General GRE FAQ
What does the GRE test? Reading comprehension, vocabulary, writing, and math (arithmetic, algebra, geometry, statistics, probability, data analysis). It also tests your ability to think, to use logic, and to reason - and to perform all these skills over a four-hour period.
A seldom-discussed skill that the GRE also tests: your ability to work carefully.
What does "GRE" stand for? Graduate Record Examination.
What is the GRE used for? Graduate programs need a standardized way to compare applicants' skills in reading, math, writing, and thinking, so your GRE score gives them that data. GPA is subjective, hence the existence of tests like the GRE.
Good GRE scores can also win you scholarships and merit aid in some cases!
Is there any trig or calculus on the GRE? No, thank God. It's just the greatest hits of subjects like arithmetic, algebra, geometry, and statistics. I discuss all this in my free Complete Guide to GRE Math.
How can I sign up for the GRE? You can register on ets.org.
I have a disability or a health-related need - can I get testing accommodations? Probably. Check out ETS's site.
If I do get testing accommodations (like extra time), will schools know? No, unless the test is "significantly altered" (this is rare). But extra time alone won't be reported.
How much does taking the GRE cost? $205.
If I cancel my GRE test date, do I get a refund? You only get half your money back if you cancel 4 or more days before your test date. After that, cancelling means you get nothin'.
Can I change my GRE test date? Yes, if you change it no later than four days before. It'll cost you $50.
How long is the GRE? You'll be sitting in front of the computer for almost four hours. Each of the two essays is 30 minutes, each of the two verbal sections is 30 minutes, and each math section is 35 minutes. A third verbal or math section will be thrown in as well, and though it's experimental, you'll have no way of knowing which section it was.
What is the structure of the GRE? There are two essays (one in which you argue a position and one in which you analyze an argument), then two verbal and two math sections in alternating order. There will also be an unscored experimental verbal or math section, but you won't know which one it is, since it looks exactly like a normal section and can appear at any time (after the essays).
Learn more GRE basics in my Beginner's Guide here.
I've heard the test is adaptive. How does that work? Let's say you just took the first GRE math section. The next math section will have harder questions if you did well, and easier questions if you didn't. It's to your advantage to do well on the first section, since if the second section is easier because you didn't do well, your score probably won't get above average even if you get everything right on the second section of that type (because the questions are easier).
How many questions are in each GRE section? 20.
Are some GRE questions worth more than others? Nope.
If a question allows multiple answers and I get some but not all of them right, do I get partial credit? No, the GRE only gives credit if you select ALL the correct answers.
How long is each GRE section? 30 minutes for each essay and each verbal section, and 35 minutes for each math section.
Are there any breaks? There is a 10-minute break after the 3rd section of the test (which comes after you'll have been sitting there for about 1.5 hours or so). Then, there's a 1-minute break after each remaining section.
What's the deal with calculators on the GRE math sections? You can use a simple on-screen calculator, which adds, subtracts, multiplies, divides, and takes square roots. It also has a nifty function that transfers the number in the calculator display to the screen, which is useful for math questions that make you type in your answer.
Can I use scrap paper? Yes; they'll give you a booklet and a pencil. You can replenish both whenever you'd like. You can't bring in your own paper or leave with their paper, for obvious reasons. If you take the GRE at home, you'll have to use a whiteboard and dry erase marker to take notes.
Is there a guessing penalty on the GRE? No, so make sure you put in an answer for every question. And make sure you save a minute or two to bubble in any remaining questions.
What is the score range for the GRE? 130 to 170 for both verbal and math scores (in 1-point increments) and 1 to 6 for the essay score (in half-point increments). 153 is about average for both verbal and math, and 4.0 is about average for the AWA score. (AWA = Analytical Writing Assessment = essays.) More on GRE scoring here.
What's a "good" GRE score? A few points higher than the average score at your desired program. Here's a table with official percentile info.
How do I get a perfect GRE score? Be very, very, very, very good at GRE-level math, reading, and writing; this will go way beyond the scope of any normal GRE tutoring, book, course, or class. But if you think having a perfect score will help you more than having a very good score, you're probably misinformed.
Isn't doing well on the verbal GRE just about knowing a lot of vocabulary? No. It takes much more than that, but knowing vocab is pretty important. You'll also need good reading comprehension skills and, to a lesser extent, logical thinking ability.
Is there an official list of words the GRE tests? No. Also, any company that tells you they have a list of "high-frequency" GRE words is just trying to sell you something. The GRE chooses from thousands of words. All are used in normal, well-written English.
When do I get my GRE scores? Your verbal and quantitative scores will pop up on the screen at the end of your exam. 1-2 weeks later, when you receive your official GRE score report, you'll also get your essay score and your score percentiles.
Can I cancel my GRE scores? You can select "cancel scores" at the end of the exam, but then you don't get to see your scores. There is no good reason to "cancel scores" since you get to choose if you want to send those scores to any programs.
Can I choose which GRE scores to send? Yes - the GRE now allows you to pick which test date's scores you'd like to send to schools. However, this option is only available after you leave the testing center and it costs $27 per school. At the test, once you see your unofficial scores, you can send scores to up to four schools for free, BUT you only have the choice between sending the scores from that day and sending ALL your scores from the past 5 years.
If I take the test twice, can I send, for instance, the math score from one test date and the verbal score from a different test date? No - you select scores by date only. It's possible your desired program will "superscore" i.e. consider the best section score from 2 or more test dates - but this is not common.
When do I select which schools to send my scores to? After the test, once you see your unofficial scores on the screen, you can then select up to four schools to send the scores to for free. The software allows you to search for a school at that time. After that, you'll have to pay $27 for each score report - but this method adds the option of selecting which test date's scores you want to send.
Do schools see how many times I've taken the GRE? No, unless you choose the option of sending all scores.
Can I take the GRE more than once? Sure. You can take it once every 21 days, and up to five times within a year period. Most programs will let you send your best test date's scores (which the GRE facilitates).
How long are GRE scores good for? Scores are valid for 5 years.
Which programs accept GRE scores? Most graduate and business programs, and even many law schools.
And now, for some GRE prep FAQs:
1. What's the best GRE prep book?
If you're serious about this, you'll need more than one book. I strongly advise staying away from any book that claims to be all you need. Check out all my recommendations in my free GRE study plans.
2. I'm bad at math. What do I do?
The most important thing for you to do is to learn math concepts, and this can largely be done outside of tutoring. Once you're good at a concepts, say, percents, then apply it to real GRE questions. A good place to start is my complete guide to GRE math.
3. How long does it take to study for the GRE?
Just like if you were to ask me, "How long will it take me to get in shape?", it COMPLETELY depends on where you're starting, where you want to end up, and how much time and motivation you have. Once I meet you and talk with you, I can give you an estimate.
When should you start preparing for the GRE? Not when you're less busy. Not when your classes end. Not when you get back from that trip. Start preparing now.
4. Do you tutor online?
Yes, and Zoom GRE tutoring generally works very well. Just like in real life, we can do almost anything online that we'd do in person.
5. Do you help with graduate school application essays and personal statements?
Yes - I think this is one of the places we can make the most difference in the strength of an application. Meet Lauren, our graduate admissions essay expert!
Did this GRE FAQ answer your questions? If not, please email me!
Check out my other free GRE resources on this page.