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Guidelines for the Use of GRE® Scores*

The GRE® Board has adopted a statement regarding fair and appropriate use of GRE scores.

Introduction

These guidelines have been adopted by the GRE Board to provide information about the appropriate use of GRE test scores for those who use the scores in graduate admissions and fellowship selection processes and for guidance and counseling for graduate study. They are also intended to protect applicants from unfair decisions that may result from inappropriate uses of scores. Adherence to the guidelines is important.

The GRE® General Test and GRE® Subject Tests are designed to assess academic knowledge and skills relevant to graduate study. As measures with known statistical properties and high-quality technical characteristics, the scores from these tests, when used properly, can improve graduate admissions and fellowship selection processes.

Any GRE test, however, has two primary limitations:

  1. It does not and cannot measure all the qualities that are important in predicting success in graduate study or in confirming undergraduate achievement.
  2. It is an inexact measure; consequently, the standard error of measurement of the difference between test scores can serve as a reliable indication of real differences in applicants' academic knowledge and developed abilities.

Although limitations and cautions apply to all admissions measures, the GRE Board has a particular obligation to inform users of the appropriate uses of GRE scores and to identify and try to rectify instances of misuse. To this end, the following policies and guidelines are available to all GRE examinees, institutions and organizations that are users of GRE scores.

Policies

In recognition of its obligation to ensure the appropriate use of GRE scores, the GRE Board has developed policies designed to make score reports available only to approved users, to encourage these score users to become knowledgeable about the validity of the test score uses and interpretations, to protect the confidentiality of test takers' scores, and to follow up on cases of possible misuse of scores. The policies are discussed below.

Score users. Undergraduate and graduate institutions and non-degree-granting organizations that award graduate fellowships are eligible for consideration as score users. The GRE Board retains the right to make exceptions to this policy in special circumstances.

Validity. The general appropriateness of using GRE test scores for graduate admissions, fellowship selection and guidance and counseling for graduate study has been established by research studies carried out by ETS and others. GRE scores may be appropriate for some other purposes, but it is important for the user to validate their use for those purposes. To assist departments and programs in evaluating proposed uses, these guidelines include information about appropriate and inappropriate uses.

Confidentiality. GRE scores, whether those of an individual or aggregated for an institution, are confidential and can be released only by authorization of the individual or institution or by compulsion of legal process.

Use of scores in aggregated form. Graduate departments and programs are urged to report GRE scores in ranges, such as the highest and lowest scores of the middle 50 percent of the admitted applicants, and to avoid use of a precise mean or median. Presenting information by score ranges emphasizes the diversity of individual scores for any one graduate department or program, and also makes clear the overlap of scores among graduate departments and programs.

Use of GRE scores in aggregated form as a measure for ranking or rating graduate programs, institutions, university systems or states is strongly discouraged except when the scores are used as one indicator among several appropriate indicators of educational quality.

Encouragement of appropriate use and investigation of reported misuse. All users of GRE scores have an obligation to use the scores in accordance with published GRE Board policies and guidelines. Departments and programs have a responsibility to ensure that all users of GRE scores are aware of the GRE Board score-use policies and guidelines and to monitor the use of the scores, correcting instances of misuse when they are identified. The GRE Program staff is available to assist institutions in resolving score-misuse issues.

Guidelines

  1. Use Multiple Criteria

    Regardless of the decision to be made, multiple sources of information should be used to ensure fairness and to balance the limitations of any single measure of knowledge, skills or abilities. These sources may include undergraduate grade point average, letters of recommendation, personal statement, samples of academic work and professional experience related to proposed graduate study. A cut-off score (i.e., a minimum score) should never be used as the only criterion for denial of admission or awarding of a fellowship.

    Use of multiple criteria is particularly important when using GRE scores to assess the abilities of educationally disadvantaged applicants, applicants whose primary language is not English and applicants who are returning to school after an extended absence. Score users are urged to become familiar with factors affecting score interpretation for these groups. See the GRE® Guide to the Use of Scores for more information.

  2. Accept Only Official GRE Score Reports

    The only official reports of GRE scores are those issued by ETS and sent directly to approved institutions and organizations designated by the examinees 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 the accuracy of the scores and whether an official report was issued.

  3. Conduct Validity Studies

    Departments and programs using GRE scores for graduate admissions, fellowship awards and guidance and counseling for graduate study are encouraged to collect validity information by conducting their own studies. The GRE Program staff will provide advice on the design of appropriate validation studies without charge.

  4. Maintain Confidentiality of GRE Scores

    All GRE score users should be aware of the confidential nature of the scores and agree to maintain their confidentiality. Institutional policies should be developed to ensure that confidentiality is maintained. For example, GRE scores should not be placed on documents sent outside the institution.

  5. Consider Verbal Reasoning, Quantitative Reasoning and Analytical Writing Scores as Three Separate and Independent Measures

    Since the level of skills in verbal reasoning, quantitative reasoning and analytical writing abilities required for success in graduate school varies by field or department, Verbal Reasoning, Quantitative Reasoning and Analytical Writing scores should not be combined into a single score. (To understand factors related to combining scores, view A Balanced Approach to GRE® Score Use.

  6. Conduct Reviews of Subject Test Content

    Although each Subject Test is developed and updated regularly by a committee of examiners who are actively teaching in the field, the match between the test and the curriculum in a given department may not be exact and may vary over time. Departments are encouraged to periodically review the test content description in order to verify the appropriateness of the content for their programs. Download the free practice books.

  7. Avoid Decisions Based on Small Score Differences

    Small differences in GRE scores (as defined by the standard error of measurement [SEM] for score differences) should not be used to make distinctions among examinees. SEMs vary by test and are available in the GRE® Guide to the Use of Scores.

  8. Use the Appropriate Percentile Ranks when Comparing Candidates

    Percentile ranks are provided on score reports and can be used to compare examinees' relative performance among the measures. Percentile ranks indicate the percent of examinees in a group who obtained scores below a specified score. The percentile ranks are generally based on previous GRE examinees from a recent three-year period. Percentile ranks should be compared only if they are based on the same reference population. Percentile ranks are updated annually. See the percentile ranks.

  9. Do Not Compare Scores from Different Subject Tests

    Subject Test scores should be compared only with other scores on the same Subject Tests (for example, a 680 on the Physics Test is not equivalent to a 680 on the Chemistry Test). Percentile ranks should be compared only if they are based on the same reference population.

Normally Appropriate Uses and Uses Without Supporting Validity Evidence

The suitability of a GRE test for a particular use should be explicitly examined before using test scores for that purpose. The following lists of appropriate uses of GRE scores and identified GRE score uses without supporting validity evidence are based on the policies and guidelines outlined above. The lists are meant to be illustrative, not exhaustive, in nature. Uses other than those listed below should be discussed in advance with GRE Program staff to determine their appropriateness.

If a use other than those appropriate uses listed below is contemplated, it will be important for the user to validate the use of scores for that purpose. The GRE Program staff will provide advice on the design of such validity studies, free of charge.

Subject Test scores may be considered for the award of undergraduate credit only in the field of the test and only when a rationale has been developed that discusses the relationship between GRE Subject Test scores and the amount of credit awarded. This rationale must be made available to users of any transcripts that contain credit awarded in this manner.

Appropriate Uses

Provided all applicable guidelines are adhered to, particularly the use of 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 and business school
  2. selection of graduate fellowship applicants for awards
  3. guidance and counseling for graduate study

Uses Without Supporting Validity Evidence

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 noneducational 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 any measure involving a summation of Verbal Reasoning, Quantitative Reasoning and Analytical Writing scores or any subset of these scores
  4. Use of the Verbal Reasoning, Quantitative Reasoning or Analytical Writing measures as an outcomes assessment

* Revised and approved by the GRE Board Executive Committee in September 2011, for implementation in October 2011.

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