Everything You Need to Know about the GRE

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By Shorelight Team
Last updated on December 31, 2020

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.


November 2023 update

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the ETS offers the GRE General Test at home — identical in content, format, and on-screen experience to the standard GRE. The test can be taken everywhere the computerized GRE General Test is available. GRE test-takers in China who wish to take the exam at home can find details about registration and test dates on takethegre.cn.

It is also important to note that as of September 2023, GRE subject tests will only be administered in a computer-based format.

Test-takers are encouraged to carry proof of vaccination (in any form, as long as it is issued by your medical provider) or a negative COVID-19 test to enter the test center. The COVID-19 test should be taken within the time frame required by your test center. Contact your local test center to clarify if this requirement applies to you. 

Visit the GRE General Test website to see the availability of test dates for your location. If you are unable to take the test for any reason, you can reschedule your test date by paying a fee of $50, or $53.90 if your test center is in mainland China. 

Your official GRE scores will be reported in eight to 10 days after your test date and will be available on your ETS account; you can also print a paper copy from your ETS account if required. Schools may also receive scores faster depending upon which delivery method they have chosen. Electronic scores are delivered to schools twice a week.


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 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 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 features analytical writing tasks which require you to analyze an issue and an argument.

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, along with English grammar and mechanics.

How Long Is the GRE? How Long Does it Take to Get Scores?

It takes a total of one hour and 58 minutes to finish the GRE General test. You can view your unofficial scores for verbal reasoning and quantitative reasoning right after you finish your test. However, your analytical writing scores will not be accessible immediately due to the essay scoring process. Official scores take up to eight to 10 days after the test date for processing.

In the GRE Subject test, the total testing time is two hours and 50 minutes for the mathematics test and two hours for the physics and psychology tests. Scores for GRE Subject tests will be released on specified dates in two to four weeks.

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 152-153 in each Verbal and Quantitative section, and around 4.0 for Analytical Writing. Depending on your intended course of study, a competitive GRE score is 163+ in Verbal, 165+ in Quantitative, and 5.0+ in Writing — which is the top 10% GRE percentile.


When Is GRE Registration? 

The GRE can be taken at home or at ETS-authorized testing centers worldwide. Registration is available on a rolling basis. Take the GRE at home or find testing center locations and register at ets.org.

How Much Does Taking the GRE Cost?

The GRE General Test fee is $220 in all countries except for China where the fee is $231.30, and India where the fee is ₹22,550, each time you take it.

How Many Times Can the GRE Be Taken?

The General Test can be taken once every 21 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.org, 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 12 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 >