Understanding what GRE scores your target schools want to see can help you plan how you study.

Graduate schools nationwide use the Graduate Record Examination to predict students’ performance in their programs. Nearly all graduate programs in the U.S. require the general test scores, and many require GRE subject exams as well. Knowing the average national scores can help you see how you compare to other students, but make sure to check with your target programs to see what scores they require.

The GRE Revised General Test

In August 2011, the Educational Testing Service (ETS), which administers the GRE, revised its scoring system. The test retained the same three sections: Verbal Reasoning, Quantitative Reasoning, and Analytical Writing. Previously, the Verbal and Quantitative Reasoning sections were scored on a scale from 200 to 800 in 10-point increments, for a total possible score of 1600. The new scores for those sections fall on a scale from 130 to 170 divided into one-point increments, for a high score of 340. The Analytical Writing section scoring remained the same, with a scale from zero to six divided into half-point increments.

Verbal and Quantitative Reasoning

ETS reported average scores from 466,674 test-takers from August 2011 to June 2012. The average Verbal Reasoning score was 150.8 out of 170 points, and the average Quantitative Reasoning score was 151.4 out of 170 points. The average combined score was thus 302.2 out of a possible 340 points.

Analytical Writing

From August 2011 to June 2012, the average Analytical Writing score was 3.7 out of six points. Test-takers who planned to pursue graduate study in the humanities had the highest average, with 4.1 points. Test-takers who planned to earn a graduate degree in engineering had the lowest average, along with test-takers who hadn’t yet decided on a graduate field of study. Both these groups averaged 3.4 points.

Specific Schools and Programs

The idea of an average GRE score can be misleading because the average of all test-takers nationwide doesn’t hold much value for determining how a student will compare to other applicants at a specific school or in a specific program. ETS encourages schools and programs to report the average scores of students admitted to their programs. Many institutions will also include a minimum GRE score that its applicants should have. These minimums can be discipline-specific: An English program, for example, might only look at verbal reasoning and analytical writing scores, while an engineering program might focus on the quantitative reasoning score.