UPDATED August 13, 2019

Whether you’re nearing graduation for your undergraduate degree or are considering returning to school after some time away, choosing to further your education with a graduate degree is a big step toward increased career opportunities and earning potential. Unfortunately, getting into grad school isn’t as simple as submitting an application to your dream school. Just as you had to sit the SAT or ACT and submit your scores to prospective colleges, to apply to most graduate programs in the US, you’ll have to take another standardized test: the GRE.

Odds are, it’s been at least a few years since you’ve had to take a standardized test, which can make the prospect of GRE quite intimidating. But we’re here to put your mind at ease. While the GRE is certainly a challenging test, if you take the time to learn about it and prepare the right way, you’ll have no problem achieving a score that speaks to your true potential as a scholar.

And that’s why we’ve put together this guide: so you can have a single source of reliable information about all the important aspects of the GRE exam, as well as a resource that provides insights into GRE study plans and prep tools, all of which come from our own experiences and success with this exam. Our goal is to demystify the GRE for you, so this exam won’t be a roadblock that keeps you from reaching your academic goals. So, let’s get acquainted with the GRE, shall we?

So, What Is the GRE, Really?

The GRE, or Graduate Record Examination is a standardized test that has been around since 1936, when it was first created by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. But it’s changed a lot over the ensuing decades, including its current owners and proctor.

Who Makes the GRE Test?

In 1947, three non-profit educational organizations–including the Carnegie Foundation–came together to establish the Educational Testing Service (ETS) to administer the GRE and other exams. ETS owns and administers the GRE to this day. So you have them to thank for that!

What Is the GRE Used For?

The GRE is the primary standardized test graduate schools around the country use in their admissions processes to determine which applicants they believe are best suited to their programs. In this sense, it’s an “aptitude test”—that is, a test designed to evaluate your potential to succeed in graduate-level studies.

This might cause you a bit of concern. After all, how can a single test accurately measure how well students of all types and talents will perform in a wide range of graduate programs? Well, we’re going to let you in on the best-kept secret about the GRE: it can’t.

But this is good news for anyone taking the GRE. Why? If the GRE isn’t an accurate indicator of success in grad school, what does it indicate? Simply put, the GRE is the best exam at assessing how well you take the GRE exam! This is great news for test-takers for one simple reason: you can absolutely learn how to take the GRE. And the whole purpose of this guide is to teach you everything you need to know about the exam, including its structure, procedure, contents, and best practices for preparation.

The bottom line: you can “hack” the GRE, and we’re going to show you how.

Who Takes the GRE?

The most obvious answer is anyone who wants to apply to graduate programs in the United States. But what else do we know about the people who take the GRE? The following graphic gives you all the relevant statistics on GRE test-takers.

GRE Basic Information

The first step is to cover all the procedural details associated with the GRE. Here, we’ll go over cost, location, testing dates, and other vital information before we dive into the best ways to prepare for the GRE.

When Is the GRE Offered? And Where Can I Take My GRE?

In the United States, the GRE is only offered as a computer-delivered test, and it is administered throughout the year at designated Prometric testing centers. Sometimes, ETS offers the exam at non-Prometric testing locations, but you’ll have to check the official ETS website for more information. Otherwise, you can find a full listing of test centers and examination dates here.

How to Register for the GRE

Thanks to the ETS website, registering for the GRE is simple. As mentioned above, all you have to do is go to the website, find the closest testing center to your location, and select your desired test date and time from the dates listed for that location. Oh, and you’ll have to submit your payment, too. In fact, now is a good time to talk about the costs associated with the GRE.

How Much Does it Cost to Take the GRE?

How much would you say several stressful hours of high stakes testing is worth? Well, ETS has decided for you. For the privilege of taking this grueling exam, you get to shell out $205. Oh, and as an added bonus, if you have to change your testing date or location, ETS will happily take another $50 from you.

How Long Does the GRE Take?

Once you’ve registered for the GRE and paid the fee, you’re probably wondering what you’re in for in terms of time commitment on test day. While we’ll go into more detail about the contents and procedures involved with the GRE later in this article, for now, here’s a general overview of the allotted time for the GRE, including the duration of each section and breaks. Do note, however, that the sections here are not in the order you will find on the actual exam, as the order or your specific exam will be essentially randomized.

GRE DURATION: 3 HOURS, 45 MINUTES
Test-Taker Information 10 mins.
Essay 1: Issue 30 mins.
Essay 2: Argument 30 mins.
Verbal Reasoning, Part 1 30 mins.
Verbal Reasoning, Part 2 30 mins.
Quantitative Reasoning, Part 1 35 mins.
Quantitative Reasoning, Part 2 35 mins.
Unscored Experimental Section 30-35 mins.
Break 10 mins.
Score Recipient Selection 5 mins.
Accept/Receive Scores 2 mins.

GRE vs. GMAT

The GRE is far and away the most commonly used test for prospective graduate school students and the one most accepted by US grad programs. That said, there is another graduate-level standardized test that is designed specifically for graduate business programs, or MBAs: the GMAT. We won’t go into the details of the GMAT here; for that, you can check out our comprehensive guide to the GMAT. Instead, let’s take a look at the main things to consider when deciding which to take before applying to business school.

Which Test Is Better for Your Business School Goals: GMAT or GRE?

The most important thing to consider when deciding between these two exams is whether the school or schools you intend to apply to accept one, the other, or both. While most business programs accept the GMAT, not all accept the GRE. But we’ll go into more detail on this issue in the next section.

The other thing to keep in mind is what your strengths are. Why? Because the level of difficulty in different sections of each exam can be quite different. For instance, it’s generally accepted that the quantitative reasoning section on the GMAT is considerably more challenging than that of the GRE. On the other hand, if you’re not as confident in your writing abilities, the GMAT might be more suitable for you. Though the difficulty of the writing sections for the two exams is similar, the GMAT only requires one 30-minute essay, as opposed to the two 30-minute essays for the GRE. Further, most agree that the GRE’s verbal reasoning section is a bit tougher than the one on the GMAT.

All this said, when deciding between the two exams, it’s important to keep your educational and career goals in mind and do the research on which exam will best help you achieve those ends.

Which Business Schools Accept the GRE?

While the GMAT might seem like the obvious choice for anyone planning to apply for MBA programs, there has actually been a steady increase in the number of prospective business students who are opting for the GRE instead. And many of the top business programs in the country now gladly accept the GRE in place of the GMAT. Here is just a small sampling of the top business programs that accept GRE scores:

Institution Business School Location
Carnegie Mellon University Tepper School of Business Pittsburgh, PA
Columbia University Columbia Business School New York, NY
Cornell University Johnson Graduate School of Management Ithaca, NY
Dartmouth College Tuck School of Business Hanover, NH
Duke University Fuqua School of Business Durham, NC
Emory University Goizueta Business School Atlanta, GA
Georgetown University McDonough School of Business Washington, DC
Georgia Institute of Technology Scheller College of Business Atlanta, GA
Harvard University Harvard Business School Cambridge, MA
Massachusetts Institute of Technology Sloan School of Management Cambridge, MA
New York University Stern School of Business New York, NY
Northwestern University Kellogg School of Management Evanston, IL
Stanford University Stanford Graduate School of Business Stanford, CA
University of California Berkeley Haas School of Business Berkeley, CA
University of Chicago Booth School of Business Chicago, IL
University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign Gies College of Business Champaign, IL
University of Michigan Ross School of Business Ann Arbor, MI
University of North Carolina Chapel Hill Kenan-Flagler Business School Chapel Hill, NC
University of Pennsylvania Wharton School of Business Philadelphia, PA
University of Texas at Austin McCombs School of Business Austin, TX
University of Virginia Darden School of Business Charlottesville, VA
Vanderbilt University Owen Graduate School of Management Nashville, TN
Washington University in St. Louis Olin School of Business St. Louis, MO
Yale University Yale School of Management New Haven, CT

What Does the GRE Evaluate?

In this section, we’ll provide detailed information on what each section of the GRE exam evaluates and how it is scored. Scoring methods and criteria for the different sections vary considerably, so be sure to pay attention to the details for each one.

Analytical Writing Section

While the order of the test sections for the GRE varies, one thing that is always consistent is that the analytical writing section comes first. Here, you’ll find all the information you need on the writing section, including tasks, time limits, and scoring criteria.

 
  “Analyze an Issue” Essay “Analyze an Argument” Essay
Time Limit 30 minutes 30 minutes
Task

One of the following:

  • Respond by agreeing or disagreeing with a provided statement and explain/support your reasoning.
  • Respond by agreeing or disagreeing with a recommendation and explain/support your reasoning with specific circumstances and examples.
  • Respond by agreeing or disagreeing with a claim and explain/support your reasoning.
  • Choose which view more closely matches your own and explain/support your reasoning, addressing both views presented.
  • Discuss your opinion on a provided policy and explain/support your reasoning by addressing possible consequences of implementing that policy.
You will be asked to assess the logical soundness of a provided argument by critiquing the author’s reasoning and use of evidence.
Topics You can find a complete list of all the topics and prompts that could appear on the GRE “Analyze an Issue” task here. The prompt that you encounter on your specific GRE test will come from this topic pool. You can find a complete list of all the topics and prompts that could appear on the GRE “Analyze an Argument” task here. The prompt that you encounter on your specific GRE test will come from this topic pool.
Scoring Scoring for the Issue task is based on a 0-6 scale. Scoring for the argument task is based on a 0-6 scale.
  0 – Basically You typed some text, but it is not on the assigned topic, isn’t in English, or is otherwise unintelligible. 0 – Basically You typed some text, but it is not on the assigned topic, isn’t in English, or is otherwise unintelligible.
 

1 – “Fundamentally Deficient” 

  • Little/no evidence that you understand the issue
  • Little/no evidence of your ability to compose a coherent response
  • Serious problems with language and writing structure that impede meaning
  • Errors in grammar, usage, and/or mechanics throughout

1 – “Fundamentally Deficient” 

  • Little/no evidence that you understand the argument
  • Little/no evidence of your ability to compose a coherent response
  • Serious problems with language and writing structure that impede meaning
  • Errors in grammar, usage, and/or mechanics throughout
 

2 – “Seriously Flawed” 

  • For the most part, doesn’t address the topic
  • Few/no reasons or examples to support claim
  • Unfocused, poorly organized
  • Serious problems with language and writing structure that impede meaning
  • Errors in grammar, usage, and/or mechanics throughout

2 – “Seriously Flawed” 

  • For the most part, doesn’t address the task
  • No examination based on logical analysis, perhaps simply repeating the author’s views
  • No idea development
  • Poorly organized, illogical
  • Little/no support for main points
  • Serious problems with language and writing structure that impede meaning
  • Errors in grammar, usage, and/or mechanics throughout
 

3 – “Limited” 

  • Vaguely addresses task, limited development of position
  • Uses largely unsupported claims, weakly uses appropriate reasons/examples
  • Limited focus and/or organization
  • Somewhat unclear due to language and sentence structure issues
  • Occasional major errors in usage, grammar, and mechanics
  • Frequent minor errors in usage, grammar, and mechanics

3 – “Limited” 

  • Vaguely addresses task, limited development of position
  • Little identification or examination of main aspects of argument
  • Limited in logical development, idea organization
  • Little relevant or valuable support for main points
  • Somewhat unclear due to language and sentence structure issues
  • Occasional major errors in usage, grammar, and mechanics
  • Frequent minor errors in usage, grammar, and mechanics
 

4 – “Adequate” 

  • Competent analysis of issue
  • Acceptable clarity
  • Clear position on assigned issue and follows task directions
  • Uses relevant reasons/examples to develop position
  • Adequately focused, organized
  • General control of English conventions, with some errors

4 – “Adequate” 

  • Competent examination of argument
  • Acceptable clarity
  • May include some unnecessary details
  • Uses adequate, yet uneven, support for main points
  • Adequately focused, organized, but may lack transitions
  • General control of English conventions, with some errors
 

5 – “Strong” 

  • Thoughtful, well-reasoned, clear analysis of issue
  • Uses logically sound reasons/examples to develop position
  • Focused and well-organized
  • Appropriate vocabulary and varied sentences
  • May contain minor errors, but largely shows mastery of English conventions

5 – “Strong” 

  • Clear identification and examination of argument with generally perceptive commentary
  • Clear, logical organization with appropriate transitions
  • Largely provides thoughtful, thorough support for main points
  • Appropriate vocabulary and varied sentences
  • May contain minor errors, but largely shows mastery of English conventions
 

6 – “Outstanding” 

  • Cogent, articulate analysis of issue, conveying meaning with exceptional skill
  • Clear and insightful
  • Position fully developed with compelling and persuasive examples/reasons
  • Well-focused, well-organized, logically-connected ideas
  • Effective and precise vocabulary and ideal sentence variety
  • Complete mastery of English conventions, with very few minor errors

6 – “Outstanding” 

  • Clear identification and insightful examination of argument
  • Cogenent development of ideas, logical organization, clear transitions
  • Compelling and persuasive support for main points
  • Effective and precise vocabulary and ideal sentence variety
  • Complete mastery of English conventions, with very few minor errors
“Analyze an Issue” Essay “Analyze an Argument” Essay
Time Limit
30 minutes 30 minutes
Task
One of the following:

  • Respond by agreeing or disagreeing with a provided statement and explain/support your reasoning.
  • Respond by agreeing or disagreeing with a recommendation and explain/support your reasoning with specific circumstances and examples.
  • Respond by agreeing or disagreeing with a claim and explain/support your reasoning.
  • Choose which view more closely matches your own and explain/support your reasoning, addressing both views presented.
  • Discuss your opinion on a provided policy and explain/support your reasoning by addressing possible consequences of implementing that policy.
You will be asked to assess the logical soundness of a provided argument by critiquing the author’s reasoning and use of evidence.
Topics
You can find a complete list of all the topics and prompts that could appear on the GRE “Analyze an Issue” task here. The prompt that you encounter on your specific GRE test will come from this topic pool. You can find a complete list of all the topics and prompts that could appear on the GRE “Analyze an Argument” task here. The prompt that you encounter on your specific GRE test will come from this topic pool.
Scoring
Scoring for the Issue task is based on a 0-6 scale. Scoring for the argument task is based on a 0-6 scale.
0 – Basically You typed some text, but it is not on the assigned topic, isn’t in English, or is otherwise unintelligible. 0 – Basically You typed some text, but it is not on the assigned topic, isn’t in English, or is otherwise unintelligible.
1 – “Fundamentally Deficient”

  • Little/no evidence that you understand the issue
  • Little/no evidence of your ability to compose a coherent response
  • Serious problems with language and writing structure that impede meaning
  • Errors in grammar, usage, and/or mechanics throughout
1 – “Fundamentally Deficient”

  • Little/no evidence that you understand the argument
  • Little/no evidence of your ability to compose a coherent response
  • Serious problems with language and writing structure that impede meaning
  • Errors in grammar, usage, and/or mechanics throughout
2 – “Seriously Flawed”

  • For the most part, doesn’t address the topic
  • Few/no reasons or examples to support claim
  • Unfocused, poorly organized
  • Serious problems with language and writing structure that impede meaning
  • Errors in grammar, usage, and/or mechanics throughout
2 – “Seriously Flawed”

  • For the most part, doesn’t address the task
  • No examination based on logical analysis, perhaps simply repeating the author’s views
  • No idea development
  • Poorly organized, illogical
  • Little/no support for main points
  • Serious problems with language and writing structure that impede meaning
  • Errors in grammar, usage, and/or mechanics throughout
3 – “Limited”

  • Vaguely addresses task, limited development of position
  • Uses largely unsupported claims, weakly uses appropriate reasons/examples
  • Limited focus and/or organization
  • Somewhat unclear due to language and sentence structure issues
  • Occasional major errors in usage, grammar, and mechanics
  • Frequent minor errors in usage, grammar, and mechanics
3 – “Limited”

  • Vaguely addresses task, limited development of position
  • Little identification or examination of main aspects of argument
  • Limited in logical development, idea organization
  • Little relevant or valuable support for main points
  • Somewhat unclear due to language and sentence structure issues
  • Occasional major errors in usage, grammar, and mechanics
  • Frequent minor errors in usage, grammar, and mechanics
4 – “Adequate”

  • Competent analysis of issue
  • Acceptable clarity
  • Clear position on assigned issue and follows task directions
  • Uses relevant reasons/examples to develop position
  • Adequately focused, organized
  • General control of English conventions, with some errors
4 – “Adequate”

  • Competent examination of argument
  • Acceptable clarity
  • May include some unnecessary details
  • Uses adequate, yet uneven, support for main points
  • Adequately focused, organized, but may lack transitions
  • General control of English conventions, with some errors
5 – “Strong”

  • Thoughtful, well-reasoned, clear analysis of issue
  • Uses logically sound reasons/examples to develop position
  • Focused and well-organized
  • Appropriate vocabulary and varied sentences
  • May contain minor errors, but largely shows mastery of English conventions
5 – “Strong”

  • Clear identification and examination of argument with generally perceptive commentary
  • Clear, logical organization with appropriate transitions
  • Largely provides thoughtful, thorough support for main points
  • Appropriate vocabulary and varied sentences
  • May contain minor errors, but largely shows mastery of English conventions
6 – “Outstanding”

  • Cogent, articulate analysis of issue, conveying meaning with exceptional skill
  • Clear and insightful
  • Position fully developed with compelling and persuasive examples/reasons
  • Well-focused, well-organized, logically-connected ideas
  • Effective and precise vocabulary and ideal sentence variety
  • Complete mastery of English conventions, with very few minor errors
6 – “Outstanding”

  • Clear identification and insightful examination of argument
  • Cogenent development of ideas, logical organization, clear transitions
  • Compelling and persuasive support for main points
  • Effective and precise vocabulary and ideal sentence variety
  • Complete mastery of English conventions, with very few minor errors

Verbal Reasoning Section

The GRE verbal reasoning section is comprised of two subsections, each of which lasts 30 minutes. Further, each of the two subsections contains 20 multiple-choice questions. The following chart outlines the types of questions you can expect on the verbal reasoning section, along with sample questions.

Generally, the verbal reasoning section of the GRE assesses your analytical and evaluation skills when it comes to written material. It will ask you to synthesize, analyze, and recognize important information and relationshionships presented in different textual passages.

The verbal reasoning section is scored on a scale of 130-170, in 1 point increments.

Question Type Question Format Skills Assessed Examples of Question Structure
Reading Comprehension

You will be given short passages to read, which you will use to answer the associated questions. Most passages are one paragraph-long, though there will be 1-2 longer passages.

  • Physical science
  • Biological science
  • Social science
  • Business
  • Arts and humanities
  • Everyday topics in materials from periodicals and books

You will be asked 1-6 questions on each passage. The questions can be standard multiple-choice with one correct answer, multiple-choice with more than one correct answer, or will require you to select a sentence from the provided passage.

  • Understand the meanings of words and sentences
  • Understand the meanings of larger bodies of text
  • Distinguish major from minor points
  • Passage summarization
  • Draw conclusions
  • Infer information from incomplete data
  • Understand text structure and relationships between parts
  • Identify authorial assumptions and perspectives
  • Textual analysis
  • Determine a position’s strengths and weaknesses
  • Develop and consider alternative explanations
  • The passage addresses which of the following issues related to…?
  • The passage suggests…?
  • Select the sentence that introduces an important fact about…
  • In the context in which it is used in the passage, the word “…” most nearly means…
  • The author of the passage would take exception to all of the following statements regarding…EXCEPT?
  • Which of the following does the passage imply regarding “…”?
  • Which of the following, if true, would most weaken the conclusion of the argument?
  • Which of the following, if true, most strengthens the validity of the conclusion?

Note: these are just a few of the possible types of reading comprehension questions you might encounter on the GRE. For a more comprehensive look at these questions, be sure to look into GRE prep courses and other resources.

Text Completion For these questions, you will be given short passages with certain crucial words removed. Your task is to select the word or short phrase that best completes the sentence, in order to create a coherent, meaningful thought.
  • The skills assessed in text completion questions revolve around your ability to interpret and evaluate the information presented in writing as you are reading it. That is, these questions evaluate your ability to “create a picture of the whole and revise that picture as you go along,” according to ETS.

This question is taken directly from the ETS website: 

It is refreshing to read a book about our planet by an author who does not allow facts to be (i)__________ by politics: well aware of the political disputes about the effects of human activities on climate and biodiversity, this author does not permit them to (ii)__________ his comprehensive description of what we know about our biosphere. He emphasizes the enormous gaps in our knowledge, the sparseness of our observations, and the (iii)__________, calling attention to the many aspects of planetary evolution that must be better understood before we can accurately diagnose the condition of our planet.

  1. overshadowed
  2. invalidated
  3. illuminated

  1. enhance
  2. obscure
  3. underscore

  1. plausibility of our hypotheses
  2. certainty of our entitlement
  3. superficiality of our theories
Sentence Equivalence For each sentence equivalence question, you will be given a single sentence with one blank and 6 answer choices, out of which you must choose 2 correct answers. The correct responses will be the two options that fit the sentence’s meaning and create two sentences with the same meaning. These questions assess similar skills and abilities as the text completion questions. That is, they evaluate your ability to draw conclusions about how to complete a written passage based on incomplete information.

These sample questions were taken directly from the ETS website:

  • Although it does contain some pioneering ideas, one would hardly characterize the work as __________.
    1. orthodox
    2. eccentric
    3. original
    4. trifling
    5. conventional
    6. Innovative
  • It was her view that the country’s problems had been _______ by foreign technocrats, so that to ask for such assistance again would be counterproductive.
    1. ameliorated
    2. ascertained
    3. diagnosed
    4. exacerbated
    5. overlooked
    6. worsened

Quantitative Reasoning Section

The GRE’s quantitative reasoning section is, admittedly, notoriously difficult, as it assesses your mathematical skills in a wide range of areas. It includes questions that are straightforward math problems, as well as word problems with real-world scenarios. Like the verbal reasoning section, it is scored on a scale of 130-170, in one point increments. The questions can be multiple-choice with one correct answer, multiple choice with more than one correct answer, and numeric entry. There are two 35-minute subsections, each with 20 questions for a total of 40 questions.

Content Area Skills, Concepts, and Abilities Assessed
Arithmetic
  • Properties and types of integers
    • Divisibility
    • Factorization
    • Remainders
    • Odd and even integers
  • Arithmetic operations
  • Exponents and roots
  • Estimation
  • Percent
  • Ratio
  • Rate
  • Absolute value
  • The number line
  • Decimal representation
  • Sequences of numbers
Algebra
  • Operations with exponents
  • Factoring and simplifying algebraic expressions
  • Relations
  • Functions
  • Equations
  • Inequalities
  • Solving linear and quadratic equations and inequalities
  • Solving simultaneous equations and inequalities
  • Setting up equations to solve word problems
  • Coordinate geometry
    • Graphs of functions, equations, and inequalities
    • Intercepts and slopes of lines
Geometry
  • Parallel and perpendicular lines
  • Circles
  • Triangles
  • Quadrilaterals
  • Other polygons
  • Congruent and similar figures
  • Three-dimensional figures
  • Area
  • Perimeter
  • Volume
  • Pythagorean Theorem
  • Angle measurement in degrees
Data Analysis
  • Basic descriptive statistics
    • Mean
    • Median
    • Mode
    • Range
    • Standard deviation
    • Interquartile range
    • Quartiles
    • Percentiles
  • Interpretation of data in tables and graphs
    • Line graphs
    • Bar graphs
    • Circle graphs
    • Boxplots
    • Scatterplots
    • Frequency distributions
  • Elementary probability
    • Compounds events
    • Independent events
  • Conditional probability
  • Random variables and probability distributions
  • Counting methods
    • Combinations
    • Permutations
    • Venn diagrams

How Is the GRE Scored?

While we’ve already covered the score ranges for the individual sections of the GRE, it’s important to note a few other crucial aspects of how your performance on the test effects scoring.

The GRE is an Adaptive Test

First of all, the GRE is an adaptive test, which means that, for the verbal and quantitative reasoning sections, how well you perform on the first subsection of each will determine the difficulty level of the second respective subsection. So, if in the first quantitative reasoning section, you score quite high, the second subsection will include more difficult questions.

GRE Scaled Score vs. GRE Raw Score

There are two important concepts to understand with regard to GRE scoring. First, the “raw score” is simply the amount of questions you answered correctly. So, if you answered 30 questions correctly out of the 40 questions in the verbal reasoning section, your verbal reasoning score is 30.

However, the more important number is the GRE “scaled score.” This score is derived from your raw score through “equating.” This is necessary because, as the GRE is an adaptive test, there must be a way to account for the increased or decreased difficulty of questions in the second subsection. Here’s why this is important: imagine two test-takers, A and B. Let’s say A earns a raw score of 8 out of 20 and B earns a raw score of 17 out of 20 on the first subsection of the quantitative reasoning section. Since the test is adaptive, A’s questions for the second subsection will be less challenging, while B’s will be more challenging. As a result, A earns a raw score of 17 on the second section, while B only earns a raw score of 8. Now, if the GRE only used raw scores, it would appear that A and B both scored a 25 out of 40. Clearly, though, this is not an accurate reflection of these two students’ performances. That’s why scaled scores are used. While we don’t have access to ETS’s specific score equating algorithm, the thing to understand is that, in this example, student B would have a much higher scaled score than student A, thanks to the adaptive nature of the test.

What Is a Good GRE Score?

This is a virtually impossible question to answer. The reason for this is that what makes a “good” GRE score is entirely dependent on several individual variables and circumstances. For instance, if you want to get into a top-tier graduate program at, say, an Ivy League school, a “good” GRE score is going to be significantly higher due to those institutions’ stricter standards. So, if Harvard recommends that applicants have an overall scaled score of 162 or above, then a scaled score of 161 isn’t a very “good” GRE score if you want to go to Harvard.

Further, individual programs might have differing standards for what makes a “good” GRE score. As an example, if you want to enroll in a grad program in the humanities at a certain institution, the admissions committee might require a 161 or above on the verbal reasoning section, while their standards for the quantitative reasoning section might be considerably lower–in some cases, they might disregard the quantitative reasoning score altogether (bot don’t count on that!).

All that is to say, it depends. For each of your prospective grad programs, you need to find out a couple of things. One, what is their minimum score required for consideration? Two, What is the average score of admitted students. This is crucial, since just because Harvard might have a minimum score of, say, 161 to be considered, the average score of admitted students is likely much higher. So, while you might only need a 161 to get your foot in the door, you might need something more like a 166 or higher to be a competitive applicant.

That said, you can get a general idea of how your score stacks up against all other GRE test-takers by taking a look at GRE scoring percentiles. This information, presented in the charts below, shows you the percentage of test-takers that scored below any given score. For example, if you scored a 159 on the verbal reasoning section, you are in the 83rd percentile. This means that 83% of all the people who took the GRE scored lower than you.

Quantitative Reasoning Percentile

Scaled Score % Below
170 96
169 95
168 93
167 90
166 89
165 86
163 82
162 79
161 76
160 73
159 70
158 67
157 64
156 60
155 56
154 53
153 49
152 45
151 41
150 37
149 34
148 30
147 26
146 23
145 19
144 16
143 13
142 11
141 9
140 7
139 6
138 4
137 3
136-135 2
134-13 1

Analytical Writing Percentile

Scaled Score % Below
6.0 99
5.5 98
5.0 92
4.5 81
4.0 57
3.5 39
3.0 15
2.5 7
2.0 2
1.5-0.0 1
 

Preparing for the GRE

Now that you have a better understanding of the GRE overall, you’re probably wondering if we have any tips on how to best prepare for the GRE. Indeed, we do! In this section, we’ll go over our best tips, tricks, and general advice on how to crush your GRE test!

When Should You Take the GRE?

There’s a very simple answer to this question: when you’re ready! That is, don’t simply rush into taking the GRE in an effort to fast-track your grad school plans. You’re much better off waiting until you’ve had plenty of time to study and prepare for the GRE. Now, let’s take a look at just how you can go about doing that GRE prep to get the most out of your exam.

How Do Successful GRE Takers Prepare for the Test?

The best way to prioritize your GRE preparation is obviously to model it after the strategies used by those who have had success with the GRE. The following basic tips come from our own experience performing well on the GRE, as well as suggestions from other high-achieving test-takers.

  • Get acquainted with the test format and content areas
  • Take lots of GRE practice exams
  • Make a GRE study plan (like the one we outline below!)
  • Assess your strengths and weaknesses (another great use for GRE practice exams)
  • Online prep courses are among the best ways to study for the GRE, as they offer guided instruction, as well as plenty of practice tests
  • Use reputable GRE prep books
  • If you can afford it, consider a private GRE tutor or in-person prep course

GRE Study Plan: Timeline and Materials

While this is merely a broad outline, you can use this basic GRE study plan and adapt it to your needs with additional details, more targeted study, and different timelines. Generally, though, it’s good advice to set aside at least two to three months to prepare for the GRE, so this study plan will use a three-month timeframe.

We’ve only provided detailed instructions for the first month, as your own GRE study plan should be very specific to your own study needs and goals. However, we do give some advice for how to structure your plan for months two and three.

First Month: Self-Assessment and Getting
Acquainted with the GRE

Week Tasks Goals and Outcomes Helpful Resources
1 1 Get some initial exposure to the exam structure, content, and procedures. ETS offers two free online GRE practice tests. This should be your first source for practice tests, as they are direct from the test creator.
  2 Identify general content areas of strength and weakness. Use the percentile charts above to assess your scores.
  3 Gain useful insight into how you perform under pressure and determine if you need to improve your general test-taking strategies. If you experienced considerable anxiety, check out this great resource on how to work on mitigating it.
  4 Start a GRE prep diary to track your progress over time, which will allow you to better focus and adapt your study plan as you go.

Consider using a basic notebook to record your progress.

If you want to get a bit more advanced, look into journaling apps like Day One, Grid Diary, or Journey.

2 1 This process should acquaint you with the format, structure, time limits, question types, and other details of the exam. The whole point here is to demystify the GRE and give you a foundation on which to build your GRE study plan in the next week.

The obvious place to start is the official website of ETS, the company that makes the GRE. Spend some real time going through all of the pages to get the most out of the information offered straight from the horse’s mouth. There is a surprising amount of useful information there.

But there are plenty of other great sources of information out there, like our site here or other great test prep sites like Crush the GRE.

3 1. This one’s pretty obvious. You have to establish a well-structured plan to ensure you’re focusing your GRE prep on the right topics, skills and content areas, as well as a means of holding yourself accountable.

We recommend using a basic paper planner with lots of room for writing detailed instructions.

However, you can also digitize your GRE study plan with a calendar or planner app like Things, Fantastical, or free options from Google or Apple.

  2. Whether you choose to use an online GRE prep course, GRE prep books, or both, now’s the time to decide which will be best for your study needs.

To help you decide, here are our lists of best GRE prep tools:

4 1.

See if your score improved at all simply from being more familiar with the test.

For a better reflection of where you are at the start of your GRE prep, use the average of your two practice test scores as your starting score, and compare future practice test scores to it.

Use your second free practice GRE from the ETS site.

First Month: Self-Assessment and Getting
Acquainted with the GRE

Week 1
1.
Goals and Outcomes: Get some initial exposure to the exam structure, content, and procedures.
Helpful Resources: ETS offers two free online GRE practice tests. This should be your first source for practice tests, as they are direct from the test creator.
2.
Goals and Outcomes: Identify general content areas of strength and weakness.
Helpful Resources: Use the percentile charts above to assess your scores.
3.
Goals and Outcomes: Gain useful insight into how you perform under pressure and determine if you need to improve your general test-taking strategies.
Helpful Resources: If you experienced considerable anxiety, check out this great resource on how to work on mitigating it.
4.
Goals and Outcomes: Start a GRE prep diary to track your progress over time, which will allow you to better focus and adapt your study plan as you go.

Helpful Resources: Consider using a basic notebook to record your progress.

If you want to get a bit more advanced, look into journaling apps like Day One, Grid Diary, or Journey.

Week 2
1.
Goals and Outcomes: This process should acquaint you with the format, structure, time limits, question types, and other details of the exam. The whole point here is to demystify the GRE and give you a foundation on which to build your GRE study plan in the next week.

Helpful Resources: The obvious place to start is the official website of ETS, the company that makes the GRE. Spend some real time going through all of the pages to get the most out of the information offered straight from the horse’s mouth. There is a surprising amount of useful information there.

But there are plenty of other great sources of information out there, like our site here or other great test prep sites like Crush the GRE.

Week 3
1.
Goals and Outcomes: This one’s pretty obvious. You have to establish a well-structured plan to ensure you’re focusing your GRE prep on the right topics, skills and content areas, as well as a means of holding yourself accountable.

Helpful Resources: We recommend using a basic paper planner with lots of room for writing detailed instructions.

However, you can also digitize your GRE study plan with a calendar or planner app like Things, Fantastical, or free options from Google or Apple.

2.
Goals and Outcomes: Whether you choose to use an online GRE prep course, GRE prep books, or both, now’s the time to decide which will be best for your study needs.

Helpful Resources: To help you decide, here are our lists of best GRE prep tools:

Week 4
1.

Goals and Outcomes: See if your score improved at all simply from being more familiar with the test.

For a better reflection of where you are at the start of your GRE prep, use the average of your two practice test scores as your starting score, and compare future practice test scores to it.

Helpful Resources: Use your second free practice GRE from the ETS site.

Second Month: The Real Preparation Begins!

Week Tasks
1 1.
  2.
  3.
  4.
2 1.
  2.
  3.
3
4 1.
  2.

Second Month: The Real Preparation Begins!

Week 1
1.
2.
3.
4.
Week 2
1.
2.
3.
Week 3
Week 4
1.
2.

Third Month: Intensive Content Review and Test-Taking Strategy

Week Tasks Helpful Resources
1 1.
2.
This is a good time to drill deep with your prefered GRE prep tools. You may even want to begin supplementing your initial prep tools with other resources, like flashcards, apps, etc.
  3. The web has tons of great advice on test-taking strategies for the GRE. One particularly useful resource is offered by ETS itself.
  4.  
  5.  
  6.  
  7.  
  8.  
2 1.  
3 1.  
4 1.  

Third Month: Intensive Content Review and Test-Taking Strategy

Week 1
1.
2.
Helpful Resources: This is a good time to drill deep with your prefered GRE prep tools. You may even want to begin supplementing your initial prep tools with other resources, like flashcards, apps, etc.
3. Helpful Resources: The web has tons of great advice on test-taking strategies for the GRE. One particularly useful resource is offered by ETS itself.
4.  
5.  
6.  
7.  
8.  
Week 2
1.  
Week 3
1.  
Week 4
1.  

Week before the Test: Assess Your Progress and RELAX!

In the final days leading up to your GRE test date, scale back your study time to the amount you did in the second month. But the most important thing is, one or two days before the exam, take some time to unwind, relax, and do something you enjoy with people you care about. You’ll be surprised just how big an impact this can have when it comes time to sit the exam. You’re much better off having a clear head and a relaxed mind.

If you follow these steps and adjust them according to your individual study needs, we have no doubt you’ll achieve that killer GRE score you need to get accepted into your dream grad program. Happy studying, and good luck!

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