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Testing GRE Test results

  1. May 5, 2017 #1
    Hello! I received a scaled score of 990 on my GRE and a percentile of 94. Can someone explain to me what the scaled score means and out of how much is it. Also how good is the score for applying to top rank universities (Caltech, MIT, Harvard) i.e. I want to take the math GRE too, even if I go for a phD in physics, should I take the math one or retake the physics one (I have only one time slot for a GRE, before I apply for grad schools)? Thank you!
  2. jcsd
  3. May 5, 2017 #2
    if I remember right 990 is the maximum score. Your percentile indicates only 6% on the test takers get this score or above. Because this is the maximum score, it is impossible to find out where among the top 6% you specifically are located. You could be at the top, or you could have just made the cutoff.

    Should you take it again? 990 is the maximum score, Why would you take it again? To get a lower score?

    You can look at physics grad café and find out how good your chances are to get admitted into Harvard, Princeton, MIT etc. I an save you some trouble though

    990 is the highest score, Nevertheless you will find 990;s rejected from the best schools. You can find some 990's rejected from schools ranked below the top 30 or 40 in the rankings. You can find some 70th percentile GRE students in the best universities, as well. Most schools examine the entire portfolio, GPA, GRE, research and publications, and letters of recommendation, and sometimes even a personal statement.
  4. May 5, 2017 #3
    Thank you for your reply. But what does scaled score actually means? I noticed it is in increments of 10, so 990 means I got between 990 and 1000 and this is why I am in 94 percentile while having the maximum score? And how is it calculated, as I didn't answer to 4 questions so it was impossible to get the maximum score anyway (even assuming I answered everything else correctly)?
  5. May 5, 2017 #4
    You could have answered all exam questions 100% correct and still gotten a 990, it is the maximum score. It is calculated by taking the number of correct answers, subtracting 1/4 the number of incorrect answers, and converting this "raw score" into a "scaled score". This conversion depends on the performance on everyone who took the exact same exam as you; an example conversion scheme is here: https://www.ets.org/s/gre/pdf/gre_guide_table2.pdf
  6. May 5, 2017 #5
    GRE scores mean much less in graduate admissions than SAT and ACT scores mean in undergrad admissions.

    In graduate admissions, GPA, department reputation, research, publications, letters of recommendation, and the reputation of those writing the letters of recommendation all matter as much or more than your GRE scores.
  7. May 5, 2017 #6
    The GRE is very important, and in some cases may be the decisive factor in selecting between two otherwise equally impressive applicants. The GRE is a very important number because it is standardized across all universities, unlike the GPA. Speaking globally, there may be a certain amount of corruption in some academic systems which makes the GPA result suspect.

    If you look at the average GRE and GPA for each university, you will notice that the schools which appear at the top of the rankings all have the highest GRE and GPA scores. At the very top schools, a near perfect GRE is the norm. Whatever lip service the schools may pay to looking beyond the GPA and GRE numbers, the fact remains they all want the highest numbers.

    Of course if you want to apply for a physics program, they would like to see not only a perfect quantitative GRE but a perfect physics GRE as well. As one professor told me, a perfect GRE shows that you are smart, but it does not show if you know any physics. For STEM departments they do not place so much an emphasis perhaps on the verbal GRE, for the obvious reason that they have many brilliant students whose English skills are somewhat weak. I did some part-time tutoring of foreign students to help them prepare for the GRE, and it made me appreciate how difficult the nuances of a foreign language can be even for very intelligent students.

    I still remember the first general assembly in my grad school when the dean of the department got up and said how delighted he was that this incoming class of grad students had the highest GRE scores ever. He did not even mention the GPA. Of course he did not downplay the GPA. I think it was just assumed everyone had a high GPA. But for reasons already stated, everyone pays attention to the GRE results.
  8. May 5, 2017 #7
    Thank you so much for this reply. Could you also explain to me a bit what the scaled score also means. I understand that 990 is the highest score and yet I got 94 percentile, how does this work?
  9. May 5, 2017 #8
    Sorry, I'm an "old score" person. But I'm sure you can find the information on the GRE site. Is something there not clear?

    Best wishes.
  10. May 5, 2017 #9
    According to the GRE website as best as I can figure the scaled score in calculated to compensate for the difficulty of problems and to normalize the scoring process so that score of exams from different years can be considered equivalent. Thus two scaled scores of 900 from 2015 and 2016 for example even though the questions are not the same can be taken as equivalent in difficulty.
  11. May 6, 2017 #10


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    From I've heard from people involved in admissions, the GRE and PGRE scores are not very highly considered these days. While it never hurts to have a high score, letters, research experience, and coursework/grades are much more important. While I'm sure that there is some correlation between the above factors and PGRE scores, it is definitely not as much as one would assume. If you go on physics grad cafe you will see a lot of 990s being rejected from places like Harvard, Stanford etc and occasionally people with significantly lower scores (as in below 800) being accepted. There are some schools like MIT which traditionally put more weight on the scores. However, since the thing the PGRE most accurately measures is your performance on the qual, it may become less important there too as MIT no longer has a required written qual (you can take classes instead).
    The general GRE is even less important. If you want to study physics, you should not need to put effort into getting in the mid 160s for the quantitative section so unless you do so poorly it suggests some basic gaps in your knowledge, it's not given much weight.

    So my advice to you would be to focus on the rest of your application now that you have gotten a great PGRE score. You should make some sure you have everything confirmed for your letters of recommendation since those may actually be the most important part of your application.
  12. May 6, 2017 #11
    I agree with radium concerning the GRE's that get admitted to high ranked universities. However, I never saw much correlation between the quals and the pGRE. The pGRE questions are on average 1.7 minute questions on Freshman /Sophomore physics. The quals are fewer and more involved (i.e harder) questions which usually are upper undergraduate and possibly (in my cases) graduate physics
  13. May 7, 2017 #12

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    I disagree that the PGRE is less important than the SAT. It's differently important.

    1. On the SAT, a difference of a few percentiles can matter a lot. Thed interpretation of the PGRE is much more coarse-grained. The difference between 90-th and 95-th percentiles is practically non-existent and even the difference between 90th and 80th is small.

    2. It is an important normalization between colleges, and it allows someone who has gone somewhere nobody ever heard of to compete for grad school slots.

    3. It validates (or not) grades. How often do we have students with mediocre grades come here and say they really learned everything despite their grades? Obviously, this only goes so far, but without the PGRE being considered, it wouldn't go at all.
  14. May 7, 2017 #13
    My remarks about the GRE are not intended as an endorsement of the GRE or any other existing standardized test. Although a standardized test seems fairer than relying on the GPA, even standardized tests may be abused through some kind of cheating. For example, there is a case going on of some foreign students who are accused of cheating the TOEFL system in order to gain admission to American universities. Without commenting on that specific case, we can say there need to be ironclad guarantees against cheating in standardized tests.
    Last edited: May 7, 2017
  15. May 7, 2017 #14
    Regarding the percentile ranking being "only" 94% for a perfect score, that is an important statistic. It reveals how difficult the test is. For example, if 25% of the test takers achieved a perfect score, that would indicate the test is not nearly as difficult as a test in which only 2% achieved a perfect score.
  16. May 7, 2017 #15
    So in this case, only 6% of the participants obtained a full score, right?
  17. May 7, 2017 #16
    This is from the GRE site.

    "A percentile rank for a score indicates the percentage of examinees who took that test and received a lower score. "

    If I read this correctly, 94% percentile rank indicates 94% received a lower score. This leaves 6% who received your score or higher. Of course if you received the highest possible score, no one scored higher. You are therefore in the highest 6%, meaning those who achieved the perfect score. Congratulations!


    It would be interesting, but perhaps impractical, to have a test which was more granular. How about a test on which normally only 1% of the examinees achieve a perfect score?
    Last edited: May 7, 2017
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