The GRE (Graduate Record Examination) is a standardised test for admission to graduate or business schools. Most graduate schools in the United States and some outside of the US (except for medical and law schools) require students to submit a GRE score. The importance of it however may range from it being a mere formality test for admission to other cases where it may be a very significant requirement.

The GRE can be taken at more than 1,000 test centers in over 160 countries, and is accepted at thousands of graduate and business schools. It is usually taken on a computer (though it can be paper-delivered as well) and is available several times during a year in most countries.

The Test Structure

The GRE measures your verbal and quantitative reasoning, critical thinking and analytical writing skills. The test comprises of three sections: Verbal Reasoning; Quantitative Reasoning; and Analytical Reasoning.

The first section revolves around vocabulary. Here you will get three types of questions: reading comprehension (where you show how well you understand a discourse, sentences, and words), text completion (fill in the blanks types of questions), and sentence equivalence (here you need to complete sentences to form a proper overall meaning).

The second section deals with number properties and standard geometric figures. Thankfully, there is no higher mathematics here, but that doesn’t mean that the section is simple, it however generally follows a high school level of mathematics. The types of questions you get here are problem solving questions and quantitative comparison questions.

The third section is the essay section that is comprised of two essays covering ‘the Issue’ and ‘the Argument’. For the first task you will need to evaluate a specific opinion and present an argument with reasons and examples to support it. In the argument task you are you are required to evaluate an argument’s logical soundness.

Duration of the Test

You get 3 hours and 45 minutes (including the breaks) to finish the entire test. The good thing about the test is that you are able to skip questions, go back to previous questions, and answer the ones you want first, though all within a specific section. Basically you have a lot of freedom on how you want to do the test. Also, you are not penalised for a wrong answer, which means that it’ll be good to finish the entire test, even if that implies that you have to completely guess at some point.

Taking the Test

Taking the GRE test usually costs USD 205 and can always be taken more than once if you are not satisfied with the results (once every 21 days that is). It’s advisable that you don’t take the test too close to the deadline in order to have time to retake it you wish. It takes about 10 to 15 days for scores to arrive at universities after you have taken the test, so you should take this into consideration as well.

When you start the test, you get the option to select four schools to which you want to send your scores later on, which is free of charge.

You also have the option to send whichever scores you deem best (scores from the last five years; this is how long a GRE test is valid).

GRE Scoring

But how are you actually graded? There are separate score scales for the three sections – both the Verbal Reasoning and Quantitative Reasoning sections have a 130-170 score scale, whereas the Analytical Writing section has a 0-6 score scale. In the first two sections you get 1 point per task, and in the latter half a point.

It’s hard to say which score is good, but in general, if you score at the 75% mark or above (which is around 160 points and above) you become a more than qualified candidate, as long as the rest of you application is strong. Even the 50% mark and above makes a solid candidate. However this can never be a certain thing just so you know, since overall, candidates score differently at specific schools, which means that some schools require a lot, and some the bare minimum.

Useful Tips and How to Prepare

You have all sorts of books, e-books, unofficial materials, etc. which you can use in order to prepare for your GRE test, though none of them can get you truly prepared for the test and for you to get a perfect score. Don’t get me wrong, you do need to prepare for the test using various materials, but you also need to be prepared for the fact that the test is quite general as we mentioned, and tests many of your skills, and it can be quite a different experience for an international student, which we will cover soon.

Though first thing first, the material you should look into: the ETS official GRE guide is certainly a must, you can’t go without that. But besides all the material the ETS provides you can find many great free online resources for your GRE preparation.

Now, if you are an international student, you might have a different experience with the GRE like we previously mentioned. It will depend mostly on the fact of how good of an English speaker you are. One section deals entirely with vocabulary, which means that you need to be familiar with some quite opaque words in the English language (even the word opaque is quite, well, opaque!). You should also be prepared for the language used in the test in general, especially in the reading and text completion parts. The language used here tends to be tricky for a non-native speaker. So, one can only say that taking the test is much easier for native speakers or at least those who have studied English for a long time, which means that you need to be prepared for this. If you are a very good English speaker and an international student, you will do fine on the GRE test.

All things considered, all the information about GRE you have here will do you good, but if you wish to know more, visit the official site of the Educational Testing Service (ETS) which administers the test.

Check out our blog to find guides for other standardised tests such as the the SAT, GMAT, TOEFL and IELTS as well.