The Graduate Record Examinations is a standardized test that is an admissions requirement for many graduate schools in the United States and Canada. The GRE is owned and administered by Educational Testing Service. The test was established in 1936 by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.

Annual number of test takers: 584,677 (2016)

Knowledge / skills tested: Analytical writing, quantitative reasoning and verbal reasoning

Score / grade validity: 5 years

Scores / grades used by: Most graduate schools in USA, and few in other countries

Purpose: Admissions to master’s and doctoral degree programs in various universities

Developer / administrator: Educational Testing Service

Whether you are planning to go to graduate school, including business or law — or just exploring your options — you are taking an important step toward your future. It is a smart move to show schools your best and with the GRE® General Test, you can!

The GRE General Test helps you do your best on test day. With the GRE General Test, you decide which scores to send to schools. If you feel you didn’t do your best on test day, that’s okay. You can retake the test and then send only the scores you want schools to see. It’s all part of the Score Select option, only available with GRE tests.

Plus, the GRE General Test is the only admissions test for graduate and professional school that lets you skip questions within a section, go back and change answers, and have control to tackle the questions within a section you want to answer first.


The computer-based GRE General Test consists of six sections. The first section is always the analytical writing section involving separately timed issue and argument tasks. The next five sections consist of two verbal reasoning sections, two quantitative reasoning sections, and either an experimental or research section. These five sections may occur in any order. The experimental section does not count towards the final score but is not distinguished from the scored sections. Unlike the computer adaptive test before August 2011, the GRE General Test is a multistage test, where the examinee’s performance on earlier sections determines the difficulty of subsequent sections. This format allows the examined person to freely move back and forth between questions within each section, and the testing software allows the user to “mark” questions within each section for later review if time remains. The entire testing procedure lasts about 3 hours 45 minutes.One-minute breaks are offered after each section and a 10-minute break after the third section.

The paper-based GRE General Test also consists of six sections. The analytical writing is split up into two sections, one section for each issue and argument task. The next four sections consist of two verbal and two quantitative sections in varying order. There is no experimental section on the paper-based test. This version is only available in areas where the computer-based version is unavailable.

  • Verbal Reasoning — Measures the ability to analyze and draw conclusions from discourse, reason from incomplete data, understand multiple levels of meaning, such as literal, figurative and author’s intent, summarize text, distinguish major from minor points, understand the meanings of words, sentences and entire texts, and understand relationships among words and among concepts. There is an emphasis on complex verbal reasoning skills.
  • Quantitative Reasoning — Measures the ability to understand, interpret and analyze quantitative information, solve problems using mathematical models, and apply the basic concepts of arithmetic, algebra, geometry and data analysis. There is an emphasis on quantitative reasoning skills.
  • Analytical Writing — Measures critical thinking and analytical writing skills, including the ability to articulate and support complex ideas with relevant reasons and examples, and examine claims and accompanying evidence. There is an emphasis on analytical writing skills.

Issue Task

The test taker is given 30 minutes to write an essay about a selected topic.Issue topics are selected from a pool of questions, which the GRE Program has published in its entirety. Individuals preparing for the GRE may access the pool of tasks on the ETS website.

Argument Task

The test taker will be given an argument (i.e. a series of facts and considerations leading to a conclusion) and asked to write an essay that critiques the argument. Test takers are asked to consider the argument’s logic and to make suggestions about how to improve the logic of the argument. Test takers are expected to address the logical flaws of the argument and not provide a personal opinion on the subject. The time allotted for this essay is 30 minutes. The Arguments are selected from a pool of topics, which the GRE Program has published in its entirety. Individuals preparing for the GRE may access the pool of tasks on the ETS website.

Experimental section

The experimental section, which can be either verbal or quantitative, contains new questions ETS is considering for future use. Although the experimental section does not count towards the test-taker’s score, it is unidentified and appears identical to the scored sections. Because test takers have no definite way of knowing which section is experimental, it is typically advised that test takers try their best and be focused on every section. Sometimes an identified research section at the end of the test is given instead of the experimental section. There is no experimental section on the paper-based GRE.

Get expert advice to plan your future

Through a conversation with one of our Education Counsellors, you can be sure you’re making an informed decision on your future study. There’s nothing worse than signing up for a course that you are not passionate about studying and will set you back thousands of dollars.

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