Sign in to Your Account Done
Forgot account info?

Don't have an Account?

Register Now!

International Student
Study In:

What is the GRE?

The GRE General Test measures your ability to succeed at graduate-level studies, similar to how the SAT and ACT measure your ability to succeed at undergraduate schooling. Your score on the GRE is one of many factors used by university admissions officers for determining whether to accept you into their programs. It’s also used by universities and organizations in the awarding of scholarships. As such, it is important to prepare for the GRE and score as highly as you can.

GRE Format

Developed by ETS, the GRE exam is a section-level adaptive test delivered via computer. In a section-level adaptive test, the first section of Quantitative Reasoning and the first section of Verbal Reasoning you receive will be of moderate difficulty. How you perform determines whether the second section you receive is easier or harder. Both the number of questions right and the difficulty of the questions you received factor you’re your final score.

The GRE exam measures three skill areas:

Analytical Writing
(1 task for a total of 30 minutes)
Verbal Reasoning
(2 sections for a total of 41 minutes)
Quantitative Reasoning
(2 sections for a total of 47 minutes)

The analytical writing section uses a free-response (or essay) format to measure your ability to:

  • Articulate complex ideas clearly and effectively
  • Support ideas with relevant reasons and example
  • Sustain a well-focused, coherent discussion
  • Control the elements of standard written English

For this section of the test, you will need to analyze an issue. You should be able to type and use a basic word processing program (no, the word processor does not have grammar or spell check – you have to supply those skills on your own. However, note that raters are focused on the strength of your analysis and pay little attention to grammar and spelling as long as they can understand the meaning you are trying to convey). All of the Analytical Writing essay topics are available for free and can be accessed on the GRE website.

For most international students, this section is moderately difficult. Although the GRE exam requires you to demonstrate a sophisticated command of written English, the free response format allows you to craft your answer in whatever ways highlight your strengths. Also note that human raters are located around the world, so they recognize that some words are spelled differently based on local use (for example, the U.S. word program and the British word programme are the same word, simply spelled differently).

The verbal reasoning section uses multiple formats to measure your ability to:

  • Analyze and evaluate written material and synthesize information obtained from it
  • Analyze relationships among component parts of sentences
  • Recognize relationships among words and concepts

For most international students, the verbal reasoning section will be the most challenging, especially for those students for whom English is not their primary language. This section demands a sophisticated level of English comprehension; however, don't despair. As with any test, preparation is the key to success. If you have concerns about the GRE exam and your English, that just means you invest more time in preparing before you sit for the exam. Review sample questions, answers and explanations on the GRE website.

The quantitative reasoning sections also use a multiple choice format to measure your ability to:

  • Understand, interpret and analyze quantitative information
  • Solve problems using mathematical models
  • Apply basic mathematical skills (arithmetic, algebra, geometry and data analysis)

For most international students, the quantitative reasoning section will be the easiest to master and require the least preparation. However, that does not mean you should take it lightly. You should invest some time in reviewing basic mathematical formulas, with special emphasis on statistical and probability analysis. For those who need to brush up, GRE offers a free Math Review document.

What Are the GRE Subject Tests?

Along with the GRE General Test, there are subject-specific exams you can take. These include:

  • Mathematics
  • Physics
  • Psychology

These tests may be required by the programs to which you are applying. Please check with the university to determine whether they want you to take a subject test. But, even if your program does not require a subject-area GRE test, you might choose to take it and submit the scores – with the hope that your excellent score will help distinguish you from the other applicants.

GRE Registration

The GRE test can be taken most days of the week in test centers around the world, or any day at home. To register, you will need to create a GRE account, which will also give you access to free test prep.

The cost to take the GRE is currently $220 in most parts of the world; each Subject Test costs $150. There are a variety of additional services (such as test preparation services) available to you – some are free, and some require a fee. The GRE Search Service is free for students, as well – when creating your account you can opt in to share information about yourself with graduate and business school recruiters around the world.

What about GRE Scoring?

Your performance on the GRE will earn three numeric scores, one of each skill area:

Analytical Reasoning
0 – 6 in half point increments (for example, 3.0, 3.5, etc)
Verbal Reasoning
130 – 170 in single point increments
Quantitative Reasoning
130 – 170 in single point increments

It is nearly impossible to advise you what score you should aim for (beyond stating “as high a score as you can”). Each university has its own expectations for GRE scores. The best way to set a GRE goal is to research the programs to which you are applying. Some graduate programs post this information on their websites, though they may also include an email address for the admissions team, whom you can ask directly.

On test day, you can designate up to four graduate institutions or fellowship sponsors to receive your scores as part of your test fee. GRE exam scores are valid for five years after the test administration. Within that timeframe, you can request (for a fee) ETS to transmit your scores to any additional universities you'd like.

GRE Preparation

Preparation is the key to success for the GRE, as it is in nearly every area of life. There are a host of resources available for you to help improve your scores (arranged in ascending order of cost):

  • Free test questions, answers and explanations on the internet (including, the company that designed the GRE)
  • GRE exam preparation books
  • GRE timed practice tests that deliver scores on all three measures
  • Official GRE Mentor, a self-paced online course from the makers of the GRE
  • Instructor-led GRE preparation courses (often very expensive, but often these courses include a score improvement guarantee)

Before you invest in a course (or even a book), keep in mind that the first step to GRE success is self-awareness. You need to accurately judge your own academic and intellectual strengths and weaknesses, so you may make wise decisions about how to improve your GRE scores. A good first step is to take a free GRE practice test at so you can gauge your strengths and weaknesses and plan out how much effort you think you’ll need to make in order to achieve your goal score.

GRE Practice

  1. The candidate announced, to the _______ of her devoted campaigners, that unless her performance in the polls improved she would _______ the race.
    1. consternation .. withdraw from
    2. bewilderment .. abstain from
    3. mortification .. continue
    4. delight .. constrain
    5. awe .. renounce
  2. A large aquarium contains 20 more guppies than angelfish. If the ratio of angelfish to guppies is 4 : 5, what is the total number of guppies and angelfish in the aquarium?
    1. 200
    2. 180
    3. 100
    4. 54
    5. 36
  3. Company regulations prohibit employees from smoking in the company cafeteria. Susan is an employee of the company. Thus, Susan does not smoke in the cafeteria. Which of the following is an unstated premise of the argument above that is necessary to make the conclusion valid?
    1. Susan has never smoked in the cafeteria.
    2. Company regulations prohibit Susan from smoking in the cafeteria.
    3. Susan obeys her company's regulations.
    4. Company employees usually do not do what they are prohibited from doing.
    5. Company employees have never been allowed to smoke in the cafeteria.
Answers and Explanations
  1. The correct answer is (A). Sentence completions are meant to test your intuitive grasp of the structure and logic of sentences. Keywords usually indicate either opposition or similarity. That is, the keyword will indicate that the missing word is either opposite or like another word in the sentence. In this example, the keyword unless indicates opposition: in this case, opposition to continuing in the race. The unless tells us that unless something good happens to her performance, she'll go in the opposite direction. That is, she'll withdraw from the race. Because we know her campaigners are devoted, we can imagine that they would feel consternation at her withdrawing. Therefore, the answer is (A). You might have been tempted by (B), but "abstain from" isn't quite right, as it would indicate that she isn't in the race already.
  2. The correct answer is (B). This is an example of a problem-solving question. For every 4 guppies there are 5 angelfish: it's a ratio. Since there can't be a fraction of a fish, the total number of angelfish and guppies must be an integer multiple of 9. For every 9 fish, there is 1 more guppies than angelfish. Since you are given that there are 20 more guppies than angelfish in the
  3. The correct answer is (C). This is an example of a logical reasoning question. Questions that ask you to find an unstated premise, or assumption, are testing your ability to fill in missing steps in an argument. If you get stuck on a question like this, use the denial test: Negate each answer choice as you read it. The correct answer, when it's been negated, will turn the argument into gibberish. The negation of the correct answer must be inconsistent with the argument. Here, the answer is (C). Let's try negating (C). Let's pretend that Susan DOESN'T obey her company's regulations. Then the company's regulations would have no effect on her, and we'd have no reason to believe that she doesn't smoke in the cafeteria. That is, the author's evidence about the company's regulations wouldn't add up to the conclusion that "Susan does not smoke in the cafeteria."

GRE Test Day

It is critical that you bring your registration information and photo identification with you on the day of your test administration. Because your GRE exam score can contribute toward the likelihood that you will get a Master’s degree or PhD, test security is absolutely essential. For that reason, you may not bring your cellphone, PDA or any other electronic device into the testing center. Learn more about what to expect on test day.

Related Content:

Get the International Student newsletter!