About to register for the GRE? Congratulations! This is the one test standing between you and your dream grad school.
Before you start your test prep, you must know what to expect. Find out how many sections the GRE has, what questions you’ll get, and how to achieve high scores below.
The GRE General Test Structure: Six Sections
The GRE General Test tests three subject areas but has six sections in total. This is because you get not one, but two sections per subject area: analytical writing, verbal reasoning, quantitative reasoning. (Well, it’s kind of different for the writing section, but we’ll discuss that below.)
On the actual, computer-delivered GRE, you may get one extra section that will be unscored or used for research purposes only. Here’s an overview of the structure of the GRE straight from the maker of the test, the ETS:
|Subject areas||Sections||Length in minutes per section|
|1. Analytical Writing||1 (2 tasks/questions: Analyze an Issue and Analyze an Argument)||60 (30 per each task)|
|2. Verbal Reasoning||2 (20 test questions per section)||30|
|3. Quantitative Reasoning||2 (20 test questions per section)||35|
|4. Unscored, Experimental, or Research||Varies||Varies|
|Total length: 3 hours and 45 minutes|
The ETS didn’t define the order in which the sections must appear on the GRE exam. Except for one general rule: the analytical writing section always comes first.
After that, the sections appear in no particular order. The GRE lasts for 3 hours and 45 minutes in total and the time is split between sections.
In general, you’ll get 30 minutes per section. Only the quant section lasts 35 minutes.
The computer-based GRE test has 82 scored questions . However, don’t be surprised if you find yourself answering more than 82 questions.
This is because test-takers can be given an experimental or research section. I’ll talk more about these below, but let’s break down the three primary sections of the GRE general test.
1. Analytical Writing Section
The analytical writing section consists of two tasks but is treated as one section. You’ll have to write two essays that answer the question presented in each task:
- Task #1 - “Analyze an Issue” - discuss in your essay the degree to which you agree or disagree with the claim made in the writing prompt, support your perspective with rational arguments, use specific examples
- Task #2 - “Analyze an Argument” - evaluate the argument made in the prompt, analyze the assumptions it’s based on, discuss how we could prove the truth of the argument
You’ll have 30 minutes per task and you should be aware of how long should a GRE essay be.
- How the ETS calculates your scores: 0-6, in half-point increments
What it evaluates:
The analytical writing section evaluates students’ ability to:
- present complex ideas in an easy-to-understand way
- support your claims with rational arguments and examples
- interpret the text and understand the author’s main points
- apply the rules of written English
2. Verbal Reasoning Section
The verbal reasoning part of the test includes three types of questions:
- Reading comprehension
- Text completion
- GRE Sentence equivalence
Here’s what you’ll be expected to do for each question type:
- Reading comprehension - answer questions about a given written passage
- Text completion - fill in the blanks with the correct word from the answer choices
- Sentence equivalence - fill in the blank with two words that complete a sentence in an equivalent way (the sentence must mean the same thing when either word is used)
You’ll have 30 minutes per section.
- How the ETS calculates your scores: 130-170, in 1-point increments
The GRE score for verbal sections only counts the questions answered correctly. There’s no subtraction for incorrect questions.
What it evaluates:
This section evaluates students’ ability to:
- infer and differentiate between main, minor, and irrelevant points in a text
- understand the meaning of advanced vocabulary words, sentences, and texts, as well as relationships between these elements
- summarize, analyze, and interpret the text
3. Quantitative Reasoning Section
The quantitative reasoning part of the GRE test includes four types of questions:
- Quantitative comparison
- Multiple choice
- Multiple answers
- Numeric entry
Students often confuse multiple choice questions with multiple answer questions. These are similar, as they both present you with several answer choices.
But, in the case of multiple-choice questions, there’s only one correct answer. Multiple answer questions, however, have multiple correct answers. You should choose one or more correct options from the answer choices you get.
You’ll have 35 minutes per section in this part of the test. We highly recommend you to take a look at our post about the hardest GRE math questions.
- How the ETS calculates your scores: 130-170, in 1-point increments
What it measures:
The quantitative reasoning section evaluates students’ ability to:
- apply the rules of data analysis
- understand, interpret and analyze math concepts
- apply models and rules of mathematics to solve problems
“Educating the mind without educating the heart is no education at all.”
Unscored Section and Experimental Section
Your test may or may not include unscored or experimental sections. These sections don’t count towards your GRE score.
They appear in no particular order, except that they always come after analytical writing. This means they can either be a part of the quant or verbal section.
There’s also no set number of questions you can get in these sections. You will know if there’s an additional section on your test.
Instead of two sections on verbal reasoning and quantitative reasoning, you’ll get three. However, you won’t know which section won’t show up on your score report, as they’re not marked in any way.
You should treat each section as if it influences your final score—something that many test-takers overlook. Your test may also include a research section.
And, yes, the research section is more user-friendly: you’ll know which section it is and you can skip it! It won’t count towards your final score either.
GRE General Test: Computer-based and adaptive
Since the GRE General Test is administered via a computer, it can adapt the question types and difficulty level according to the knowledge and skills you demonstrate during the test.
The difficulty level of your test will be taken into account when calculating your score. Many practice tests available online simulate the computer-delivered GRE you’ll encounter on your test day.
This means these tests adapt your questions just like the real GRE. Try them out during your test prep.
The ETS offers two free official practice tests. You can also find paid versions on the ETS website and include them in your GRE prep.
GRE Paper Test
Paper GRE test is a little different from the computer-based test. The total time duration of the paper-based exam is 3 hours and 30 minutes, and there’s a total of 102 questions.
Paper-based GRE breakdown:
- Analytical writing — Two sections, 30 minutes per section
- Verbal reasoning — Two sections, 25 questions each. 35 minutes per section, which comes to 1 hour and 10 minutes
- Quantitative reasoning — Two sections, 25 questions each. 40 minutes per section, which comes to 1 hour and 20 minutes
GRE paper test doesn’t have experimental or research sections.
Similarities Between Computer and Paper Tests
Here’re the most important computer-delivered GRE and paper test similarities:
- Both tests have six sections with a 10-minute break in between
- You are allowed to skip questions, go back and change answer choices, and choose which question to answer first
- The first part is always analytical, the second is verbal reasoning, and finally, the quant section. They have to be done in this order
- An on-screen calculator is provided for the computer GRE exam and an ETS calculator for the paper test
- You can use a booklet for notes for paper GRE and sheets for computer GRE
- Both formats have the same scaled score
Also, both computer and paper GRE are scaled tests, which means how well you do in the first section will determine the difficulty of the second section. Easier sections have a lesser score, and two people with the same score on one section can have different scaled scores.
Differences Between Computer and Paper GRE Tests
These are the most important differences between these two test types:
- The computer-based exam time duration is 3 hours and 45 minutes, whereas the duration of the paper-delivered one is 3 hours and 30 minutes.
- Although the difficulty level and topics covered are the same, the GRE paper test doesn’t have reading comprehension.
- The number of questions in verbal and quantitative reasoning varies depending on the test. The computer exam has 20 questions, and the paper exam has 25 in each section.
- Paper GRE is available three times a year — October, November, February — whereas the computer-based GRE is available several times a week, year-round.
The Bottom Line
The GRE General Test tests three subject areas: verbal reasoning, quantitative reasoning, and writing. Mostly, it consists of six sections. Apart from the analytical writing section, which is treated as a whole, every subject area gets two sections.
However, your GRE may include an additional section that won’t influence your score and appears in no particular order. Unless it’s marked, you won’t know which one it is and you should treat it as if it counts towards your score.
Also, ensure you understand the questions you’ll get. Differentiate multiple choice from multiple answer questions so you don’t unnecessarily lose points.