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
- Other Critical Factors Can Affect Your Score
- Assigning an Overall Impact Score
- Scoring Table for Research Grant Applications
- Know What a Summary Statement Means
- After You Get Your Summary Statement, Contact Your Program Officer
- If Problems Are Fixable, Start Revising Quickly
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:
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). Learn more about how these criteria will change for January 2025 receipt dates at Simplifying Review of Research Project Grant Applications.
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 or mean of the criterion scores. Reviewers are instructed to weigh the different criteria as they see fit in deriving their overall scores. Note that an application does not need to be strong in all categories to be judged likely to have major scientific impact and thus, deserve a high impact score. Reviewers provide an overall impact score for an application as presented in its entirety.
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. While reviewers may 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 an overall impact score is not a sum/mean of the criterion scores, peer reviewers don't assign an overall impact 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.
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 multicomponent applications (e.g., P01s and U19s), strong synergy among projects often leads to an overall impact score for the entire application that is greater than the scoring average of the individual components.
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 human subjects, vertebrate animals, and biohazards.
Presentation. Your presentation and its clarity can make or break your application.
Though reviewers assess the science, they are also influenced by the writing and appearance of your application. It is helpful if the writing is cohesive and clear.
If your application has lots of typos and internal inconsistencies, your score can suffer.
A raw score of 1 is the highest impact, 9 is the lowest impact.
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.
- Each member marks scores privately, assigning a whole number from 1 (highest impact) to 9 (lowest impact).
- At the end of the meeting, the scores are averaged.
- After the meeting, reviewers can edit their criterion scores and critiques, but they cannot 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.
- Some applications, including R01s, 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.
Example Guidance for Overall Impact
E.g., Successful completion of the aims will make a contribution of high importance to the field. May have some or no weaknesses.
E.g., Successful completion of the aims may make a contribution of high importance to the field, but weaknesses bring down the overall impact to medium.
E.g., Successful completion of the aims may make a contribution of moderate importance to the field, with some or no weaknesses.
E.g., Successful completion of the aims may make a contribution of moderate/high importance to the field, but weaknesses bring down the overall impact to low.
E.g., Successful completion of the aims may make a contribution of low or no importance to the field, with some or no weaknesses.
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
After the meeting, all reviewed applications receive an overall impact score and summary statement prepared by the scientific review officer.
NIH releases scores in the Commons within 3 business days and uploads your summary statement within about 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
- Human and animal subjects codes
- Any administrative comments
- Budget recommendations
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, an award cannot be made until the issue is resolved.
- Bars reflect the study section's concerns about human subjects, vertebrate animals, or biohazards.
- Contact your program officer immediately. You may want to read more in our Bars to Grant Awards SOP.
- To find out what the codes mean, see the following:
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. Their name is listed in your summary statement together with that of your grants management specialist.
As soon as you receive your summary statement, check our NIAID Paylines and contact your program officer.
First, ask about the probability of funding. Then, get advice on what to do if your application scores outside the funding range.
Ask your program officer if they (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 need to revise and resubmit, that feedback can be a valuable supplement to the information in the summary statement.
If there is a high likelihood your application will be funded, 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 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 and resubmit after you get the summary statement.
Determine whether the problems are fixable—read more at Options if Your Application Isn’t Funded.