If you're set on going to grad school, you'll have to conquer the GRE first. Here's a brief overview of the GRE exam.

GRE Quick Facts

Frequency Most weekdays and weekends year-round
Duration 3 hours, 45 minutes
Sections Verbal, Quantitative, and Analytical Writing
Cost $205
Max. Score 170
Avg. Score 150.8

What specifically does the GRE test?

  • Verbal: The GRE tests vocabulary, primarily in context, and a whole lot of reading comprehension. The three distinct question types on the verbal portion are Text Completion, Sentence Equivalence and Reading Comprehension.

  • Quantitative : the GRE tests basic math concepts up through algebra I and geometry. The most commonly tested topics include basic algebra, geometry, averages, ratios, number properties, exponents and square roots, and numeric problem solving.

  • Analytical Writing: There are also two essays. One tests your ability to formulate a convincing argument based upon a topic you select from two choices. The other will give you the argument and you have to evaluate it.

Of course, ETS likes to claim that the GRE tests skills that you will need to be successful in graduate school, but really all it tests is your ability to take the GRE. Fortunately, that can be learned and mastered.

How is the GRE scored?

Test-takers will get three separate scores, one for the Quantitative (the math), one for the Verbal, and one for the Analytic (the essays). Math and Verbal scores will range between 130 and 170 in one point increments. Analytic scores range between 0 and 6 in half point increments.

The GRE General Test is adaptive by section. Every test taker will see at least two math sections and two verbal sections. The difficulty level of the second section of each subject is determined by the test taker's performance on the first section of each subject. If you get lots of questions right on the first section, you will get a harder second section, but access to higher scores. If you do poorly on the first section, you will get an easier second section and your scoring potential is capped at a lower range.

Some test takers will also see an additional experimental math or verbal section, which will not be included in the final score. If you see three math sections, you will know that your experimental section was math, but you won't be able to tell which of the three was not scored.

Essays are evaluated by one human and one computer. Each assigns a score on the 1- to 6-point scale. Final scores for both readers and both essays are averaged and rounded up to the nearest 1/2 point. A test taker who skips the essays or writes an essay on a topic other than the ones that have been presented, receives a score of 0. Learn more about GRE scores.

Do GRE test scores expire?

Your GRE score remains valid for five years.

How important is your GRE score?

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 are the GRE Subject Tests?

The GRE Subject Tests are similar to the 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?

Start by taking our free GRE practice test. If your scores need improvement, we can help. We have GRE prep options for every student and every budget. To register for the test, visit www.gre.org.