It is always a good idea to familiarize yourself with the GRE General Test as a whole before you dive into studying for it. Knowing how many sections are on the GRE and the test’s length are good places to start. In this article we will discuss the three measures of the GRE, the amount of sections that are on the exam, scoring, and some tips on how to prepare for test day.
The GRE General Test is composed of three measures: Analytical Writing, Verbal Reasoning, and Quantitative Reasoning. Most test-takers take the Computer-Delivered GRE, in which case the entire GRE exam will last 3 hours and 45 minutes. You will have one ten-minute break halfway through the exam.
After you complete the test, you will have the option to “Report Your Scores.” Doing so will allow you to immediately see your unofficial Verbal and Quantitative Reasoning score. If you are pleased with the score, you can go on to choose up four recipients to receive your GRE Score Report (at no additional cost).
Keep in mind you will not know your Analytical Writing section score until your official score report has been released about two weeks later. At this time, ETS will automatically send out your score report to your designated recipients. You will receive an email notification telling you to log on to your ETS account to view your official GRE score along with your score percentile.
There are five sections included on the test in total. Let’s dive into each one’s specifics.
The GRE will begin with the Analytical Writing measure that is made up of two timed essays: one where you will have to analyze an issue and the other an argument. For each essay, you will have thirty minutes to answer the prompt–so the total section time is one hour.
Your two essays will be graded by a human reader as well as a computer algorithm, known as the E-Rater. This system was created by ETS to identify essay features related to writing proficiency. It is likely the AI is scanning for the vocabulary used, length of the essay, structure of sentences, and more. The E-Rater and trained human reader will both assign each essay a score ranging from 0-6. If the score assigned by the computer and human reader are close, the average of their scores becomes the score for that essay.
If the E-Rater and human reader have scores that are not close, a second human reader will grade the essay and the average of the two human scores will become the final essay score. After the two essays have been scored separately, the average of the two essays will be turned into your final Analytical Writing score ranging from zero to six, in half-point increments.
After the Analytical Writing section, the remaining sections on the GRE will be composed of Verbal and Quantitative Reasoning. Technically, you will have two scored Verbal sections and two scored Quantitative sections, for a total of four more sections after Analytical Writing. However, it is unlikely you will only have four remaining sections.
Most computer-delivered GRE test-takers will receive a fifth section, known as the Experimental section. ETS uses this section to determine the difficulty level of future test questions. You will probably be given three Verbal sections and two Math sections or vice versa. Although your performance on the Experimental section will not count towards your score, you will not know which of the sections is Experimental. Therefore, it is crucial you approach each section as if it will be scored.
In other words, you will have a total of six sections on the GRE that could take the following two forms…
Before we break down the Verbal and Quantitative Reasoning portions of the GRE, it is important to understand how this exam is section-adaptive. In order for ETS to create a wider variety of scores in the Verbal and Math measures, the test adapts to difficulty level. The amount of questions you get right in the Verbal/Math sections will not simply determine your score; the difficulty level of the questions you answered will also come into play.
Your first Verbal section will be of medium difficulty level. Your performance on this section will determine how hard your second Verbal section is. The same applies to the Quantitative Reasoning sections. However, your performance on Verbal does not affect the difficulty of the Math sections and vice versa.
If your strategy is to miss a handful of math questions in the first section in order to get an “easy” second math section, that is not the best idea if you want a competitive GRE score. For those who want to score in the top GRE percentiles, you will need to get the harder second sections as this will translate to a higher scaled score.
Each Verbal Reasoning section will give you thirty minutes to answer twenty multiple choice questions. This measure will test you on your critical reading skills and knowledge of advanced vocabulary words. You will need to be able to read quickly and efficiently.
Reading efficiently means you read in order to understand the main idea of the passage such as an author’s claim or argument. It also means to read and focus on the function of a sentence or paragraph. This will be important in non-critical reading questions as well.
There will be two other types of questions you will encounter on the GRE Verbal section other than Reading Comprehension: Sentence Equivalence and Text Completion. Sentence Equivalence questions will provide you with a sentence that has an omitted word. You will need to choose two answer choices that can fill the blank and give the sentence the same meaning.
Text Completion questions will provide you with one to three sentences. There can also be up to three omitted words. You will need to choose the answer choices that give the sentence a logical and cohesive meaning. Furthermore, you will need to fill in all the blanks correctly if you are to receive any points for the question (it is an all or nothing situation).
Both Text Completion and Sentence Equivalence questions require test-takers to evaluate the function of various parts of a sentence in order to draw a conclusion about the purpose of the sentence as a whole. A strong sense of how transitional words and punctuation affects the meaning of a sentence, along with a well rounded vocabulary, will be required.
Each Quantitative Reasoning section will give you thirty five minutes to answer twenty questions. They will not all be multiple choice, but most of them will be. The GRE math questions will test you on math concepts that you should have learned in high school such as arithmetic, algebra, geometry, and data analysis. Although there will be no advanced math content that appears on the GRE Quantitative sections, the questions will be tricky and require a high level of numerical analysis.
There are three types of questions that will appear on the GRE Math measure. The primary type of question you will encounter is multiple choice that will require one correct answer or multiple correct answers. If you are to choose more than one answer, the question will make that explicit. Since these questions provide answer choices, it is always a good idea to look at them prior to working through the problem. Let the answer choices guide your math.
The Numeric Entry questions will require you to type in your answer in the form of a fraction, integer, or rounded decimal. The question will make it explicit how you are to deliver your answer. Many students miss these questions because they did not round accordingly or they did not pay attention to units. For example, the question could provide measurements in centimeters but ask for a final answer that has been converted to feet.
The final type of question that you will encounter is Quantitative Comparison. This type of question is very unique to the GRE, so people usually have the biggest learning curve when learning how to answer them compared to numeric entry and multiple choice. All of us have encountered these when taking a math test in school or the SAT and ACT.
The Quantitative comparison questions will always have the same instructions. You will be provided with two quantities, known as Quantity A and Quantity B. Also, you might be given additional information about one or both quantities. The question will ask you to determine the relationship between Quantity A and Quantity B as follows:
A very common mistake test-takers make is to do too much math. You want to do the minimum amount of math necessary in order to answer the question, but that will not always require you to solve the problem.
So often I have a student come to me for GRE help who has been studying for six or more months with little improvement. Most test-takers should not need upwards of half a year to prepare for the GRE if you do so properly. If you find you are increasing your amount of weekly GRE study time but your score is not changing, odds are you are doing something wrong.
There are three primary steps you can take in order to adequately prepare for the GRE: enroll in a GRE prep course, purchase the best GRE study books, and create study habits that will optimize progress. Fortunately, we have articles on all three and I highly recommend you check them out in order to ensure you have a solid plan to conquer the GRE.
|Measure||Number of |
|Questions per |
|Time per Section||Score Range|
|1 Section||2 timed essays||30 Minutes for each essay, a total of |
|0-6, in half-point|
|2 Sections||20 Questions||30 Minutes||130-170, in |
|2 Sections||20 Questions||35 Minutes||130-170, in |
|Experimental||1 Section |
|20 Questions||30 or 35 Minutes||Not Scored|