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GRE FAQ: Everything You Need to Know Before Your Take the GRE

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GRE FAQ: Everything You Need to Know Before You Take the GRE

So you’re thinking about taking the GRE… but you have questions. (Of course you do: there are many things to know about the GRE!) At Veritas Prep, we’ve got answers! While your more specific, personalized questions are probably better answered with more extensive GRE prep (like classes or tutoring with our professional instructors, who will provide you with valuable study resources and provide practical tips and strategies), we’ll answer some GRE FAQ here — keep reading for answers to some commonly asked GRE questions and find out everything you’ve ever wanted to know about the GRE (and maybe some things you didn’t).

Q: What is the GRE?

A: The GRE, or Graduate Record Examination, is a graduate and professional school admissions exam offered by ETS, or Educational Testing Service. The full name of the GRE is the GRE General Test — this distinguishes it from the GRE subject tests (Biology, Chemistry, Literature in English, Mathematics, Physics, and Psychology) that ETS offers for students wishing to demonstrate proficiency in a particular subject. However, most people simply refer to the GRE General Test as “the GRE”.

The GRE is the most widely accepted graduate admissions exam. It is also accepted at many business and law schools, though the GMAT and LSAT, respectively, are more commonly accepted.

The GRE measures a student’s basic abilities in Quantitative Reasoning (math), Verbal Reasoning (reading), and Analytical Writing (essay), with question types designed to feature the kinds of thinking required in graduate and professional school. Test takers send their GRE results to the schools of their choice along with their applications, transcripts, letters of recommendation, and essays.

Q: Who takes the GRE?

A: One thing you should know about the GRE is that it’s everywhere. The GRE is primarily taken by individuals in more than 160 countries applying to graduate schools all over the world. It is also taken by some individuals applying to business and law school. The test is most commonly taken by currently enrolled undergraduate students or recent graduates with limited full-time work experience, but it is also taken by individuals who have already received their undergraduate degree and are currently in the workforce.

Q: Why take the GRE?

A: Taking the GRE is a requirement for admission to many graduate schools and may fill admissions test requirements at business and law schools. This means that the main reason to take the GRE is that it’s required!

On top of being a requirement, the results of this test are also a large factor in admissions committees’ decisions about whether or not someone will succeed in a graduate or professional program, so they can have a major impact on whether or not you are admitted to the schools of your choice. Additionally, GRE section scores are often used to place a new student in the appropriate courses for their skill level, so they can affect your graduate or professional school course schedule. Some students may even be required to take remedial courses before beginning their program as a condition of admittance.

Q: What is on the GRE?

A: The GRE contains three parts: Quantitative Reasoning, Verbal Reasoning, and Analytical Writing. Quantitative questions cover basic arithmetic, algebra, geometry, and data analysis.

Verbal questions test a student’s ability to read and comprehend sentences and longer passages, with an emphasis on structural relationships. The Analytical Writing section challenges a student to write two organized essays: an argument essay and an issue essay.

An interesting fact about the GRE: while it’s designed to help graduate schools assess the abilities of college graduates, the vast majority of knowledge required to succeed on the GRE is content you learned in middle school or high school. Many successful college students and recent graduates find one of the challenges of the GRE to be remembering content they learned long ago, so it’s important to reserve some time for preparation for the GRE even if much of it is review for you.

Q: What is the GRE like?

A: The GRE is divided into 6 sections — 1 section of Analytical Writing, 2 sections of Verbal Reasoning, 2 sections of Quantitative Reasoning, and 1 unscored section. The difficulty of the second Verbal section will be determined based on the test taker’s performance in the first Verbal section, while the difficulty of the second Quantitative section will be determined based on the test taker’s performance in the first Quantitative section. The Analytical Writing section will always appear first, while the other 5 sections may appear in any order.

As previously mentioned, the Analytical Writing section on the exam gives students two writing prompts, which they will respond to in essay format. The questions in the Verbal and Quantitative sections of the GRE are in multiple choice format, though the type of multiple choice question varies widely. (Visit the ETS website for more information on the various Verbal and Quantitative Reasoning question types.) Within each Verbal and Quantitative section, test takers can skip and return to questions, but because of the adaptive nature of the test, they cannot skip between sections.

Note: there is a paper-based version of the GRE that is slightly different in format from the computer-based GRE. However, this version is much less common than the computer-based version, and is only given in areas where the computer-based GRE is not available — if you are concerned about this possibility, check whether or not you are nearby a paper-delivered test center before signing up.

Q: How long is the GRE?

A: The GRE is about 3 hours and 45 minutes in total, including breaks and time spent on instructional screens. Each Analytical Writing essay is separately timed for 30 minutes, giving 1 hour in total for the Analytical Writing section. Each Verbal Reasoning section is timed for 30 minutes, while each Quantitative section is timed for 35 minutes. There is also one 10 minute break after the third section (approximately halfway through the exam).

Q: How many questions are on the GRE?

A: Not including the unscored section (which varies in length), there 2 Analytical Writing prompts and 80 multiple choice questions — 40 Verbal and 40 Quantitative. The 40 Verbal questions are split evenly between the 2 Verbal sections, for 20 questions per section. The same is true of the Quantitative questions. Based on the timing per section, this gives an average of 1 minute and 30 seconds per Verbal question and 1 minute and 45 seconds per Quantitative question.

Q: How difficult is the GRE?

A: This is one of the most commonly asked GRE questions, but there isn’t one answer: how difficult the GRE is for you personally depends on a variety of factors. If you’re unfamiliar with the structure of the test, the format of the questions, or the content tested, you’re likely to struggle more than test takers with a solid GRE foundation. Similarly, students whose first language is not English are likely to have more difficulty with the Verbal section.

The best way to make the GRE easier for you is to study for it — specifically by doing realistic practice (including full-length, timed practice tests) and targeting your weaknesses. Working with a GRE expert is a great option to ensure your study is high quality and focused on the most important areas to improve your GRE skills.

Q: How is the GRE scored?

A: Another interesting thing about the GRE is that it’s atypical, in that there isn’t a total score — instead, there are separate Verbal, Quantitative, and Analytical Writing scores. The Verbal and Quantitative scores are each out of 170 points, with 130 points as the lowest possible score on each section. The Analytical Writing score is out of 6 points, with 0 points as the lowest possible score. All three scores appear on the same report and are sent to the schools of your choosing together. Schools can then assess you based on what criteria they care most about on the GRE: engineering schools will prize the quantitative score but care less about the essays, literary programs will care more about the verbal and essays, and other programs will have a more balanced look at how you did on the GRE.

Q: How long are GRE scores good for?

A: A student’s GRE scores are valid for 5 years after the day your test was administered. This can be useful if you choose to delay your graduate or professional school plans in favor of spending time gaining full-time work experience.

Q: When should I take the GRE?

A: GRE scores expire 5 years after the day your test was administered, so you should plan to take the GRE within 5 years of when you will need your score. Other than that restriction, when you personally should take the GRE depends on your timeline.

While most GRE test takers are still enrolled in or recently graduated from undergraduate programs, the GRE can be taken by anyone at any time. That said, if possible, it is usually advisable to take the GRE during or close to your undergraduate years — being in school keeps your testing mindset honed and your skills sharp, so test takers who are current or recent students often don’t need to work as hard as those who have been in the workforce for some time and need to retrain those abilities.

One lesson that many have learned the hard way about the GRE is that they should have taken it earlier when they had less pressure and more time to study instead of when they finally made that decision to apply to school with a few weeks before the application deadlines. If you’re on the fence about whether to take the GRE or apply to graduate school, it’s good advice to err on the side of taking the GRE so that you do have a score on record for the next five years and can apply more quickly with less stress.

Q: How many times can you take the GRE?

A: If you’re asking this question it’s important that you know this about the GRE: test takers can take the GRE up to 5 times in a 12-month period. Note that even test dates for which you cancelled your scores will count toward this total. While it is possible to take the test this many times, and while one or two retakes are often a good idea to further improve your score, too many retakes (especially if they are paired with minimal score improvement) may raise red flags with admissions committees.

Q: How often can you take the GRE?

A: If you want to plan on a “backup plan” in case your next test doesn’t go well, a nice thing about the GRE is that you don’t have to wait very long until you give it another try. Test takers can take the GRE one time every 21 days, up until they reach the 5 test per 12-month period limit. Again, while it is possible to schedule a retake for 21 days after your last test date, it is likely not advisable — 3 weeks is not usually sufficient time to make a significant score improvement. A longer period for study between your two exams is more likely to yield reliable results.

Q: How much is the GRE?

A: In most countries, Standard Test Administration for the GRE costs $205. There are other fees related to rescheduling, changing your testing center, ordering additional score reports, etc., as well as costs for official test preparation materials you may choose to purchase from ETS. Learn more about these fees (as well as other rules and procedures about the GRE registration process) on the ETS website.

Q: How do I sign up for the GRE?

A: Individuals can sign up for the GRE from the ETS website. There, you will create an account, which you will use to register for your test, view your scores, use free and purchased official test prep materials, etc. The site also contains plenty of information about the GRE test experience, such as test center rules and ETS policies.

Once you are logged in, you can begin the registration process. After filling in which test you would like to take (GRE General Exam) and approximately when/where you would like to take the test, ETS will provide a list of nearby testing locations with available test dates and times. Once you’ve selected your desired test appointment, you’ll pay and finish the transaction.

While these GRE FAQ answered the most important things you need to know about the GRE from a logistical standpoint, you likely still have concerns about your own GRE prep. For information beyond this GRE FAQ, you’re welcome to contact our offices for details on our GRE prep courses — our team at Veritas Prep is dedicated to helping students learn everything they need to know about the GRE from a content and strategy perspective, and can help you decide which type of prep is right for you.

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