What the GRE Exam Looks Like and How to Be Ready

Prospective graduate students who are managing a lot of work might be tempted to study hard for the Graduate Record Examination, or GRE. However, experts caution that it is challenging to perform well on this graduate school admission exam without extensive study.

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Dennis Yim, director of live online courses at test-prep provider Kaplan, says, “A lot of our students, especially our students who are still in undergrad, will say, ‘Oh, typically I’ll study a weekend for a test, and… be all set.” That is not how this test operates. The most important thing that students should understand is that learning is about more than simply information; it is not sufficient to have gone over arithmetic topics you haven’t seen since high school and to have learned hundreds of vocabulary terms. You must be able to use that and instantly become a problem-solver.”

In order to feel secure enough to ace the exam when it matters, Yim advises students planning to take the GRE to take timed practice exams and evaluate their performance on them. He responds, “You have to be at ease.” “We like to call it, when we get dramatic, ‘crisis prevention,’ and so what it comes down to is a student’s ability to perform to their level when the pressure is on, when the time constraints are real.”

The GRE General Test: What Is It?

The Educational Testing Service, or ETS, developed and administers the GRE General Test, a standardized exam used to gauge a candidate’s general intellectual preparedness for graduate school. In addition to the general exam, some graduate schools require applicants to take a GRE Subject Test, which evaluates technical knowledge in a particular field such as mathematics, physics, or psychology.

According to Andrew Selepak, program coordinator of the University of Florida’s master’s degree in public communication with a focus on social media, the GRE general test and the SAT college admission exam are comparable in that they evaluate students’ proficiency in reading, writing, and arithmetic.

What Is the Structure of the GRE General Test?

The current version of the general test consists of three scored portions and one unscored component, totaling three hours and forty-five minutes, including a built-in ten-minute break. Analytical writing, numeric reasoning, and verbal reasoning are the three assessed components. The two-question analytical writing portion takes sixty minutes, while the verbal reasoning and numeric reasoning parts, which include forty questions apiece, take sixty minutes and seventy minutes, respectively.

However, there will be a big adjustment in September: the test will be shorter and take one hour and fifty-eight minutes to complete. The analytical writing portion will consist of just one question, “Analyze an Issue,” which must be answered in thirty minutes. In contrast, the verbal reasoning and quantitative reasoning parts will each include 27 questions, which must be answered in forty-seven and forty-one minutes, respectively.

The updated version will no longer include the unscored segment or the 10-minute pause. According to ETS, test-takers will have the same amount of time to complete each question even if the overall test duration will be shorter.

GRE Subject Tests: What Are They?

GRE topic tests are content-based examinations designed to evaluate an individual’s proficiency in a certain subject area, like physics or psychology. Each is intended for students who have studied the specific test topic in great detail or who have majored in it. In order to prove quantitative abilities to graduate programs in subjects like computer science or economics, where numerical proficiency is essential, a prospective student may take a math subject test.

According to Ryan Starr, an instructor at Manhattan Prep, a Kaplan test preparation organization, “very few schools require the subject test.” The topic test is usually not required for students who performed well in their undergraduate program and are continuing in that field in graduate school. However, he adds, the topic test might serve as a means of demonstrating competency for individuals who had difficulty.

Psychology, physics, and mathematics subject examinations are available, and ETS offers free digital study guides for each.

According to ETS spokeswoman Kristen Mitchell, the organization will provide updated versions of the physics and psychology topic exams in September 2023. These versions will likewise be condensed to less than two hours.

An outline of the subjects covered on each test may be seen below.

Calculus. This test covers calculus for almost half of its total time, with the remaining 25% covering number theory, basic, linear, and abstract algebra. The last set of questions covers several subjects that are usually covered in an undergraduate math program.

Physics. Questions in optics and wave phenomena, thermodynamics and statistical mechanics, electromagnetic, quantum mechanics, atomic physics, special relativity, and laboratory techniques are commonly included in this test. In addition, there are questions on specialist physics subjects like condensed matter, nuclear and particle physics, and others; the precise subjects covered vary depending on the test.

psychology. Six areas of psychology are covered in this exam: biological, cognitive, social, developmental, clinical, measurement and methodology.

What Is the Difference Between the GRE Subject Test and the General Test?

According to Yim, a topic exam is intended to ascertain a person’s level of knowledge about a particular academic subject, but the general test concentrates on evaluating critical thinking skills relevant to various disciplines.

“On the general test, expect to use more strategy than content, whereas … when it comes to subject tests, there is a lot more content-based knowledge that is required,” according to him.

According to Starr, the overall test may feel more like a logic test, while the topic tests often include simpler questions. He adds that one of the primary distinctions is that the topic exam is “self-paced,” meaning that test-takers often have the freedom to choose how much time to allot for each portion, whereas each component of the general test is timed.

“Time constraints play a significant role in how you approach the GRE general test, and that’s how it’s supposed to be,” he explains. “The subject tests are really more about doing your best, but you’re meant to have to deal with the fact that you have limited time, and probably time that’s too limited to do your best on every single problem.”

Although the topic exams were traditionally shorter than the overall examination, beginning in September 2023, modifications will bring them closer to the same duration, lasting somewhat less than two hours apiece.

According to Alberto Acereda, assistant vice president for global higher education at ETS, preparation for a topic exam and the general test are similar in many ways. “Similar to the General Test, to prepare for a GRE Subject Test, students should become familiar with the test content and structure so they know what to expect on test day,” Acereda noted in her email.