GRE (Graduate Record Examination) – A Guide from
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GRE (Graduate Record Examination)

Written by Ben Taylor

The GRE test is one of the most widely accepted graduate admission exams, particularly in the United States and English-speaking countries such as Canada and Australia. However, it’s usually not part of the entry requirements for Masters programmes in the UK.

The GRE exam is administered by an organisation called Educational Testing Service (ETS), which also provides the TOEFL qualification for English language proficiency.

While the GMAT Focus Edition tends to be more common for candidates applying to MBA programmes, a number of business schools recognise the GRE as well. What distinguishes the GRE from the GMAT is the fact that it’s not just for Business and Management disciplines – it can be part of the entry requirements for postgraduate programmes in a variety of subject areas. Graduate Record Examinations are also unique in that they come in a few different forms: the GRE General Test, as well as several subject-specific tests.

How does the GRE work?

The GRE can be taken in two formats: computer-delivered and paper-delivered. The content of both kinds of test is the same, but they have slightly different timings and numbers of questions for each section. As the computer-delivered GRE is the most common, this page will focus on the computer-based format and its three sections.

Unlike the GMAT Focus Edition, which doesn’t allow candidates to change their answers during the test, the computer-delivered GRE has preview, editing and tagging features built into it. This means that you can mark certain questions to take a look at later and change your answers within a section. You’ll even have a handy on-screen calculator for the Quantitative Reasoning section.The test will take around 3 hours and 45 minutes in total.

Analytical Writing (score scale: 0-6, with half-point increments)

This section is always the first one of the exam. You’ll have to write two essays that analyse an issue and an argument, both on topics of general interest. The test assesses your critical thinking and analytical writing skills, not your general knowledge of the essay subjects. You’ll have 30 minutes for each essay.

Verbal Reasoning (score scale: 130-170, with one-point increments)

In this part of the GRE, your ability to understand and critically analyse information will be assessed. It’s split into two 30-minute sections, each with 20 questions. There are three kinds of question, covering reading comprehension, text completion and sentence equivalence.

Quantitative Reasoning (score scale: 130-170, with one-point increments)

This section will test your problem-solving skills and ability to interpret and analyse quantitative information. The exam requires basic mathematical knowledge, including algebra, arithmetic, geometry and data analysis. It consists of two 35-minute sections, each with 20 questions.

In addition, your GRE test may include an ‘unscored’ or research section, which doesn’t count towards your final score but allows ETS to try out new questions for future use.

The entire testing procedure lasts for three hours and 45 minutes.

Paper-delivered GRE test

The paper-delivered GRE test is only available in places where the computer-based version of the exam isn’t offered. It’s also only provided up to three times a year (rather than all-year-round, like the computer-based version).

Subject-specific GRE

These tests will assess your knowledge in particular subjects and assume that you’ve already studied the subject at undergraduate level. Exams are available in:

  • Chemistry
  • Maths
  • Physics
  • Psychology

Subject-specific GRE tests are widely accepted, with some graduate schools and universities (or individual Masters programmes) sometimes requesting a subject-specific GRE over the general one.

Please note that you can only take subject-specific GRE tests three times a year, and that the format is paper-delivered.

What GRE score do I need?

Minimum GRE score requirements differ from university to university (and from department to department). Some graduate schools don’t actually have a minimum GRE score, instead viewing a candidate’s GRE score alongside all the other elements of a Masters application (personal statement, references, cover letter and academic background, for example).

That said, ETS provides data on the mean scores achieved in each section of the GRE, which are as follows:

  • Analytical Writing – 3.5
  • Verbal Reasoning – 150.05
  • Quantitative Reasoning – 152.80

If you’re applying for a particularly competitive Masters programme at a top university, you’ll usually need to achieve GRE scores in the region of:

  • Analytical Writing – 4.0 and above
  • Verbal Reasoning – 155 and above
  • Quantitative Reasoning – 160 and above

University websites often provide information on the average GRE scores achieved by successful applicants, so it’s worth taking the time to look this up if you’re unsure. Also, entry requirements often depend on the nature of the discipline – a Humanities department may place less emphasis on the Quantitative Reasoning part of the GRE, while the opposite might be true of a Science or Engineering school.

GRE preparation

The best place to start with GRE preparation is the ETS website, which has a wealth of resources – both free and paid-for. You can check out sample questions and comprehensive advice, as well as full GRE practice papers. Handily, there’s the option to download a free version of the computer-delivered GRE test that offers a faithful simulation of the real thing.

If you think you need some extra preparation, the paid-for options offered by ETS include further practice tests and questions. Be wary of using resources or trusting tips that aren’t provided by ETS, as the quality of non-official exam questions isn’t guaranteed.

Where can I take the GRE?

GRE test centres are located in more than 160 countries. You can view a full list of these locations – as well as the dates on which they’re hosting tests – on the ETS website.

How much does the GRE cost?

GRE fees depend on where the test centre is located, but you can expect to pay between $205 and $255 (USD) for the general test and USD $150 for a subject-specific test.

Can I retake the GRE?

You can take the GRE up to five times within a 12 month period. You must leave a gap of at least 21 days between attempts. If you do end up taking the test mire than once, you can choose your best scores to send to your chosen universities.

Online GRE

ETS developed a home-based version of the GRE in response to the coronavirus pandemic, allowing students to take the exam on their own computer if they’re unable to attend a test centre in person.

It takes the same form as the normal GRE General Test, with a human proctor monitoring your progress. The fee is also the same as the normal version (between USD $205 and $250, depending on your location).

Once you’ve taken the test, you’ll usually receive your score within a fortnight, and will be able to send your results to your designated universities.

Find out more about the home-based GRE, including how to book your place.

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Last updated: 21 October 2021