills in another area. For this reason, ETS encourages programs to consider Verbal Reasoning, Quantitative Reasoning and Analytical Writing scores as three separate and independent measures.

Guideline #3 — Interpret GRE Scores Carefully Because, Like All Tests, They Are Not Exact Measures

Errors of measurement occur when a test taker performs differently on one occasion or test form than on another for reasons that may or may not be related to the purpose of the test. A test taker may try harder, be more (or less) tired or anxious compared to some other occasion, have greater familiarity with the content of questions on one test edition than on another test edition, or simply guess more questions correctly on one occasion than on another. These reasons for inconsistency are generally referred to as errors of measurement.

For both the GRE® General and GRE® Subject tests, the Standard Error of Measurement (SEM) for individual scores reported in Tables 5A–5D provides an easy way to account for measurement error. For example, consider a test taker who obtained a GRE Quantitative test score of 153. According to Table 5A, the SEM for individual scores for the GRE Quantitative Reasoning measure is 2.2, which means that we can be 68% confident that the test taker's true score would be between 151 and 155. For 95% confidence, we can double the SEM of individual scores; that is, we can be 95% confident that the test taker's true score would be between 149 and 157.

Guideline #4 — Understand What Score Differences are Meaningful When Evaluating Applicants

Different scores among test takers may not reflect significant differences in abilities. As described in guideline #3 above, every test has measurement error. It is important for a decision maker to know whether the differences between two scores is meaningful.

The SEM for score differences provides an easy way to account for measurement error, and can serve as a reliable indication of real differences in applicants' academic knowledge and developed abilities. For example, in Table 5A, the SEM of score differences for the Quantitative Reasoning measure is 3.2, which means that if there is a score difference of 3 points or more between two test takers' Quantitative Reasoning scores, we can be 68% confident that the score differences are meaningful. For 95% confidence, we can double the SEM of score differences; that is, if there were a score difference of 6 points or more between two test takers' Quantitative Reasoning scores, we can be 95% confident that the score differences are meaningful.

Guideline #5 — Use the Appropriate Percentile Ranks when Comparing Candidates

Percentile ranks can provide more information about an individual's performance relative to the performance of other people who took a test in a given time period (called the reference group). Percentile ranks indicate the percent of test takers in the reference group who obtained scores below a specified score. For example, a percentile rank of 70% indicates that the test taker performed better than 70% of the test takers within the reference group.

Percentile ranks for GRE tests may change over time because they are always based on the population of test takers who took the test within a given three-year period. Thus, when two or more applicants are being compared, the comparison should always be made on the basis of the most recent percentile rank tables available.

Guideline #6 — Subject Test Scores and Percentile Ranks Should Only Be Compared with Other Scores and Percentile Ranks on the Same Subject Test

Subject Test scores should only be compared with other scores on the same Subject Test because each Subject Test is scaled separately. For example, a 680 on the Physics Test is not equivalent to a 680 on the Chemistry Test.

In addition, Subject Test percentile ranks should only be compared with other percentile ranks on the same Subject Test because the percentile ranks for each Subject Test are based on a different reference population. For example, a 79th percentile rank on the Physics Test is not equivalent to a 79th percentile on the Chemistry Test.

Appropriate and Inappropriate Uses and Uses Without Supporting Validity Evidence

ETS supports the use of GRE scores for purposes supported by validity evidence, and advises against using GRE scores for purposes that have not been supported by validity evidence.

Appropriate Uses

Provided that the aforementioned guidelines are adhered to — particularly Guideline #1, using multiple sources of information in the decision-making process — General Test and Subject Test scores are suitable for the following uses:

  1. Selection of applicants for admission to graduate-level programs
  2. Selection of graduate fellowship applicants for awards
  3. Guidance and counseling for graduate study

Departments and programs using GRE scores for these purposes may wish to conduct their own studies to collect validity information. ETS researchers will provide advice on the design of appropriate validation studies without charge. For additional assistance, contact

Programs interested in using Subject Test scores as a factor in awarding undergraduate credit may do so in the field of the test. However, such programs need to develop a rationale that clearly describes the relationship between GRE Subject Test scores and the amount of credit awarded, and make this rationale available to users of transcripts that contain credit awarded in this manner.

Inappropriate Uses

Uses and interpretations of General Test and Subject Test scores without supporting validity evidence are inappropriate, including the following:

  1. Requirement of a minimum score on the General Test for conferral of a degree, credit-by-examination, advancement to candidacy or any non-educational purpose
  2. Requirement of scores on the General Test or Subject Tests for employment decisions, including hiring, salary, promotion, tenure or retention
  3. Use of the Verbal Reasoning, Quantitative Reasoning or Analytical Writing measures as an outcomes assessment

Uses Without Supporting Validity Evidence

Should an institution wish to use GRE scores for purposes other than the "Appropriate Uses" listed above, please consult with GRE Program staff regarding the goals and how GRE scores are envisioned to help achieve those goals. If it is determined that there is no validity evidence to support the intended use, ETS researchers can offer advice on the design of a validity study or they may be able to suggest alternate ways for the institution to achieve its goals. ETS's objective is always to protect test takers and programs from unintended consequences and unnecessary risks due to score misuse. Please contact with any questions about the appropriate use of scores.

Confidentiality and Authenticity of GRE Scores

GRE scores are confidential and should not be released by an institutional recipient without the explicit permission of the test taker. GRE scores should not be included in academic transcripts or other documents sent outside the institution. Dissemination of score records should be kept at a minimum, and all staff who have access to them should be advised of the confidential nature of the scores.

To ensure the authenticity of scores, the GRE Program urges that institutions accept only official reports of GRE scores received directly from ETS. The only official reports of GRE scores are those issued by ETS and sent directly to approved institutions and organizations designated by the test takers and to vendors the score recipients might designate to process the scores they receive. Scores obtained from other sources should not be accepted. If there is a question about the authenticity of a score report, the question should be referred to ETS. ETS will verify whether an official report was issued and the accuracy of the scores.

Encouragement to Report Score Ranges Rather than Average Scores

Test takers may want to know what test scores they need to achieve to be considered for a particular program, and will likely look for signs of a score requirement or average on a school website or rankings list. Reporting an average test score may cause an applicant to self-select out of applying for a program or scholarship for which the applicant may have been considered. For this reason, the GRE Program strongly urges that departments and programs report GRE scores in ranges, such as the highest and lowest scores of the middle 50% of the admitted applicants and avoid reporting a precise mean, median or minimum score. Presenting score ranges emphasizes the diversity of individual scores for any one graduate department or program.