What is the GRE exam pattern and syllabus 2023?

Updated on: Nov 9, 2022

Students from all countries can get familiar with the GRE exam pattern before taking the exam. Here, we explain what’s included in the GRE exam syllabus for 2022 and we provide some tips for test preparation.

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The GRE exam pattern explained

Overall, the GRE exam has three different sections. These test a student’s ability to answer questions at a graduate level. The sections are:

  • Analytical writing
  • Verbal reasoning
  • Quantitative reasoning

Also, the GRE exam syllabus includes an unscored or research section. This section does not count to the overall score and it is for GRE test makers’ research.

Students answer multiple choice questions in the verbal reasoning and quantitative reasoning tasks. But students have to provide written answers for the analytical writing tasks.

For each section, students will have limited time to complete the questions or tasks. However, the research and unscored sections have no time limit.

The table below shows the time limits for each section.

Test sectionTasksTime limit

Analytical Writing

2 separate analysis tasks30 minutes per question.  
 1 x ‘analyse an issue’1 hour total
1x ‘analyse an argument’ 
Verbal Reasoning2 sets of 20 questions30 minutes per question.  
1 hour total
Quantitative Reasoning2 sets of 20 questions35 minutes per question set  
1 hour and 10 minutes total
Unscored or ResearchNo set amountNo time limit

Below, we have an overview of the content for each test section. We also provide further information about further exam requirements.

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Analytical Writing

Firstly, the GRE analytical writing section tests a student’s ability to create an argument with examples, evidence and explanations.

Students write a response to a topic of interest (analyse an issue). You also answer questions about a short passage of writing (analyse an argument). You have 30 minutes to complete each task.

We outline the requirements of the ‘analyse an issue’ and ‘analyse an argument’ sections in more detail below.

1. Analyse an issue

In this section, students are given an issue statement in a paragraph. Then, you write a response about the provided topic.

You must also clearly express your own thoughts on an issue in writing. But you also need to show you have understood different views and ideas about the issue in the text.

2. Analyse an argument

Students are shown a short passage, which you read and then respond to with an answer.

In the given passage, the author presents an argument with evidence. Students then explain what the writer’s argument is. You must also assess the evidence and reasoning in the passage and explain how impactful it is.

Verbal Reasoning

The verbal reasoning section of the GRE exam tests has three question types. These are

  • Reading comprehension
  • Text completion
  • Sentence equivalence

The reading comprehension questions are provided in two sets. But the text completion and sentence equivalence sections are independent of the comprehension part.

You have one hour to complete the verbal reasoning section. This is split into two 30-minute sections.

For each section, students are given a short text to read and you respond with multiple choice answers. However, the types of responses are different based on each part of the test.

Our overview below explains the details of each verbal reasoning section.

1. Reading comprehension

First, students read a short passage of text, between one and five paragraphs and respond with answers.

The text passages are always about either one of these subjects: humanities, social sciences (including business) or natural science.

In this section, you answer multiple-choice, and text selection questions. The multiple choice questions vary as some answers require one choice from a given list.

However, other questions have one to three correct answers and extra credit is available for these question types.

For the text selection, you must choose the correct word or sentence in the text that matches a given description. Students click on their selected word, phrase or sentence within the text to complete these questions.

2. Text completion

For text completion, students read a passage one to five sentences long. Then, you fill in the blanks within the text by selecting the most suitable word.

For each blank space in the text, students are given three possible choices. You must then select the word that matches the context of the text from the list provided. The possible answers are listed in columns, such as blank 1, blank 2, etc.

Each text completion question only has one correct answer. No extra credit is available for this part of the test.

3. Sentence equivalence

Lastly, students read one sentence per question in the sentence equivalence section. You then fill in the blanks from a choice of six multiple-choice answers.

In this section, you must select two options from the list of six words that best completes the sentence. The two words you select must have a similar meaning.

Again, no extra credit is available in this section. You can only select the two correct answers from the list of words provided.

Quantitative Reasoning

Students answer math questions in the quantitative reasoning section of the GRE exam pattern. This part of the exam has four question types.

  • Quantitative comparison questions
  • Multiple-choice (one correct answer)
  • Multiple-choice (one or more correct answers)
  • Numeric entry

The questions can be independent or part of a series of questions based on a set of data.

For the data set questions, students will answer multiple questions about a data, graph or table. These question types could come up as part of the multiple choice or numeric entry section.

You also have an on-screen calculator if you take the exam at a test centre. Students taking the paper exam are also given a calculator.

Here, we provide students with more important information about each quantitative reasoning question type.

1. Quantitative comparison

In this section, students are shown two math sums, images or equations. These are called ‘quantity A’ and ‘quantity B’.  

You are then shown four statements based on the sums provided. To answer, you select which statement best compares the two math equations, sums or images.

For each question, students can also work out the answers to each equation using a calculator or pen and paper before answering.

2. Multiple Choice

Firstly, students must answer multiple-choice questions. For this question type, students are shown a sum, equation or image and they choose the single correct answer from five options.

Second, students answer multiple choice questions with one or more correct answers. Here, you are shown a worded math question or problem and provided with a set of possible answers.

You respond to the question by selecting all the answers you think are correct. Unless stated in the question, multiple answers could be correct.

3. Numeric entry

Lastly, students calculate a given sum shown on the screen in the numeric entry section. Answers can be given as a number, if one box is displayed, or a fraction if two boxes are shown. Also, you may be asked to round your number in some questions.

Again, students can use calculators to support any working out when completing these answers. In some cases, you may also need to reduce fractions to the lowest terms to fit in the answer box provided.

Unscored and research sections

The unscored and research section is also known as the GRE ‘experimental section’. Students complete this section at any time after the analytical writing section.

Currently, the unscored and research section can either be part of the verbal reasoning or quantitative sections of the test. You are not informed when the experimental section of the test begins and it appears like the other questions on the exam.

However, the scores from this section do not count towards your overall GRE test score. The section is used by the exam provider to create future questions for the exam.

How to prepare for the GRE exam syllabus

Once you are familiar with the GRE test content, you have many options to help with your GRE preparation for exam day.

Today, students have various online and in-person resources to help when getting ready for each section of the test.

Also, because many preparation options are available, you can select the right method to suit your needs and schedule.

Below, we provide details about the different ways students can get test-ready for the GRE exam.

GRE books

One of the ways students can get familiar with the requirements of the GRE exam is to use the test guide. This book contains question examples, exam tips and strategies and correct answer commentary.

Alternatively, you can access books that cover questions and tips on each section of the test. This is useful if you need more targeted practice before the exam.

However, these pre-test materials range in cost from $20 to $72 and shipping fees may also apply.

Exam practice

Students can also access a range of practice paper questions online to help with GRE exam preparation.

These questions cover all three areas of the test and you can also find information and commentary on answer guidance and scoring. Alternatively, you can practice under test conditions to get prepared for the conditions before the exam.

In addition, the online practice papers help students get familiar with the on-screen tools and software that you will have on test day.

Currently, students can access two free practice papers. Here, you can complete questions, scroll backwards and forward between questions and use the testing equipment.

The GRE website also has many example questions through its ‘General test content’ page.

Webinars and videos

Furthermore, you can prepare for the GRE test by watching a host of online video material. Pre-recorded webinars and videos provide lots of information on different parts of the GRE exam to help you prepare for the test.

Some videos explain what is included in each test section. Others have practical advice to help you get familiar with the test equipment and to help with additional services like registration.


1. How many marks can I get for the GRE exam?

Students can score 130 and 170 in the reasoning parts of the GRE exam and between 0 and 6 in the analytical writing section. However, these are scaled scores based on the difficulty of the questions.

2. What are the 3 GRE sections?

Verbal reasoning, quantitative reasoning and analytical writing are the three main GRE sections. Also, there is an unmarked section for an unscored or research task.

3. How much does the GRE exam cost?

In most countries, the GRE costs $205.00. In India, the cost is $213.00 and in China, the GRE costs $231.30. This fee pays for test entry. 

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