Literature in the GRE English Subject Test is one of the eight subject tests within the test battery. The subject tests of the Graduate Record Exam are developed with the idea of determining the capabilities of a student with respect to a particular subject. Unlike the general test, these subject tests are related with one subject only without any reference to the general abilities of a student. They are to gauge the knowledge and skills that a student must have in order to pursue a specific subject in graduation. Literature in the English Subject Test is also conducted with a similar purpose.

All of the eight subject tests are only paper based. This means that you will have to look for a center where paper based tests are administered. Remember to register for the English Subject Test in time so that you can be contacted well in time to be informed about any changes in the test. Furthermore, if you register well in advance then you have enough time to mentally prepare yourself for the test. Then on you can plan well about what mode of preparation you should apply and you shall have sufficient time for revision. You can either register through the internet or by mail. On registering for the Literature in English Subject test you shall be provided with free test practice material.

The Literature Subject Test has 230 questions. All the questions are multiple choice questions and they are to be answered in two hours and fifty minutes. These multiple choice questions of the test typically have five answer choices out of which you have to choose the correct answer. In the questions based on descriptions some 3-5 questions will be clubbed together. The questions in this Subject Test are based on literary works in poetry, drama, biographies, essays, short stories, novels, criticisms, literary theories, and the history of English language. Since the Literature in English subject test is based on literature it does not merely refer to works of great authors but it also includes different genres and movements that are of significance with respect to the development of the language

There are broadly two categories into which the questions in the English Subject Test can be divided. There will be questions based on facts and questions based on analysis. In the factual questions of the Subject Test the facts pertaining to the development of the English language will be asked. The student has to have knowledge about the authors, their pieces of writing, the periods in history with reference to literary development etc. In the questions based on analysis the student has to analyze a piece of writing, prose or poetry and answer questions based on it. The questions can pertain to the mechanics, usage, structure, techniques, or other aspects of the English language.

The syllabus to be studied for the test is divided into four sections: Literary Analysis, Identification, Cultural and Historical Contexts and History and Theory of Literary Criticism.

The questions pertaining to literary analysis constitute 40-55% of the Literature in English Subject Test. These questions refer to the passages of prose and poetry. The questions will be based on recognition of conventions and genres, allusions and references, meaning and tone, grammatical structures and rhetorical strategies, and literary techniques.

The questions pertaining to identification constitute 15-20% of the English test. The questions are related with the identification of date, author, or work by style and/or content.

The questions pertaining to cultural and historical contexts constitute 20-25% of the English test. The questions refer to the literary, cultural, and intellectual history, as well as identification of author or work through a critical statement or biographical information. In addition it includes the identification of details of character, plot, or setting of a work.

The questions related with history and theory of literary criticism constitute 10-15% of the English test. These questions are related with identification and analysis of the characteristics and methods of various critical and theoretical approaches.

The literary-historical extent of Literature in English Subject Test follows the following distribution.

  • Continental, Classical, and Comparative Literature through 1925 (5-10%)
  • British Literature to 1660 (including Milton) 25-30%
  • British Literature 1660-1925 (30-35%)
  • American Literature through 1925 (15-25%)
  • American, British, and World Literatures after 1925 (20-25%)

Like all the other GRE subject tests the English test is administered in the paper format. This makes it easy for you to go back and forth according to your preferences to attempt the test. Some students prefer to attempt the easier questions before moving on to the difficult ones. This method is particularly helpful while attempting the test because all the questions carry equal marks. But in the bargain it is likely that you miss out on some questions or fill in the answers wrongly in the answer sheet. Moreover, you will waste time in deciding which question is easy and which is difficult. In addition it is worth noticing that each question set based on one description will have questions with varying difficulty levels. It is most likely that such questions clubbed together are of mixed difficulty levels. Hence you must be conscious of these facts while deciding whether you want to approach the questions sequentially or in a random order.

Your scores in the English subject test are calculated in two stages. The scaled scores are based on the raw scores. One fourth of the total number of questions answered incorrectly is subtracted from the total number of questions answered correctly. This gives the raw score which is then converted into scaled score. The scaled scores are within limits of 200 and 990. On an average, a student scores between 380 and 700. In addition to these scores the percentiles are also reported. A percentile score indicates the percentage of students who score less than the corresponding scaled score. Say your percentile in this test is 89. It means that 89% of the total examinees scored lesser than you. The percentile scores are very important for admission authorities to determine how capable a student is in comparison with others who appear for the same test. Thus it becomes a better indicator of your performance.

As far as the preparation for the Literature in English Subject Test is concerned, it is vital that some 3-4 months are devoted to it. Though the test aims at judging the knowledge and capabilities of students which they are supposed to have developed over years of schooling, practicing for the test can considerably improve your score. For preparation you must decide on which method suits you best according to your style of studying and requirements.

For those who are fond of reading literature and are well aware of the history of literature in English, it should not be a big deal to prepare for the Literature in English test. They need to basically revise the syllabus mentioned and retain the facts. Based on their knowledge or literary works they will retain the facts better. On the other hand a person who is not aware of literary works, preparing for the test can be a task. For such students it is best prepare through the standard means.

There are basically four means of preparation that one can choose from: books, online courses, classroom coaching and softwares. Each of these means has its inherent merits and demerits and you must thoroughly analyze each option before taking a decision. You can not afford to change from one source of preparation to another. Apart from the monetary losses involved in doing so, a lot of time is also wasted. Moreover do not switch to another source within two to three days of starting your preparation; take time to see if the source is really worthless before deciding to switch to another source.

After all is said and done it is only you on whom your performance in the Literature in English Subject test depends. You have to work hard in order to achieve your goals, these is no other way you can achieve success. Remember “achievement” comes before “effort” only in the dictionary!


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