What is GRE?

What is GRE | GRE Paper Pattern, Scoring & Syllabus
Standardized Tests

What is GRE | GRE Paper Pattern, Scoring & Syllabus


The GRE is short for Graduate Record Examination. This exam is administered by the Educational Testing Service (ETS), one of the world’s largest private educational testing and measurement organization. The ETS develops standardized examinations in the US and also conducts the TOEFL test in around 110 countries. The GRE is a computer-based test divided into three major sections. The test measures the student’s verbal reasoning, quantitative reasoning, critical thinking, and analytical writing skills that have been acquired over a period of time. The test is necessary for students who plan to pursue there Masters in the US, UK, Australia or Canada. The GRE test scores are used by admissions or fellowship panels to supplement undergraduate records and other qualifications that are required for graduate study. The scores provide a common measure for comparing the qualifications of applicants and also serve as a measure to evaluate grades and recommendations. 

Structure of the GRE

The overall testing time for the computer-delivered GRE® General Test is about three hours and 45 minutes. There are six sections with a 10-minute break following the third section.

Measure Number of Questions Allotted Time
Analytical Writing
(One section with two separately timed tasks)
One “Analyze an Issue” task and one “Analyze an Argument” task 30 minutes per task
Verbal Reasoning
(Two sections)
20 questions per section 30 minutes per section
Quantitative Reasoning
(Two sections)
20 questions per section 35 minutes per section
Unscored¹ Varies Varies
Research² Varies Varies

The Analytical Writing section will always be first. The Verbal Reasoning, Quantitative Reasoning and unidentified/unscored sections may appear in any order; therefore, you should treat each section as if it counts toward your score.

How the Test Is Scored

Three scores are reported on the GRE® General Test:

  • a Verbal Reasoning score reported on a 130–170 score scale, in 1-point increments
  • a Quantitative Reasoning score reported on a 130–170 score scale, in 1-point increments
  • an Analytical Writing score reported on a 0–6 score scale, in half-point increments

Any section in which you answer no questions at all will be reported as a No Score (NS).

Overview of the Analytical Writing Section

The Analytical Writing measure tests your critical thinking and analytical writing skills. It assesses your ability to articulate and support complex ideas, construct and evaluate arguments, and sustain a focused and coherent discussion. It does not assess specific content knowledge.

The Analytical Writing measure consists of two separately timed analytical writing tasks:

  • a 30-minute “Analyze an Issue” task
  • a 30-minute “Analyze an Argument” task

The Issue task presents an opinion on an issue of general interest followed by specific instructions on how to respond to that issue. You are required to evaluate the issue, consider its complexities and develop an argument with reasons and examples to support your views.

The Argument task requires you to evaluate a given argument according to specific instructions. You will need to consider the logical soundness of the argument rather than agree or disagree with the position it presents.

Overview of the Verbal Section

The Verbal Reasoning measure of the GRE® General Test assesses your ability to analyze and evaluate written material and synthesize information obtained from it, analyze relationships among component parts of sentences and recognize relationships among words and concepts.

Verbal Reasoning questions appear in several formats, each of which is discussed in detail in the corresponding sections linked to below. About half of the measure requires you to read passages and answer questions on those passages. The other half requires you to read, interpret and complete existing sentences, groups of sentences or paragraphs.

Verbal Reasoning Question Types

The Verbal Reasoning measure contains three types of questions.

  • Reading Comprehension
  • Text Completion
  • Sentence Equivalence

Overview of the Quantitative Section

The Quantitative Reasoning measure of the GRE® General Test assesses your:

  • basic mathematical skills
  • understanding of elementary mathematical concepts
  • ability to reason quantitatively and to model and solve problems with quantitative methods

Some of the Quantitative Reasoning questions are posed in real-life settings, while others are posed in purely mathematical settings. Many of the questions are “word problems,” which must be translated and modeled mathematically. The skills, concepts and abilities are assessed in the four content areas below.

  • Arithmetic topics include properties and types of integers, such as divisibility, factorization, prime numbers, remainders and odd and even integers; arithmetic operations, exponents and roots; and concepts such as estimation, percent, ratio, rate, absolute value, the number line, decimal representation and sequences of numbers.
  • Algebra topics include operations with exponents; factoring and simplifying algebraic expressions; relations, functions, equations and inequalities; solving linear and quadratic equations and inequalities; solving simultaneous equations and inequalities; setting up equations to solve word problems; and coordinate geometry, including graphs of functions, equations and inequalities, intercepts and slopes of lines.
  • Geometry topics include parallel and perpendicular lines, circles, triangles — including isosceles, equilateral and 30°-60°-90° triangles — quadrilaterals, other polygons, congruent and similar figures, three-dimensional figures, area, perimeter, volume, the Pythagorean theorem and angle measurement in degrees. The ability to construct proofs is not tested.
  • Data analysis topics include basic descriptive statistics, such as mean, median, mode, range, standard deviation, interquartile range, quartiles and percentiles; interpretation of data in tables and graphs, such as line graphs, bar graphs, circle graphs, boxplots, scatterplots and frequency distributions; elementary probability, such as probabilities of compound events and independent events; conditional probability; random variables and probability distributions, including normal distributions; and counting methods, such as combinations, permutations and Venn diagrams. These topics are typically taught in high school algebra courses or introductory statistics courses. Inferential statistics is not tested.

The content in these areas includes high school mathematics and statistics at a level that is generally no higher than a second course in algebra; it does not include trigonometry, calculus or other higher-level mathematics.

The mathematical symbols, terminology and conventions used in the Quantitative Reasoning measure are those that are standard at the high school level. For example, the positive direction of a number line is to the right, distances are non negative and prime numbers are greater than 1. Whenever nonstandard notation is used in a question, it is explicitly introduced in the question.

In addition to conventions, there are some important assumptions about numbers and figures that are listed in the Quantitative Reasoning section directions:

  • All numbers used are real numbers.
  • All figures are assumed to lie in a plane unless otherwise indicated.
  • Geometric figures, such as lines, circles, triangles, and quadrilaterals, are not necessarily drawn to scale. That is, you should not assume that quantities such as lengths and angle measures are as they appear in a figure. You should assume, however, that lines shown as straight are actually straight, points on a line are in the order shown, and more generally, all geometric objects are in the relative positions shown. For questions with geometric figures, you should base your answers on geometric reasoning, not on estimating or comparing quantities by sight or by measurement.
  • Coordinate systems, such as xy-planes and number lines, are drawn to scale; therefore, you can read, estimate, or compare quantities in such figures by sight or by measurement.
  • Graphical data presentations, such as bar graphs, circle graphs, and line graphs, are drawn to scale; therefore, you can read, estimate, or compare data values by sight or by measurement.
Quantitative Reasoning Question Types

The Quantitative Reasoning measure has four types of questions.

  • Quantitative Comparison Questions
  • Multiple-choice Questions — Select One Answer Choice
  • Multiple-choice Questions — Select One or More Answer Choices
  • Numeric Entry Questions

You are allowed to use a basic calculator on the Quantitative Reasoning measure. For the computer-delivered test, the calculator is provided on-screen. For the paper-delivered test, a handheld calculator is provided at the test center. Read more about using the calculator.

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