The Graduate Record Examination (GRE) is a 3.9 hour, multiple-choice, multi-stage test required by most graduate schools. It's run by the Educational Testing Service, the same people who run the SAT.
Schools differ in how they use your GRE score. Some consider it very important, while others view it as a formality. We recommend asking your prospective programs — most will be quite willing to tell you what role the test plays in their admissions decisions.
What's the breakdown of the GRE?
The GRE consists of an Analytical Writing section that contains two essay questions, two Verbal Ability (vocabulary and reading) sections that each contain 20 multiple-choice questions, and two Quantitative Ability (math) sections that each contain 20 multiple-choice questions.
There is also a sixth, experimental section that can be either Verbal or Quantitative. This section does not count toward your final score — ETS uses it to test questions for use on future exams. Unfortunately, you'll have no way of knowing which section is experimental (it looks identical to any other Verbal or Quantitative section), so you'll need to do your best on the entire test.
How is the GRE scored?
The GRE is a multistage test, which means that the computer uses your performance on one section to determine the difficulty level of the next section. Within a section, however, the question selection is static and you can skip around. If you do very well on your first Verbal section, for example, the second Verbal section you see will be much more difficult. This is a good thing, however, because you must get to and successfully tackle the hardest questions to get to the highest possible scores.
Your Verbal and Quantitative scores are reported on a scale of 130 to 170 in 1-point increments. The Analytical section is listed separately and scored on a scale of 0 to 6, in ½-point increments.
What are the GRE Subject Tests?
The GRE Subject Tests are similar to SAT Subject Tests in that they test your knowledge of a particular subject like chemistry or literature. Not every school requires a GRE Subject Test, but many of the most competitive programs do. ETS offers the tests three times a year; they are not part of the standard GRE.
How can I prepare for the GRE?