Grant stage indicator: after submitting an application

Scoring & Summary Statements

Your overall impact score is the key review outcome, the main basis for a funding decision by an NIH Institute. Learn how to interpret your summary statement for information about the review, the reviewers’ critiques, and your score.

Table of Contents

How NIH Review Criteria Affect Your Score

Your score reflects your reviewers' judgment of the extent to which your project can make an impact.

NIH defines impact as the likelihood that your project will exert a powerful influence on its field. Reviewers also usually comment on its relevance to the NIH mission: improving human health through science.

An application does not need to be strong in all review criteria to get an outstanding overall impact score, though all the criteria can affect your score.

To arrive at your overall impact score, reviewers consider the following core review criteria:

  • Significance
  • Investigator
  • Innovation
  • Approach
  • Environment

They use the significance and innovation criteria to assess a project's importance, and they use approach, investigator, and environment to assess its likelihood of success (feasibility).

Reviewers—particularly your assigned reviewers—look to your Research Strategy for the most detailed information on significance, innovation, and approach, and they mostly read your Biosketches and Resources sections to gauge the investigator and environment criteria, respectively.

Though your overall impact score reflects all the criteria, it does not represent a mathematical sum. Rather, it is a gestalt—an integrated whole that cannot be derived from the sum of its parts.

While overall impact may sound like the significance criterion, it's different.

Significance is the importance of your project: will it advance your field and fit the NIH mission to improve health through science? It does not take into account your ability to conduct the research. So while reviewers will penalize you if they think success is unlikely, that penalty will not be reflected in their assessment of the significance criterion.

Depending on the nature of your application, other review criteria may affect you, including protections for human subjects, vertebrate animals, and others. If you are responding to an institute-specific program announcement or a request for applications, it may have special review criteria as well.

Read the Review Criteria SOP for the NIH full definition of the core criteria and more information on additional criteria.

Role of the Review Criteria

Because a score is ultimately a gestalt, peer reviewers don't score strictly by the review criteria; here are some thoughts on how they relate to your overall impact score.

Ideal application. To some extent, reviewers judge your application based on their ideal of an outstanding application in your field of science.

Usage varies. Adherence to the criteria varies by committee.

Weight varies. Though all review criteria can affect your score, an application does not need to be strong in all of them to get an outstanding score. Here are two examples:

  • Reviewers assign an exceptional score to important research that is not innovative but is essential to move a field forward.
  • An application with very high significance receives an outstanding overall impact score even though reviewers are less enthusiastic about the other criteria.

In the case of multiproject applications (e.g., P01s and U19s), strong synergy among projects often leads to an overall impact score for the entire proposal that is greater than the scoring average of the individual components.

Other Critical Factors Can Affect Your Score

Your presentation can make or break your application.

Your reviewers consider other items besides the review criteria.

Special areas. Depending on the experiments you propose, they make sure you have complied with NIH policies for sensitive areas such as recombinant DNA research, human subjects, research animals, and select agents.

Presentation. Your presentation can make or break your application.

Though reviewers assess the science, they are also influenced by the writing and appearance of your application.

If your application has lots of typos and internal inconsistencies, your score can suffer.

Assigning an Overall Impact Score

A raw score of 1 is the best possible, 9 is the worst.

Taking the review criteria into account, here are the steps the review committee takes to arrive at an overall impact score.

Before the meeting, your assigned reviewers score each criterion and give your application a preliminary overall impact score.

As a result of the discussion at the meeting, the assigned reviewers may suggest a different overall impact score to the group.

Next, all reviewers vote.

  • Assigned reviewers enter their official scores for each criterion and an overall impact score on the vote sheet. The other reviewers can see these scores.
  • Other reviewers give an overall impact score and usually have an option of scoring each criterion.
  • Each member marks scores privately on a vote sheet, assigning a whole number from 1 (best) to 9 (worst).
  • At the end of the meeting, the scientific review officer (SRO) collects vote sheets and adds the scores.
  • After the meeting, reviewers can edit their criterion scores and critiques, but they do not change their final overall impact scores.
  • To create a raw overall impact score
    • Scores are averaged and rounded mathematically to one decimal place, e.g., a 1.34 average yields 1.3.
    • That number is multiplied by 10 to yield an overall impact score; in the example above, it would be 13.
  • R01 applications also get a percentile. Learn how NIH creates percentiles at Understand Paylines and Percentiles.

The table below shows the relationship between the level of impact, scores, and descriptors.

Scoring Table for Research Grant Applications

Degree of Impact Impact Score Descriptor Additional Guidance on Strengths/Weaknesses
High 1 Exceptional Exceptionally strong with essentially no weaknesses
2 Outstanding Extremely strong with negligible weaknesses
3 Excellent Very strong with only some minor weaknesses
Moderate 4 Very Good Strong but with numerous minor weaknesses
5 Good Strong but with at least one moderate weakness
6 Satisfactory Some strengths but also some moderate weaknesses
Low 7 Fair Some strengths but with at least one major weakness
8 Marginal A few strengths and a few major weaknesses
9 Poor Very few strengths and numerous major weaknesses

: easily addressable weakness that does not substantially lessen the impact of the project.
Moderate: weakness that lessens the impact of the project.
Major: weakness that severely limits the impact of the project.

To learn more about peer review at NIH, see the Center for Scientific Review's Insider's Guide to Peer Review for Applicants and Insider's Guide to NIH Peer Review for Reviewers, and the Office of Extramural Research's NIH Reviewer Orientation.

Know What a Summary Statement Means

After the meeting, all reviewed applications receive an overall impact score and summary statement prepared by the SRO.

NIH releases scores in the Commons within 3 business days and uploads your summary statement within 30 days. Users who have the signing official role in the Commons can also view overall impact scores as well as current and previously issued summary statements.

Your summary statement has a lot of information:

  • Bulleted critiques from your assigned reviewers
  • Brief summary of the discussion
  • Overall impact score and percentile for R01s
  • Criterion scores from your assigned reviewers
  • Recommended budget
  • Human and animal subjects codes
  • Any administrative comments

If necessary, you'll use this information to revise your application or create a new application as we describe at Options if Your Application Isn’t Funded.

But keep in mind that although your summary statement gives you critical feedback, it is not an exhaustive critique or a teaching tool containing every point reviewers found to be problematic. 

If your summary statement has a code that creates a bar to award, we can't give you an award until you resolve the issue.

See our Sample Applications and More for examples of summary statements.

After peer review, your application moves to an NIH Institute program division for a funding decision.

At that point, your main contact person becomes the Institute program officer assigned to your application. His or her name is listed in your summary statement together with that of your grants management specialist. 

After You Get Your Summary Statement, Contact Your Program Officer

As soon as you receive your summary statement, check our NIAID Paylines and contact your program officer. Find his or her name in the Commons and at the top of your summary statement.

First, ask about the probability of funding. Then, get advice on what to do if your application scores above the payline.

Ask your program officer if he or she (or a representative) attended the review meeting as an observer and can give you additional insight into the discussion. Though they do not participate, institute program staff may attend the meeting and can become a source of additional insight into the discussion.

If you will need to revise, that feedback can be a valuable supplement to the information in the summary statement.

Also review the summary statement so you can discuss any actions you might need to take in advance of the just-in-time request. See Responding to Pre-Award Requests ("Just-in-Time").

If Problems Are Fixable, Start Revising Quickly

If your application misses the payline, if funding is deferred, or your application is streamlined and its faults are fixable, start revising as soon as you can since you may not have much time to revise after you get the summary statement.

First, determine whether the problems are fixable—read more at Options if Your Application Isn’t Funded.

Have Questions?

Contact your assigned scientific review officer, found in your eRA Commons account or in your notice of funding opportunity. If you do not have a scientific review officer, go to Scientific Review Program Contacts.

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