Whether you’re seeking a master’s, doctoral, or professional degree, the GRE will test you on eight academic subjects. GRE is an abbreviation for the graduate record exam, a college admissions test. Taking the GRE general test may be required if a graduate degree program includes courses in science, research methods, or math. Schools use the test scores to gauge if program applicants are suited to advanced coursework.

GRE experts advise that cramming for the test is disastrous. However, through an in-depth study of the test topics and format, you can impress selection committees with your scores. Here are the sections comprising the GRE and the critical thinking skills it evaluates.

Analytical Writing

For this component, you’ll craft two of them. Each will reveal your ability to examine claims, draw conclusions, and elucidate your thoughts. Regarding the “issue essay,” you’ll read a controversial statement and convey your personal views on it. Do your best to write concisely and convincingly, supporting your ideas with sound evidence, reasoning, and examples. Vary your sentence structure and use crisp vocabulary. Also, show your command of English with flawless spelling, capitalization, punctuation, and grammar.

For the “argument essay,” you’ll read another person’s stance on a debatable matter. Then, you’ll critique the strength of their position. Are their assumptions valid based on the evidence they cite? If not, what type of data does the writer need to prove their point? As with the “issue essay”, present your ideas effectively, and free of technical errors.

Verbal Reasoning

This phase of the GRE appraises your vocabulary and reading comprehension. You’ll answer 20 questions targeting each skill. In the vocabulary segment, you’ll encounter two types of questions. The first kind is “text completion.” For this task, you choose the proper word for the blank space in a sentence. For “sentence equivalence” questions, you pick two synonyms to finish a sentence appropriately.

The reading comprehension part consists of interesting passages, followed by queries on their key points. These questions may have one or multiple answers. Alternatively, you may need to identify central concepts by highlighting part of a passage. Note that the reading material is graduate-level.

Quantitative Reasoning

Here the GRE will test you on high school math, namely algebra, geometry, arithmetic, and data interpretation. There are five question formats. With the quantitative comparison type, you’re presented with two different quantities. Your mission is to choose its correct relationship. These questions are multiple-choice, some having more than one valid answer.

For a numeric entry math problem, insert your figure in the blank provided. You’ll either supply a fraction, whole number, or decimal. Data analysis involves statistical images, such as graphs, tables, and pie charts. For each visual, you’ll reply to three questions concerning its data. Answers are either numeric entry or multiple-choice.

Experimental Section

Your GRE may have a mystery component, termed an “experimental section.” It will follow the analytic writing segment, surfacing anywhere thereafter. Usually, it’s incognito within the verbal reasoning or quantitative reasoning portions of the GRE.

Your answers to the experimental questions won’t count toward your final score. Instead, they’ll be used to design future exams by the educational testing service (ETS). The goal is to see if the trial questions match the challenge level of the current GRE. If they’re too easy or hard, as revealed by score tallies, ETS tweaks them accordingly. Since the experimental section has no heading, you can’t identify it. Therefore, treat every question as relevant, not skipping any.

Research Section

An experimental segment may be substituted with a research section. The format is similar, gauging either your verbal or quantitative skills. Additionally, it’s not scored. However, the research section always has a heading, appearing at the end of the GRE. Furthermore, unlike the experimental component, answering the research questions is optional.

GRE Logistics

From US News and World Report, here’s detailed information on the GRE format, scoring, scheduling, and registration cost.

Also mentioned is the GRE subject test, measuring your strength in a specific field of study. The six options are biology, physics, chemistry, psychology, mathematics, and English literature. Only a minority of graduate schools mandate GRE subject tests. Still, for programs that don’t, if you feel qualified for an exam, take it voluntarily. Scoring well will earn you favor with admissions committee members!

Test Preparation

Before taking the GRE, advisors urge spending three months doing timed practice tests and drills. Here the Princeton Review gives step-by-step instructions for GRE preparation.

ETS offers several tools to help candidates ready themselves for exams. Among them are free “practice GRE tests” you can take online. Here ETS gives an overview of each software product available. Also recommended is formalized study, such as with a GRE tutor, class, book, or online course. Choose the method by which you learn best.

Are you a senior undergrad? If so, your school may offer GRE study resources, possibly free or at a discounted rate. To find out, contact your academic advisor, career center, or financial aid office. Also, consider joining a study group. If you can’t locate one, contact an online platform such as StudyPal or Meetup.

Related Resource: 50 Most Affordable Master’s in Education No GRE Online Programs


The GRE tests you on critical thinking, essay writing, vocabulary, graduate-level reading, and high school-level math. For this latter assessment, you need to review basic geometry, algebra, arithmetic, and data analysis.

If your scores are disappointing, fear not. You can retake the GRE general test up to five times during a given year. ETS reports that many people sit for the exam twice, earning a higher score with “take two.” Thankfully, selection committees don’t frown upon repeat examinations. Register for the GRE at least six weeks before your desired test date. With thorough prep, you can prove yourself degree-worthy.