How many Questions Do I Need to get Right for a Good GRE Score?
How many Questions to get Correct for a Good GRE Score?
*This post has been updated for freshness in October 2017.
Recently a prospective GRE test taker asked me this question “I took the GRE test 1 on power prep software and got 11 out of 20 questions correct in the first quantitative section and 19/20 in next quantitative section. This means I got a total of 30 questions correct out of 40. Hence, since the GRE scoring scale is 130-170 then 130+30=160 should have been my final score. But my score is a meager 154 – how is that possible?”
* You can also scroll down at the bottom of this article to view actual (official) GRE Score reports.
To answer this question
….. you need to understand a few things. On the GRE exam, there are 2 graded math sections, 2 graded verbal sections, and 2 graded analytical writing sections. The math and verbal sections are scored on a scale of 130-170 with a total of 20 questions on each section. In other words, you have 40 questions for math and 40 questions for the verbal sections and a difference of 40 points. However, this does not mean that each question carries 1 point. GRE is based on the section adaptive algorithm. Each section is static and the questions within a section carry equal points. Your performance on the first section will determine the difficulty level of the next section. The questions within a section do not change. What varies is the overall weight of the section.
Math and verbal sections are divided into 3 levels: easy, medium and hard. Now, what are these difficulty levels? Well each question on the GRE is given a difficulty level ranging from 1 to 5. 1 means easiest and 5 means hardest. Here is a table showing the number of questions for each level of the section.
Difficulty Level (# of Questions)
Quant Easy Section
1(4), 2(8), 3(5), 4(3), 5(0)
*key: for the above Quant Easy Section there are 4 questions of difficulty level 1 (easiest), 8 questions of difficulty level 2 (easy), 5 questions of difficulty level 3 (medium), 3 questions of difficulty level 4 (hard) and 0 question of difficulty level 5 (hardest).
Quant Medium Section
1(1), 2(4), 3(8), 4(7), 5(0)
Quant Hard Section
1(0), 2(3), 3(3), 4(8), 5(6)
Verbal Easy Section
1(2), 2(10), 3(6), 4(1), 5(1)
Verbal Medium Section
1(0), 2(5), 3(5), 4(6), 5(4)
Verbal Hard Section
1(1), 2(1), 3(1), 4(6), 5(11)
The very first math and the very first verbal section that you get on the GRE exam are of a Medium difficulty level.
How does the GRE Test Adapt?
For Quant: If you get 15 or more questions correct on the first section, then the second section is a Hard difficulty level. If you score 10 or more but less than 15 questions correct on the first section, then the second section is a Medium difficulty level (same as the first section). And lastly, if you score less than 10 questions correct on the first section, then the second section is of an Easy difficulty level.
For Verbal: If you get 13 or more questions correct on the first section, then the second section is a Hard difficulty level. If you score 8 or more but less than 13 questions correct on the first section, then the second section is a Medium difficulty level (same as the first section). And lastly if you score less than 8 questions correct on the first section, then the second section is of an Easy difficulty level.
How much Does a Section Weigh?
A Hard section weighs nearly 3 times as much as an easy section, which means that getting 7 questions correct on a hard section is equivalent to getting all questions correct on an easier section. Hence, if you screw your first section, the next section will be easy and therefore carry less weight and even if you get all questions correct on the easier second section, you will not be able to get a higher score.
Here are some sample scores of actual GRE test takers that have been excerpted from their official test reports:
Quant first section: 15/20
Quant second section: 15/20
You score: 158
Verbal first section: 15/20
Verbal second section: 8/20
You score: 155
Quant first section: 7/20
Quant second section: 15/20
You score: 148
Verbal first section: 8/20
Verbal second section: 14/20
You score: 152
You can observe
….. from the quant scores of samples 1 and 2 that in each case the total number of correct questions was exactly the same (22) but the scores were markedly different. Again this is so because in sample 1, by getting 15 correct questions, the test taker gets a hard second section, which has a higher difficulty level and hence more weight. By getting less number (7) of correct questions on a harder section gets him more points then getting more number (15) of correct questions on a easier section.
Therefore, if you want to get a 160+ on quant you can get 9-10 questions wrong in total but no more than 5 incorrect in the first section. For instance, in the attached reports below the test taker got a 160 on quant with 16/20 on the first section and 15/20 on the second section. To get such a score on the verbal section you can get 13-15 questions wrong in total but no more than 7-8 wrong in the first section. So if you get 13/20 on the first section and 12/20 on the second section you will get a 160 on the verbal section.
To summarize the above findings:
Quant 165-170 at least 17/20 correct on each section
Verbal 165-170 at least 15/20 correct on each section
Quant 160-165 at least 15/20 correct on each section
Verbal 160-165 at least 12/20 correct on each section
Sample reports that corroborate these findings:
Report 1: Q 156 V 150
Here is the score report of a GRE test taker who got a 156 Quant and 150 Verbal. His breakdown was as follows: Quant 15/20 and 7/20, Verbal 9/20 and 7/20.
Report 2: Q 160, V 170
Here is the score report of a GRE test taker who got a 160 Quant and 170 Verbal. His breakdown was as follows: Quant 16/20 and 15/20, Verbal 19/20 18/20.
Report 3: Q 166, V 161
Here is the score report of a GRE test taker who got a 166 Quant and 161 Verbal: His breakdown was as follows: Quant 17/20 and 18/20, Verbal 14/20 and 14/20.
Report 4: Q 164, V 151
Here is the score report of a GRE test taker who got a 164 Quant and 151 Verbal: His breakdown was as follows: Quant 19/20 and 14/20, Verbal 9/20 and 10/20.
Report 5: Q 156, V 151
Here is the score report of a GRE test taker who got a 156 Quant and 151 Verbal: His breakdown was as follows: Quant 14/20 and 12/20, Verbal 11/20 and 7/20.
*GRE Scoring Algorithm: Here is a link to the GRE Scoring Grid that will give you all the permutations of the GRE score.