The Student Guide to The Graduate Record Exam

JULY 3, 2018

The Graduate Record Exam (GRE) or Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT) scores are a crucial plank of the admissions process for graduate school. Although very similar, they are important differences between the two. The GMAT is primarily geared towards business school applicants. Despite convention, there is a rising trend in business programs embracing both the GRE or GMAT. The ETS (Educational Testing Service) lists current MBA programs that welcome GRE scores. Business schools can now use the ETS GRE Comparison Tool to approximate GMAT scores from submitted GRE results.


  • The Graduate Record Examination (GRE) has posted some surprising statistics in recent years. Of the 321,228 American students who took the GRE from July 2016 to June 2017, 62% were women. During the same period the United States, China, and India boasted the greatest number of test-takers.
  • Engineering majors scored higher in the Quantitative Reasoning section than those in other majors. Meanwhile, undergraduates in the Humanities and Arts excelled in the Verbal Reasoning section.

How Hard is the GRE?

So, how difficult is the Graduate Record Exam? The answer depends on the test-taker. The GRE is notable for its use of obscure vocabulary, so non-English speakers may find the Verbal section challenging. Others agree that the quantitative section is the most difficult. Other students also lament the arduous task of crafting two essays in an hour. The good news is that, with a targeted approach, you can raise your scores.

That said, pace yourself well! The GRE is a 3 hour and 45-minute exam, and it consists of the following sections:

  • The Verbal Reasoning Section primarily tests your language skills. You’re going to see plenty of reading passages in this section.
  • The Quantitative Reasoning Section tests your ability to apply quantitative methods to problem-solving. You must be familiar with basic arithmetic, algebra, geometry, and data analysis.
  • The Analytical Writing Section tests your ability to analyze a claim and to critically examine the validity of an argument.

How Much is the GRE and Where Can I Take It?

To take the Graduate Record Exam, students must pay $205 (US). Test-takers from four other countries though, must pay more: Australia (US$230), Nigeria (US$220), China (US$220.70), and Turkey (US$255). For GRE subject tests, the fee per subject is US$150 for all worldwide test-takers.

Students can take the exam at 1,000+ test centers in more than 160 countries. The computer-generated GRE can be taken once every 21 days and up to five times within any continuous rolling 12-month period. The paper-delivered test is subject to greater restrictions; it is offered up to 3 times a year and is only available at specific test-centers.

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How to Prepare for And Pass The GRE

Begin your study sessions for the Graduate Record Exam sooner rather than later; try to avoid cramming a month before the exam and instead, give yourself at least 6 months to a year to prepare. Before you begin, make a list of your strengths and weaknesses and assess where necessary. Other study tips include:

  • Verbal Section – Try the Economist’s GRE Daily Vocab App. You’ll get a new word every day and learn it within the context of an Economist passage. While you’re at it, look at the Economist’s Three-Tiered GRE Vocabulary List. To excel in parsing difficult reading passages, read widely from publications such as the Wall Street Journal, Atlantic Monthly, and the New Yorker.
  • Quantitative Section – Explore Khan Academy’s free videos on various GRE Math topics. Additionally, the Economist offers its own GRE tutor (with 1,3, or 6-month options). You can access the website’s valuable tips on each portion of the quantitative section without spending a penny. Most importantly, you’ll learn how to interpret the tricky wording that stumps many test-takers on exam day.
  • Analytical Writing Section – Familiarize yourself with ETS Issue and Argument topics. Then, see how essay responses are rated for issue and argument topics. For those willing to shell out US$20, the ETS ScoreItNow! service provides 2 essay e-rater scores plus free scoring for six extra essays.

Read and learn more about graduate school and doctoral colleges here!  

Practice, Study, REPEAT.

  • Begin your practice with the ETS PowerPrep free online program, the most accurate Graduate Record Exam practice tests you can find.
  • Avoid spending too much time on difficult questions. Remember that all questions are weighted equally.
  • Try to work in linear fashion. Reserving too many questions for “later” may exponentially increase your stress levels and affect your overall performance on test day.
  • Practice, practice, practice! There is no substitute for this. Speed + Accuracy= Higher Scores.