GRE The Graduate Record Exam (GRE) measures your ability to succeed at graduate-school level studies, (like GMAT, SAT etc.) measure your ability to succeed at undergraduate schooling. Your score on the GRE is one of the primary factors used by university admissions officers for determining whether to accept you into their programs. As such, it is important to prepare for the GRE and score as highly as you can.


Developed by Educational Testing Services (ETS), the GRE exam has many similarities to the SAT. Both are now computer adaptive tests (CAT); no need to bring a pencil, pen or paper to the test site. In a CAT, you answer one question at a time; your answer to each question determines the difficulty level of the next question. As you answer questions correctly, the computer program increases the difficulty of your questions; when you answer a question incorrectly, the computer program provides another of the same difficulty or a slightly reduced difficulty. Eventually, the computer program determines your score based on the correct level of your skill in that area.

The GRE exam measures three skill areas:

  • Analytical Writing - (2 tasks for a total of 60 minutes)
  • Verbal Reasoning - (2 sections for a total of 60 minutes)
  • Quantitative Analysis - (2 sections for a total of 70 minutes)

Analytical writing section

The analytical writing section uses a free-response (or essay) format to measure your ability to write complex thoughts in clear, precise English prose. The skills you need to demonstrate in this section include:

  • Evaluate claims and evidence
  • Develop a complex, coherent argument/discussion
  • Support ideas with reasons and example
  • Write using standard punctuation and grammar

For this section of the test, you will need to write an essay or argument for each of the two tasks. You should be able to type and use a basic word processing program (no, the word processor does not have grammar or spell check – you have to supply those skills on your own). For most international students, this section is moderately difficulty. Although the GRE exam requires you to demonstrate a sophisticated command of written English, the free response format allows you to craft your answer in whatever ways highlight your strengths.

Verbal reasoning section

The verbal reasoning section uses a multiple choice format to measure your command of English vocabulary and reading comprehension. It is very similar to the SAT and ACT reading comprehension tests, although the questions are generally more evaluative and require a finer command of the subtleties of the English language.
The skills measured in the verbal reasoning sections of the GRE exam include:

  • Analyze multiple layers of meaning (both literal and figurative)
  • Distinguish between significant and irrelevant information
  • Identify and accommodate for authorial bias / perspective
  • Identify and analyze the structure of a text (chronological, spatial, process)
  • Understand the meanings of words and phrases

Quantitative reasoning sections

The quantitative reasoning sections also use a multiple choice format to measure your ability to perform basic and complex mathematical calculations. This section is the most similar to the SAT and ACT tests, in both style and question difficulty. The skills measured in the quantitative reasoning sections of the GRE exam include:

  • Understanding quantitative data (both as tables and graphs
  • Analysing data (statistics, probability)
  • Applying basic mathematical skills (arithmetic, algebra, geometry)

For most international students, the quantitative reasoning section will be the easiest to master and require the least preparation. However, that does not mean you should take it lightly. You should invest some time in reviewing basic mathematical formulas, with special emphasis on statistical and probability analysis.

What are the GRE Subject Tests?

Along with the general revised Graduate Record Exam (GRE), there are subject-specific exams you can take. The GRE has specific tests on the following subject areas:

  • Biochemistry, cell and molecular biology
  • Biology
  • Chemistry
  • Literature in English
  • Mathematics
  • Physics
  • Physics
  • Psychology

These tests are optional. Please check with the university to which you are applying to determine if they want you to take a subject area test. But, even if your program does not require a subject-area GRE test, you might choose to take it and submit the scores – with the hope that your excellent score will help distinguish you from the other applicants.

GRE Registration

You can register to take the Graduate Record Exam (GRE) in a variety of ways. The easiest method for most is to register on-line by creating a GRE account. However, you may also register for the GRE exam by mail or by phone. The cost to take the general GRE is currently $185; each subject tests costs $150. There are also a variety of additional services (such as test preparation services) that are available to you for additional fees.

GRE Testing Around the World

You do not have to wait until you are in the USA to take the GRE exam. There are about 700 ETS-authorized testing centers in more than 160 countries. In most countries, you can take a computer-based GRE at any time throughout the year. And in those regions where computer access is more limited, you may still be able to take the GRE in a pencil-paper format. Regardless of location or format, your GRE exam scores will be transmitted to the universities you designate, so they may evaluate your scores with the rest of your application.

What about GRE Scoring?

Your performance on the Graduate Record Exam (GRE) will earn a numeric evaluation for each of the three testing subsets:

  • Analytical Reasoning - 0 – 6 in half point increments
  • Verbal Reasoning - 130 – 170 in single point increments
  • Quantitative Reasoning - 130 – 170 in single point increments

It is nearly impossible to advise you what score you should aim for (beyond stating “as high a score as you can”). Each university has its own expectations for GRE scores. The best way to set a GRE goal is to research the programs to which you are applying.

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