GRE Psychology Study Guide (6 Tips For Scoring Better)

William Cohen
Published by William Cohen
Last Updated On: January 31, 2022

If you want to go to graduate school for psychology, chances are you’ll need a Graduate Record Examination (GRE) psychology test.

I won’t lie, the psychology subject test isn’t easy. But, it’s not impossible to get a good score either.

In my academic career, I’ve taken the GRE test myself, and I’ve helped countless students get a good score as well.

Today, I’ll talk about everything you should know about the GRE psychology subject test - from what it is and what the best ways to get ready for it are to how the scoring works.

What is the GRE Psychology Subject Test?

Woman reading her notes

The GRE psychology test is a standardized test that some graduate schools require you to have to enroll in a psychology graduate program.

The test can be taken at a GRE testing center and checks the psychology topics covered that a student learned at the undergraduate study level.

The test results show how prepared the candidate is to enroll in a psychology graduate program.

Unlike the GRE general test, subject tests are offered three times a year — in September, October, and April.

GRE Psychology Test Structure

A student answering an examination

Here’s the GRE psychology exam structure:

  • The exam lasts for about 3 hours and has around 205 multiple-choice questions.
  • You’re given five options for each question.
  • Unanswered questions don’t impact the score for GRE psychology.
  • You earn a point for each answer that’s right. This is converted to a total scaled score.
  • The test uses terminology, classification, and diagnostic criteria from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5).
  • Some questions can have graphs or tables as a question basis.
  • The test can be taken up to five times, with a one-month obligatory interval between testing.

Apart from getting the final score on the GRE psychology test, the test takers also get sub-scores in six categories [1]:

  • Biological: 17–21%
  • Cognitive thinking: 17–24%
  • Social: 12–14%
  • Developmental: 12–14%
  • Clinical: 15–19%
  • Measurement/Methodology/Other: 15–19%

Note: The categories aren’t specifically labeled on the test but are distributed throughout.

Some students take the GRE psychology subject test during undergraduate studies, usually during the third year. However, you can also take the actual exam when the graduate admission process starts.

The decision is up to you, but keep in mind the application deadline when choosing when to take the test.

6 Tips on How to Get Ready For the GRE Psychology Test

A group of women showing flash cards

The best way to prepare for the GRE psychology subject test is to review your college courses.

You probably already have good psychology knowledge from the classes you’ve taken in undergraduate studies, so now it’s time to refresh your memory.

“The questions in the Psychology Test are drawn from the core of knowledge most commonly encountered in courses offered at the undergraduate level within the broadly defined field of psychology.”- ETS official website

Apart from reviewing your undergraduate courses, you can opt for private tutoring and do a couple of other things as well. Let’s dig deeper into them.

1.  Use GRE Flashcards

Flashcards are students’ best friends.

You can create your own or do a quick Internet search, and you’ll find tons of websites specifically dedicated to flashcards for GRE subject tests.

What’s especially good about using flashcards is that you can study anytime, anywhere. Standing in a line waiting for coffee — use the time to go over a couple of online flashcards.

You can print out the cards and take them with you or use your phone, iPad, or computer — whatever works best for you.

My advice is to make different flashcard piles in your test prep. You can divide them into:

  • Experimental psychology
  • Social psychology
  • Miscellaneous

Then, create subtopics in each category. This will allow you to go in-depth and focus on areas that are your weaknesses, such as behavioral neuroscience, general psychology, applied psychology, or research design, so you can improve them.

2. Find a Study Group

A group study of students

Working with other people can be a great motivator, and it’s proven successful for many students I’ve tutored.

My advice is to get together regularly, same as if you were having a class.

Each person in the study group should have different study guide books, and you should compile notes or study guides from courses. Then, you should go over a topic each time you meet.

A study group is also helpful because you can pick up some tricks that other students use for memorizing, such as mnemonic devices.

Keep in mind the size of the group. Keep the number of people to about four or five, as groups larger than this have proven decreased performance [2].

3. Get Good Study Sources

You should start by getting a study guide book.

A word of caution: don’t blindly follow the guide, especially because study guide books sometimes focus too much on the theory, while subject tests are more about the application of the theory.

However, a study guide is useful for getting some test-taking tips and general information about the actual test.

Moreover, study guide books include practice tests that come in handy when taking the GRE.

Apart from the study guide book, psychology majors should get test prep books from reputable sources to prepare for the test.

Some of the most common ones are Princeton Review and Kaplan GRE course, and Barron's GRE Psychology 7th edition.

Recommended Article: 5 Best GRE Psychology Test Prep Books

4. Take Practice Tests

A young person taking a practice test

Don’t underestimate the value of GRE practice tests. Take a practice test before you start studying to get an idea of where you stand and how much time you’ll need to prepare to take the test.

After spending some time studying, take another test to see how much you’ve progressed and what areas you’re still struggling with.

You can find practice tests in study books and guides, as well as online. Educational Testing Service (ETS) has a practice test available on their website [3].

Try to simulate real test conditions in test centers. Set out about three hours, isolate yourself in a room, or go to a library to take the test without distractions.

This way, you’ll know what to expect when the test comes. You’ll be familiar with the testing conditions and how the questions are phrased.

Pay special attention to incorrect multiple choice answers, and find out what’s the correct answer.

5. Use Test-Taking Strategies

Since the GRE psychology exam is in a paper, instead of computer form, there are several strategies test takers can use to get correct answers:

  • Read the directions carefully, but make sure to work fast without being careless.
  • Answer the questions you’re sure you know the answer to first. Then go back through the test and do the questions you aren’t sure of. To do those, use the process of elimination. Make an educated guess, but take into consideration common sense.
  • Leave the most difficult questions for the end.
  • All questions have to be recorded on the answer sheet and not in the booklet.
  • Don’t wait until the end to start recording the answers on the answer sheet. You may panic if you’re running out of time and get the answer wrong.

Keep in mind that all questions are of equal value, and test scores are determined by the number of questions you get right.

All questions answered correctly are worth the same, and there are no subtractions for questions you don’t answer or an incorrect answer.

Because of this, you should answer every question, as you can only increase the score and not lower it.

6. Other GRE Psychological Test Study Tips

Young men studying for an exam

Apart from the strategies for getting ready to take the test I’ve outlined above, there are a couple more things you can do in your test prep:

  • Review DSM-5 — DSM-5 is the fifth and latest edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. It contains all the classifications, criteria, and terminology you need to know to take the GRE psychology test. Read through the manual and get familiar with the key points.
  • Talk to someone who’s already taken the test — A test taker who’s gone through the test day, such as a doctoral student, can give you valuable information. This can include what to expect at the testing center, which sections are more difficult, how to time yourself correctly. You can also get some study points from other psychology majors.
  • Know the terminology and definitions — When you take the practice test, you’ll see that you can answer many questions by knowing clinical psychology or abnormal psychology definitions.

Psychology Test GRE Scores Breakdown

A close up image of a person answering an examination

One final thing test takers should know when they prepare for the GRE is how test scores are calculated.

All the questions you answer correctly are converted to a total reported scaled score.

On the score reports, you’ll see a subscore. Subscore is made up of questions you answered correctly in one area and questions you answered correctly on the whole test.

Because questions aren’t tied to only one area, but other areas as well, they contribute to each subscore.

When the subscore total is reached, it’s converted to a scaled subscore.

Finally, both the total score and the subscores are converted to ensure that the scaled score is comparable to the scaled score that you earned on any previous editions of the same test.

The scores are shown on a scale ranging from 200 to 900 in 10-point increments.

Subscores are reported on a scale ranging from 20 to 99 in 1-point increments.

How to Study for Psychology GRE: Final Thoughts

I’ve talked about what most students should know when planning to take the GRE psychology test for graduate school application.

Start by checking if graduate school programs you’re interested in require you to take General GRE or subject tests.

Know that the revised GRE offers a general test that has three sections — quantitative reasoning, verbal reasoning, and analytical writing section — but the GRE psychology test you need to apply for grad school isn’t divided into sections.

Go through all the study tips I’ve talked about, so you can ace your graduate school applications. Also, you’ll know what test questions to expect at the test center.


  1. https://www.ets.org/gre/subject/about/content/psychology/
  2. https://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1007/978-3-030-29736-7_35
  3. https://www.ets.org/s/gre/pdf/practice_book_psych.pdf

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