What is the GRE?

Video Lesson on What is the GRE?

Why do you need to take the GRE for graduate or business school, and what kinds of subjects does it test? Watch this lesson for an overview of the basics.

About the GRE

Remember finally being done with the SAT? The freedom was beautiful - No more bubble sheets. No more strategically trying to game the scoring system by skipping or guessing. No more desperate efforts to read the CollegeBoard's mind on the reading section…well, at least not until you hit the GRE.

The GRE revised General Test is a standardized test of verbal, math, and writing skills for students who are entering graduate or business school. It's like a scaled-up version of the standardized tests you took to apply to college. In this lesson, you'll learn what the GRE tests, who takes it, and other basic background information about the test.

GRE: The Basics

The GRE is to grad school as the SAT and ACT are to college: it's a standardized test that admissions officers look at as one part of your application. Most graduate schools in the United States require applicants to take the GRE, and it might also be required for some scholarships or fellowships, depending on your school. The GRE isn't the only thing that graduate schools consider, but it is an important part of your application package.

To take the GRE, you'll have to make an account on the GRE website and sign up for a test date - this is also how you'll get your scores and send them to schools. Because the test is taken on a computer, GRE test dates are actually very flexible, and you have a lot of leeways to pick a date that works for you. You'll pick a test center near you and take your pick from a list of times available - which specific times are open depends on your test center.

Now, let's look at what you'll get once you get to test day.

Test Content

The GRE is about 3 hours and 45 minutes long, including a 10-minute break. It tests you in three subject areas:

  • Analytical Writing - You'll have to write two essays. You'll only get one Analytical Writing section on the test, and it will always be first.
  • Verbal Reasoning - This is the Verbal part of the SAT; it's mostly vocabulary and reading comprehension. You'll get two Verbal Reasoning sections on the test.
  • Quantitative Reasoning or math, if you haven't swallowed a thesaurus lately - You'll get two Quantitative Reasoning sections on the test.

You might recognize these as the same basic subject areas you got on the SAT or ACT - and yes, everyone has to take all the subjects regardless of what you're going to grad school for. But here's the flip side of that: you aren't expected to actually be a subject-matter expert in any of those fields.

With the exception of the vocab, the GRE is primarily a test of problem-solving and reasoning skills, not subject-area knowledge or memorized facts. So, the math questions are hard because they're logically difficult to think through, not because they test really high-level concepts. If you're going to grad school in the humanities and haven't taken math since your general ed requirements, don't stress about it - the concepts are the same ones you learned in high school, and you won't have to do any fancy theoretical calculus.

The same goes for the reading. You won't have to apply specialized literary terms or know a lot of background critical theory. So, if you're an engineer or a math person, don't panic and start cramming Proust and Keats. It's all about understanding what you see on the page, not knowing special field-specific jargon.

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Analytical Reasoning with Explained Questions
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