What is On the GRE? | Get to Know Analytical Writing, Quantitative, and Verbal Reasoning Sections

With the numbers showing that there’s a steady growth in the rates of grad school applicants and enrollees, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that more and more people are getting curious about what is on the GRE.

Graduate Record Examination, or GRE, is the most common testing material graduate schools use in their admission programs. So if you want to pursue a post-grad diploma, you'll need to get a GRE prep book and take this exam first.

Being a standardized test, you don’t have to go in blind when preparing for this exam. There are tons of pointers, tips, and other kinds of content that will help you get ready for test day. In this guide, we’ll try to tell you everything you need to know to get acquainted with the exam so you’ll know where to start preparing for this important test.

The Basics about the GRE that You Need to Know

With the promise of better job opportunities and higher learning, graduate school can really be an appealing option to many students. However, it also comes with a lot of challenges. The first of which is the application process of the university and program you want to get into.

gre prep books

Aside from the recommendations, letters, and other requirements specific universities and programs ask for, you’ll also most likely need to take the GRE to qualify for graduate-level studies.

While it will measure certain skills of yours, it’s also very useful for some to help them gauge whether they be able to handle the intensity of grad-school programs.

This exam will include questions that will test your skills and knowledge that will prove to be useful to succeed in postgraduate programs. It’s about critical-thinking and decision-making, for the most part. As higher levels of education prove to be more complex, this exam will offer you a glimpse into what’s in store for you if you do get into a grad school program.

To help you better understand what the GRE is about, we’ll answer some of the most frequently asked questions about it below.

What does GRE stand for?

GRE stands for Graduate Record Examination.

What is on the GRE?: GRE Format, Scoring, and Content

Now that you know the basics of the GRE, we’re now going to cover the more pressing part of preparing for the said exam. It’s imperative to learn about the format and content of the GRE if you want to be fully prepared in taking it. So to help you do that, we’re breaking it down further below.

The GRE Format

Thee are 3 sections in the GRE: the Analytical Writing section, Quantitative Reasoning section, and the Verbal Reasoning section.

The Analytical portion will need you to write essays that are articulate, well-focused, and effective. This is where you’re supposed to articulate complex ideas in a concise and effective manner. You’ll be asked to analyze a text then address the topic the best way you can.

The Quantitative and Verbal Reasoning sections are usually multiple choices questions but can also include some modifications of the said test type. It can also involve passage selection, text completion, or the selection of as many correct answers as possible.

Each of them has two sub-sections wherein the first part will provide instant scores while the second part will contain questions that are adjusted to the performance levels of the test-taker.

This means that if you did well on the first part of the section, the second part will contain harder questions to further challenge your abilities. 

the gre format

It might seem daunting but as the scores will be adjusted as well, it will really benefit you to do well in every part of the exam.

The GRE structure usually leads with the Analytical portion first followed by the Verbal and Quantitative sections. Each section has an allotted amount of time so its best to be aware of such as well.

What is GRE like?

The GRE is composed of both multiple choice, text completion, select-in-passage, and writing prompts questions to test the well-roundedness of your skills and knowledge. It’s available through the Computer-delivered format or the Paper-delivered format.

How difficult is the GRE

Some experts say that the GRE is less difficult than other standardized post-graduate level exams. However, it is still more challenging than other standardized tests that you have probably taken in the past like the SAT or ACT.

What is the GRE good for?
what is gre good for

As mentioned above, the GRE is a standardized test that is required by many universities for their grad school admissions.

You can use the results of this exam to apply to several different universities that offer the post-graduate program that you wish to take.

The results are valid for five years so it shouldn’t necessarily add a lot of pressure to you when applying for grad school programs.

You are also allowed to take it up to 5 times in 12 months and you can take it once every 21 days, so if you want to get the best scores, you can try again for it.

Do you need to take the GRE to get into grad school?

Not all universities require GRE results for their graduate school admissions but a lot of them do, so it’s just better to take it to be on the safe side. Taking this exam might also allow you to apply to more schools which can then up your chances of getting into a post-grad program that you’ve always wanted to get into.

When and where can you take the GRE?

The GRE is a very flexible exam, so you don’t necessarily have to take it on a specific day of the year. So if you’re wondering when to take the GRE, you can take it pretty much any time of the year. Just make sure to refer to the ETS testing schedule to check which GRE exam dates would work for you and you can register for.

It will be best to take it before you start applying for universities and programs, however, so you’ll already have your GRE score on hand when you send in your requirements. Experts usually recommend doing it about 2 to 4 months before the admissions applications deadline of the program you’re gunning for.

As for where you can take the GRE, there are several testing centers in various parts of the country that offer both computer-delivered and paper-delivered exams. Paper-delivered exams are only available thrice a year, however. So if computer-delivered testing centers are available near you, it’s best to learn about their schedule.

What is the GRE test length?

gre exam length

The GRE time limit is 3 hours and 45 minutes. There’s certainly some time pressure involved in the process but should be enough for you to cover the entire GRE length.

Note, however, that it will involve having to answer 30 multiple choice questions in 30 minutes, so you have to prepare well.

How much is the GRE?

The GRE test costs about $150 to $255 or more, depending on where you’re taking the test, the subject you want to take, and if you have other special handling requests for your score. You can also pay extra if you want to get some official GRE study materials from ETS.

How do you prepare for the GRE?

While the GRE is mostly a gauge of your capability to survive grad school, it doesn’t mean that you can’t boost your odds of getting better scores. What are the effective GRE test prep measures that can help you out? Here are a few tips:

  • Take a GRE sample test. This will help you gauge what you already know and what you still have to know to ace the exam.
  • Review books and study guides can help you learn more about the exam and prepare you thoroughly for it.
  • Do a good deal of research. Look up GRE sample questions, read about other people’s experiences and recommendations, and just try to learn as much as you can about the exam. This will help you cover all your bases to fully get ready for the exam.
  • Create an effective study plan. Such things can really help out when getting ready for a standardized test, so make sure to do it as well.

We also recommend reading the guide to GRE preparation by Study Prep Lounge.

What to bring to GRE?
what to bring to exam

Test-takers are required to bring valid identification, the confirmation email for their testing appointment, and an authorization voucher (if applicable).

For those who are taking the paper-delivered exam, they should also bring 4 No.2 or HB pencils and a good eraser.

Do you get a calculator on the GRE? Yes, you can use the on-screen calculator for questions that require some computation if you’re taking the computer-delivered test. Those taking the paper-delivered exam can borrow calculators from the testing center.

The GRE Scoring System

The sections of the GRE are scored differently which kind of attests to the complexity of this exam. Each of the two Analytical essay prompts will gain you 0 to 6 points which will then be averaged for the GRE total score. The other two sections can gain you 130 to 170 points.

This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t pay attention to the essay part of the exam, though. The GRE sections may not seem like they have equal bearings but as the scores are averaged, separated, and adjusted according to difficulty, you still need to do your best in every portion.

Aiming for a high score is always ideal as it can boost your odds of getting accepted in the program you’ve been applying for. This is why you’re allowed to re-take this test several times so you can gun for a higher score. However, in some cases, the average of all the exams you took will be sent to the admissions committee of the program you’re applying for, so it’s still recommended to do your best on every take.

To help you further understand how you can get better scores for this exam, you can refer to the official ETS scoring guides.

The GRE Content

What exactly does the GRE contain? As the ETS puts it, they test for four general areas of knowledge: critical thinking, analytical writing skills, quantitative reasoning, and verbal reasoning. These are clearly noted in the different sections of the exam so it should be easy to tell where certain skills will be evaluated during the exam. On top of these, it will also test your problem-solving and data interpretation skills.

gre exam room

As for the actual content, the content depends on the test type you’ll take. As there’s the General test and the Subject test, you should expect to tackle different topics on the different types of exam.

For the General test, you should expect to deal with vocabulary, mathematics, reading comprehension, and essay-writing questions.

The Verbal Reasoning section is focused on vocabulary words which will test you to select and use the right words to complete the meaning of a sentence. Test-takers tend to find this rather tricky, so you have to come prepared.

For the Quantitative portion, you’ll be asked to solve mathematical problems and answer questions on math concepts and topics. They involve high school math questions so it might be best to brush up on algebra, arithmetic, and geometry for this part.

As for the Analytic Writing portion, you’ll mostly need to write one short essay that analyzes an issue and another one where you will analyze an argument. A paragraph on a general issue will be presented as a prompt for the first essay and you’ll need to analyze the topic with sound reasoning. The second prompt will present an argument. You’ll then need to discuss whether the argument is a good one or not.

If you’re taking a GRE subject test, then the topics will be more concentrated on the subject of the exam. Most people take these tests to highlight their skills in the said area of knowledge even if they’re not always required by admission committees. If you’re gunning for a top university, however, it’s highly likely that you’ll need to take a GRE subject test that is related to your program of choice.

You can take a GRE subject test on these disciplines:

  • Physics

  • Biology

  • Mathematics

  • Chemistry

  • English Literature

  • Psychology

Like with the general test, you can take a practice exam for a specific discipline to help you prepare and get to know the actual test. So, for example, you plan to pursue higher education in Psychology, you should start by taking the GRE Psychology practice test.


As mentioned earlier, the GRE can be one of the most complex exams that you can take in your academic career. So if you want to ace it and get great results out of it, it’s vital that you prepare thoroughly for it. Fortunately, there are tons of information available about this exam, so you don’t have to blindly take the plunge. With ample research, you can definitely boost your odds in getting the results you need from this test.

Leonard Haggin

I created this site to help students like you learn from the experiences my team had learned during our extensive academic careers. I am now studying Law at Stanford, but I also make time to write articles here in order to help all you fellow students advance in your academic careers and beyond. I hope our efforts on Study Prep Lounge will arm you with the knowledge you need to overcome whatever trial or test you find in front of you.

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