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GRE verbal score a bit low...?

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Hi all, I'm an international applicant who needs to provide both my TOEFL and GRE scores for some of the PhD programs in English and Comparative Literature. I heard that for some programs, a total GRE score of 319 plus a decent TOEFL score will do the same as a 320+ GRE score (which is exactly my case, as I scored exactly 319 (157+162+4.0) for GRE, and 113 for TOEFL).

I wonder if my GRE verbal score of 157 will be considered too low to be competitive (even for programs ranking 50-60). Shall I email specific programs to ask whether my TOEFL score would compensate for my GRE verbal score? or is it obvious that the two don't actually compensate for each other?



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I think this is largely program-dependent and I don't think the two scores cancel each other out. From my understanding, both are used separately to screen applicants.

However, I'm not sure if you necessarily should be as worried as you'd think. (Also: Please note that meeting the minimum requirements does not guarantee admission. At best, meeting the requirements just ensures that your application is considered for review).

Iowa (ranked 32) recommends applicants have a 3.5 GPA, top 25% score on  the verbal section, and a 111 on the TOEFL. (They also recommend a 26 on the speaking score in order to teach)

UMass (ranked 50th) states that sucessful applicants generally have earned scores above the top 75th Percentile. (Which is somewhere between a 157-158) but they understand that some applicants don't test well. Students entering with a Master's degree are expected to have earned a 3.75+  on their graduate coursework.

University of Washington (also ranked 32) says that successful applicants score between the 70-90th percentile on the verbal section. The minimum score generally accepted is a 100 on the TOEFL.


Some schools like UGA (ranked 59th) require applicants to score a 310 on the new scale with a minimum verbal score of 162.

Tufts (ranked 52) says that " There is no baseline score. The average scores for students admitted in fall 2009 were V-675, Q-620, A-5.5, Subject-600."

As I hope this shows you, there are a number of "better ranked" schools that place less emphasis on scores as well as schools ranked lower that require better scores.

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It's been my experience that many programs are aware that international or second-language students will not be as good at the verbal portion of the GRE as their native English counterparts. The GRE verbal is extremely difficult to navigate if you're ESL because so much of the test hinges upon an understanding of the context in which these words are used and the nuances that go along with these contexts. My friend, for instance, who is from an East Asian country, got a 470 on the verbal and still got into our (fairly respectable) program. 157 actually seems like a somewhat decent score for someone who didn't grow up speaking English.

But as with everything, YMMV, and it will depend on the school's you're applying to as well as the rest of your application. 

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@Warelin Thanks for the info!

As far as I know, most the programs I'll apply to don't require a minimum GRE score, but some of them do post the average scores of successful applicants from past years, and those posted range from 159 to 161.


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@Bumblebea thanks a lot!

Besides 2-3 English programs, most of the others I'm applying to are CompLit/Literature programs. Some of them even don't require a GRE score, like Northwestern, and some say the same as you that they will take applicants' national/regional background into consideration. :) Fingers crossed for my applications to those English programs...

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