GRE (Graduate Record Examination)

GRE - Graduate Record Examination
Image source: Dmytro Zinkevych /

The GRE (Graduate Record Examination) is a standardized test for measuring the academic abilities of prospective Master’s and PhD students. It is especially widespread in the USA. The test is organized by the US company Educational Testing Service (ETS). It specialises in the development and implementation of standardised admission and language tests.

Target group of the GRE

At many US-American universities and graduate schools, the GRE result is a central component of the application for a Master’s or PhD program. This is independent of the subject areas. As a rule, international applicants must also take the test if they want to obtain a place at university.

Although the GMAT is a subject-specific admission test for MBA programs, many business schools in the USA also accept the GRE as an alternative. Unfortunately, this is often not the case the other way around. If you would like to apply for Master’s programmes at business schools as well as at other faculties, you should choose the GRE (Graduate Record Examination). In any case, it is advisable to check the admission requirements of the chosen universities before taking one of the two tests.

GRE and GRE Subject Tests

The GRE (Graduate Record Examination) examines the following three areas:

  • Scientific Writing (Analytical Writing)
  • Linguistic reasoning (Verbal Reasoning)
  • Mathematical Thinking (Quantitative Reasoning)

In addition to this general test, there are the subject-specific GRE Subject Tests. These currently cover seven subjects:

  • biochemistry
  • Cell and Molecular Biology
  • biology
  • chemistry
  • English Literature
  • mathematics
  • physics
  • psychology

Subject tests are often not a mandatory admission requirement. However, good results in the respective section often increase the chances of finding a study place in the corresponding area.

Test contents and test structure of the GRE

The GRE (Graduate Record Examination) is available in two different formats:

  • Paper version (3 hours and 30 minutes)
  • Computer-based version (3 hours and 45 minutes)

The process flow of the procedure differs somewhat. In both cases, the examination begins with the part for scientific writing.

Scientific Writing

Two texts have to be written here within thirty minutes:

  • Development of an argumentation with regard to a specific problem
  • Analysis and evaluation of a given argumentation

The topics are chosen in such a way that they do not require any in-depth knowledge in a specific field. Depending on the individual background knowledge, the applicants adopt completely different perspectives. The sequence of the other parts of the test is not fixed and can therefore be slightly different for each test participant.

Linguistic reasoning

This part consists of two sections with multiple choice questions. The paper version has 35 minutes each, while the computer-based version only has 30 minutes. The paper version contains 25 questions per section, the computer version 20, and there are three types of questions:

  • Questions about text passages
  • Questions about text completion
  • Questions on the equivalence of statements

Mathematical thinking

This part is structured in a similar way to the section on linguistic logic: Here too, there are two sections with multiple-choice questions of 40 minutes (paper version) and 35 minutes (computer version). Once again, the paper version contains five more questions than the computer-based version.

The questions cover the areas of arithmetic, algebra, geometry and data analysis. In the computer version of the test participants can use the calculator integrated in the PC. The candidates who complete the paper version receive a calculator on site. They may not use their own devices.

More detailed information on each part of the exam can be found on the official GRE website.

Special features of the GRE computer version

Unlike the paper version of the GRE, the computer version may contain additional components. In this way, it is possible that at any point in the test process, an additional section may appear that is not included in the evaluation. However, it is not clear to the examinee whether the test contains such a section and which section it is. In any case, he will process each section as if he were counting for the score.

For research purposes, the test occasionally also contains identified additional sections. These are always at the end of the GRE test. This section is also not included in the evaluation. These additional exam units are used by ETS to test newly developed exam questions, to compare different test versions and to develop new exam approaches. Since the questions are not included in the evaluation, the examinee does not suffer any disadvantage.

Rating scale of the GRE

The examiners achieve in the part for scientific writing between 0 (low) to 6 (high) points. The evaluation of the other two parts (language logic and mathematical thinking) is on a scale of 130 to 170 points.

The rating scale of the GRE Subject Tests is between 200 and 990 points. For the three subjects Biochemistry, Cell and Molecular Biology, Biology and Chemistry there are subscores on a scale of 20 to 99 points. Again, the higher the score, the better the result.

It is possible to repeat the GRE and GRE Subject Tests to improve the score. The GRE paper version and the GRE Subject Tests can be repeated as often as required. In the case of the GRE computer version, there is a restriction: Applicants are only allowed to take the exam once in 21 days and a maximum of five times within 12 months.

Preparation for the GRE (Graduate Record Examination)

ETS itself offers various learning aids to prepare for the GRE. Interested parties have the opportunity to download free of charge some sample questions and an exercise book on the paper and computer versions of the GRE website, as well as some paid-for services such as a video collection or an online writing trainer.

Test centres and examination dates

There are a large number of test centres around the world offering the GRE and GRE Subject Tests. However, not all test centers have both the paper and computer-based versions available. Interested parties have the opportunity to take the test in the following periods:

  • GRE paper version: three times a year in February, October and November
  • GRE computer version: continuous throughout the year
  • GRE Subject Tests: three times a year in April, September and October

You can find a current list of all test centres and the examination dates offered there on the GRE website.

Registration for the GRE (Graduate Record Examination)

To register for the GRE, you must first create a MyGRE account at ETS. For exams outside the USA, there are four different ways to register: online via MyGRE account, by phone, fax or mail. Registration for the GRE Subject Tests can be made online or by mail and should be done a few weeks in advance, although the deadlines may vary.

Costs and payment options

The current test fee for the GRE is US$195, a single GRE Subject Test costs an additional US$150, and the examination fee for the GRE computer version can only be paid by credit card. The participants can also pay the fees for the paper version via PayPal or check. However, a US bank account is required for payment by cheque. The examiners can pay the fees for the GRE Subject Tests by credit card, Paypal, check, UNESCO Coupons or Western Union Quick Pay.

Preparation courses for the GRE

Book tips for GRE (Graduate Record Examination) preparation
The Official Guide to the GRE revised General Test (GRE: The Official Guide to the General Test)
Cracking the GRE with 6 Practice Tests & DVD, 2014 Edition (Graduate School Test Preparation)
GREĀ® Premier 2015 with 6 practice tests: Book + DVD + Online + Mobile (Kaplan Test Prep)