The Graduate Record Examinations (GRE) General Test is a standardized test that graduate schools use to evaluate candidates. Over one thousand graduate programs around the world require applicants to submit GRE scores in order to be considered for admission. In addition, the GRE is often used to help determine whether a student is awarded graduate fellowships or graduate research or teaching positions. Statistics show that a combination of GRE score and undergraduate grade point average is generally a better predictor of first-year graduate school grades than is undergraduate grade point average alone.
The GRE consists of six sections:
- One Analytical Writing Section – 2 writing tasks; 30 minutes per task, 60 minutes total
- Two Quantitative Multiple-Choice Sections – 35 minutes per section; approximately 20 questions per section
- Two Verbal Multiple-Choice Sections – 30 minutes per section; approximately 20 questions per section
- One Unscored Multiple-Choice Section – typically either a Verbal or a Quantitative section
The Analytical Writing section is always administered first; the other five sections of the test may appear in any order. There is a one-minute break between each section, and an optional ten-minute break after the third section.
Since there is no way to identify which Verbal or Quantitative section is unscored, students should treat each section as though it were being scored. Some students may receive an identified research section instead of an unscored Verbal or Quantitative section. A research section (if included) is always the final section of the test; questions on a research section do not count toward the test-taker’s score.
The Analytical Writing Section
The Analytical Writing section measures a student’s ability to critically assess an argument and effectively communicate ideas in print. There are two essays on this section:
- Present Your Perspective on an Issue (the Issue Task) – a test-taker must construct a persuasive argument outlining his or her perspective on a statement, issue, policy position, or course of action.
- Analyze an Argument (the Argument Task) – a test-taker must evaluate a particular line of reasoning (e.g. – point out where an argument is strong or weak). The Argument task does not ask for a test-taker’s opinion but for an analysis of the argument.
The essay topics are presented one at a time. Students have 30 minutes to complete each essay and are not allowed to add any extra time remaining at the end of one essay to the time allotted for the other essay. For example, if you finish the Issue task in 20 minutes, you will still have only 30 minutes to complete the Argument task. Thus, the best strategy is to use the entire time allotted for each essay to proofread and make editorial adjustments.
Students who take the computer-based test must type their essays using a general word-processing program. The program has basic cut-and-paste features, but does not allow students to check spelling or grammar.
The Quantitative Sections
The Quantitative sections measure a student’s ability to solve mathematical problems and interpret data presented in graphical form. These sections contain four distinct question categories:
- Multiple-Choice (select one answer choice) – these questions present a mathematical problem and require students to select exactly one correct answer choice from among the five presented.
- Multiple-Choice (select one or more answer choices) – these questions present a mathematical problem that may have more than one solution among the answer choices; students must select each answer choice that applies. Students do not receive credit unless they select all and only those answer choices that are correct.
- Numeric Entry – students must type the answer to a mathematical problem into the answer box provided.
- Quantitative Comparison – students must select the answer choice that accurately describes the relationship between the quantity in column A and the one in column B:
- (A) always means that the quantity in column A is greater;
- (B) always means that the quantity in column B is greater
- (C) always means that the two quantities are equal; and
- (D) always means that there is not enough information to determine which quantity is greater
Questions from all four categories are intermixed throughout each Quantitative section.
Each question type covers at least one of four basic areas of mathematics: arithmetic, algebra, geometry, or data analysis. Data analysis questions require students to interpret charts or graphs and typically appear in clusters of three or four, all of which pertain to the same graphical data. There is no trigonometry or calculus on the GRE, nor are there any questions that require mathematical knowledge beyond what most American students learn in the first two years of high school.
Students who take the computerized version of the test have access to an on-screen calculator for the Quantitative sections. Students who take the paper version have the option of using a calculator provided at the test site.
The Verbal Sections
The Verbal sections of the GRE measure the ability to understand and analyze written material and the ability to recognize and conform to the conventions of standard written English. These sections contain three distinct types of questions:
- Reading Comprehension
- Text Completion
- Sentence Equivalence
Questions of all three types are intermixed throughout each verbal section. The GRE has eliminated Antonym and Analogy questions.
Reading comprehension on the GRE consists of a passage of up to 350 words, followed by a cluster of at least two questions that pertain to that passage. These questions frequently require students to summarize the author’s main point, strengthen or weaken an argument made in the passage, or identify what must be true based on the facts presented.
Reading Comprehension questions fall into three distinct categories
- Multiple-Choice (select one answer choice) – students must select the one correct answer choice from among the five provided.
- Multiple-Choice (select one or more answer choices) – students must select at least one correct answer choice from among the three answer choices provided; no credit is given for incomplete or partially incorrect answers.
- Text Selection – students must highlight the portion of the passage that meets the description provided.
Each of these question categories tests the ability to read, absorb, and analyze written information.
These questions consist of a short passage that contains one, two, or three blanks; each blank represents a word or short phrase that is missing from the passage. Students must select exactly one correct answer choice from among the three to five provided for each blank. A student does not receive credit for a Text Completion question unless he or she selects the correct answer choice for every blank in the passage.
Students must use contextual clues within the passage to determine which answer choice contains the word or words that most logically complete each blank. This question category tests the ability to recognize an author’s overall meaning or tone from the syntax of the written material. Success on these questions requires an understanding of the subtle shades of meaning that differentiate similar words.
These questions consist of a single sentence that contains a single blank. Students must select the two answer choices from among the six provided that both (1) fit coherently into the sentence, and (2) produce sentences that are equivalent in meaning. Like Text Completion questions, these questions measure the ability to determine overall meaning from contextual clues. As with all multiple-selection questions on the GRE, students receive no credit unless they select all and only those answer choices that are correct.