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About the GRE

Here we quickly outline everything you need to know about the Graduate Record Exam (GRE), including what's on the test, what programs accept the GRE, and what a good score looks like.

Why take the GRE?

For many learners seeking an advanced degree, the Graduate Record Exam, or GRE, will be an important part of their application journey. The GRE is a standardized exam that aims to assess test-takers’ preparedness for graduate school and is one of the many factors an admissions team might consider when assessing an applicant’s qualifications for graduate-level study. So, for anyone considering an advanced degree, understanding what to expect out of the GRE’s structure and purpose is a great first step!

What is on the GRE?

How is the exam structured and scored?

A test-taker’s GRE performance is broken down into three scores: Analytical Writing, Quantitative Reasoning, and Verbal Reasoning. Though, only two of those three scores: Quantitative Reasoning and Verbal Reasoning, contribute toward a test-taker’s overall scaled score (which ranges from 130-170). Each of the sections is scored and structured as follows:

Analytical Writing

Analytical Writing is tested across two 30 minute tasks: “Analyze an Issue” and “Analyze an Argument.” This essay-structured section assesses how well examinees are able to express their thoughts and reasoning. The section is scored in a range of 0-6 in half-point increments, and is evaluated by both human and “e-rater” computer graders.

In the “Analyze an Issue” prompt, test-takers will be asked to read a claim made in an issue topic, formulate their own position on the issue, and express that position in a convincing and well-structured essay response.

When asked to “Analyze an Argument,” test-takers will be tasked with discussing how logically sound a given argument is by addressing the evidence that has been presented and what assumptions have been made along the way.

Each of the above prompts are scored separately and averaged to create a test taker’s Analytical Writing performance from 0-6.

Quantitative Reasoning

A test-taker’s Quantitative Reasoning ability is tested across two scored, 35 minute sections and scored on a scale from 130-170. Each Quantitative Reasoning section consists of 20 total questions, which are structured in the following ways throughout the section:

Quantitative Comparison questions task test-takers with identifying the relationship between two given quantities and select the answer option that expresses the relationship between the quantities.

Multiple choice questions come in two formats: “select one” and “select one or more” answer choices. In “select one answer choice” questions, test-takers will identify which of the five answer options correctly answers the question, while “select one or more” questions ask examinees to select one or more answer options from the list given.

Numeric entry questions ask test-takers to respond by entering the answer as an integer or decimal if one box is given, or as a fraction if two boxes indicating a numerator and denominator are provided.

For all Quantitative reasoning questions, an on-screen calculator is provided.

Verbal Reasoning

A test-taker’s Verbal Reasoning ability is assessed across two scored, 30 minute sections, and is also scored on a scale from 130 to 170. An examinee’s ability to analyze text is tested using three Verbal Reasoning question categories: Reading Comprehension, Text Completion, and Sentence Equivalence.

Reading Comprehension questions ask test-takers to read a passage and answer several questions concerning each passage using a variety of question formats. Multiple choice - select one answer choice questions, as with Quantitative Reasoning, asks test-takers to select the single option that best answers the question. Multiple choice - select one or more answer choices on the other hand, will ask readers to select all answers that are correct by selecting one, two, or all three of the options provided. Select-in-passage questions ask readers to select the sentence in the passage that addresses a certain description.

Text Completion questions present readers with a passage comprised of up to five sentences and up to three blanks. Readers must choose the word out of three possibilities (or five, if there is only one blank) that best completes the text. Keep in mind, there is no partial credit offered for these questions, so all blanks must be correctly filled to receive credit for the question.

Sentence Equivalence questions consist of a sentence with a single blank, and test-takers are tasked with identifying which two options out of the answer choices fit the meaning of the sentence and create sentences that are alike in meaning. Once again, no partial credit is given for these questions, so a test-taker must make both correct selections to receive credit for the question.

It is important to note that the exam will also include one uncounted section, either an unidentified unscored section or an identified research section, and this section can come in the form of either an additional Quantitative Reasoning or an additional Verbal Reasoning section. So, the complete breakdown of sections is as follows:

Analytical Writing Two tasks: One “Analyze an Issue” and one “Analyze an Argument” task. 30 minutes per task, 60 total minutes

Verbal Reasoning (two counted sections) 20 questions in each section 30 minutes per section

Quantitative Reasoning (two counted sections) 20 questions in each section 35 minutes per section

Keep in mind that although the test will always begin with the Analytical Writing tasks, the remaining sections could be presented in any order. So, as a test-taker, you’ll want to put your best effort into each section and treat each one as if it is a scored section.

What content does the exam test?

As a whole, it is important to remember that the GRE is not an assessment of advanced, college-level math and English. Instead, it is a reasoning test (after all, the sections are called quantitative and verbal reasoning!) that assesses how effectively one can apply foundational concepts to answer questions centered on one’s critical thinking abilities.

The math skills tested are meant to be foundational in nature, and cover a range of basic arithmetic, algebra, geometry, and data analysis topics. Additionally, a calculator is provided to you on the Quantitative sections. So, the questions will have less to do with how quickly you can process complex calculations and much more to do with how well you can analyze, interpret, and leverage quantitative information.

Similarly, the verbal reasoning sections will ask us to understand words, sentences, and the relationships between them. Questions will ask test-takers to have an understanding of the vocabulary used, and will also assess how well individuals leverage context to draw conclusions.

How long should you prep for the GRE?

Because the GRE covers such a wide range of skills and serves as an admissions tool for such a wide range of schools and fields of study, there’s no one-size-fits-all study plan. But on average, successful examinees study for about 10 weeks, consisting of 3-4 study sessions per week.

Studies show a strong correlation between more hours studied and higher test scores–that is until examinees have studied for over 100 hours.

Importantly, the amount of time you’ll need to prepare depends a great deal on your starting point. The GRE tests a wide array of middle and high school math topics, so if you feel quite rusty with those topics you’ll want to study on the longer side of the average (~10 weeks and ~80 hours of study) and if you feel quite proficient you can expect to be successful with less study than average.

Is 2 months enough time to prepare for the GRE?

There is no one-size-fits-all timeline for success on the GRE. Your GRE success will depend in large part on the quality of your preparation, your starting levels of proficiency and comfort, and how well you implement learnings from your practice into your performance.

That said 2 months is well within the average range of preparation that successful candidates undertake. To achieve your GRE goals within 2 months of prep, it is important to commit to at least 3-4 days of study and practice per week. Generally examinees will plan for 2-3 shorter (60 to 90 minutes) study sessions on weekdays, and then one longer (2-3 hours, often a ~3-hour practice test) session on a weekend.

Can I prepare for the GRE in just 1 month?

It depends. 1 month, even with intensive study, is on the lower end of the range for successful GRE examinees, but of course it is possible. Those who are successful in that timeframe tend to feel generally confident with their math and reading skills to start, so that their preparation involves primarily review, practice, and GRE strategy. If you need to learn or relearn the math material or strongly refresh your academic reading skills, you’ll likely find that you need 2-3 months to adequately prepare for the GRE.

What is the best way to prepare for the GRE?

The best way to start preparing for the GRE is to diagnose your starting point. This can be done with a full-length, scored practice test, but is likely better accomplished through a diagnostic assessment or review of general study materials. Your starting “score” isn’t as important as your proficiency with the material; over the course of your study you’ll naturally pick up speed (pacing is a key) and GRE strategy, but to build your study plan you’ll need to take inventory of the skills you have, the skills you just need to review, and the GRE skills you’ll really need to learn or relearn.

From there, know that a quality GRE preparation program includes three phases: learn/review, practice, and perform. For skills that you know you need to build or relearn, make sure you spend time in the learn/review phase. There you don’t need to do official or replica GRE problems, which often test several skills at a time and/or include nuanced difficulty. Instead you’ll want to focus on tutorials/lessons and straightforward drill-type problems to get comfortable executing the skills and strategies that you’re building. Also in the learn/review phase, you’ll want to focus on narrower skill categories one at a time (e.g. “linear algebra” or “strengthening arguments” and not “math” or “reading comprehension) so that you can tactically learn, review, and develop skills.

In the practice phase, you’ll apply those skills to GRE problems. Here you’ll want to make sure you’re using GRE style problems and reading passages, and practicing with diverse sets of content–after all, a key element of GRE success is knowing when, not just how, to apply the skills and strategies you’ve learned. Note that generally in this phase you should not worry about a timer or stopwatch; your goal is to build muscle memory and familiarity with these skills.

In the perform phase, you’ll add the element of timing and introduce practice tests. Here pacing is important as you learn to move quickly and develop a sense of which mistakes you make when you’re under time pressure. You can also start thinking critically about your score on practice tests and analyzing the tactical things you need to do to raise it.

How can Varsity Tutors help?

Varsity Tutors offers a broad range of solutions to help people prepare for the GRE so they can get into the grad programs of their choice. Learn at your own pace with our guided self-study course, tackle the GRE in a guided live small group class, or dramatically improve your score potential with personalized 1-on-1 tutoring.

Who accepts the GRE?

The GRE is accepted by thousands of graduate schools, 1300 business schools, and dozens of law schools, including Stanford, Harvard, and Yale Law School.

For a complete list of business schools that accept the GRE, click here.

For a complete list of law schools that accept the GRE, click here.

When should I take the GRE?

If you are planning to apply to graduate school, there is a high likelihood that you will need to take the GRE. Most graduate programs include the GRE in their application requirements, so whether you will pursue a Master's degree or doctorate, the GRE is likely on your radar. Even some professional programs–such as business schools that have traditionally required the GMAT and law schools that have traditionally required the LSAT–are accepting GRE scores in their application process.

So, simply put, if you are considering advanced studies beyond a bachelor’s degree, you will likely need to take the GRE.

This then leads to a handful of important questions to ask about your GRE timeline. If you are planning to apply to graduate school, or think that there’s at least a chance that you will pursue graduate studies, here are some questions you should consider.

Who should take the GRE?
Most graduate school programs–with the primary exception being medical school which requires the MCAT–either accept or require GRE scores in the application process. So if you are planning to apply for a Master’s or PhD degree, you should consult the admissions offices of your target schools and you will likely learn that you should take the GRE.

Aside from graduate school applicants, two other groups should strongly consider taking the GRE. College graduates who think that they might return to grad school would be well-advised to find time to take the GRE; even if you do not know when, whether, or where you would apply to graduate school, the GRE is broadly accepted so it can be quite helpful to have that one piece of an arduous application process out of the way before you apply.

Similarly, current college students in their junior and senior years should consider taking the GRE. GRE scores remain valid for 5 years, so having a GRE score on record as a college upperclassman keeps many graduate school options open to you in that pivotal timeframe of choosing and changing careers.

When are graduate school applications due?
Generally speaking, graduate school application deadlines begin in the fall (September-October) and may extend into the winter (January) or early spring (as late as March-April). Nearly every program will have a fall deadline for matriculation the following fall, and when competitive programs offer multiple deadlines there are typically advantages to applying in the earliest rounds.

And, of course, applications come with many components you need to be prepared for: you’ll have to write personal statements and supplementary application essays; you’ll need to secure transcripts and letters of recommendation; you may be asked to submit a portfolio or research proposal. With so many things to do, it is best to not leave a high-stakes exam like the GRE until the days and weeks preceding your deadlines. So while your GRE scores can be transmitted to schools electronically in a matter of days or even hours you should still plan to take the GRE in the summer of the year you wish to apply, leaving plenty of time to complete your application and even to retest if necessary.

Should you take the GRE more than once?
You can take the GRE multiple times in order to get the scores you need to feel competitive with your application. And schools generally only care about your top score, so you should not feel undue pressure to maximize your GRE score on your first attempt. Per the official testing policies, you need to wait 21 days before you can retake the GRE, however, so if you want to preserve the option to retest you should plan to take the exam well in advance of your deadlines. GRE testing appointments also tend to book up most quickly during the peak application deadline periods.

Many students find that merely knowing that they have the opportunity to retake the GRE is a great way to protect against test anxiety. So, perhaps ironically, the best way to ensure that you do not need to retake the GRE is to leave plenty of time between your GRE test and your application deadline so that you have the “safety net” of a potential retake.

When is the GRE offered?
The GRE is taken via computer at testing centers around the world, and is therefore available year-round. Therefore, you have flexibility not only to choose the time of year or day of week, but even the time of day of your GRE appointment.
This permits an extra luxury: you can schedule your GRE for a time period that is ideal for your study schedule. College students often find it easier to study for the GRE during a light semester of school – when you’re in the study mindset but have fewer classes to contend with – or during the summer with fewer scholastic distractions. Recent graduates have found that they can create a light few months to study by using a lull between graduation and the beginning of a new job, or the anonymity of having moved to a new city and not yet having forged an active social calendar.

Importantly, the flexibility of GRE exam scheduling means that you should find time in your academic and vocational activities to permit yourself 2-3 months of 8-10 hours per week to study for the GRE. Remember, your GRE score will live directly beside your GPA on your graduate school application; your GPA represents many semesters of studying for high-stakes final exams, so you should plan to spend a semester’s worth of time and effort maximizing your GRE score.

It is also noteworthy that GRE scores are good for 5 years, so the best time to study for and take the GRE is long before your applications are due–and in many cases before you’re even committed to applying to graduate school. There is an advantage to taking the GRE during or immediately after college, when your study skills are sharp and when you’re still actively using quantitative and reading comprehension skills in an academic setting.

What is a good score on the GRE?

What is considered to be a “good” GRE score? This is a common question that often comes to mind for students who are planning to take the GRE. Most of them want an idea as to what scores they will need to have in order to gain admission to their preferred graduate schools. Furthermore, students also want to know the best way they can work to achieve this good GRE score.

At Varsity Tutors, we know that thorough preparation is the only way to truly master the GRE, and Varsity Tutors students benefit when they study with instructors who have achieved great success on this test. What is a good GRE score? Varsity Tutors has the answer.

What is Considered a Good GRE Score? Students who take the Revised GRE exam receive a report that displays their scores and other information – there are three scores on this report instead of just one, as students receive separate scores for their performance on the Verbal Reasoning, Quantitative, and Analytical Writing Sections of the test. They can score between 130 and 170 points on the Verbal Reasoning and Quantitative Sections, and anywhere from 0 to 6 points on the Analytical Writing Section.

Scores for the Verbal Reasoning and Quantitative Sections are measured in one-point increments while Analytical Writing scores accumulate in half-point increments. Therefore, a score of about 160 is considered to be good for the Verbal Reasoning Section, a score of around 164 is good for the Quantitative Section, and a score of 5 is good for the the Analytical Writing Section.

Students can also look at the specific admissions requirements of the schools they are considering. The question then becomes, “What is a good GRE score for incoming graduate students at a particular university?” This answer will vary from school to school, so it is best to research the average GRE scores of the schools you are applying to so you can have a target score in mind.

What is an average GRE score?

Before looking at the average scores on the revised GRE, it’s helpful to know the scoring range for each section of the test. A student can receive a score of anywhere between 130 and 170 on the Verbal Reasoning and Quantitative sections. On the Analytical Writing section, students can score from 0 to 6 points, in half point increments. On the GRE, average scores are as follows: 150.2 points for the Verbal Reasoning section, 152.5 points for the Quantitative section, and 3.5 points for the Analytical Writing section.

Most schools display the average test scores of their applicants on their official websites. Students who visit the website of a particular school to read its admission guidelines can often find out the average GRE scores of students who gain acceptance into the institution. This is a good way for a student to find out what he or she needs to achieve on the GRE in order to make it into a particular graduate school.

Ready to start studying for the GRE?