The Graduate Record Examination (GRE) is administered by the Educational Testing Service (ETS) and comes in two forms: the General Test and the Subject Tests.
The General Test contains verbal, quantitative, and writing sections, while the Subject Tests are topic-specific tests in particular areas.
As someone who has assisted hundreds of students to succeed in both types of GRE tests, I'll compare these exams and help you figure out which test you should take.
This will help you focus your test prep and get a leg up on other test-takers.
Summary of the Key Findings
- The GRE General Test is a computer-based exam offered year-round. It is used in the application process for most graduate programs in the U.S.
- The GRE Subject Tests are paper-based, offered less frequently, and measure a student's knowledge of a specific subject.
- Most applicants take the GRE General Test, but some must also take Subject Tests.
What is the GRE General Test?
The GRE General Test is the exam most people think of when they hear the term "GRE". It is designed to test critical thinking and specific knowledge that a grad program may consider relevant.
GRE scores are used in the admissions process by many graduate schools. They can be used in some specific business, education, and law school programs.
The GRE is a computer-based, adaptive exam that usually takes around three hours and forty-five minutes to complete.
The test's Verbal and Quantitative Reasoning sections are graded on a scale of 130 to 170 points (one-point increments).
The verbal score and math score from these sections are added together to provide a composite GRE score ranging between 260 and 340.
The Analytical Writing section of the exam has a final score of 0-6, in 0.5 point increments .
What are the GRE Subject Tests?
The GRE Subject Tests are achievement tests that measure your knowledge of a particular subject, usually within your desired field of study.
There are currently four GRE Subject Tests available:
- Chemistry - analytical chemistry, physical chemistry, laboratory methods.
- Mathematics - calculus, algebra, set theory.
- Physics - nuclear and particle physics, atomic physics, quantum mechanics.
- Psychology - biological, cognitive, developmental psychology.
These tests are only administered in a paper format, and each one takes 2 hours and 50 minutes to complete.
The GRE Subject Test scores are on a 200-990 point scale, in 10-point increments .
Additionally, the GRE Subject Test scores for Psychology include subscores on a 20-99 point scale (single-point increments) in the areas of:
- Biological Psychology
- Cognitive Psychology
- Social Psychology
- Developmental Psychology
- Clinical Psychology
How to Decide Which Test to Take?
When deciding which test to take, keep in mind the testing requirements for the graduate degree program you want to attend.
If a school only asks for the GRE General Test score, then be sure to take that one. However, if a program you're applying for requires GRE Subject Tests as well as the GRE General Test, then you'll need to take both.
Of course, almost every grad school will want the General Test, but very few programs also require you to take a GRE Subject Test as part of their admissions process.
That being said, some test-takers voluntarily opt to take a Subject Test, hoping to boost their application's appeal. A good GRE Subject Test score in a particular field can help a grad school application stand out amongst other applicants.
When Can You Take the Tests?
The GRE General Test is given year-round, so you can take the test on a schedule that meets your situation. It is offered via two different mechanisms: test centers or at home.
Depending on your location, you can take the test at a testing center on multiple days of the month.
For those who need more flexibility, GRE at-home tests allow you to complete the exam, from start to finish, at a time that is convenient to you. This test is offered 24/7, so no matter what your schedule looks like, you can find a date that works for you.
The GRE Subject Tests are paper-based and only given at testing centers. These exams are given three times per year: in September, October, and April.
You can register for both the General Test and a GRE Subject Test on the ETS website.
Is the GRE the Same for All Majors?
Yes. You will take the same GRE General Test that covers Analytical Writing, Verbal Reasoning, and Mathematical Reasoning test content, no matter your major.
However, since GRE Subject Tests are focused on specific areas, you will want to take the one you have an undergraduate major-level of knowledge for - even before starting your GRE prep.
Which GRE Test Is Required for M.S.?
Usually, only the general GRE test is required for admission to a program that leads to an M.S. However, a few programs require a specific GRE Subject Test.
Ensure that you check with your grad school of choice to determine which of these standardized tests you need to take - general or subject GRE.
How Much Does the GRE Cost?
Is GRE Only For the USA?
Most graduate schools in the United States and Canada accept the GRE. However, you can take it around the world, and many grad programs in English-speaking locations (such as Europe and Australia) will also accept the GRE results in their application process.
Taking the GRE: Final Thoughts
When deciding which GRE test to take, you should check the requirements of the desired graduate school.
In most cases, only the GRE General Test will be necessary; however, some programs require one or more specific Subject Tests as part of the admission process.
If you plan on taking the GRE for your graduate program, take a look at our review of the best GRE test prep courses on the market.