Considering Graduate School? Let’s Talk GRE.

When first applying for graduate school, I was informed that I’d have to take the GRE. “It’s like the SAT but for graduate school,” someone pitched to me. And that comparison has proven mostly true. The Graduation Record Examinations, commonly referred to as the GRE, plays a similar role in graduate school admissions to the role the ACT and SAT play in undergraduate admissions. The actual test, however, has several differences.

While not all graduate schools require the GRE, if you are applying to multiple programs in pursuit of a master’s degree, then most likely you will have to take the GRE General Test. Much more than this test score goes into a graduate application, but having a strong GRE score is definitely beneficial.

So, what is this test like?

The GRE General Test evaluates students on three skills: verbal reasoning, quantitative reasoning, and analytical writing. This nearly 4 hour test is offered online year-round at test centers; plus, you can even take it from your home computer. 

Analytical Writing (60 minute section): This writing section will always be first. You are given 60 minutes to write 2 essays: Analyze an Issue and Analyze an Argument. 

  • Analyze an Issue Task: This essay prompt will present you with a statement with which you must agree or disagree. You must construct a well-reasoned and well-supported argument essay. 

  • Analyze an Argument Task: This essay prompt will present you with a brief passage that you must analyze for underlying assumptions and missing evidence. You must construct a well-reasoned and well-supported analysis essay. 

After the analytical writing section, the order of the test will vary. 

Verbal Reasoning (60 minutes total): You are tested on verbal reasoning through 2 30-minute sections. The GRE evaluates your level of verbal reasoning through 3 question types: reading comprehension, text completion, and sentence equivalence.

Quantitative Reasoning (60 minutes total): Similar to verbal reasoning, you will receive 2 30-minute quantitative reasoning sections. Your quantitative reasoning skills are evaluated in 4 content areas: arithmetic, algebra, geometry, and data analysis. The GRE will not test above the high school level of these topics. Some questions will ask you to do quantitative comparisons, while others will require you to enter a numeric value.

The GRE uses section-level adaptive algorithms, which means that the second section of Verbal Reasoning or Quantitative Reasoning will be based upon your performance within the initial section.

Within the test, you will encounter more than the 5 sections outlined above. Similar to the ACT’s and SAT’s fifth or experimental section, the GRE includes unidentified and unscored sections that can appear at any point within the test. 

Key Differences from the ACT/SAT

  • Difficulty is geared toward college senior/graduate.

  • The GRE is offered only online. 

  • The GRE adapts sections based upon previous section’s performance. 

  • The unscored sections are indiscernible from the scored sections.

  • Some multiple choice questions will ask you to select one or more correct answer choices.

How is the GRE scored? 

Similar to the ACT/SAT, the GRE converts the raw scores for each section toward a scale score that has been designated through the process of equating. The Analytical Writing section is on a 0-6 scale. The Verbal Reasoning section and Quantitative Reasoning are scored on 130-170 scales. 

What is a good score?

A competitive GRE score depends on the specific graduate program and college to which you are applying. Before preparing for or taking the GRE, research the target GRE score range for your schools. Since graduate programs are far more specialized, some programs might care more about the Quantitative Reasoning than Analytical Writing, or vice versa. 


How to prepare for it?

Just like any other standardized test, the best way to prepare is to become familiar with the test itself. The GRE website offers sample question sets for the Verbal Reasoning and Quantitative reasoning sections and provides every possible essay prompt for the Analytical Writing section.

Also, be smart about where you dedicate your time. If you are applying to a program which stresses Verbal Reasoning skills but doesn’t prioritize Quantitative Reasoning, then adjust your prep plan accordingly. 

If you need additional help prepping for the GRE, reach out to Pivot Tutors today! 

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