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A speedy overview of the GRE exam

Sean Campbell
Last Updated: 16 September 2021 • 8 min read

The GRE test — short for the Graduate Record Examination — is one of the most well known entrance exams for people who want to study a postgraduate program overseas.

It’s a means of demonstrating your ability to keep up with the level of work required at a challenging post graduate record, testing a student’s critical thinking skills and abilities in three key areas: verbal reasoning, quantitative reasoning, and analytical writing.

In this speedy overview of the GRE, we take you through the most frequently asked questions about the test to help you learn all you need about it!

Let’s get started.  

GRE: An Overview

  1. What is the GRE used for?
  2. GRE vs GMAT: What’s the difference?
  3. What types of GRE tests are there? 
  4. What’s the difference between GRE General & GRE Subject? 
  5. What’s the format (pattern) of the GRE General test?
  6. Do I take the GRE at a test centre or at home?
  7. How is the GRE General scored?
  8. What GRE score do I need?
  9. When should I do the GRE?
  10. How to prepare for the GRE?
  11. Where can I find GRE practice tests?

1. What is the GRE used for?

The GRE is used to measure the academic and practical ability of students who want to study a postgraduate course such as business or law, as well as plenty of other subjects.

Overall, its purpose is to find out if you’re ready to keep up with the demands of a postgraduate programme by testing you in critical and abstract thinking in areas like analytical writing, mathematics and general vocabulary. 

The GRE is used and accepted by colleges and universities in most English speaking countries like the US, Canada and Australia. However, it’s worth noting that the GRE is usually not required in the UK. 

2. GRE vs GMAT: What’s the difference?

Though the GRE and GMAT are similar in some ways, the key difference is that the GMAT is more commonly used to gain entry into an MBA course (Master of Business Administration).

The GRE on the other hand is a more versatile exam, used to gain entry into a range of other postgrad courses. We’ve written a full article answering the GMAT vs GRE question, so check it out!

3. What types of GRE tests are there? 

The GRE test comes in two forms: GRE General and GRE subject. Usually, when someone uses the term “GRE”, they’re referring to the GRE General unless they state otherwise. 

4. What’s the difference between GRE General & GRE Subject? 

Well, one tests your general skills while the other tests your knowledge in a specific area! But you need more information than that… 

As mentioned above, the GRE General tests your analytical writing, verbal reasoning, and quantitative reasoning. These are skills you’ll have learned and developed throughout your entire education, and are not related to any specific field of study. 

Let’s take a closer look at what’s in the GRE General test:

Analytical Writing

The analytical writing section tests you in these areas:

  • Articulating complex ideas clearly and effectively
  • Supporting ideas with relevant reasons and examples
  • Examining claims and accompanying evidence
  • Sustaining a well-focused, coherent discussion
  • Demonstrating good control of standard written English

In short, the analytical writing section of the GRE tasks you with giving strong, concise and focused responses to each scenario. 

Verbal Reasoning

In the verbal reasoning section, you must:

  • analyze and draw conclusions from a conversation or interaction; demonstrate reasoning skills to draw conclusions from incomplete data; understand an author's assumptions, intentions and/or perspective, and; understand multiple levels of meaning, such as literal, figurative and author's intent. 
  • select important points; distinguish major from minor or irrelevant points; summarize text, and; understand the structure of a text
  • understand the meaning of individual words, sentences and entire texts; understand relationships among words and among concepts.

Quantitative Reasoning

The quantitative reasoning section focuses more on your numerical and mathematical knowledge. In this section you must demonstrate an ability to:

  • understand, interpret and analyze quantitative information
  • solve problems using mathematical models
  • apply basic skills and elementary concepts of arithmetic, algebra, geometry and data analysis

The Quantitative Reasoning section includes an on-screen calculator, but this isn’t necessary for all questions. 

On the other hand, there are four GRE Subject tests on offer. These are: 

  • Chemistry
  • Mathematics
  • Physics
  • Psychology

Each of these GRE Subject tests contains only questions related to that particular field in order to make sure you have the foundational knowledge and skill to thrive at postgraduate level. 

5. What’s the format (pattern) of the GRE General test?

The format (or pattern) of the GRE General Test looks just like this: 

Section

No. of Sections

Total no. of Questions

Allocated Time

Total Time

Analytical Writing

2

2 tasks

30 minutes for each task

60 Minutes

Verbal Reasoning

2

20 questions for each section

30 minutes for each section

60 Minutes

Quantitative Reasoning

2

20 questions for each section

35 minutes for each section

70 Minutes

6. Do I take the GRE at a test centre or at home?

You can take the GRE test at a designated test centre near you, or you can take the GRE Home version. Each test is identical, it’s just a case of what works best for you. 

For taking the GRE at a test centre, you simply have to register on the ETS website (the board which administers the test), and find a test centre near you. Then it’s a case of booking a test time and date that suits you. 

You can do the GRE home version pretty much anytime with 24 - 48 hours notice. The home exam is proctored live by an examiner, so it’s simply a case of finding an available slot. 

7. How is the GRE General scored?

As you already know, the GRE exam scores you in the three areas of analytical writing, verbal reasoning and quantitative reasoning. 

The verbal reasoning and quantitative reasoning sections are both scored between 130 and 170, while the analytical writing section is scored on a scale of 0 to 6.

Section

Range

Analytical Writing

0 - 6

Verbal Reasoning

130 - 170

Quantitative Reasoning

130 - 170

The total score given for the GRE general is 340, as the analytical writing section does not affect your overall score. As long as your score in this section isn’t far too out of line with your other section scores, it won’t affect your chances of acceptance into your course. 

8. What GRE score do I need?

The GRE score you need depends on the requirements of your college, but generally speaking, a score above 318 is considered to be good, while a score above 329 is believed to be excellent. 

You see, the final score you get is superseded by the percentile you fall into, i.e. where you rank according to other test-takers. In simpler terms, your performance against others is more important than your own final score. 

Usually however, a score above 318 puts you in the 75th percentile, while a score of 329 puts you in the 90th percentile. 

9. When should I do the GRE?

It's best to take the test a few months before the deadline for admissions to the graduate program you wish to follow. That way, you’ll have your results in good time and can resit the exam if necessary. Though hopefully you won’t need to do that if you’ve prepared accordingly! 

10. How to prepare for the GRE?

As with all examinations, time, routine and real practice are the best preparation tips we can give. Here are our top tips for GRE preparation: 

  • Start studying between 8 and 12 weeks before your exam day. 
  • Create a study schedule that you can stick to. Then stick to it!
  • Find your current level by taking a practice test. 
  • Use this practice test to become comfortable with the test format (pattern)
  • Find out what score you need to gain admission to your graduate program.
  • Invest in a GRE preparation book or online course if you can. 
  • Develop your skills by taking practice tests under test conditions. 
  • Read non-fiction, journal and research content in the real world. This will boost your vocab and allow you to develop your analytical and reasoning skills without the pressure of an exam. 

11. Where can I find GRE practice tests?

The internet is a treasure trove of GRE practice tests, some of which are free and some of which you have to pay for. 

To save you some money though, here are 5 of the best free GRE practice test platforms and websites:

We’d recommend trying out at least 2 or 3 of these as each has some advantages and drawbacks from the others. Some mimic the test format better than others, while some are better for giving feedback and analysis.

Since you’re curious about the GRE test, we’ll assume you’re thinking about studying a postgraduate program? Well done!

Why not check out what courses and colleges we can offer right here on Edvoy? Click here to get started or follow the button below! Good luck out there!

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Sean Campbell
Written By
Sean Campbell

Sean is a writer, copywriter & editor from Ireland.

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