What Does GRE Stand For?

You might have heard colleagues or fellow students throw out  the term “GRE.” Some of you might know what the GRE is but you are unsure of what the GRE stands for. On the other hand, some of you might have literally no idea what this GRE terminology is referring to: is this one of those BRB or SMH situations?

No matter what side of the spectrum you are on, I am here to provide clarification to the question “what does the GRE stand for?” The GRE is an acronym for Graduate Record Examination. Unlike other standardized tests, the name of the GRE adequately reflects what it is. The GRE is an exam that becomes part of your graduate application record. Most graduate or MBA programs require applicants to take the GRE. Admissions will evaluate your score and compare it to that of other applicants in order to help decide if you are a good fit for their program.

The GRE is created and administered by ETS; yes, another acronym. ETS stands for Educational Testing Service. ETS makes two GRE exams. The GRE General Test and the GRE Subject Tests.

GRE Refers To The General Test

Usually, when someone refers to the “GRE” it implies the GRE General Test. The GRE General Test is much more common to take than the Subject Tests. According to the GRE Worldwide Test Taker Report, from July 2019-June 2020, 467,277 people took the GRE General Test. Forty-five percent of the examinees were men and fifty-five percent were women–fun fact for those who love data such as myself.

About the GRE General Test

The GRE General Test is around 3 hours and 45 minutes long. It is offered worldwide on a continuous basis throughout the year. The most common way for the GRE General Test to be administered is on a computer at a designated testing site. For areas where the computer-based exam is not available, students will take a paper-based GRE. Students might also qualify for special testing services, which will allow them to take the paper-delivered exam.

Whether you take the computer or paper-delivered test, there are three portions to the GRE General Test: Analytical Writing, Verbal Reasoning, and Quantitative Reasoning. Here is a quick break down of the sections:

Analytical Writing

Your Analytical Writing (AW) section will kick-start your exam. This portion of the GRE is composed of two essays (combined, they will make up an AW score from 0-6) and you will have 30 minutes to write each one. This includes the time you spend reading the prompt, outlining the structure, and actually writing the essay. One essay will ask you to analyze an issue and the other an argument.

Although the topics of the argument and issue will vary, the prompt will not. I highly advise students to not overlook this portion of the test, which many tend to do. Thirty minutes might seem like enough time to write an essay but it goes by quickly.

However, students can mechanically maneuver through this portion of the GRE if they take the time to familiarize themselves by completing practice essays. Also, reading examples of high-scoring essays (example essays can be found in the ETS Official Verbal Reasoning book) in order to hone in on an overall structure that you can follow on test-day will be instrumental to your success.

Verbal Reasoning

The Verbal Reasoning sections of the GRE will each be 30 minutes long and have 20 questions. Your Verbal Sections will be combined to create a score between 130-170. Similar to the SAT or ACT that you might have taken in High School, there will be quite a few critical reading passages followed up by questions testing your comprehension of the text.

In addition to critical reading questions, there are two other types of questions that will make up the Verbal Reasoning section: Text Completion and Sentence Equivalence. These questions will present you with a longer sentence(s) that will have omitted words. You will need to choose the appropriate word(s) from the answer choices that complete the sentence. A strong vocabulary will be needed in order to do well on these type of questions.

The Verbal Reasoning portion of the exam is section adaptive. This means that how well you perform on the first Verbal Reasoning section will determine how difficult your second Verbal Reasoning section is.

Quantitative Reasoning:

The GRE Quantitative sections will be 35 minutes long and have 20 math questions. The sections will be combined to create a score from 130-170. The math topics that appear on this portion of the GRE are meant to reflect what students learned in High School or in their general education mathematics classes in college. Algebra 1, geometry, and basic statistics will be covered on the test.

There are four types of questions that will appear in the Quantitative Reasoning section: Quantitative Comparisons, Multiple Choice (select one answer), Multiple Choice (select more than one answer), and Numeric Entry. Although there are no advanced mathematics topics that come up, the ability to quickly reason your way through numeric information will be essential to finishing the section in the time given. Just like the Verbal Reasoning portion of the exam, the math portion is also section adaptive.

The GRE Subject Tests

As I mentioned, the “GRE” usually implies the GRE General Test. However, this is not the only type of GRE exam ETS creates. There are also the GRE Subject Tests. Many people are not aware of the subject exams since they are less common than the General exam. According to ETS’s GRE Subject Test Interpretive Data Report, from July 1, 2014-June 20,2017, only 64,062 people took these exams.

There are six GRE Subject Exams to choose from. They are meant to measure your knowledge of a particular field of study and are administered three times a year. Graduate and MBA programs will use your Subject Test score to help them decide if you are a good fit for their program. If a subject test is required for admissions, the program will make it clear you need to take one of the following GRE subject tests:

The tests are multiple choice and are only delivered in a paper-based format (unlike the GRE General exam). The score range for each exam is from 200-900, in 10-point increments. Also, the exams are not adaptive to difficulty level.

  • Chemistry
  • Biology
  • Literature in English
  • Physics
  • Mathematics
  • Psychology

What Does the GRE Stand For? Conclusion

No matter how lost you felt when wondering “What does the GRE Stand for?” hopefully your questions have been answered. Now, seeing as I answered this question for you, can someone please fill me in on the “SMH” situation?


  1. https://www.ets.org/s/gre/pdf/snapshot_test_taker_data_2017.pdf
  2. https://www.ets.org/s/gre/pdf/gre_guide_table2.pdf

Test Prep Advisor Staff

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The Test Prep Advisor staff is made up some of the world's foremost experts on standardized tests. Some of them have developed their own copyrighted techniques for preparation and others have published books that revolutionized the way people study. They all have years of experience as tutors and share a passion for helping people achieve (or exceed) their target scores.