GRE Guide

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) and the Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development, workers with higher-level degrees tend to earn higher salaries. The first step to obtaining a graduate degree is taking the GRE, the most common standardized test for aspiring business and graduate school applicants seeking a master’s, MBA, or doctoral degree. GRE scores usually supplement undergraduate coursework, and graduate school admissions boards take them into account when considering candidates’ applications.

The GRE features questions that reflect the critical thinking skills graduate students need to have, covering subjects such as verbal reasoning, analytical writing, and quantitative abilities in problem solving. The exam presents questions in multiple choice, essay, and short-answer formats. Exams are administered in more than 1,000 testing centers, and are available in more than 160 countries. In most cases, the test is completely digital, and available to take at just about any time of year.

GRE scores factor into applicants’ eligibility for their chosen graduate programs. Some programs may prioritize GRE scores over GPA and prior work experience, but every school is different. Some institutions also consider GRE scores when considering applicants for financial aid or teaching assistantships.

GRE Subject Tests

Graduate programs typically require applicants to complete the GRE General Test, but some also request GRE Subject Test scores. Subject tests measure knowledge and skill level in specific areas, and are intended for students with undergraduate degrees in biology, chemistry, English literature, math, psychology, and physics. Unlike GRE general tests, subject tests are administered only three times per year — in September, October, and April — at paper-delivered testing centers around the world. Subject tests include multiple choice, short-answer, and essay questions. The total testing time is two hours and 50 minutes, and the base fee is $150, though standby fees and prep courses may increase the overall cost.

Do Nursing Students Have to Take the GRE?

Many online family nurse practitioner programs and online psychiatric nurse practitioner programs require applicants to complete the GRE. Some programs waive this requirement in favor of prior experience or other forms of testing. Schools may also waive GRE scores for applicants who maintained a high GPA through their undergraduate studies. Before applying to any master’s-level nursing programs, students should see if the GRE General Test or subject tests are required for admission.

What Does the GRE Look Like?

The Structure of the GRE

The GRE for nurse practitioners comprises six sections: two verbal reasoning sections, two sections focused on quantitative reasoning, and one analytical writing section. The analytical writing portion is divided into two separate writing tasks, with questions reflecting the type of thinking students will do in graduate school. The verbal reasoning section measures students’ understanding of texts and concepts, including those with multiple levels of meaning. The quantitative reasoning section measures test-takers’ understanding of and ability to analyze quantitative information, plus their ability to solve problems through mathematical models. The analytical writing portion of the GRE determines students’ ability to articulate complex ideas.

All sections of the GRE must be completed within three hours and 45 minutes. Questions are available in multiple-choice, short-answer, and essay formats. The analytical writing section is always administered first, but the quantitative and verbal reasoning sections can take place in any order. Both computer and paper-delivered tests allow test-takers to return to sections later on, as long as they do so within section time limits. Students may also edit and change answers before each section’s time runs out. Students are allowed to use on-screen calculators during the quantitative reasoning section. Unscored sections, or identified research sections, are used to test out potential questions for future exams, and do not count toward the total score. However, these sections look identical to the scored sections, and test-takers will not know the difference.

Delivery Format

The GRE can be taken either digitally or in paper format. Most test-takers sit for the computerized version, but the paper-administered test is available where digital tests are not. Both forms of the GRE are similar, following the same scoring guidelines and consisting of the same three sections. The primary difference is that the paper test excludes some forms of reading comprehension questions that are found in the digital version. Other differences include that the computer GRE features unscored questions, and is scored by both an e-grader and a human grader. Both tests require the same base fees. The computer examination is offered multiple times per week throughout the year while paper-administered tests are offered three times per year, in October, November, and February. GRE paper-test scores take considerably longer to process — up to five weeks — whereas computer scores are available in approximately 15 days.

The Verbal Reasoning Section

Skill Areas

This section assesses students’ ability to evaluate and analyze written pieces. Students are also tested on analyzing the relationships between words, concepts, and parts of sentences. Questions determine how well a student can synthesize the meaning of a text.

Question Types

Questions in this section focus on reading comprehension, text completion, and sentence equivalence. These questions are delivered as multiple choice and select-in-passage formats. The latter asks students to select a sentence in a passage that best matches a given description. Multiple choice questions are more common, featuring either “select one” or “select multiple” options.

Common Pitfalls and How to Avoid Them

This section of the GRE tests students’ comprehension of the written word. Test-takers commonly make the mistake of attempting to answer a question based on the multiple choice answers provided, rather than based on the text of the question. Test-makers create these traps by writing answers that seem logical, but are ultimately incorrect due to contextual and grammatical nuance. Students may also run into trouble reading too quickly or passively. It is often helpful in this section to highlight or underline key words to interact with the text while reading.

Helpful Tips

Read the Entire Passage It can be tempting to save time and tackle a question by reading supplied answers and looking for keywords within the text. Instead, read the paragraph first and be sure to understand it before addressing the questions.
Fill in the Blanks of a Question Prior to Reviewing the Answers Whenever possible, see if you are instinctively able to fill in the blanks with answers, and then see similar answers are provided.
Look for Significant Words Words such as “that said,” “however,” and “although” are often critical in understanding an author’s argument. Noting these words may help in understanding the entire passage.
Proofread All Answers It can be tempting to skip proofreading in order to save time, but ridding your answers of logistical, stylistic, and grammatical errors can make a big difference.

The Analytical Writing Section

Skill Areas


This section assesses students’ ability to articulate arguments through critical thinking. Test-takers should be able to explain and support a complex argument. Analytical writing tests students’ logical reasoning skills and ability to respond to another person’s analysis. Students are also scored on their vocabulary and sentence structure.

Question Types

The analytical writing section of the GRE is split into two separately timed writing tasks: the “analyze an argument” task and the “analyze an issue” task. The former task tests your ability to analyze, evaluate, and understand arguments, and convey your thoughts through writing. The issue analysis task tests your critical thinking skills regarding a general topic, and how clearly you can express your thoughts about said topic in writing.

Word Processing Software

The computer GRE is scored both by a human grader and an e-grader. The e-grader functions though a word processor that contains the following basic functions: insert text, delete text, cut/paste, and undo. Computer GREs do not offer spelling and grammar check, primarily to ensure fairness between the computer exams and the paper exams.

Common Pitfalls and How to Avoid Them

A common mistake GRE test-takers make in this section is taking too little time to understand the grading systems for argument and issue questions. GRE prep courses and practice tests can help students understand what graders are looking for, and how submissions will be assessed. Students should also focus on their ability to clearly articulate ideas, rather than using complex words.

Helpful Tips

Fully Explain Your Reasoning Explain both your reasoning process and your conclusion when responding to the provided statement.
Manage Your Time Time management is tricky in this section. It is easy to spend too much time drafting a thesis, not leaving enough time to articulate your ideas. During GRE prep, learn to stick to a schedule for creating an outline and formatting your answer on the page or screen.
Review Scoring Guidelines Before taking the GRE, study how these questions will be scored. This will better prepare you to address the exam questions.
Proofread Especially in a writing-based exam, typos and grammatical errors may lead to lower scores. Make sure to leave enough time at the end of this section to proofread your work.

The Quantitative Reasoning Section

Skill Areas

The quantitative reasoning section measures basic mathematical skills and assesses your understanding of elementary mathematical concepts. Some questions are presented as real-life situations, while others are purely mathematical. Most questions are “word problems,” which must be translated and solved mathematically.

Question Types

There are four types of questions presented in this section: quantitative comparison questions, multiple choice “select one answer” questions, multiple-choice “select multiple answers” questions, and numeric-entry questions. These questions are presented independent, or part of a data interpretation set. All data interpretation questions are based on graph and table data, and most of them are word problems.

Can You Use a Calculator on the GRE?

Students taking the computer GRE have access to a digital, on-screen calculator. Paper GRE test-takers will be supplied a calculator by the testing center. Neither GRE format permits test-takers to bring in outside calculators, to ensure a equal testing environment.

Common Pitfalls and How to Avoid Them

Many individuals preparing to take the GRE assume the test will cover advanced mathematics, such as calculus and geometry. However it usually only focuses on high school algebra and lower-level math. Students also attempt to complete calculations for each question, when multiple choice questions can usually be answered by simple estimation and elimination of obviously incorrect answers. This strategy saves time for word problems that are more difficult to solve and often require a numerical answer.

Helpful Tips

Have Enough Scratch Paper Test-takers get a break after the exam’s third section, and may use this time to ask the proctor for additional scratch paper. Having more room to reason through your work will make it easier to identify mistakes.
Refresh Basic Math Skills In preparing for the GRE, many students overestimate the difficulty of test materials. Be sure to refresh your knowledge of high school-level math.
Simplify Each Question Find ways to make questions easier when possible, by reducing a fraction, eliminating zeros, or simplifying an algebraic equation. Making numbers appear smaller often makes problem appear simpler.
Memorize Equations Memorize commonly used equations to reduce time spent on each problem, and build confidence that you know how to tackle any given problem.

How is the GRE Scored?

Each section of the GRE is scored independently. Both the quantitative and the verbal reasoning sections are scored on a 130-170 scale, with scores awarded in one-point increments. The analytical writing segment is reported on a 0-6 scale, with only half-point increments. Any section left blank will be documented as “No Score.”

The computer GRE scores verbal and quantitative reasoning responses based how many questions you answer correctly. Analytical writing responses are scored by at least one trained rater, with grading based on a holistic scale. Within each independent section, answers contribute equally to the total score. Raw scores are scaled through a process called equating, which accounts for varying difficulty levels across multiple GRE test versions. The paper GRE is graded similarly, but without the equating process. An individual’s raw score is based purely on the number of questions answered correctly. Each essay of the analytical writing section is reviewed by two raters, each of whom assigns a score. If their scores are different, a third rater may come in to give a third grade, or the first two scores will be averaged.

Score Ranges on the GRE General Test

GRE Section Score Range
Verbal Reasoning 130-170 (1-point increments)
Analytical Writing 0-6 (1-point increments)
Quantitative Reasoning 130-170 (1-point increments)

Source: ETS

What’s the Difference Between Your Scaled Score and Your Percentile Rank?

GRE scores have two components: a scaled score and a percentile rank. A percentile rank is more important than a scaled score, since it shows how your GRE scores compare to those of other test-takers. Scaled scores indicate your individual performance. Multiple factors may contribute to your scaled score, so the percentile rank is considered more indicative of your overall performance.

What’s an Average Score on the GRE?

Average Scores on the GRE General Test, 2013-16

GRE Section Average Score
Verbal Reasoning 149.97
Analytical Writing 3.48
Quantitative Reasoning 152.57

Source: ETS

How Do You Register for the GRE?

The GRE test is available at more than 1,000 testing centers, in more than 160 countries. Computer-delivered testing is available year-round, and paper tests are available at three testing opportunities throughout the year. Before registering to take the GRE, you must create an ETS (Educational Testing Service) account. Note that you will need to register for your exam using the same name spelling as you used for your ETS account. This account is used for test registration, viewing scores, and purchase of test prep materials. Follow this link to create your ETS account. You may cancel or reschedule your exam registration at any time, but you can only reclaim your testing fee if you cancel or reschedule four days or more days before the planned testing date.

When Should You Take the GRE?

Aspiring graduate students should take the GRE approximately one year before they plan to begin graduate school, to allow time for an exam retake if necessary. Test results are valid for up to five years.

How Much Does the GRE Cost?

The standard fee for the GRE in most countries, including the United States, is $205, plus additional fees for test prep materials. China, however, charges $220 per test, and Australia charges $230.

How Many Times Can You Take the GRE?

Test-takers may retake the GRE every 21 days, up to five times each year. Paper-delivered tests may be taken as often as offered.

How Should You Prepare for the GRE?

At-Home Study Methods

While there are countless official GRE prep courses, at-home study is a great option for students looking to save money.

  • Printed Study Guides: These outlines detail the types of questions that appear on the GRE, ensuring that students are equally prepared for all of the exam’s sections and the various types of questions in each one.
  • Flashcards: A classic study tool, flashcards promote quick association memory by forcing your brain to remember the association between a word or equation and its meaning.
  • Private Tutoring: Some GRE-takers prepare for their exam by hiring a private tutor. These tutors can help isolate which areas of study require the most focus.
  • Studying Apps: Several study apps provide information and helpful hints for taking the GRE. Some apps include flashcards and formulas that you can use as study aids.
  • Online Practice Tests: You can find official GRE practice tests online, as well as generic ones. Practice exams will help you prepare for the types of questions you will see on the test, and give you perspective on how much time you will need to complete each section.

GRE Prep Courses

Students looking to take a GRE prep course will find both in-person and online options. The most common prep courses are offered by Kaplan, the Princeton Review, and TestMasters, and vary in cost from $499 to $2,099, depending on how extensive and well-known the course is. There are some free test prep options out there, but most of them are limited and still require payment for practice tests and personalized instruction.

Studying Tips for the GRE

Know What to Expect Prior to test day, memorize testing structure and be familiar with which subjects you will be tested on.
Go Over Your High School Knowledge Many GRE questions cover basic high school-level concepts, such as algebra and the Pythagorean Theorem.
Take Practice Tests Practice tests are exactly what they sound like. Complete practice exams are available online and through GRE prep courses. These tests are time-consuming and often tiresome, but they ensure you will have a clear picture of what you will need to do on test day.
Focus on Your Weaknesses In taking practice tests and completing study guides, spend more time on your weaker subjects.
Manage Your Time There is nothing worse on test day than running out of time to answer as many questions as you can. Taking practice tests may help you gain an understanding of how long each section will take you to complete.

Helpful Resources

Many full-prep courses charge for their services, but several free resources offer GRE study materials:

  • ETS POWERPREP Practice Tests: These practice tests simulate the actual GRE test with similar test questions and subjects. The online delivery mimics the format of the computer-delivered exam.
  • Quizlet: Quizlet provides GRE flashcards divided into 500 different sets. Each set of flashcards focuses on a slightly different aspect of the test.
  • Magoosh GRE Vocabulary Flashcards: Like Quizlet, Magoosh offers flashcards to aid in GRE prep. These flashcards focus on vocabulary, to prepare students for analytical writing and verbal reasoning sections.
  • LEAP: LEAP provides general, multifaceted GRE prep, including more than 1,100 GRE test prep questions, and multiple 30-minute mathematics and verbal skills study sessions.

What Should You Expect on Test Day?

On the day of the GRE, dress in layers to prepare for any room temperature. Arrive at least 30 minutes prior to the check-in time, to make sure you are admitted smoothly to the testing center. Late arrivals may not be admitted. All test-takers will be assigned a seat. Break periods will be offered between testing sections. If you must leave the room to use the restroom, you will be re-examined for outside materials before retaking your seat. Scratch paper is provided to students taking the computer GRE.

What Should You Bring with You?

On the day of your exam, make sure to have a few key items with you:

  • Valid Photo ID: On test day, make sure to arrive with a valid form of ID.
  • Confirmation Email/Voucher: After you have registered for the GRE, you will receive a confirmation email detailing your test date, center, and choice of test format. Bring this confirmation email to the testing center on the date of your exam.

What Should You Leave at Home?

  • Study Notes/Books: Private notes, books, and study guides are not allowed in the testing facility. Each student is responsible for memorizing the information they need to know. Any additional information will be considered cheating.
  • Your Own Scratch Paper: Like outside books and notes, personal scratch paper will not be allowed into a testing facility. Proctors will provide clean scratch paper to test-takers.
  • Your Own Calculator: Computer GRE-takers will have access to an on-screen calculator, and paper GRE-takers will be provided with a calculator on test day. Providing every student with the same calculator mitigates the margin for error in test scoring.

Accommodations for Test Takers with Disabilities or Health-Associated Needs

ETS has numerous accommodations for test takers with disabilities, such as extended time for test completion, extra breaks, screen magnification, selectable colors, and braille compatibility. To be considered eligible for these accommodations, you must have your request for additional services approved at least six weeks prior to your desired test date. Test-takers may apply for disability accommodation online through their ETS account, or via email or mail-in submission.

Submitting Your Scores

When Will You Get Your Scores?

Computer GRE-takers will receive their full score reports approximately 15 days after completing the exam. Test-takers may review their estimated score at the testing center as soon as the exam is completed, the final score for the analytical writing section requires additional scoring. Those who take the paper GRE will receive scores in approximately five to six weeks.

How Do You Submit Your Scores to Schools?

In registering for the GRE, your testing fee covers the cost of sending scores to up to four graduate institutions or fellowships. You have the option of selecting which test scores you would like to send to each institution. This option is particularly useful to individuals who have taken the test more than once and have scores that show variable performance.

What Scores Will Schools See If You Take the Test More Than Once?

The ScoreSelect option allows students to decide which GRE scores are sent to what institutions. When registering for the GRE, students may choose not to report certain scores, or to send only their most recent scores. After test day, you may choose additional score reports from other testing dates, though this costs an additional fee. Institutions will have access to the score reports you select to send them.

How Long Will Your Scores Be Valid?

GRE scores are considered valid and reportable for up to five years following your test date. You are able to take the GRE up to five times per 365 day period following your first examination.