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GRE General Test Guide

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GRE General Test Guide

The Only Guide You Need To Gear Up For GRE General

GRE, the Graduate Record Examination, is a standardized examination for admission requirements used by several North American colleges and universities. Owned and operated by the world's largest private non-profit education assessment and testing organization, the Educational Testing Service, the first test was conducted in 1936. It has since become a vital component of the admissions processes in graduate schools across the USA and Canada.

GRE scores were once critical parameters for admission into Ph.D. programs in nearly every major & minor university across the USA and Canada. That essentiality has fallen substantially since the new decade as many universities are dropping GRE application requirements for graduate and post-doctorate programs. Nevertheless, complete overhauls are still a long way off, and GRE scores still hold substantial relevance in grad & post-grad admissions processes in both the USA & Canada.

With that in mind, here is a simple, informative guide on the GRE General Test that digs into every aspect of the test in precise detail.

A Brief Introduction

As mentioned, US and Canadian colleges and universities use the Graduate Record Examination to screen potential candidates for their graduate & post-graduate programs. There are two distinct test categories: the GRE General Test and the GRE Subject Test.

  • The GRE General Test is multiple-choice based and completely conducted electronically. The electronic/computerized medium allows examinees to skip questions in a section, change existing answers, and choose which questions to answer first.

The general test comprises three sections – analytical writing, verbal reasoning, and quantitative reasoning.

The GRE General Test assesses critical cognitive abilities necessary to stay ahead of the pack in competitive graduate school programs. It tests critical thinking, logical reasoning, analytical skills, and other higher-order mental abilities.

  • The GRE Subject Test examines a candidate’s knowledge and acumen in any of the following disciplines: mathematics, physics, or psychology. The subject test scores supplement undergraduate performance records and other relevant qualifications for enrolling in graduate-level study.

Currently paper-based, ETS will rejig the format entirely, with the subject tests becoming computer-based entirely from September 2023.

We will focus specifically on the GRE General Test in this article.

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Overview of GRE General Test Sections

  1. The GRE General Test is 3 hours and 45 minutes long.
  2. Six sections cover analytical writing, verbal reasoning, and quantitative reasoning.
  3. You get a short 10-minute break after completing the third section.
  4. The analytical writing section starts the exam. It consists of two timed tasks – one where you have to analyze an issue and the other for an argument. You get a 30-minute time limit for each task.
  5. Verbal reasoning has two sections with 20 questions each. Each section has 30 minutes allotted to it.
  6. Quantitative reasoning also has two sections, each with 20 questions. The time allotted remains the same.
  7. The general test also has an unidentified and a research section. Both these sections are experimental and used by ETS for system evaluation, version regularisation, etc. The questions in these two sections do not count toward your scores.

The difficulty level of the questions in the verbal reasoning & quantitative reasoning segments will adapt as per your performance in the preceding sections. If you do very well in the first quantitative reasoning section, the questions in the second section will be more difficult. The same goes for the verbal reasoning section.

Scores consider the number of questions answered as well as the level of difficulty of the questions answered. Let’s take a closer look at each of the sections.

What Is The GRE Exam Format & Structure?

A. Analytical Writing Section

The analytical writing section assesses critical writing and analytical abilities. It evaluates an examinee's ability to understand complex ideas, uncover underpinning concepts & logic, and use them to develop robust arguments. The tasks require candidates to comprehend presented information, craft logical arguments, and confidently carry out coherent discussions.

You will have to work on a 30-minute “Analyse an Issue” task and a 30-minute “Analyse an Argument” task.

  • Issue analysis presents an opinion on a broad issue, followed by specific instructions on presenting your response.

You will have to understand & analyze the issue minutely. Look into every nuance and complexity. Think objectively, draw connections, and investigate the issue from all angles. Develop clear & logical arguments, explain with proper reasoning, and provide examples supporting your argument & views.

  • The argument analysis task will ask you to analyze an argument per the instructions. You will have to evaluate the strength and irrefutability of the presented argument and the relevancy of the evidence presented. Explain logically and with definite, pertinent examples why you agree or disagree with the arguments.

As you can see, the two analytical writing tasks are complementary. One asks you to develop your argument, while the other asks you to dissect someone else's argument.

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B. Verbal Reasoning Section

This section evaluates your ability to understand and synthesize information from any written material. You will need to develop clear ideas about the subject of the material, understand how they have been represented through the narrative presented, and recognize underlying words, concepts, and their relationships.

There will be three kinds of questions in the verbal reasoning segment à 

Reading Comprehension: These questions test your ability to read and comprehend prose. It will look into varied abilities such as:

  • Understanding of words, sentences, paragraphs, etc.,
  • Summarisation,
  • Drawing connections & conclusions,
  • Drawing inferences from incomplete data,
  • Identifying & understanding perspectives and assumptions.
  • Understanding text structure
  • Evaluating strengths and weaknesses
  • Developing explanations and integrating alternative explanations/perspectives

Text Completion: This section will test your ability to form coherent, meaningful sentences and content. Based on the available information, you will have to fill in the blanks with the most sensible words or phrases.

You will be given options to choose from for filling in the blanks. You score for filling in all the blanks correctly. The best approach is to understand the sentence/passage minutely and think up your own words for filing in. Expand your vocabulary to score better in these sections.

Sentence Equivalence: This section is somewhat similar to the text completion section. You must complete sentences by filling in the blanks from the options given. You will have to select two of the most suitable words from the given options as per the topic & context of the given sentence.

C. Quantitative Reasoning Section

The GRE Quantitative Reasoning section checks your numeracy & mathematical skills, knowledge and understanding of rudimentary mathematical concepts, and quantitative abilities. You will encounter questions on : 

Arithmetic sub-topics include integers, prime numbers, roots, exponents, ratios, factorization, divisibility, and absolute value.

Algebra sub-topics such as factoring & simplifying expressions, equations & inequalities, functions, solutions of linear & quadratic equations, simultaneous equations & inequalities, word problems in algebra, graphs, slopes, and coordinate geometry, etc.

Geometry sub-topics include parallel & perpendicular lines, circles, triangles, quadrilaterals & polygons, sums on area, perimeter, & volume, Pythagoras theorem, angle measurement, etc.

Data analysis sub-topics including descriptive statistics (mean, median, mode, quartile & interquartile range, etc.), data visualization (line graphs, bar graphs, bar graphs, box plots, scatter plots, frequency distributions, etc.), probability, random variables & types of probability distributions, permutations & combinations, etc.

Expect math problems of high school level of difficulty.

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D. Experimental or Research Section

You do not need to stress too much about the unidentified research questions in the GRE. However, you also cannot skip them as they are not marked. The research section/question can appear in any segment after the analytical writing segment.

These sections are unmarked and not scored since ETS uses examinee performance in these questions to gauge & modulate question difficulty for future tests.

E. Computer-Based vs Paper-Based GRE

Though the GRE is primarily computer-based, you can take a paper-based examination if computers or the Internet are not feasible in your location. There are minor differences between the computerized and paper-based versions.

  1. The paper-based test occurs thrice per year, while the digital test occurs five times yearly.
  2. The total time limit for the paper version is 3 hours and 30 minutes.
  3. The paper test has more questions, and you will get some more time to get them to finish the paper. The quantitative and verbal reasoning sections in the paper version
  4. The paper version is not section-adaptive. The questions do not scale up or down in terms of difficulty, as there’s no way to gauge the examinee's performance.
  5. Paper-based GRE is only available where the computer version of the GRE is not available or feasible.

Now, it is time we looked at the examination's scoring system.

How Is The GRE Scoring System Structured?

The GRE General Test scoring system takes an adaptive approach. The verbal and quantitative reasoning segments are measured differently than the analytical writing segments.

  • The reasoning segments are scored based on the number of questions answered correctly in the segment's operational (not the experimental or research) sections and the difficulty level of the questions in each section.

In the computer-based test, these sections are adaptive to one’s performance. The computer system modulates the second operational section based on the performance of the first section. However, every question in a particular section contributes equally to the final score of both the verbal and quantitative reasoning segments.

For both reasoning segments/measures, a raw score is generated. Then this score is scaled using a statistical method called equating. Equating scales & regulates the score and compensates for any variations in difficulty in different test versions as well as due to section-level variations. The scaled score reflects the actual level of performance regardless of any variations. The score range in this section is between 130 and 170, with one-point increments.

  • The analytical writing segment essays have both human raters & an electronic rating system scoring them using a 6-point holistic scale. The raters score essays based on their overall quality and pertinency to the assigned task. The electronic e-rater scoring engine, ETS' essay analysis system that evaluates writing proficiency, comes into play.

If the human and e-rater engine scores match closely, the average of the two scores becomes the final score. The same procedure is followed for the other essay as well.

The final scores of the two essays are averaged once again and then rounded off on a 0 to 6 score scale. This scaled point reflects the writer’s critical thinking & analytical writing.

  • The GRE General Test scores of different test segments or measures must not be compared to one another. This is because they are scaled differently based on the test takers' scores between July 1st, 2019, and June 30th, 2022. The test score reports will contain percentile ranks based on the test-taker scores during this period.

The scaled score and score level are calculated from the test-takers scores between July 1st, 2019, and June 30th, 2022. The measure/segment-specific columns show the percentage of test takers who scored lower than the given score scale.

If you are undecided about a specific GRE score goal, get started by determining the requirements of the graduate programs you are applying for. Find out the average score of admitted applicants in two to three years. This will give you a clear idea about what score to target in each measure.

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Score Reporting

The following scores are reported for the GRE General Test.

  1. The Verbal Reasoning score on a 130-170 scale in one-point increments
  2. The Quantitative Reasoning score on a 130-170 score scale in one-point increments
  3. The Analytical Writing score on a 0-6 score scale in half-point increments

If you do not answer any questions in a particular measure, you will receive an NS (No Score) label.

You can view unofficial scores for the verbal and quantitative sections right after you finish. Official scores will be available in your ETS account and sent to your shortlisted recipient institutions within 10 to 15 days. Scores for a test are reportable for five years after the test date.

There’s also ETS’ ScoreSelect option through which you can decide which scores to send to an institution. You can send the most recent, all, or any score if you have taken multiple tests.

Scoring in the higher percentiles becomes much easier with the right study materials. Below is a list of some awesome study materials to take your GRE preparations to the next level.

What Are Some Great Resources For GRE Preparation?

Below is a list of some great GRE study materials. Filled with clear exam instructions, preparation strategies, and multiple practice test sets, try to get your hands on at least one of these.

The Kaplan GRE Prep Plus

  1. Filled with expert strategies
  2. Online practice tests & lessons
  3. Question bank

TPB GRE Prep Review Book

  1. Complete overview
  2. Complete test-taking strategies
  3. Exam stressbusting tips
  4. Solved questions with explanations
  5. Practice test strategies

The Princeton Review GRE Premium Prep

  1. Online practice test sets
  2. Detailed topic reviews
  3. Four complete practice test sets
  4. Time management tips
  5. Tactics to tackle different kinds of questions
  6. List of words, terms, and synonyms to expand your vocabulary

GRE Prep Book by Magoosh

  1. Full-length practice test with answer keys and explanations
  2. Expert tips and strategies
  3. A study schedule, tips, and strategies
  4. Chapters and lessons on each segment or measure
  5. 130 solved questions with explanations

The Official Guide to the GRE General Test, Third Edition

The Official GRE Verbal Reasoning Practice Questions, Volume 1, Second Edition

The Official GRE Quantitative Reasoning Practice Questions, Volume 1, Second Edition

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The Official GRE Super Power Pack

  1. All the official guides are brought to you by ETS.
  2. 150 practice questions with hints and solutions
  3. Exam Tips and Strategies
  4. Online practice tests
  5. Pocket-friendly prices

Barron’s GRE Essential Words, 5thEdition

  1. A vast collection of words and their synonyms to expand your vocabulary
  2. Pre-test practice sets
  3. Test score analysis

Prepare diligently with one or more of the above books, and you will be ready to answer any questions of any difficulty.

However, the entire test-taking process begins with registering with ETS. Get GRE coaching in Delhi at

How To Register For GRE?

GRE registration process-

  1. Create an ETS account.
  2. Register for a GRE Test.
  3. Shortlist graduate institutions where you wish to send your scores by signing up for the free GRE Search Service.
  4. Register at least two days before the test date.
  5. Make payments online via credit/debit card, PayPal, etc. Contact the regional customer support for assistance.
  6. You can also register via phone. Call the appropriate ETS/GRE Regional Customer Support to begin registration.
  7. If you apply from China, you must register via the NEEA ETS/GRE account.

Once your registration is done and you have prepared as best, prepare for the test day.

What are some Crucial Exam-Day Procedures?

  1. You MUST bring valid and acceptable identification documents for verification.
  2. Bring two forms of acceptable ID.
  3. The ID must be original, physical, government-issued, valid, and contain both your first & last name.
  4. There must be a recent photograph attached with the ID.
  5. Valid IDs can be passports, driver's licenses, national/state ID cards, military ID cards, etc.
  6. Supplementary IDs can be government-issued, student ID cards from an educational institution, or a confirmation of identity letter from the same.
  7. You will be scanned using scanning and detection devices.
  8. Do not bring any wearable technology. Phones must be turned off during the exam.
  9. There’s a specific sign-in and sign-out process for the GRE.
  10. Your picture will be taken during signing in, and you will be asked to sign a confidentiality & regulations agreement.
  11. A voice sample may be taken.
  12. You may have to sign a test centre log during signing in and signing out.
  13. You will be given scratch papers for use during the test.
  14. The entire test will be videotaped.
  15. There will be a 10-minute break after the third test section.
  16. You will be given access to an onscreen calculator for the quantitative measure of the General Test.
  17. You can report or cancel your scores at the end of the general test. If you choose to report, the score of that particular test will become a part of your GRE score history.
  18. You can choose up to four free recipients for your test score. You must submit an Additional Score Report request and pay a fee per score report.

Go through the GRE information Bulletin 2023 for elaborate instructions.

As we wrap up this guide, here are some handy time and stress management tips from the experts of

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Tips For Time & Stress Management

  1. Keep calm. Take deep breaths and focus on what’s important.
  2. Begin your preparation early and prepare diligently. Practice often and solve time mock tests & things will seem much easier.
  3. Be confident and do not be afraid or even think of failure. Give it your all.
  4. Be quick but make sure to read questions minutely.
  5. There’s no negative marking, so answer every question.
  6. Use timers when practising and solving mock tests.
  7. Avoid wasting time on questions you are struggling with.
  8. Do not take more than 30 seconds to comprehend a question. Move on to the next.
  9. Focus more on solving different questions within a time limit.
  10. Spend at most 2 minutes on a single question.
  11. Do the easy ones first.
  12. Do not let test anxiety overwhelm you. Turn it into excitement.
  13. Take a quick pause and revise your answers quickly.
  14. Be flexible. Things may not always go according to plan.
  15. Experiment all you want when practising and during mock tests. But follow a specific strategy during the test day.
  16. Don’t compare. Instead, target a percentile and train as hard as possible.
  17. Take on one question at a time.
  18. Please consider the test a challenge and be determined to conquer it.
  19. Get a good night’s rest before the day of reckoning.

And that’s a wrap for this write-up. I hope it acts as a handy and informative guide for everyone. Early preparation, proper planning, and focused, routine practising are the keys to scoring top grades on GRE.

Work hard, manage time well during studying & practicing, and connect with to avail of personalized assistance. AbroAdvice offers dedicated GRE preparation packages, where you get expert guidance, access to top-tier study materials, multiple mock tests, and superb preparation & exam tips, tricks, & strategies.

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Frequently Asked Questions on GRE Exam

GRE is a standardized test used by many North American colleges & universities as a crucial aspect of their admissions processes. The GRE General Test gives the admissions committee a clear idea about an applicant's critical thinking, reasoning, analytical, comprehension, reading, and writing skills.

The GRE General Test has three measures or segments: analytical writing, verbal reasoning, and quantitative reasoning. The reasoning sections are subdivided into two sections each.

The verbal and quantitative reasoning segments are scored on a 130-170 scale. The analytical writing is scored on a 0-6 scale.

Plan and start preparing early. Practice and solve as many timed mock tests as possible to boost performance and time management.

Go to the ETS website and create an account. Once you do, you can register for an exam session. Follow the instructions to complete the registration process successfully.

Check out the Test-Day procedures section in this article.

GRE scores are valid for five consecutive years.

Yes. Once you finish the test, you can report or cancel the test scores. Choose wisely.

Yes. You can retake the GRE five times a year and once every 21 days.

The GRE test scores have become integral to the admissions processes of colleges and universities across the USA and Canada. The test scores reflect applicants' cognitive, aptitude, and academic preparedness & skills.

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