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All about the GRE

The Graduate Record Examinations (GRE) is the general name for the standardized tests required for admission into graduate schools and graduate business programs in the U.S. It is administered by the Educational Testing Service (ETS) and there are two different test types: the GRE General Test and the GRE Subject Test. The General Test is almost universally required, while the Subject Test is required by some schools and not by others. More often, students use Subject Test scores to supplement their application by demonstrating deep subject knowledge in a particular area.

Who takes the GRE?

There are no specific eligibility requirements for the GRE — test takers can be of any age and any level of prior education. You do not need a bachelor's degree to take the GRE.

However, because the GRE is used to supplement a candidate's undergraduate qualifications when applying to graduate programs, it is common for test takers to hold a bachelor's degree, or to be currently enrolled in an undergraduate program.

Taking the GRE requires a high level of fluency in English and strong reading comprehension skills. Additionally, the general test assesses a candidate's understanding of mathematical topics like geometry, algebra and statistics, while the subject tests assess their knowledge in that subject to graduate level.


The GMAT is the Graduate Management Admission Test, while The LSAT is the Law School Admission Test.

Comparing GMAT vs GRE is important when trying to decide what is best for your application. The GMAT is required for admission to certain graduate management programs, such as the MBA, and is a computer administered test consisting of four sections: Analytical Writing Assessment, Integrated Reasoning, Quantitative and Verbal. Many schools now accept the GRE in lieu of the GMAT, as there is a growing trend towards attracting applicants with varied academic and professional backgrounds.

The LSAT is a paper exam offered six times per year, and it consists of six, 35-minute sections. Five of these are multiple choice while the sixth is a writing exercise requiring a candidate to argue a position. The test overall is designed to assess a candidate's analytical and logical thinking skills.

Traditionally the LSAT has been an admission requirement for law school, but 23 schools (including Harvard, Columbia and others) now accept GRE scores as an alternative. All law schools in America accept the LSAT.

It is important for candidates to research their preferred schools to find out which test would best supplement their application.

What is on the GRE?

The GRE general test includes three different scored sections: analytical writing, verbal reasoning and quantitative reasoning. It also includes one unscored section, also known as the experimental section. The experimental section is always an additional verbal or quantitative section and is not marked, so it is impossible for test-takers to know which section it is on the test. Therefore, it is recommended that candidates answer all questions on the test to the best of their ability. The experimental section is included to give ETS data on the effectiveness and difficulty of new questions for the development of future tests.

The following question types are represented on the GRE:

  • Analytical Writing
    (essay format)
  • Text Completion
  • Sentence Equivalence
  • Multiple Choice — select one answer
  • Multiple Choice — select more than one answer
  • Numeric Entry
  • Select-in-Passage

Sections and timings for the computer-delivered GRE General Test:

Number of sections Timing Number of questions Score scale
Analytical Writing 1 60 minutes 2 0-6
Verbal reasoning 2 30 minutes each 25 each 130-170
Quantitative reasoning 2 35 minutes each 20 each 130-170
Experimental 1 Will reflect section type Will reflect section type Unscored

Sections and timings for the paper-delivered GRE General Test:

Number of sections Timing Number of questions Score scale
Analytical Writing 2 30 minutes each 1 each 0-6
Verbal reasoning 2 35 minutes each 25 each 130-170
Quantitative reasoning 2 40 minutes each 25 each 130-170
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Analytical Writing

The GRE Analytical Writing section is split into two distinct and separately timed tasks:

  • Analyzing an issue
  • Analyzing an argument

Counter-intuitively, the 'issue' task is actually the one where candidates must present an argument, while the 'argument' task requires them to dissect and analyze the effectiveness of someone else's argument.

The issue task presents candidates with a premise of general interest, chosen from a topic pool which can be reviewed in advance. They must then interpret and organize the arguments around the issue, choose a side and write a structured, cogent essay putting forth their ideas, providing evidence and offering potential counterpoints.

The argument task presents the candidate with a position on a given argument which they must evaluate according to its effectiveness. They should then write a response that demonstrates their understanding of how the argument is constructed, the claims that it makes and the supporting evidence it provides.

Both questions include specific instructions that a candidate should follow when responding to the prompt, and it is a good idea to practice writing for a range of GRE Writing Prompts in preparation for taking the test.

Verbal Reasoning

The GRE Verbal Reasoning section has questions on Reading Comprehension, Text Completion and Sentence Equivalence. It tests a candidate's vocabulary, understanding of word relationships, ability to construct meaning, information retrieval, strategic reading, inference, and paraphrasing skills. Roughly half of the questions in this section require the candidate to read extended passages to retrieve information, while the other half test their ability to complete, analyze and interpret sentences and paragraphs.

Text Completion

There are roughly six Text Completion questions on each Verbal section of the GRE, requiring the candidate to fill in up to three blanks to complete the sentence with a range of word choices provided. It is recommended that candidates spend around one minute on each question.

Sentence Equivalence

Sentence Equivalence questions also require the candidate to fill in the blank, but this time with two different words which convey a similar meaning in the context of the whole sentence. There are usually around 4 Sentence Equivalence questions in the Verbal section, which test takers should spend about 1 minute each answering.

Reading Comprehension

The Reading Comprehension part of the GRE consists of approximately 10 questions based on of 5 separate passages. Passages can be 1-3 paragraphs long, and candidates need to employ strategic reading and paraphrasing skills to answer the questions that follow. It is recommended that candidates take around 1-3 minutes reading the passages and 1 minute to answer each question.

Quantitative Reasoning

The GRE Quantitative Reasoning sections each have 20 questions in 3 key areas that appear in the following order: Quantitative Comparison, Problem Solving and Data Interpretation.

It is recommended that candidates spend between 1.5 and 2 minutes answering each question, and around 35 minutes on this section in total. To ensure you are fully prepared for what you'll be tested on in this section, read What Math is on the GRE and work through our GRE Math Test & Study Guide. You can also aid your preparation by looking up a full range of GRE Math Topics.

Quantitative Comparison

These questions test a candidate's ability to identify a relationship between two given quantities, according to the following statements:

  • Quantity A is greater
  • Quantity B is greater
  • The two quantities are equal
  • The relationship cannot be determined from the information given

It is recommended that rather than trying to calculate the actual quantities presented in the question, candidates should make estimates or transform them only as much as is necessary to be able to make a reasonable comparison.

Problem Solving

There will typically be around 12 Problem Solving questions (including 3 Data Interpretation questions — see below) that require multiple choice and numeric entry answers. To succeed on these questions, candidates need to apply various problem-solving strategies in addition to understanding fundamental mathematical topics like geometry and algebra.

Data Interpretation

The Data Interpretation questions also contain an element of problem solving, but with reference to data contained in charts and graphs. Candidates can expect 3 of these questions as part of the 12 Problem Solving questions in this section.

GRE Question Type Breakdown

*Numbers given are approximate, as there are small variations between test editions
Section Question type Number of questions* Recommended time spent per question
Analytical Writing Analytical Writing (essay format) 2 30 minutes
Verbal Reasoning Text Completion 6 1 minute
Sentence Equivalence 4 1 minute
Reading Comprehension 10 1 minute (plus 3 minutes to read each passage)
Quantitative Reasoning Quantitative Comparison 8 1.5 - 2 minutes
Problem Solving 9 1.5 - 2 minutes
Data Interpretation 3 1.5 - 2 minutes

How is the GRE scored?

GRE scores are calculated by converting raw scores (the number of questions you answered correctly) into a scaled score through a process called equating. Scores are scaled so that candidates' performances on different editions of the test can be compared (as there are small variations in difficulty between editions).

Both the Verbal and Quantitative Reasoning sections are reported on a 130-170 point scale, while the Analytical Writing section is reported on a 0-6 point scale. Any sections where no questions are answered will be reported as No Score (NS).

What is a good GRE score?

What counts as a good score within the GRE score range depends on what you need to get admission to your chosen school and program. Some schools release information on GRE score percentiles they have accepted in previous years, available online. To put the scoring scales into context, average GRE scores are around 151 for the Verbal and Quantitative Reasoning sections, and around 3.5 for the Analytical Writing section.

For more info, check out our article on GRE scores percentile information.

Scaled GRE Analytical Writing Score Percentile
5.0-6.0 90th
4.5 75th
4.0 50th
Scaled GRE Quantitative Reasoning Score Percentile
165-170 90th
159-164 75th
153-158 50th
Scaled GRE Verbal Reasoning Score Percentile
163-170 90th
158-162 75th
152-157 50th

Do my GRE test scores matter?

While it may not make or break your application, your GRE score is a key consideration during the admission process. So, it's important to take the test seriously and be as prepared as possible for the areas you'll be tested on. For more on this, read how important is a GRE score?

What is ScoreSelect?

GRE ScoreSelect is the method by which you can send your GRE scores to your chosen schools after the computer-delivered test. When you have completed the test, the computer will show you your unofficial scores for the Verbal and Quantitative Reasoning sections. You can then choose to send either:

  • Your most recent scores
  • All of your scores, if you've taken the GRE more than once
  • None of your scores, if you do not want to share them

Alternatively, once you leave the testing center you can choose to send your test scores from any previous attempt, if you feel that a particular set of GRE results will better support your application. Test scores are valid for 5 years, and once you decide to share the results of a given test, the scores from every section of that test will be shared — you cannot choose to share the scores from one section, and withhold those from another.

How to prepare for the GRE

Understanding how to study for the GRE is vital in achieving the score you want. It is important to use an approach that combines studying concepts and skills with learning the patterns and strategies that are effective on different sections and question types.

The main thing most people want to know is "how difficult is the GRE?" Well, that depends to an extent on your existing knowledge and abilities, but the following list describes some of the key challenges the test presents:

Essay writing — whereas for most other sections you can make an educated guess if you're not sure, the Analytical Writing section is more involved and taxing. Do practice this skill, and be sure to check out the writing prompts on the ETS website — they publish a full list of the issue topics so you can see in advance what you might encounter.

Unfamiliar vocabulary — the Verbal Reasoning section can throw out some especially tricky words, although it is usually possible to deduce the answer if you understand a few word patterns and the meanings of common prefixes and suffixes.

Math knowledge — even if you were good at math in school, it can be difficult to remember how to approach certain problems if you haven't practiced for years. Be sure to spend plenty of time learning the skills necessary for key mathematical topics, such as algebra, geometry and statistics.

Understanding the question — this can be trickier than it sounds, as some questions are specifically worded to make you think it's asking one thing, when really, it's asking another. Make sure you know all the tricks that ETS employs in constructing questions and get plenty of practice, so you know what to look out for.

Time management — given the number of questions you have to answer in a relatively short amount of time, it is important to use that time effectively. Make sure you learn how much time you should spend on each section, and each question, and keep an eye on how much time you have left throughout the test.

GRE study plan

If you want to know how to ace the GRE, we recommend following these 6 steps:

  1. Identify your strengths and weaknesses by taking GRE Practice Tests
  2. Make a study plan — schedule regular time to GRE prep between now and test day
  3. Study for your areas of weakness using carefully curated GRE Courses
  4. Learn the techniques required to approach different questions and sections
  5. Recreate test conditions — if you are taking a computer test, practice on the computer
  6. Repeat the process of studying and taking practice tests until you feel ready for test day!

GRE prep courses's GRE Courses are developed with close reference to the official content guide, so test takers can rest assured that they are studying relevant, up-to-date materials and activities they can expect to see on the test. Courses are structured so that each chapter builds on the last in a logical order. Chapters consist of engaging video and text lessons created by real subject matter experts that teach new concepts in a way that is easy to understand. Each lesson is followed by a quiz, each chapter is followed by a test and each course includes a comprehensive practice test so that you can constantly check your understanding, relearn target information, and build your confidence for the exam.

Study Guides filled with engaging video lessons, quizzes, tests and flashcards are a great way to learn everything you need to know to be successful on the GRE.

How to register for the GRE

  • You can register to take the GRE either online or by mail.
  • If you wish to take the computer-delivered GRE you can check test center availability and register on the ETS website. You can also register by phone if you have previously registered online or by mail.
  • To register by phone, call 1-800-473-2255. Have a pen and paper ready to note down important information.
  • To register by mail (for the paper test only), fill out the Test Authorization Voucher Request Form and return it to the address printed on the form along with payment.
  • To learn more, visit How to Register for the GRE Exam and GRE Exam Registration Information.

When to take the GRE

When planning to take the GRE, be sure to register well in advance as spaces fill up quickly.

Computer-delivered tests are offered year-round at Prometric test centers, while non-network test centers hold GRE tests on specific dates, and paper tests are offered twice a year. See the following page for more detailed information on GRE test registration dates.

Where to take the GRE

Computer-delivered tests are administered at both Prometric and non-network test centers, while paper-delivered tests are administered at a select list of test centers.

GRE costs

General Test Subject Tests
USA and the rest of the world $205 $150
Australia, China, Nigeria and Turkey GRE Registration Fees NA

How much does the GRE cost? As well as registration costs, GRE candidates should consider the cost of preparation materials. It is common for test takers to invest in a range of study tools such as:

  • Textbooks (approx. $30 per book)
  • Full course guides (approx. $175 each)
  • GRE classes (up to $4000)
  • Private tutoring ($100-$200 per hour)

Alternatively, membership with provides the same benefits as all of the above materials, and more. Test-prep members benefit from full study guides taught by subject matter experts, practice tests, scheduling tools, and a mobile app to learn anywhere and anytime, all for a comparatively low cost.

GRE FAQs — frequently asked questions

How long is the GRE?

The computer-delivered test is 3 hours and 45 minutes long, while the paper delivered test is 3 hours and 30 minutes long.

What should I bring to the GRE testing center?

On the day of your test, be sure to bring the following items:

Computer-delivered test

  • Valid photo ID
  • Your authorization voucher

Paper-delivered test

  • Valid photo ID
  • Your confirmation letter/email
  • Three No. 2 or HB pencils and a good eraser* (pens and mechanical pencils are not permitted)

*These supplies will not be provided by the test center

You may also want to consider taking extra layers of clothing in case the test center is colder than you expect, and you should take water in a see-through bottle with no label. You may take snacks to the test center, but these have to be left outside the testing room. You are not permitted to take notepaper or a calculator.

Can I use a calculator on the GRE?

You may use a calculator on the test, but you may not take your own calculator to the testing center.

Computer-delivered test candidates will be able to use an on-screen calculator while those taking the paper-delivered test will be able to borrow a calculator from the testing center. For more information, read Can You Use a Calculator on the GRE?

Can I use scratch paper during the GRE?

Yes, and it is even encouraged. You will not be permitted to use your own paper, but the test center will provide it for your use during the exam.

How long does it take to get GRE scores?

GRE scores are shared in your ETS account and with your designated schools as follows:

*If you decide to report your scores at the end of the computer-delivered test, you can view your unofficial scores for the Verbal and Quantitative sections immediately.
GRE General Test GRE Subject Tests
Computer-delivered test 10-15 days* Within 5 weeks from the test date
Paper-delivered test Approximately 5 weeks after the test date Approximately 5 weeks after the test date

Can I cancel my GRE scores?

Yes, at the end of the test you can either view your scores or cancel them. Once you have viewed your scores you cannot cancel them. You cannot cancel scores for certain sections and view others — you have to either report your score for the whole test or cancel it. If you cancel your score, you can reinstate it from your ETS account within 60 days of the test date for a fee of $50.

How long are GRE scores valid?

GRE scores are valid for five years from the end of the testing year in which you took the test. GRE testing years begin on July 1st.

How do I submit my GRE scores?

You may request for your scores to be sent to up to four graduate institutions for no additional fee. After the exam, you can decide whether to report your scores, and which of your chosen institutions, if any, you want to send them to (see also ScoreSelect, above).

You can also choose to send your scores to additional institutions after the test date. Each additional score report will cost $27.

Can I retake my GRE?

Yes, you can retake the GRE up to five times a year. You must allow at least 21 days between tests.

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