What Is The GRE? A Complete Guide (2023)

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Since its inception in 1936, thousands have taken the Graduate Record Examinations (GRE)® to gain admission into advanced training programs. If you want to enroll in a master’s degree program without sitting for the Graduate Admission Management Test (GMAT)™ or Law School Admission Test (LSAT)®, the GRE is your best bet.

This guide answers pertinent questions about the GRE, including how much it costs, what is considered a good score and how to study for the GRE.

Degree Finder

What Does the GRE Cover?

The GRE is a standardized test often required for admission into graduate school. The Educational Testing Service (ETS) oversees and administers the exam.

Previously, graduate-level business schools required the GMAT as the standard screening test for admission. Today, more business schools accept the GRE as an equivalent option.

In addition, some arts and science graduate programs also use the GRE to screen graduate school applicants. In a 2021 council meeting, the American Bar Association voted to permit accredited law schools to accept GRE test scores instead of LSAT scores during admission screenings.

The GRE general test covers three primary sections:

Verbal Reasoning

The verbal reasoning section evaluates a candidate’s ability to understand words, sentences and texts. The section also measures one’s ability to understand text structure, analyze reading material and determine the author’s perspective.

The verbal reasoning section contains three question categories—reading comprehension, text completion and sentence equivalence. The assessment lasts one hour, with 30 minutes allotted for each section and 20 questions in each section.

Quantitative Reasoning

The quantitative reasoning section of the exam measures your ability to solve problems using mathematical models. The problems presented in this section touch on topics such as algebra, arithmetic, geometry and data analysis.

The section lasts 70 minutes. The test is split into two 35-minute sets, with 20 questions in each section.

Analytical Writing

The GRE’s analytical writing section evaluates your ability to articulate complex ideas and construct and evaluate arguments with relevant reason. The section consists of two separately timed writing tasks, each lasting 30 minutes.

The “analyze an issue” task requires you to construct an argument based on an issue highlighted in the prompt. You must also provide reasons and examples to prove your viewpoint on the matter.

The “analyze an argument” task requires you to evaluate the rationality of another argument according to specific instructions.

How Is the GRE Scored?

Verbal Reasoning and Quantitative Reasoning

Scores for the verbal and quantitative reasoning measures ranked on a scale of 130 to 170. First, the ETS grades verbal and quantitative reasoning tests on the number of correct responses to all questions in each segment.

Then ETS converts the raw score into a scaled score through the equating process. The equating process accounts for variations among multiple test versions and ensures that the test’s difficulty level and required performance stay consistent, regardless of the test edition.

The scaled score is the final grade displayed for the verbal and quantitative reasoning measures.

Analytical Writing

An experienced essay rater appointed by the ETS grades each essay in the analytical writing measure on a scale of 0 to 6. Afterward, the e-rater scoring engine—software developed by the ETS to evaluate students’ writing proficiency—assigns its own scores to each essay.

If the e-rater and human-assigned grades are within the same range, the average of both grades becomes the final score. However, if the trained rater’s and e-rater’s scores differ, a second human score is obtained. Then, the average of both human-assigned scores becomes the final grade for the candidate’s analytical writing test.

What Is a Good Score on the GRE?

A “good” GRE score is subjective based on the admission requirements for your preferred graduate program. However, as with all other standardized tests, there is a benchmark you should strive for.

In the following section, we analyze the average performance of GRE test-takers using data obtained by the ETS from 2018 to 2021.

  • Verbal Reasoning: 150.61
  • Quantitative reasoning: 154.34
  • Analytical writing: 3.60

While it’s reasonable to consider the average scores as a benchmark, some graduate institutions may select candidates based on performance relative to other test-takers, such as the percentile formula.

Candidates who scored 162 in the verbal reasoning segment and 168 in quantitative reasoning fell in the 90th percentile, according to ETS. Candidates who scored 5.0 or higher in the analytical writing section performed better than 91% of all the other test-takers.

High performance significantly increases a candidate’s chances of admission into a prestigious graduate program.

What Are the GRE Subject Tests?

The GRE subject tests evaluate a candidate’s depth of knowledge in a particular field of study. The tests are for graduate candidates who have completed an undergraduate major in chemistry, physics, mathematics or psychology.

The GRE subject test consists of multiple choice questions and lasts two hours and 50 minutes.

Taking the GRE

How to Register

  • Decide when to take the test. The GRE is offered year-round at authorized centers in over 160 countries. Make sure to schedule your exam before the admissions deadline, as results are released 10 to 15 days after your test date.
  • Create an ETS account. The next step is to create an account that matches your identification documents. An ETS account will give you access to GRE testing updates, test preparation materials and score reports.
  • Determine where to send your scores. After paying the test fee, you can select up to four graduate institutions or fellow sponsors to receive your scores. For an additional fee, the ETS can send your scores to more than four recipients when you request additional score reports.
  • Register for the GRE. You can register for the general test at an authorized test center or at home via your ETS account. Complete the registration at least two days before your test date to get your preferred test center.

Where to Take the GRE

To find a GRE test center near you, simply search on the ETS website. However, if you meet the ETS equipment and environment requirements, you can take the general tests from the comfort of your own home.

To do so, you must meet the following equipment requirements:

  • Use a desktop or laptop
  • Use an approved and licensed operating system, such as Windows® OS for PC and Apple® OS for Macbook
  • Use a Chrome™ or Firefox® browser
  • Use a single screen or monitor for the exam
  • Pass the ProctorU equipment check

How Much Does the GRE Cost?

The cost of GRE registration varies depending on your location. The general test fee is $220, but it is $231.30 in China and $228 in India.

Additional fees apply to special handling requests such as rescheduling the test, changing your test center and additional scoring services.

If you need assistance covering the cost of the GRE, you can request a fee reduction voucher. The voucher covers a significant portion of the test fee, reducing the general test fee to $100 and the subject test fee to 50% off the regular fee.

GRE test fees can be paid via a credit or debit card, PayPal, eCheck or an authorization voucher.

Retaking the GRE

If your GRE scores do not meet the admission requirements of your chosen graduate school, you can retake the test after 21 days. However, note that you can only take the test up to five times within 12 months. The retesting policy applies even if you cancel your previous test scores.

GRE Preparation Tips

The ETS offers complimentary sample questions to help candidates prepare adequately for the exam. In addition, the organization offers free access to PowerPrep practice tests and monthly GRE virtual events where candidates can gain insights from successful test takers.

Individuals who struggle with quantitative reasoning can improve their skills through in-depth study with Khan Academy math courses and ETS’s math review.

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