ETS now offers a remotely proctored GRE General Test to provide students additional testing options that will continue even after the COVID-19 pandemic. The remotely proctored test has the same content, format, and testing limits as the in-person GRE.
The April, September, and October 2020 GRE Subject Tests were canceled. The next opportunity to take a GRE Subject Test will be April 2021.
The GRE (Graduate Record Examinations) is a standardized entrance exam that can be submitted for application to many graduate schools, including master’s degree and doctorate programs, most business schools, and some law schools. As such, it is the most versatile graduate-level standardized test. In most countries, the official test is administered on computers. The GRE has three main sections: Verbal Reasoning, Quantitative Reasoning, and Analytical Writing.
Note that GRE Subject Tests are not the same as the GRE General Test. GRE Subject Tests (offered in Biology, Chemistry, Literature and English, Mathematics, Physics, and Psychology) are required by certain specialized graduate programs.
Some students find that they are naturally suited to perform better on the GRE, while others find that they generally perform better on the GMAT. Both tests include Quantitative, Verbal, and Analytical Writing sections. Some of the content and the question types are different. For example, the GMAT tests grammar, while the GRE tests vocabulary.
If you are deciding between preparing for the GRE or GMAT, first check to make sure that the programs to which you are applying accept both tests. If you can apply with either test, we recommend that you take a full-length practice GRE and a full-length practice GMAT. Compare your scores and your overall comfort with each test. Then plan to prepare for and take the test on which you feel that you will perform your best.
The two main sections of the GRE are Quantitative Reasoning and Verbal Reasoning. There is also an Analytical Writing section.
GRE Subject tests are different—they test mastery in specific academic subjects (i.e., Biology, Chemistry, Literature and English, Mathematics, Physics, and Psychology).
The computer-based GRE General Test consists of 82 questions:
2 Analytical Writing essays
40 Quantitative Reasoning questions (two 20-question sections)
40 Verbal Reasoning questions (two 20-question sections)
Note that paper tests are slightly longer—each Verbal Reasoning and Quantitative Reasoning section consists of 25 questions instead of 20 questions, and the sections are five minutes longer than on the computer test.
While most students take the GRE General Test on computers, a paper version of the GRE is offered in locations where computer testing is unavailable. If you live in one of these countries, visit the ETS website to find a nearby test center.
Both versions use the same scoring scales and comprise the same three GRE sections: Verbal Reasoning, Quantitative Reasoning, and Analytical Writing. These sections will include the same types of questions as well, but the GRE paper test doesn’t include any reading questions in which you must choose a sentence from a given passage to answer the prompt.
The major difference between the tests is that the computer GRE is section-level adaptive, meaning that the second Quantitative and second Verbal sections of the test will be easier or harder depending on how you perform on the first section of that type.
Each Quantitative and Verbal section of the paper GRE includes 25 questions, instead of 20 questions like the computer-based GRE (and each section of the paper test is five minutes longer). Visit the ETS website for a full breakdown of the format and structure of the paper and computer tests.
Also note that all GRE Subject Tests are administered as paper tests only, and they are offered three times each year. You can find information about GRE Subject Test centers on the ETS website.
While many of the questions on the GRE are multiple choice, the test is not entirely multiple choice. The test begins with two free-response essays. The Quantitative Reasoning sections have four question types: standard multiple choice, multiple choice with more than one possible answer, quantitative comparison, and numeric entry (in which you type a numerical response). The Verbal Reasoning sections have three question types: standard multiple choice, multiple choice with more than one possible answer, and reading questions in which you must select a sentence from the passage.
The GRE Quantitative Reasoning section does not test advanced math topics, so do not worry if you have not taken a math class for a few years. The math tested on the GRE includes familiar topics: arithmetic, algebra, geometry, and data analysis. The types of math questions are: quantitative comparison, numeric entry, multiple choice with a single answer, and multiple choice with multiple possible answers. Many students find the math on the GRE to be similar to the math they encountered on the SAT or ACT.
You cannot take a calculator with you to any GRE administration. The GRE computer platform includes a basic four-function calculator for arithmetic calculations on the Quantitative Reasoning sections. If you are in a country that administers paper tests, you will be provided a basic four-function calculator to use on Quantitative Reasoning sections.
The calculator provided for Quantitative Reasoning is designed to help you with arithmetic computation, not problem solving. You can use it to save time when a problem involves longer computations, but you still need to know the mathematical concepts tested on the GRE. We suggest that you complete your practice tests and other study materials while using a calculator like the one provided on the official test to get used to completing questions with the tools available to you.
Anyone is eligible to take the GRE, which is is commonly used for admission to doctoral and master's programs. In addition, almost all MBA programs accept the GRE and GMAT for admission. The GRE is also accepted in lieu of the LSAT at certain JD programs. Each year, over half a million people take the GRE General Test. Students who take the GRE appreciate the flexibility of being able to use a single standardized test to apply to multiple graduate or dual-degree programs.
The GRE is generally taken by college students and graduates who plan to attend graduate school in the United States. GRE scores are valid for five years.
Graduate schools that require standardized tests as part of their applications will not usually waive such requirements. However, keep in mind that M.B.A. and J.D. programs allow you to take different tests in lieu of the GRE, and some graduate programs do not require standardized tests for admission. Make sure to look up the test requirements of the schools and programs to which you plan to apply.
You can take the GRE up to five times in a 12-month period and no more than once every 21 days. GRE offers ScoreSelect reporting (whereby you select only the scores you wish to be reported to schools), so you should feel comfortable retaking the test. Note, however, that certain schools (particularly law schools) will request a complete record of your testing history.
The content tested on the GRE is challenging, but it is also learnable. While you may feel that the GRE is hard the first time you take it, rigorous study of the concepts and practice in applying them over time will likely make the test much easier.
In more than 30 years of helping students prepare for the GRE, we have found that one-on-one tutoring helps students achieve their best scores. Studying with a dedicated tutor will help you grow confident with the material because an excellent tutor can provide you with an individualized program tailored to your strengths and weaknesses and show you how to approach each question that you will encounter on the exam.
In the U.S., the GRE General Test currently costs $205 per administration. You can reinstate canceled scores for $50 and reschedule your test date for $50. Each GRE Subject Test administration costs $150. You can pay for the GRE with a credit card through your ETS (Educational Testing Service, the organization that administers the GRE) account.
For an in-person computer-delivered GRE administration, you should bring:
For remotely proctored GRE administrations, you should:
For a paper-delivered GRE administration (offered in locations where computer testing is unavailable), you should bring:
The best way to perform well on the GRE is to practice. Learn the underlying concepts in math, vocabulary, and reading comprehension that are tested on the GRE—don’t try to learn tricks. Then refine how you apply these concepts by taking full-length practice tests and reviewing every question that you missed.
We have found that one-on-one tutoring provides the most effective way to prepare for the GRE because tutors can tailor a preparation program to your strengths and weaknesses. However, any kind of practice, whether with a tutor, in a classroom, or by yourself, will help you study for the GRE.
We recommend that students plan to take the GRE for the first time six months before their application deadlines. Keep in mind that you can retake the GRE once every 21 days and up to five times in a 12-month period. By planning to take your first GRE six months in advance of your application deadlines, you will give yourself plenty of time to prepare, to take and retake the GRE, and to dedicate time to completing the other elements of your applications.
Most students benefit from retaking the GRE at least once. The GRE offers a ScoreSelect option that allows you to choose which scores to send to schools. On your test day, you can send either your most recent test score or all of your test scores from the past five years. After your test day, for a fee, you can send either your most recent test score, all of your test scores, or any (individual or combination) of your test scores from the past five years.
We recommend that most students plan to begin preparation for the GRE a year in advance of their application deadlines. This schedule gives students ample time to prepare for the test and retake it if necessary, while allowing for sufficient time to finish the other components of graduate school applications, such as the personal statement.
Because you need time to learn all of the underlying math, reading, vocabulary, and writing concepts and to practice applying them on timed practice tests, we recommend that students prepare for the GRE with study sessions, tutoring, and timed practice testing multiple times per week for at least three or four months.
Studying for the GRE typically takes more than one month. If you have only one month to prepare, focus on taking full-length, computer-based practice tests supplied by ETS (Educational Testing Service, the organization that administers the GRE) and on reviewing the topics related to any questions that you miss. This strategy will allow you both to pinpoint your weaknesses and to become familiar with the format and pacing of the test.
What defines a good score depends on your goals. The mean GRE score is 150 Verbal, 153 Quantitative, and 3.5 Analytical Writing. The 75th percentile is around 157 Verbal, 160 Quantitative, and 4.0 Analytical Writing. The 90th percentile is around 162 Verbal, 166 Quantitative, and 5.0 Analytical Writing.
When setting goals, you should take into account the mean scores at the schools to which you are planning to apply, your practice test scores, and the other strengths of your graduate school application. Different schools enroll students with different average scores, and different programs approach the test differently. For example, the Quantitative Reasoning section may be weighed more heavily when applying to math and science programs, and the Verbal Reasoning section may be weighed more heavily by English and humanities programs.
A perfect score on the GRE is 170 Quantitative, 170 Verbal, and 6 Analytical Writing. However, it is very uncommon to earn a score this high on the GRE. Scores at the 95th percentile are a 164 in Verbal, a 169 in Quantitative, and a 5.0 in Analytical Writing.
We have found that a rigorous, long term preparation working one-on-one with tutors provides the most effective way to prepare for the GRE. Studying with a dedicated tutor will help you fill in any gaps in your knowledge and grow confident with the material because an experienced tutor will provide you with an individualized program tailored to your strengths and weaknesses and show you how to approach each question that you will encounter on the exam.
While you should certainly strive to perform to the best of your ability on the GRE, keep in mind that perfect scores are very uncommon. A 170 Verbal is at the 99th percentile, a 170 Quantitative is at the 96th percentile, and a 6.0 Analytical Writing is at the 99th percentile.
You can also improve your score through rigorous practice. Take full-length, computer-based official practice tests. After you finish each test, review every question you got wrong, and practice similar questions until you feel comfortable with the content on the test. The best way to improve is to practice, not to try to learn “tricks.”
Beyond not earning points for them, incorrect answers are not penalized on the GRE, so be sure you do not leave any questions blank (i.e., guess on questions for which you do not know the answer). You can skip and come back to questions within a section, but you cannot return to questions from a previous section once you have moved on to a new section.
Keep in mind that both the Quantitative Reasoning and Verbal Reasoning sections are section-level adaptive—the testing platform will select a second section based on your performance on the first section of that type (Quantitative or Verbal).
There is no benchmark score required for admission to Harvard, nor is there a single score that will guarantee acceptance. The Harvard Business School M.B.A. Class of 2021 had a median GRE Verbal score of 163 (with a range of 147–170) and a median GRE Quantitative score of 163 (with a range of 145–170). Note that only 20% of enrolled M.B.A. students at Harvard Business School submitted GRE scores.
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