GRE scores are hard to interpret. The GRE seems much like the SAT. There is however a huge difference: Everyone taking the SAT is looking to attend college; everyone taking the GRE is looking to attend graduate school. This means those who take the GRE are the cream of the crop of all the people you took the SATs with. The good news, however, is that schools already know this. A percentile that may not have been good for the SAT might be excellent for the GRE.
Now that the GRE recently changed, the way that it is scored has changed as well. The math and verbal sections are now scored on a scale of 130-170 points; and the essay is scored on a scale of 1-6. While there is not much information available now as to what percentile each score will be in, the Educational Testing Service (ETS) says that the information will be forthcoming.
The average GRE score of the school where you wish to enroll is often very dependent on the other applicants and their scores. It is a good idea however to look at the average GRE score of accepted applicants from previous years. Many times schools will break down what the average verbal and math scores are. Many schools will not have data in the format of the new scale. Because of this, applicants should find out what percentile the school asks for. Every school is different. An engineering program will put an emphasis on math scores while a history program will probably care more about your ability to read and write critically.
Each and every college is different. Graduate schools cannot necessarily tell what college has stricter standards when grading. Even more so, within each school, different classes have different rubrics and standards with which teachers use to grade. The graduate program you apply to cares what grades you received, but they are also wary of what those grades mean. If you have a very high GPA but do not write as well on the GRE as someone who has a low GPA, graduate schools will be cautious. If you get all A’s in college math but get in the 30th percentile in math on the GREs, your graduate program will probably question that as well.
Basically, if your GPA is amazing and you get a great GRE score, your GRE score will just confirm that your grades were well earned. If you have a great GPA and your GRE score is low, graduate programs will be suspicious of grade inflation at your undergraduate institution. If your grades were not what you would have hoped in college, the GRE is a great opportunity to show graduate schools that you have what it takes to do well on examinations.
The GRE is part of a whole application. Schools will look at your grades, involvement in your previous school, and involvement in the community as a whole. The United States of America is known for caring about factors such as community service and involvement heavily. Even the most academically focused programs wants its members to have done something other than attend classes and study while in college. The GRE is just one piece of the puzzle. That being said, it is a very important piece of the puzzle. It is the only piece that can, in numbers, compare you to tens of thousands of students in the United States. While your undergraduate experience cannot be summed up in a number, it is important to make sure that the number they use is an accurate reflection of the hard work that you put in.