Introducing the GRE
You are given a total of 3 hours and 45 minutes to complete the GRE. The test is broken into sections: 2 essays (30 minutes for each one), two verbal sections (30 minutes each) and two quantitative (aka math) sections (35 minutes each). There is also a possible fifth section in either verbal or quantitative that will be either a research section (optional) or experimental section (not graded). You will be notified if the section is optional, but not if it isn’t graded. Therefore unless told that the section is optional, you should treat every section like a graded section.
The GRE is a multi-stage test (MST), which means that it will adapt the level of questions in following sections according to how well you do on the first of each quantitative and verbal section. If you get a lot of wrong answers, you will be given easier questions. However, getting easier questions means that the highest score you can receive will be in a range below the top score of 170. This may seem obvious, but I’ll say it anyway: it’s very important that you do your best on the first two sections.
Of course, for your best score you will need to stay strong throughout all your sections. The essays are each graded on a scale of 0 to 6, and the quantitative and verbal sections are scored in an overall range of 130-170.
Since the test is an MST, it is given on the computer. The computer will have a calculator function, and you will be given scratch paper as well. Work on your scratch paper will not be graded. You will type both your essays. Your remaining time for each section will show in a timer, and you will be able to go back to questions you have already answered in the current section as long as time remains and you have not yet closed that section.
Like the ACT or SAT, you can take the GRE multiple times and send in your best score. However, since the GRE has a fee, it would be in your best interest to prepare well the first time. The GRE doesn’t have a penalty for wrong answers, so you should answer every question even if it means you have to guess. Some schools require GRE subject tests for certain programs – you will need to check if your school needs these.
A Few Recommendations
- Schedule your test about a month in advance to make sure you get a seat in a testing center on your desired day.
- Brush up on vocabulary and word roots.
- Aim to take the test sometime during the summer before you apply to school.