GRE Guide

Many graduate programs require that prospective students submit their Graduate Record Examinations (GRE) scores along with their applications. Available at more than 1,000 test centers in over 160 different countries, the GRE may be presented in computerized or paper-based formats. In most countries, the computer-based test is offered year-round, although centers in mainland China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Korea hold testing sessions three times a month. In areas where the computer-based test is unavailable, candidates must take the paper version of the exam.

Thousands of graduate and postgraduate programs include the GRE General Test in their admission requirements, and many others use GRE scores to supplement applicants' undergraduate records. Focusing on quantitative reasoning, verbal reasoning, and analytical writing, the exam demonstrates students' problem-solving, analytical, and critical thinking skills.

GRE Subject Tests

While some programs request scores from the GRE general test, others also require applicants to provide their subject test scores. The GRE subject tests assess candidates' specialized knowledge in six different disciplines: psychology, mathematics, physics, chemistry, biology, and literature in English. Facilities around the world administer subject tests every April, September, and October.

Subject test scores allow admissions counselors to gauge a student's academic strengths and weaknesses and subsequently develop course placement recommendations. While many institutions do not require subject test scores, they often take them into consideration during the admissions process. Before applying to a program, it is important to research what type of GRE scores the school requires, so that the correct institution receives results from the right exam.

Do Counseling Students Have to Take the GRE?

Admission requirements often differ considerably between counseling programs and individual schools. While some institutions do not request that candidates provide their exam results, many candidates find it difficult to apply to counseling psychology graduate programs without GRE scores. As you research counseling programs, it is important to note whether or not each requires GRE scores, which scores play a role in admission and acceptance, and any subject tests a school may prefer. For instance, online school counseling programs might give preference to applicants who demonstrate impressive subject scores in psychology.

What Does the GRE Look Like?

The Structure of the GRE

The computer-delivered GRE general test consists of six sections, and takes three hours and 45 minutes to complete. Following the third section, participants are granted a 10-minute break. Test takers are given 30 minutes to finish the verbal reasoning portion of the test, which covers two different, 20-question sections. During the exam's analytical writing section, participants are allotted 30 minutes to analyze an issue, and another 30 minutes to analyze an argument. The quantitative reasoning part of the exam is comprised of two 20-question sections, with 35 minutes designated for each section.

In areas where the computer-delivered exam is unavailable, candidates take the GRE in a paper format. Consisting of six sections, the paper-delivered test is three hours and 30 minutes long, with an optional ten-minute break after the second section. The quantitative reasoning area of the test is made up of two 40-minute sections, each containing 25 questions. Both sections of the verbal reasoning portion contain 25 questions apiece, and respondents are given 35 minutes for each section. During the exam's analytical writing phase, candidates are given 20 minutes to analyze and respond to an issue in writing, and another 20 minutes to analyze and and respond to an argument. Both computer and paper formats allow test takers to skip questions and return to them later.

Delivery Format

The GRE general test is offered in computer-delivered and paper-delivered formats. The paper-delivered test is a hard copy version of the computerized exam, and contains five additional questions in the verbal reasoning and quantitative reasoning sections, respectively. It is available to test takers who are granted approval for special testing conditions, or in areas without access to computerized testing centers. Individuals who take the paper test may write in their test booklet, but are not permitted to bring scratch paper.

The Verbal Reasoning Section

Skill Areas

The verbal reasoning portion of the GRE evaluates how candidates analyze and evaluate written material, synthesize information, and identify relationships between words, sentence components, and concepts. Questions appear in several formats, with half requiring test takers to read a series of passages and answer related questions. In the other half, candidates must read, interpret, and complete paragraphs and sentences.

Question Types

The GRE's verbal reasoning section is comprised of sentence equivalence, reading comprehension, and text completion questions. Reading comprehension questions are delivered in sets, while text completion and sentence equivalence questions are presented independently. Text completion questions consist of a passage with one to three blanks to be filled in with an answer option. In sentence equivalence questions, respondents must complete one blank in a sentence with one of six provided options. Reading comprehension questions are presented in one of three formats: multiple choice with one answer option, multiple-choice with one or more answer options, or select-in-passage.

Common Pitfalls and How to Avoid Them

Some test takers make the mistake of basing their responses on the provided answers instead responding to the text itself. Many answers that initially seem correct from a logical standpoint contain contextual or grammatical errors. Other participants read passively, instead of interacting with the text by underlining important words and posing content-based questions.

Helpful Tips

  • Fill in the Blank Before Looking at the Answer Choices: Before reviewing the provided answer options, read the entire passage and fill in the blank based on instinct. Then compare your response to the provided answers listed.
  • Do Not Base Answers Off the First Word in Double Fill-in-the-Blank Questions: To make the exam challenging, test creators often duplicate an answer's first word in more than one choice. Be sure that both words in your answer complete the two blanks in an appropriate manner.
  • Read the Whole Passage: Some test takers work backwards by reading the question and answer choices first, then looking through the passage to find the answer. However, reading the passage first ensures that you thoroughly understand the material well and can respond to the question accordingly.
  • Look for Significant Words: Important words are often marked by other words and phrases, such as "that said," "although," and "however."

The Analytical Writing Section

Skill Areas

The analytical writing portion of the GRE measures critical thinking skills and writing capabilities. and Throughout the course of completing two analytical writing tasks, participants explain, develop, and support complex concepts as they analyze one issue and one argument.

Question Types

The analytical writing portion of the GRE consists of two tasks, in which respondents must analyze an issue and an argument, respectively. Intended to assess participants' critical thinking skills, the issue analysis task requires test takers to convey their thoughts about a topic in writing. Every issue task poses a claim that can be discussed from several different perspectives. After forming an opinion on the issue, participants describe their recommendations, explain their reasoning, and acknowledge opposing arguments. The second task evaluates how test takers analyze, comprehend, and summarize their conclusions in writing.

Word Processing Software

The computer-delivered test is administered through a basic word processing program developed by ETS. The word processor allows test takers to cut and paste, insert and delete text, and undo previous actions. To maintain fair practices for those individuals taking the paper-delivered exam, the word processor does not include spelling- or grammar-checking capabilities.

Common Pitfalls and How to Avoid Them

Understanding how issue and argument tasks are graded is crucial to succeeding at the analytical writing portion of the test. GRE prep courses offer insight into the scoring and evaluation process, which may benefit test takers in the future. And while some participants tend to use technical or complicated language in their essays, it is more important to articulate ideas in a clear and concise tone.

Helpful Tips

  • Review GRE Test Book Guides on Scoring: Many examples of previously-scored GRE essays are available both online and in print. Examining sample essays and scorebooks can give you a better idea of what GRE scorers look for in a written submission.
  • Leave Time to Proofread Your Work: Before submitting your work, take the time to proofread each essay for spelling and grammatical errors. Even the smallest technical mistakes can lower an essay's quality.
  • Make Sure Written Responses Clearly Explain Reasoning: A strong essay thoroughly explains the author's reasoning by backing up its content and claims with supporting information.
  • Go Over Topics Before Exam Day: Before test day, ETS provides a list of prompts and topics that might appear on the exam. By reviewing this list, you will gain a better idea of what to expect during the test.

The Quantitative Reasoning Section

Skill Areas

The GRE's quantitative reasoning section evaluates participants' basic math skills, their understanding of mathematical concepts and theoretical models, and their ability to apply these skills to real-world situations. Questions strongly emphasize geometry, including three-dimensional figures, the Pythagorean theorem, and parallel and perpendicular lines.

Question Types

The quantitative reasoning section includes four types of questions: multiple-choice with one answer, multiple-choice with one or more answers, numeric entry questions, and quantitative comparison questions. Most emphasize concepts such as absolute value, prime numbers, percentages, and basic arithmetic. Algebraic questions address graphs and functions, word problems, and quadratic equations.

Can You Use a Calculator on the GRE?

The computer-delivered test provides participants with an on-screen calculator that features addition, subtraction, square root, division, and multiplication capabilities. Administrators provide those who sit for the paper-delivered test with a similar calculator.

Common Pitfalls and How to Avoid Them

When they begin the quantitative reasoning section, many test takers focus on advanced mathematical concepts and try to perform complex calculations for each quantitative comparison. By estimating, however, it is often possible to eliminate incorrect answers and select the correct one. In addition, this section focuses primarily on high school-level algebraic concepts. While studying, you may wish to review these skills, instead of advanced mathematics.

Helpful Tips

  • Memorize a Variety of Equations: Many basic equations and principles can be applied to more complicated mathematical problems. Memorizing these equations is a great way to prepare for problems of any type and level of difficulty.
  • Simplify Questions When Possible: The quantitative reasoning portion of the exam contains many equations that can be simplified. Eliminating zeros from fractions and reducing algebraic terms can often make problems easier to solve.
  • Leave Time to Check Your Work: Many of the provided answers differ from each other by only one or two digits, so it is important to review your work carefully and ensure that you have chosen the correct answer.
  • Refresh Basic Math Concepts: Many candidates spend too much time focusing on complex mathematical topics and forget to review basic concepts such as mean, median, mode, and probability. These concepts may be used to solve more difficult problems.

How is the GRE Scored?

The GRE General Test uses three different score scales. Verbal reasoning scores are reported in one-point increments on a 130-170 scale, while analytical writing scores are reported in half-point increments on a 0-6 score scale. Quantitative reasoning scores are reported in one-point increments on a 130-170 score scale. Any unanswered questions are reported as No Score (NS).

The computer-delivered test showcases quantitative and verbal reasoning scores based on the number of correct responses to all of the questions in the entire section. In these portions, the computer selects the second operational section of a given area based on the test taker's performance during the first operational section. Essays submitted during the analytical writing section are scored by trained raters using a six-point scale.

GRE Section Score Range
Verbal Reasoning 130-170 (1-point increments)
Analytical Writing 0-6 (half-point increments)
Quantitative Reasoning 130-170 (1-point increments)

Source: ETS

What's the Difference Between Your Scaled Score and Your Percentile Rank?

Every GRE test score is made up of two components: percentile rank and scaled score. Percentile ranks demonstrate how a respondent's GRE results relate to those of other test takers, and are generally considered more important than scaled scores. However, some graduate programs place more weight on specific score areas than the combined results. Applicants should research beforehand which scores their chosen program prioritizes.

GRE Section Score Range
Verbal Reasoning 149.97
Analytical Writing 3.48
Quantitative Reasoning 152.57

Source: ETS

How Do You Register for the GRE?

The GRE registration process begins when applicants select a testing date. After choosing a date and paying a fee, registrants thoroughly review exam procedures and policies, including ID requirements. On the day of the exam, test takers must present a valid photo ID before entering the testing room. Finally, candidates create an ETS account, to which scores will be sent after completing the test.

When Should You Take the GRE?

You should plan to take the GRE one year prior to applying to graduate programs. Since scores are valid for five years, completing the exam in advance provides time to retake the test, if necessary, without invalidating previous scores.

How Much Does the GRE Cost?

While the exam itself typically costs $250, certain circumstances may influence the overall price. Individuals who register late must pay a $25 fee, and those who reschedule the test pay $50. Standby testing assesses a $50 fee, and it costs an additional $50 to change test center locations.

How Many Times Can You Take the GRE?

Students are permitted to retake the GRE once every 25 days; however, individuals may register for the exam only five times per year. Candidates are advised to retake the exam only if they must replace an inadequate score.

How Should You Prepare for the GRE?

At-Home Study Methods

There are several at-home study methods that test takers can utilize from printed study guides to online practice tests.

  • Printed Study Guides: Printed study guides serve as a tangible resource to prepare test takers for the GRE. They can use them to review questions and formats to prepare for practice exams and the actual GRE.
  • Flashcards: Flashcards help test takers study a variety of things in a quick, easy way. They can use flashcards to study common words used on the GRE or to answer quick, topic-specific questions.
  • Private Tutoring: Private tutoring provides students with one-on-one support to prepare for the many aspects of the GRE test like questions, scoring, topics, and structure.
  • Studying Apps: Studying apps serve as a convenient tool for test takers to utilize a variety of features to help them study for the GRE test.
  • Online Practice Tests: Online practice tests provide test takers with the opportunity to simulate their actual GRE exam to become comfortable with the question types, topics and content, and time constraints.

GRE Prep Courses

There are plenty of options for test takers to participate in GRE prep courses both online and in-person. The Princeton Review offers online and in-person GRE prep courses. The online courses are led by experts and include live instruction, video lessons, practice tools and exams, interactive score reports, online resources, and if test takers do not score higher and have 100% satisfaction, they will get a refund or be able to retake the course for free. The online course costs $799. The Princeton Review also offers a self-paced prep course for $199 that provides test takers with video lessons, practice tools and exams, interactive score reports, online resources, and the same guarantee for a refund or retake that the online course offers.

Studying Tips for the GRE

  • Review Basic Math Concepts: There are a variety of mathematical questions on the GRE and by reviewing some of the most basic mathematical concepts like probability, mean, median, and mode, test takers can prepare themselves for a range of questions.
  • Memorize Different Equations: Test preps for the GRE will outline some different equations that appear frequently on the GRE. Test takers should memorize the equations so they are prepared for them as they show up during questions.
  • Leave Time to Double Check Answers: Test takers should make sure they leave time at the end of the exam to go back through and double check their answers. They can skim through questions to recognize ones they struggled with and spend some time making sure they chose the best answer.
  • Keep Up on Scratch Paper: Replenish your scratch paper during breaks. Test administrators for more scratch paper as they need it to ensure they have enough to last the entire exam.
  • Simplify Questions Whenever It Is Possible: From reducing algebraic expressions to eliminating zeros from fractions, simplifying mathematical equations can make them easier to solve.

Helpful Resources

The examples below are only a few of the free GRE study resources available to candidates. From flashcards to practice tests, these materials cover a variety of subjects, sections, and elements found on the GRE.

  • ETS POWERPREP Practice Tests: ETS POWERPREP practice tests familiarize students with the various types of GRE questions and testing tools they are likely to encounter on the exam.
  • Quizlet: This site lets participants create customized flashcards based on GRE material. After signing up, students may use their flashcards during timed study sessions or explore decks created by other users.
  • Magoosh GRE Vocabulary Flashcards: Magoosh GRE vocabulary flashcards review 1,000 of the most common words featured on the exam. Candidates can study online, or download the convenient app and review vocabulary on the go.
  • LEAP: The LEAP website features a variety of online study tools, including more than 1,100 sample questions, blogs, and videos. Led by some of the world's best GRE tutors, LEAP's virtual GRE prep classes.

What Should You Expect on Test Day?

You should plan to arrive at the testing facility around 30 minutes before your scheduled test time. Those who are late may not participate. Test administrators assign seats and provide scratch paper for use during the exam. Once the test begins, candidates may not leave the testing facility unless they need to use the restroom. Test takers are granted a ten-minute break after completing the exam's third section and one-minute breaks between the remaining three sections.

What Should You Bring with You?

  • Valid Photo ID: A valid photo ID is required during check-in on test day. IDs will be verified and the verification process may include signature comparison, fingerprinting, videotaping, or biometric voice and picture identification.
  • Confirmation Email/Voucher: Test takers must bring their confirmation email or voucher when they check in on test day. These vouchers are the only form of paper allowed in the testing room and may not be used as scratch paper.
  • Layers of Clothing: Participants should dress appropriately and comfortably. Jewelry is prohibited, with the exception of wedding and engagement rings. Some items, such as glasses, bow ties, neckties, scarves, and outerwear may be subject to inspection.

What Should You Leave at Home?

  • Study Notes/Books: Test takers are not permitted to bring books or study notes into the testing area, as both materials convey an unfair advantage over other participants.
  • Your Own Scratch Paper: To prevent cheating, participants are forbidden from bringing their own scratch paper. Instead, the testing center provides test takers with scratch paper.
  • Your Own Calculator: The computer-delivered exam provides candidates with an on-screen calculator, and those taking the paper-based test receive access to a physical calculator. Both tools are equipped to perform basic mathematical functions.

Accommodations for Test Takers with Disabilities or Health-Associated Needs

Test takers with certain health conditions or disabilities may apply to receive special accommodations. Accommodations available during the computer-delivered GRE test include extra breaks, selectable colors, screen magnification, extended time, and screen readers with refreshable braille capabilities. Requests for accommodations may be submitted by mail or online, and must be approved by ETS Disability Services before the applicant schedules their exam date.

Submitting Your Scores

When Will You Get Your Scores?

Participants who take the computer-delivered exam should receive their scores in their ETS account about 10-15 days after the testing date. The scores are then sent to the designated institutions. Paper-delivered test scores appear in test takers' ETS accounts and are subsequently administered within five weeks of testing.

How Do You Submit Your Scores to Schools?

After registering and paying exam fees, students may send their scores to up to four graduate institutions or fellowship sponsors. Test takers choose their desired recipient institutions from a list. Those who wish to submit additional scores may do so, for a $27 fee per school.

What Scores Will Schools See If You Take the Test More Than Once?

The GRE test features a ScoreSelect option that lets students decide which of their GRE scores they would like sent to their chosen institutions. Upon registration, candidates choose whether or not they want to report their scores, and if they would like the testing center to send their scores directly to one or more schools. Students may distribute their subject test scores through ScoreSelect for up to five years. During this period, candidates may contact colleges and universities to determine which scores are most important for school counseling program applicants.

How Long Will Your Scores Be Valid?

GRE exam scores are valid for five years. Tests that were completed on or following July 1, 2016 remain valid for five years after the test date. Exams taken before July 1, 2016 are valid for five years after the year in which the student took the exam. For example, a test taken on May 15, 2015 remains valid until June 30, 2018.