GRE Exam | What Is It And Who Is It For?

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While graduation may seem far away for many students, life as a postgraduate can be new and exciting, but also sometimes quite confusing! Continuing in higher education is a lot more complicated, and there will be new challenges and admission requirements to encounter. One such requirement is the GRE exam. But what exactly is it?

The GRE (Graduate Record Examinations) is a test that is part of the admission requirements for graduate schools mainly in the USA and Canada (including the Ivy League). The GRE is comprised of 3 sections: Verbal Reasoning, Quantitative Reasoning and Analytical Writing. The exam is designed to cover knowledge areas necessary for law, business, and graduate school in general, and can be taken by graduates in any field of study.

Don’t worry if you’re still confused on the details. This article will explain what the GRE exam is, where you can take it, and who can take it.

What is the GRE exam?

The GRE, which stands for Graduate Record Examinations, is a test that is part of the admission requirements for many USA and Canadian graduate schools.

The GRE is run by the Educational Testing Service (ETS). The GRE general test is a singular exam that is designed to encompass knowledge you may need for law, business, or graduate school.

According to the ETS website, linked for you here, you are able to take the GRE once every 21 days, and up to 5 times in any continuous 365-day period.

The website also states that you will receive your score 8-10 days after you complete the test. You have the responsibility of scheduling your own exam, so make sure to schedule it in time for your graduate school application.

You are able to sit the GRE general test at home, so if you don’t want to sit it in a test centre, you will still be allowed to take the exam.

As previously stated, the GRE is most commonly needed for USA and Canadian graduate schools.  However, you are able to take the test in over 160 countries, so don’t worry if you are thinking of sitting the exam overseas but want to attend school in North America.

Who is required to take the GRE exam?

There are very few restrictions on who can actually take the GRE exam.

You are eligible to sit the GRE at any age (provided you are over the age of 18), at any educational level when you are 18 and above (even if you are not a graduate!), and in any field.

Of course, some of these factors may mean that you may not do particularly well in the GRE, so you should take it whenever you feel ready.

The GRE should be taken if you’re looking to study a graduate programme, and the university you want to study at asks for the GRE as a requirement.

While it’s always good to get a head start, you don’t have to sit the GRE when you’re still in college if you don’t want to. As long as you have your GRE results before your application, you can sit the test whenever you like.

Another important thing to note is that you must provide a valid ID in order to sit the exam in-person. This is any government-issued form of identification, such as a valid passport or driver’s licence.

As of December 2023, ETS accepts expired IDs of up to 90 days after the expiration date. However, it’s better to make sure your ID is still valid before the test if you can!

What is the format of the GRE exam?

The GRE exam has 3 core sections: Verbal Reasoning, Quantitative Reasoning, and Analytical Writing.

The Verbal Reasoning section assesses your comprehension skills. You may be given passages and asked to answer questions based on information given to you in the passage.

It also tests your ability to understand multiple levels of meaning, whether this is figurative or literal. The Verbal Reasoning section comprises 27 questions in total split into two sections, with 41 minutes of allotted time.

The Quantitative Reasoning section assesses your mathematical skills and understanding. You will be asked to solve problems using mathematics, and demonstrate understanding of concepts such as algebra, geometry and data analysis. The Quantitative Reasoning section also comprises 27 questions in total split into two sections, with 47 minutes of allotted time.

The Analytical Writing section assesses your ability to articulate a coherent argument. You must provide a focused response including complex ideas, written in standard English. The Analytical Writing section is a single response task with 30 minutes of allotted time.

You can read about all of this and more on this section of the ETS website.

Is the GRE exam optional?

The GRE test is optional in some countries, and mandatory in others. If you plan to go to a graduate school in the USA or Canada, you will most likely need a GRE score. This is because most universities will ask for one as part of their admissions requirements.

Even if the USA/Canadian graduate school you’re applying to doesn’t ask for the GRE, it’s still good to have one anyway, and it can set you apart from other applicants.

As stated on the Duke Graduate School website, linked here, “Many programs offer applicants the option to submit GRE scores as an optional application component. Applicants to GRE optional programs may still submit GRE scores if they feel the scores enhance their application”.

The entry requirements are unique to each graduate school, so you should check with the school you want to apply to, to make sure you have the right qualifications.

In the rest of the world, there isn’t as much of an emphasis on the GRE as for the US and Canada. However, I’d definitely still recommend checking with your prospective school first before deciding if you should/shouldn’t take the GRE.

Is the GRE a hard exam?

It’s difficult to say whether the GRE is a “hard” exam, because it depends on your personal abilities. Since the exam is testing three different areas of knowledge, it is likely that you’ll probably do better in some parts than others — and this is totally normal!

The GRE, as implied by the name, is a graduate-level examination, so you will definitely encounter some difficulties along the way. They don’t want to make it too easy! However, as long as you prepare thoroughly, you should be okay.

The ETS provided statistics which you can view here. This page states that the mean score in all GRE taken 2019-2022 was 150.94 for the Verbal Reasoning section.

The mean was 155.44 for the Quantitative Reasoning section, and 3.56 for the Analytical Writing section (which is scored differently to the other two sections).

If you’d like to know more about what GRE scores are considered good, check out this Think Student article. [Link to other article not published]

Essentially, you may find the GRE easier or more difficult than other students based on your personal abilities. If you are better at verbal reasoning than quantitative reasoning, you may do better in that section compared to others.

It’s important not to compare yourself, so don’t get caught up in how other students score! Just make sure you prepare as much as you can and do your best!

How much does it cost to take the GRE exam?

According to the ETS website, linked for you here, it costs 220 USD to take the GRE exam, except for in China and India. In China it costs 231.30 USD.  Costs for the GRE in India can be found on the ETS India website, linked here.

There are also fees for rescheduling your exam, or for changing your test centre if you’re taking the exam in person.

To reschedule your exam, you must pay 50 USD, except for in China where you must pay 53.90 USD. It also costs 50 USD to change your test centre.

Which countries accept the GRE exam?

The GRE exam is most popular in the USA. However, as per the ETS website, you can sit the GRE in over 160 countries. The GRE is accepted as a valid form of assessment in almost a hundred countries.

Below is a table of countries in which the GRE is accepted:

Continent Countries that accept the GRE
North America The USA and its territories, Bahamas, Canada, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Grenada, Jamaica, Mexico, St. Kitts, St. Lucia
South America Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Panama, Peru
Asia Armenia, Bangladesh, Brunei, China, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Iran, Israel, Japan, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Kuwait, Kyrgyzstan, Malaysia, Pakistan, Philippines, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand, Turkey, United Arab Emirates (UAE), Yemen
Africa Cameroon, Egypt, Kenya, Liberia, Morocco, Nigeria, Rwanda, South Africa, Sudan, Tanzania, Tunisia, Zimbabwe
Europe Austria, Azerbaijan, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czechia, Denmark, Finland, France, Georgia, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Kosovo, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Russia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, United Kingdom (UK)
Oceania Australia, New Zealand

You can read more about this on this page of the Student Progress website.

These are all the countries that accept GRE scores as part of a graduate school application. However, not all universities in these countries may ask for a GRE score, so you should contact the university you want to apply to, to find out directly.

How long should you study for the GRE?

You should spend however much time you think is appropriate for studying for the GRE. You can take the GRE whenever you want, so a good idea might be to make a week by week (or month) schedule for preparation.

The Princeton Review suggests that you should spend anywhere from 4 weeks to 12 weeks (1 month to 3 months) preparing for the GRE. You can read more on their website, linked here.

Of course, you should study however works best for you. Although cramming is never encouraged, if it’s a strategy that genuinely yields you the best results, you could prepare in a month or just under.

However, I’d definitely advise spending at least 6 weeks preparing for the GRE, for a few hours a day. It’s definitely not an exam to be underestimated! Make sure that you don’t burn out when studying! Check out this article from Think Student to discover the amount of studying which may be considered too much.

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