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Graduate Record Examination (GRE)

Graduate Record Examination (GRE)

Updated June 23, 2023

The Graduate Record Examination (GRE) is an admission requirement for many graduate schools in the United States.

It is administered by the Educational Testing Service (ETS), a New Jersey based non-profit organisation whose mission statement is 'To advance quality and equity in education by providing fair and valid assessments, research and related services.'

The GRE is a computer-based test made up of three graded sections and an experimental section that is not included in the final score.

The test takes about three hours to complete and the three graded sections are analytical writing, verbal reasoning and numerical reasoning.

The analytical writing section will always appear first, while the quantitative, verbal, and experimental sections may appear in any order.

An additional non-scored and clearly-marked optional research section may also appear at end of the test.

GRE Test - Analytical Writing

The analytical writing section assesses your ability to articulate analyse an issue or argument and to forward a focused and coherent discussion relating to it.

It does not assess specific content knowledge.

The analytical writing section consists of two separately-timed tasks:

1. Present Your Perspective on an Issue (45 minutes)

You will be given a choice between two Issue topics. Each states an opinion on an issue of broad interest and asks you to discuss the issue from any perspective(s) you wish, so long as you provide relevant reasons and examples to explain and support your views.

2. Analyze an Argument (30 minutes)

You will not have a choice of Argument topics. You will need to consider the logical soundness of the argument rather than to agree or disagree with the position it presents.

The Argument task is different from the Issue task in that it requires you to critique a given argument by discussing how well reasoned you find it.

The ‘Issue’ and ‘Argument’ tasks are complementary in that one requires you to construct your own argument by adopting a position and then providing evidence to support your view, whereas the other requires you to evaluate someone else's argument.

Verbal Section

The GRE Verbal section consists of four types of questions: Sentence Completions, Antonyms, Verbal Analogies and Reading comprehension.

This section usually has 30 questions and a time limit of 30 minutes.

Sentence completion questions measure your ability to understand the logic of a sentence and to recognize words or phrases that complete the meaning of a sentence.

You are shown a sentence with either one or two words missing.

Your job is to pick the answer choice with the word, or words, that best fits the meaning of the sentence as a whole.

Antonyms measure your vocabulary and your ability to reason from a given concept to its opposite.

In these questions you are presented with a single word followed by five answer choices containing words or short phrases.

You have to select an answer choice that's most nearly opposite in meaning to the original word.

Verbal Analogies measure your ability to recognize relationships among words and concepts they represent as well as parallel relationships. In these questions you are presented with a related pair of words followed by five answer choices containing lettered pairs of words or phrases. Select the lettered pair that best expresses a relationship similar to that expressed in the original pair.

Reading comprehension measures your ability to analyze a written passage and answer questions about it. Passages are taken from the humanities, social sciences, biological sciences and physical sciences. The passages are generally from 80 to 150 lines. The number of questions pertaining to a particular passage ranges from 3 to 5.

GRE Test - Quantitative Section

The quantitative section consists of about 30 problem solving and quantitative comparison questions and has a 45 minute time limit.

Questions can be classified into the following categories: arithmetic, algebra, geometry and data analysis as well as questions covering quantitative comparisons, problem solving and data interpretation.

GRE Test - Experimental Section

This section will not count toward your score and will be either a verbal, quantitative or essay section containing new questions that ETS is considering for future tests.

However, the section will appear identical to the other sections and you will have no way of knowing which section is experimental.

GRE Test - Research Section

An additional research section may appear at the end of the test. This section will be clearly marked and will be completely optional. Whether you complete it or not will not affect your score in any way.

GRE Test - Use in Admissions

The level of emphasis placed on GRE scores varies widely between schools and even departments within schools.

The importance of a GRE score can range from being an important selection factor to being a mere admission formality.

Programs in liberal arts topics may only consider the applicant's verbal score to be of interest, while math and science programs may only consider quantitative ability; however, since most applicants to math, science, or engineering graduate programs all have high quantitative scores, the verbal score can become a deciding factor even in these programs.

You may also be interested in reading background information on psychometric tests and aptitude tests.