A Complete Guide to the GRE

A Complete Guide to the GRE

Overview

The GRE (Graduate Record Examination) is a test required by most graduate schools during the application process. Similar to the ACT and SAT for undergraduate college admissions, the GRE allows graduate programs to compare applicants’ readiness for higher-level coursework based on their performance on the same metrics. The GRE has the following three main sections: Analytical Writing, Verbal Reasoning, and Quantitative Reasoning.

 

Section Details

Analytical Writing (30 minutes per essay; 2 essays)

The writing section measures your ability to think critically, as well as your ability to clearly articulate your thoughts regarding complex topics. For this section, you’ll answer two essay prompts, and you’ll have 30 minutes for each essay. One essay will ask you to analyze an argument, and the other essay will ask you to analyze an issue. For the analyze an argument essay, you will be provided someone’s perspective on a topic and you must examine and evaluate their argument. You are not giving your opinion on this one. For the analyze an issue essay, however, you are asked to fully explain your personal stance on a particular issue.

 

Verbal Reasoning (30 minutes per sub-section; 2 sub-sections)

This section measures your critical thinking and reading skills. Some of this section will require you to read a passage and answer questions about the big picture and small details. Another question type in this section will measure your vocabulary knowledge by providing you a short passage and leaving out a word. These questions will ask you to select the most appropriate word for the blank. Another question type in this section will give you a single sentence with one blank. Then, you’ll be asked to select two answers that would fit into the sentence and provide a similar meaning.

 

Quantitative Reasoning (35 minutes per sub-section; 2 sub-sections)

This is essentially the math section and will cover pre-algebra, algebra, data analysis, and geometry. Most of this section is multiple choice, but there are two other question types in this section. You will come across some quantitative comparison questions that ask you to determine if Quantity X or Quantity Y is bigger, or if they are equal, or if the relationship cannot be determined. You’ll also come across some open response questions that require you to write your own answer. You will be provided a calculator for this section (you cannot bring your own calculator).

In addition to these sections, there will also be an unscored “research” section that is administered simply to gather data from test takers. Your score on this section will not count for or against you. The research section is 30–35 minutes long.

 

Scoring

Both the Verbal Reasoning and Quantitative Reasoning sections have score ranges of 130-170, in one-point increments. The average score for Verbal Reasoning is 151, and the average score for Quantitative Reasoning is 153. The highest total score you can get on the GRE is a 340 (a 170 on Verbal Reasoning and a 170 on Quantitative Reasoning). The Analytical Writing section is scored separately and has a score range of 0-6, in half-point increments. The average score on the Analytical Writing section is 4.0. It is not common to combine section scores into one GRE total sore. Most schools ask you to separately list your three section scores separately when you report your results.

Of note, the Verbal Reasoning and Quantitative Reasoning sections adapt to your performance. In other words, if you are doing well on the first set of questions, the test will increase in difficultly over time. For example, if you perform well on the first part of the Verbal Reasoning section, the second part of Verbal Reasoning will be more difficult. This also means you will also have access to the highest potential score if you do well on the most difficult questions. Alternatively, if you perform less well on the first part of the Verbal Reasoning section, the second part of Verbal Reasoning will be less difficult, and you’ll have access to the lower scores.

 

Logistics

The GRE is typically administered on a computer and is approximately 3 hours and 45 minutes long. The Analytical Writing section is always first, but the other sections of the test can pop up in any order. There is a paper option available if you do not have access to a testing center. Click here to find a test center and testing date.