GRE scores are used to make decisions that affect people's educational and career paths. In recognizing these high stakes, ETS provides score users with guidelines and information to assist them in using scores appropriately in graduate admissions decision making.
Considerations in score interpretation
GRE scores should be considered in relation to other components in an applicant’s file. Considering students holistically ensures a fairer admissions process. Programs unable to do a full holistic file review should pay special attention to applicants who may have had experiences that differ from those of the traditional majority.
On average, members of different racial, ethnic and economic backgrounds perform differently on standardized tests. Despite the extensive work that ETS does to ensure that the GRE tests are as free from bias as possible, disparities in performance among underrepresented groups still exist. A review of all components of an applicant's file, in which GRE scores are considered as one piece of information among many, enables each applicant to be evaluated as fairly as possible.
You can find additional information about scores of test takers from underrepresented groups in the following resources:
- Find performance information for underrepresented groups in the publication entitled A Snapshot of the Individuals Who Took the GRE® General Test.
- Read about ETS's extensive efforts to ensure that the GRE tests are as free from bias as possible in Fairness and Validity.
- Learn more about how ETS reduces barriers for applicants in Reducing Barriers.
Do score differences mean that the GRE tests are biased?
No, differences between various groups, which are seen in all standardized tests, do not imply bias. There are a number of factors that contribute to observed differences in scores, such as variation in course-taking patterns, interests, knowledge, and skills, or differential educational, economic, and social systems in which everyone does not receive equal opportunity.
ETS has long placed great importance on the issue of fairness. Rigorous processes to ensure test fairness are carried out by a diverse team of assessment specialists in accordance with standards set by the American Educational Research Association (AERA), the National Council on Measurement Education (NCME), and the American Psychological Association® (APA).
ETS has taken significant measures to ensure the GRE tests uphold the highest standards for fairness by incorporating reviews and checkpoints throughout the development process:
- In the early concept phase, a variety of test question types were pilot tested and any question types that tended to produce group differences in performance were eliminated from the test plan.
- During the development phase and continuing today, test questions are further scrutinized by specially trained fairness reviewers to ensure they meet rigorous standards. After questions are pretested, each question is included in a statistical analysis to determine if there are any unfair group differences in the performance of individual test questions; if so, the question is removed from the pool of questions. Once questions pass this level of rigor, they are included in the test. Even then, statistical analyses will be repeated regularly to further ensure fairness.
Although the GRE tests are not tests of English-language proficiency (ELP), they measure skills important for graduate and professional education at institutions where the language of instruction is English. When considering applications from nonnative speakers of English, it is useful to remember that there is a difference between language proficiency and abilities in areas such as critical thinking and analysis. An applicant's level of English proficiency can interfere with the opportunity to demonstrate these abilities. In these cases, it is especially important to look for evidence of critical thinking in other parts of the application, such as the essay or coursework.
It is also important to consider whether English-language support is available on campus. With language support, it is possible that talented applicants whose English needs development can still succeed in your institution.
For more information about considering the applications of nonnative English speakers, review the GRE® Guide to the Use of Scores (PDF).
Is an ELP test helpful?
Considering GRE and ELP test scores (such as TOEFL® scores) together will enable score users to determine if English proficiency may have affected an applicant's performance on the GRE test.
Effective use of both GRE and TOEFL scores
The GRE General Test and the TOEFL iBT® Test provide different but complementary information about an applicant.
- The TOEFL iBT Test measures the academic English-language proficiency of people whose native language is not English. Test takers are required to combine their reading, listening, speaking and writing skills to perform academic tasks similar to those found in the graduate or undergraduate classroom.
- The GRE General Test measures the verbal reasoning, quantitative reasoning, critical thinking and analytical writing skills needed for success in a graduate, business or law program.
Many graduate and professional programs, including business and law, find the ability to speak and listen in English is critical to success in academic courses. These language skills are not evaluated on the GRE test, but they are measured on the TOEFL test.
While both tests have a writing component, there are significant differences in what is being assessed on each. The TOEFL Writing measure emphasizes fundamental writing skills as well as the ability to organize and convey, in writing, information that has been understood from spoken and written text. By contrast, the GRE Analytical Writing section measures critical thinking and analytical writing skills. It assesses the ability to articulate and support complex ideas, construct and evaluate arguments, and sustain a focused and coherent discussion.
This distinction is important. If an applicant for whom English is not their first language has a low GRE Analytical Writing score, additional information from the TOEFL test will help in the interpretation of that score. Is the GRE score low because the individual is unable to think critically and express those thoughts in writing? Or is the score low because the test taker has difficulty expressing herself in writing in English? In the latter case, the applicant may actually have the ability to think critically, but the level of English proficiency interferes with the ability to demonstrate it.
If an applicant has a low GRE Verbal Reasoning score, is this the result of an inability to analyze, evaluate and synthesize written material? Or is this due to poor English reading skills?
Using GRE and TOEFL scores in a complementary way will provide critical information about the applicant's skills.
A comparison of TOEFL iBT and GRE General Test sections
|TOEFL iBT Test||GRE General Test|
* Not included/measured on test.
ETS provides accommodations for individuals with disabilities or health-related needs and works continuously to ensure that as new technologies become available, ETS's offerings evolve.
The accommodations offered are intended to minimize any adverse effect that the individual's disability might have upon test performance and to help ensure that, insofar as possible, the resulting scores represent their educational achievement. Reviewing an applicant's entire file will provide more information about the individual's ability to succeed in a graduate program than any one test can provide.
Learn more about the accommodations available.
Test takers may take a GRE test more than once. There are several ways in which graduate and professional schools, including business and law, can judge multiple scores for an applicant (e.g., use most recent score, use highest score). Whatever approach is adopted, it is best to use it consistently with all applicants.
While all GRE General Test score reports contain an Analytical Writing score, score users who have access to the ETS Data Manager can also view test takers' actual essay responses.
A GRE General Test Analytical Writing essay response can be considered a rough first draft since test takers do not have sufficient time to revise their essays during the test. The software does not include spell-checking or grammar-checking.
Are there tools to help me compare GRE scores to LSAT® scores?
Yes. Access the GRE Comparison Tool for Law Schools.
How can I determine if GRE scores correlate with success in my program?
The best way is to conduct a validity study. ETS researchers will provide advice on the design of appropriate validations studies without charge. For assistance, contact firstname.lastname@example.org. View a list of GRE validity resources.
How does ETS ensure the tests are fair and unbiased?
Ensuring the fairness of GRE tests throughout the test development, administration and scoring processes is a high priority. Learn more about test fairness.
Why is it a problem to use a minimum or cut score to narrow my pool of applicants?
The practice of using cut scores, especially one that uses GRE scores as the sole criteria, is contradictory to a holistic admissions process because it puts too much weight on one measure, and does not allow applicants the opportunity to show other evidence of skills and experiences that graduate programs might value.
How can I determine if the difference in scores between two applicants is significant?
Different scores among test takers may not reflect significant differences in abilities. As described in score use guideline #3 in the GRE® Guide to the Use of Scores, every test has measurement error. It is important for a decision maker to know whether the differences between two scores is meaningful. For more information, review score use guideline #3 and the standard error of measurement information in the GRE® Guide to the Use of Scores (PDF).
I want to see all of my applicants' scores, not just those they choose to send me. How can I arrange that?
ETS sends scores according to the specific request of test takers. To see all of your applicants' GRE scores, you would need to communicate that request to applicants directly.
How can I verify test takers' scores?
If the test taker directs ETS to send scores to your institution/program, you will be able to verify those scores using the ETS® Data Manager.
What do I do if I have concerns about the scores?
To verify that the scores you received match those in the ETS database, you can use the ETS Data Manager.
If you have security concerns about an individual test score, please complete the Score Inquiry Form (PDF) and submit it to the ETS Office of Testing Integrity (OTI) at CommunicateTestSecurity@ets.org. Completing this form will provide helpful information to OTI to assist in their score review process. Learn more about test security.
Are there any additional resources I can review?