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What is GRE

A Beginner's Guide to GRE



Looking for avenues for higher studies in the US / Canada after under graduation? You are in the right place. By the end of the article, you will learn all that it takes to join a graduate school of your choice. Did you know GRE is the best thing to do if you want to land up in the graduate school of your dreams? Now, what is GRE? GRE stands for Graduate Record Examination. You must know just one thing: If you score high in this test, you shall make a big mark in reaching the school of your dreams. Everything else will easily fall in place.


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ETS offers two types of GRE tests – General test and Subject test. You can pick either or both of them. However, if you are hoping to major in a specific area, attempting subject test in addition to the general test gives you an edge over the other students who attempt only the general test.

To know more about the test, we will discuss each type of test and what it takes to prepare for them. We will discuss the general test now.

General test: This measures your capability on analytical, verbal and mathematical skills.

The three measures in the general test are:

  • Analytical reasoning
  • Verbal reasoning
  • Quantitative reasoning

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Analytical reasoning: This measures your analytical thinking, testing your ability to communicate critical and complex ideas efficiently.

You will be given two separately timed tasks, one “Analyse an issue” task and one “Analyse an argument” task. Unlike earlier general test, in the revised general test you get no choices in the issue task presented to you. In the “Analyse an issue” task, you will be asked to express your view on the presented issue. In the “Analyse an argument” task, you will be asked to evaluate an argument. You are not required to give your opinion here.

Verbal reasoning: This measures your verbal ability, your ability to understand the relationship between words and your ability to comprehend things right.

You will be presented three types of questions; text completion, sentence equivalence and reading comprehension. Text completion tests your ability to comprehend the sentence correctly by removing the most critical word and asking you to fill it. Like text completion question, Sentence equivalence questions consist of one blank. You are required to fill in the blank with two words that may not be synonymic to each other, but make up the sentence to form the same meaning. Reading comprehension presents you with a passage and asks you to answer questions based on the passage.

Quantitative reasoning: Your mathematical skills and the ability to solve basic mathematical concepts are tested here.

Unlike earlier GRE tests, the emphasis on calculations is greatly reduced by the introduction of online calculator. You will be given multiple-choice questions with one answer choice, multiple-choice questions with one or more answer choices, numeric answer questions and quantitative comparison questions. These questions can be presented to you as a part of “Data interpretation” type of questions. Sometimes these questions may be presented individually as well. All these questions will be from the sections of algebra, geometry, arithmetic or data analysis.

GRE now and then

GRE is a computer based test (CBT) and it is offered on most weekdays and weekends all over the world, but for those countries where there is no availability of a CBT, a paper based test is conducted up to 3 times a year. You can take the test as many times you want, but you can only take a test once a month and not more than 5 times in a 12-month period. Some graduate schools take the average of all the scores you acquired in the last 5 years, so it is imperative that you prepare well before attempting the test.

In the previous version, GRE is a computer adaptive test, customized in accordance with your answering abilities. Initially you will be presented a moderately difficult question. If you answer it right, you will be presented a more difficult question. This way your capability will be measured more accurately. The issue here is that you cannot go backward to change the answer, making it more rigid and difficult for the student.

With the revision of the test, it is more friendly and flexible. You can now freely skip a question you find difficult to attempt at the moment, mark it and come back later to attempt the question. This gives you the freedom to answer the questions based on your method and pace. This makes the test section-level adaptive, in the sense that the test will be “non adaptive” within a section, but the performance you give in the first section of one measure (Verbal or Quantitative reasoning) will determine the level of difficulty in the second section of the same measure.

Unlike previous GRE tests, the revised general test is more focussed. The questions are derived out of real life situations and have more relevance to the skills needed for graduate schools.

What else is new?

Now having learnt about GRE, let’s dive in more to find out the scoring scale and other details.

Verbal reasoning: This measure has two sections with 20 questions with an allotted time of 30 minutes per section. The new score scale is 130 – 170, in 1-point increments.

Quantitative reasoning: This measure has two sections with 20 questions with an allotted time of 35 minutes per section. The new score scale is 130 – 170, in 1 point increments

Analytical reasoning: Each task is given an allotted time of 30 minutes. The score scale remains the same at 0 – 6, in point increments

The change of score scale for verbal and quantitative reasoning is good news, in the sense that the difference in score between you and another student will never be exaggerating and will produce a clearer difference. If the graduate school is comparing your score against another student who scored better than you, the score difference will be minimal (due to the 1 point increment) than the earlier score scale (which was a 10 point increment). This will help the schools get a better comparison of students’ scores as well.

General test not only presents you with Analytical reasoning, Verbal reasoning and Quantitative reasoning measures, but also an unidentified un-scored section or an identified research section may be presented as part of your actual test. ETS uses the un-scored section to test the questions for using them in the future. Sometimes there might be no un-scored section in the test at all. The unfortunate thing is that you will not be able to identify the un-scored section from the other sections. Consequently you have to put your best efforts on all the sections without compromising on any single section.

Preparing and cracking the general test is good; but attempting a subject test will help you get the extra edge over the other students who have only appeared for general test. This is only if you are mastering in a specific subject of your interest and you have sufficient knowledge and expertise to attempt the test.

GRE Subject test:

There are eight disciplines in which subject tests can be taken. They are:

  • Biochemistry, Cell and Molecular Biology
  • Biology
  • Chemistry
  • Computer Science
  • Literature in English
  • Mathematics
  • Physics
  • Psychology

Each subject calls for extensive knowledge and expertise and if you have the knowledge on the specific subject, it adds up to your credit if you submit the Subject results to the graduate schools you are interested in. The schools may not require the results, but they would most definitely regard the score if it were submitted.

Subject test is a paper based test conducted 3 times a year during the months of October, November and April worldwide.

Having learnt about the test isn’t enough to score good in the test. Sufficient hard work and practice is essential to get to the school of your dreams. What are you waiting for? Start your preparation now!

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Good GRE Scores

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My New GRE Scores

  • Verbal - 166
  • Quans - 170
  • Total - 336
Read how I was able to acheive this score. How I prepared and some GRE advice.Read Test takers test experiences and success stories.
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