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What Is the GRE?

What you need to know about the GRE, GRE scores, GRE test availability, and the GRE sections

About the GRE

The Graduate Record Examination, or GRE, is an important step in the graduate school or business school application process. The GRE is a multiple-choice, computer-based, standardized exam that is often required for admission to graduate programs and graduate business programs (MBA) globally.

The GRE is developed and administered by testmaker ETS to provide graduate and business schools with common measures for comparing applicants’ qualifications and preparedness for graduate-level academic work. Graduate school and business school admissions committees look at your GRE score, along with your academic record and supporting materials, to assess your readiness for the rigors of graduate academic study.

What’s the takeaway? A high score on the GRE will have a direct, positive impact on your graduate or business school application.

What is on the GRE?

The GRE exam measures your command of basic arithmetic, algebra, geometry, and data analysis as well as college-level vocabulary. More importantly, it measures your ability to analyze and evaluate written material, think critically, and solve problems.

What are the GRE sections?

You will receive three scores on the GRE:

  • Analytical Writing
  • Verbal Reasoning
  • Quantitative Reasoning

These scores are generated by the following sections:

  • 1 Analytical Writing Assessment section
  • 2 Verbal Reasoning sections
  • 2 Quantitative Reasoning sections

In addition, you will see one of the following sections:

  • Unscored (may be either Verbal Reasoning or Quantitative Reasoning)
  • Research (used for ETS research purposes)

The Quantitative Reasoning and Verbal Reasoning sections are each scored on a scale of 130 to 170. The mean score for Verbal Reasoning is 151, and the mean score for Quantitative Reasoning is 153. The Analytical Writing Assessment is scored from 0 to 6 in half-point increments, and the mean score is 4.0.

Analytical Writing

Number of questions Minutes to complete Chem/Phys Score range
Two separately timed tasks: one "Analyze an Issue" task and one "Analyze an Argument" task 30 minutes per task; 60 minutes totals 0 to 6

The Analytical Writing Assessment, or “essay” section, measures whether you can articulate your thoughts and responses to complex ideas in a clear and reasoned way. Formulating a well-supported thesis in response to new and unfamiliar topics and key to doing well on Analytical Writing.

During the two, separately timed tasks in Analytical Writing, you will be asked to “Analyze an Issue” and to “Analyze an Argument.” For the “Analyze an Issue” task, you will read an opinion on a topic of general interest and be given instructions on how to respond to the issue at hand. For the “Analyze an Argument” task, you will need to consider an argument according to instructions given in the prompt.

Verbal Reasoning (Verbal)

Number of questions Minutes to complete Chem/Phys Score range
6 Text Completion questions
4 Sentence Equivalence questions
10 Reading Comprehension questions
20 total questions per section
30 minutes per task; 60 minutes totals 130 to 170

The Verbal section of the GRE tests your ability to analyze written material, as well as relationships among component parts of sentences, including words and concepts. Verbal Reasoning questions appear in several formats:

Text Completion

Text Completion (TC) questions ask you to fill in the blank to complete sentences. Variations include 1-, 2-, and 3-blank questions. You’ll encounter approximately six of these in each Verbal section, and you should aim to complete each in about 1–1.5 minutes. To master these, you’ll need to build your vocabulary as well as develop your skill at using context clues from the sentence to make predictions for the blanks. There is no partial credit: you must answer correctly for all blanks to receive points for these questions.

Sentence Equivalence

Sentence Equivalence (SE) questions require you to fill in a single blank with two choices that create two coherent sentences that are logically similar in meaning. You will encounter approximately four SE questions in each Verbal section. Aim to complete each in about 1 minute. As with TC questions, you’ll need to work on building your vocabulary and identifying context clues in order to master SE questions

Reading Comprehension

Reading Comprehension (RC) questions are based on passages of one or more paragraphs that develop an explanation or argument on a topic. RC questions require you to understand central ideas presented in the text and the structure of a text, as well as to research details in the passage and draw valid inferences from it. RC questions require strategic reading and paraphrasing skills.

Each Verbal section will contain approximately 10 RC questions associated with five different passages, and you should aim to spend an average of 1–3 minutes on reading a passage and 1 minute per question.

Quantitative Reasoning (Quant)

Number of questions Minutes to complete Chem/Phys Score range
7–8 Quantitative Comparison questions
12–13 Problem Solving questions
20 total questions per section
35 minutes per section 130 to 170

The Quant section of the GRE tests your basic quantitative skills, as well as your ability to reason and solve problems with quantitative methods. You’ll see questions covering basic arithmetic, algebra, geometry, and data analysis. These topics are typically covered in high school. You will not see trigonometry, calculus, or any other high-level math. Quantitative Reasoning questions appear in several formats:

Quantitative Comparison

Quantitative Comparison (QC) questions ask you to compare two quantities—Quantity A and Quantity B—and to identify the relationship between the two. You’ll likely see about 7–8 of these in each Quant section. To master these, be familiar with the QC answer choices and with shortcut methods that allow you to compare rather than calculate.

Problem Solving

The most common Problem Solving (PS) questions are standard multiple-choice questions, with five choices and one correct answer. Variants include questions that ask you to select one or more answers from a list of choices (multiple-choice all-that-apply) and questions that ask you to enter your answer in a box (numeric entry.) To master PS questions, be familiar with the math concepts that are tested as well as strategies that allow you to approach solving efficiently.

There are also a handful (typically three per section) of Problem Solving questions associated with one or more charts. These Data Interpretation (DI) questions work like other PS Qs, but it’s important to note that gleaning the information correctly from the graphs is the key to answering them.

How is the GRE scored?

The GRE is a Multi-Stage Test, which means that your performance on the first section of the scored Verbal and Quant sections will determine the level of difficulty of the subsequent Verbal and Quant sections. The raw score from each section is the number of questions you answered correctly. Your raw score is then converted to a scaled score through a process called “equating.”

For example, if you perform very well on the first Verbal section, you will receive the most difficult second section in Verbal, but you’ll also have access to the highest potential score range. If you perform less well on the first section of Verbal, you’ll see a less difficult second Verbal section, but you’ll also have access to a lower score band or “potential.”

For the Analytical Writing section, each essay receives a score from at least one human reader, using a 6-point scale.

What is a good GRE score?

When considering your GRE score goal, look at the requirements—or minimums, if applicable—at the graduate or business programs to which you’re applying. This will let you know your score baseline. If you can find the mean or average GRE score of admitted applicants, you’ll be able to determine what GRE score will make you a competitive applicant.The Verbal and Quant sections of the GRE are each scored from 130 to 170. The mean score for Verbal Reasoning is 151, and the mean score for Quantitative Reasoning is 153. The Analytical Writing Assessment is scored from 0 to 6 in half-point increments, and the mean score is 4.0. You can use the tables below to see the relationship between scaled scores and the test takers achieving them:

Percentile Scaled GRE Verbal Score*
Top 10% of all test takers 162
Top 25% of all test takers 157
Top 50% of all test takers 151
Below 50th percentile of all test takers 150
Percentile Scaled GRE Quant Score*
Top 10% of all test takers 166
Top 25% of all test takers 160
Top 50% of all test takers 153
Below 50th percentile of all test takers 152

* Based on the performance of GRE test takers between 2012 and 2015

What is ScoreSelect®?

The ScoreSelect feature of the GRE gives you the options to send only the GRE test scores from whichever test date you want schools to see. Note that even with the ScoreSelect option, you’ll want to perform your best on the GRE the first time so you don’t have to retake the exam and pay an additional testing fee.

How long is the GRE?

On GRE Test Day, you can expect to sit for the exam for approximately four hours, including test-taking time and short breaks. Note that this time does not include your check-in time at the testing center. It is important to be on time and fully prepared. ETS recommends that you arrive at the testing center at least 30 minutes before your test time.

GRE Section Time
Analytical Writing 30 minutes per task
Verbal Reasoning 30 minutes per section
Quantitative Reasoning 35 minutes per section
Experimental or Unscored Varies (30 or 35 minutes)
Optional Breaks (total) approximately 12 minutes
Total approximately 4 hours

When is the GRE offered?

The computer-delivered GRE is administered year-round in Prometric™ testing centers and on select test dates at other testing centers. The paper-delivered GRE is administered at certain testing centers on a limited number of dates. Seating for GRE is on a first-come, first-serve basis, and some testing center locations can fill up well in advance of the popular fall testing time. You can see a full list of testing centers, test dates, and seat availability on the ETS site.

It is highly recommended that you register for your preferred GRE test date early so you can select a date that will allow enough time for ETS to process your scores and send them to the institutions you’ll be applying to. This can take from 10 to 15 days. During popular testing times, seats in Prometric™ testing centers can be limited. You can take the computer-delivered GRE once every 21 days, up to five times within any continuous rolling 12-month period (365 days).

You can register for the GRE online via ETS. For GRE-related questions, you can find contact information for ETS here.

When to take the GRE

Since graduate programs have a wide range of application deadlines, you’ll want to research your programs of interest ahead of time and ensure that your GRE score can be reported in time for your earliest deadline. Your GRE score is good for five years.

You’ll want to devote 1–3 months to studying for the GRE, and top scorers report studying for 100+ hours.

How much does it cost to take the GRE?

The cost to take the GRE is $205 for all testing locations except China. The fee includes sending score reports to up to four graduate institutions of your choice.

*Offer: $200 off applies to GRE® Tutoring, In Person and Live Online new enrollments from July 21, 2017 through July 24, 2017 midnight PT only. Self-Paced courses, Math Foundations, Advanced Math, The Official Test Day Experience, Practice Packs, and Quiz Bank are excluded from this offer. Discount may not be combined with any other promotion or offer.