Shorelight helps international students attend top universities in the U.S.
Shorelight helps international students attend top universities in the U.S.

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Everything You Need to Know About the GRE

What is the GRE test? If you are dreaming of attending grad school in the US, this is the first question you need to ask. This grad school admissions exam is key to admission to many grad programs.

A student with a man bun holds a pencil in his mouth while contemplating an answer to his test.

Planning on going to graduate school in the United States? Depending on your degree program, you may be required to take the GRE. 

What is the GRE test? The Graduate Record Examinations (GRE) is a standardized exam required for admission to many graduate programs at universities and colleges in the US. What does the test measure? To start, it evaluates your verbal and quantitative reasoning, as well as analytical writing and critical thinking skills—so English comprehension is important for international students preparing to take the GRE.

Here is everything you need to know about this popular grad school test, including how long the test is, how the score is calculated, and what is considered a good score. 

What is the GRE? 

The GRE General Test is a computerized graduate school exam, required for a variety of graduate programs, that covers verbal and quantitative reasoning, as well as analytical writing. 

What are GRE subject tests? 

These specialized standardized tests can be taken in addition to the General Test. They measure knowledge and skill in biology, chemistry, literature in English, mathematics, physics, or psychology. Scoring and format varies by subject.

How hard is the GRE? 

This grad school test requires students to analyze and evaluate written material, which is particularly important for international students who do not speak English as their first language. The Quantitative and Verbal sections are computer-adaptive, meaning that they adjust to the test-taker’s ability. The more correct answers are scored, the more difficult the questions become. 

GRE tip #1

“Test-taker friendly” features let users tag questions with “mark” and “review” features, skip questions and return to them, as well as the ability to go back and change answers.

What is the structure of the GRE? How is it scored?

More specifically, how many sections does the GRE have? How many questions are on it? How is each section scored?

The GRE is a computer-based exam with three sections. The 2020 test includes: 

  • Verbal Reasoning, scored from 130–170, in 1-point increments. This section includes reading comprehension, text completion, and sentence equivalence questions answered via multiple choice or using select-in-passage format.

  • Quantitative Reasoning, scored from 130–170, in 1-point increments. This section includes quantitative comparison questions, multiple-choice questions (some ask for a single answer, others ask for one or more), and a series of numeric entry questions.

  • Analytical Writing, scored from 0–6, in half-point increments. This section has essays for the test-taker to write.

Each question in the Verbal and Quantitative Reasoning sections contribute equally to the final score. The raw score is the number of questions answered correctly. This raw score is converted to a scaled score based on differences in difficulty across test-takers.

The Analytical Writing section comprises essays scored by both a trained rater and a computerized e-rater. If the human and the e-rater scores are close, the average is used. If they are significantly different, a second human rater provides another score that is then averaged with the other human rater score.

GRE tip #2

Remember that the Analytical Writing section measures critical thinking and analytical skills, rather than English grammar and mechanics. 

How long is the GRE? How long does it take to get scores?

It takes a total of three hours and forty-five minutes, including breaks and instructions. 

Scores take up to ten to fifteen days after the test date for processing. So remember to double-check application deadlines when choosing a test date to make sure your scores arrive on time. 

What is a good GRE score?

An average score is between 150–152 in each Verbal and Quantitative section, and around 3.5 for Analytical Writing. Depending on your intended course of study, a competitive GRE score is 160+ in Verbal and 165+ in Quantitative—which is the top 10% GRE percentile.

Logistics

When is GRE registration? 

The GRE can be taken at Prometric testing centers worldwide. Registration is available on a rolling basis. Find testing center locations and register for at ets.org

How much does taking the GRE cost?

Non-refundable exam fees for are $205, each time you take it.

How many times can the GRE be taken?

The General Test can be taken once every twenty-one days, up to five times in one year. Scores are valid for five years.

How important is the GRE?

It depends. Certain programs require the exam as a formality, while others weigh the score more heavily in the admissions process. This can vary program by program, school by school. Speak with a Shorelight advisor to find out how important the exam is for admission to your preferred graduate program.

How to study for GRE

There are many test prep courses and books available to study for the GRE. The official provider of prep materials is ets.com, which offers practice tests to get you started. Other reputable study guide test prep companies include Kaplan and The Princeton Review.

Wondering how far in advance to study for the GRE? According to The Princeton Review, most students take between four to twelve weeks to prepare. Of course, depending on your learning style, you can study more per day over a shorter period if you prefer. It all comes down to the amount of time you can dedicate to studying and the university programs’ application deadlines.

Study hard and best of luck!

Speak with a Shorelight advisor today to start planning your next steps toward studying in the US >