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What Does GRE Test Stand For?
Here’s Everything You Need to Know

William Cohen
Published by William Cohen
Last Updated On: June 28, 2021

You just graduated. You’re researching your options and the same three letters keep popping up: G-R-E.

If you’re wondering what it stands for, I’m just the guy to tell you. I’ve been preparing students for the very thing called “GRE” for years now. Here’s every bit of information you need to know.

What's the Meaning of GRE Abbreviation?

A student writing an answer for the xam

GRE stands for Graduate Record Examinations. It’s an essential part of applying to a graduate school. Well, at least in the case of most grad schools.

The GRE is a:

  • Multiple-choice test
  • Computer-base test
  • Standardized test 

This entrance exam is required by a lot of graduate programs, especially business schools and MBA programs worldwide [1]. In essence, students have to pass the GRE to get into college.

Besides the GRE General Test, you can also take GRE Subject Tests. They assess your skills in only one particular subject area -- for example, chemistry.

What You Need to Know About the GRE

A student holding a pen to answer the examination

Let’s go back to your initial question -- what does GRE stand for? Well, besides knowing its full name, you really need to know a few other things if you’re scouring for exam options.

Graduate Record Examination will primarily test your problem-solving skills, as well as your proficiency in three subject areas -- language, math, and writing. 

The test is offered and managed by the ETS (Educational Testing Service). Their goal is to help graduate schools (and doctoral degree programs) compare hundreds or even thousands of applicants.

Basically, graduate programs will look at your GRE score and compare you to another person. That’s how they’ll tell if you’re a good fit. Of course, they’ll also consider other things like your GPA or work experience.

3 Subject Areas

Close up image of a student answering an exam

The GRE tests three subject areas: 

  • Analytical Writing - one section, 2 tasks
  • Verbal Reasoning - two sections
  • Quantitative Reasoning - two sections

Each test-taker gets three test scores, one for each subject area. This way, the colleges can assess how well an applicant did in the sections they’re interested in.

They don’t have to decide who gets in based on the entire test. It’s not unusual that test-takers also get a bonus research section on the exam.

The research section isn’t scored, but it also isn’t marked in any way. In other words, you’ll know if there’s a research section on your GRE because… well, there will be one extra section. The math simply won’t add up.

But you won’t know which one it is, so you’ll have to treat each section as if it counts toward your score.

Recommended Article: How Many Sections Are on the GRE?

Analytical Writing Assessment

The analytical writing is the only part of the GRE that doesn’t have two sections. It’s just one, independent section.

But it does have two separate tasks: 

  • Task 1 - Analyze an Argument
  • Task 2 - Analyze an Issue

Test-takers must write two separate essays in under 30 minutes to solve both tasks in the analytical writing section. In the first task, Analyze an Argument, test-takers have to analyze and evaluate -- you’ve guessed it -- an argument. They shouldn’t give their own opinion on the topic.

However, that’s precisely what they’re expected to do in the second task, Analyze an Issue.

They have to agree or disagree with a statement and give their own opinion on the topic. This part of the test is where your problem-solving skills could really shine through. So let them.

Feel free to check out the following article to learn how long should a GRE essay be.

Verbal Reasoning

A tutor with a student

The verbal reasoning part of the GRE test consists of three question types:

  • Reading comprehension
  • Sentence competition
  • Text equivalence

The last two types of questions test your vocabulary. You’ll either have to complete the sentence with a word that fits the context, or you’ll have to pinpoint two synonyms.

Reading comprehension, on the other hand, is all about understanding what you’ve read. In this section, you’ll have to be able to summarize a text, draw conclusions from it, and extract the main points.

Quantitative Reasoning

The quant part of the Graduate Record Examination is essentially the math part of the exam.

The questions test your knowledge in four different content areas:

  • Algebra
  • Arithmetic
  • Geometry
  • Data analysis

Just a heads up: the math section is notorious for its tricky wording of the questions and instructions. Even if you know the answer, the wording might throw you off the scent and guide you in the wrong direction. To avoid getting low GRE scores, you must analyze each question and the instructions carefully.

There’s another drawback of this part of the GRE.

Most of the questions on the exam are multiple-choice, which means you’ll get four different answer choices. That’s not the case with the quant part of the test, at least not entirely.

Along with multiple-choice questions, you’ll also get numeric entry questions where you’ll have to enter your answer manually, without any answer choices.

To help you out with this part, we've compiled a list of five types of the hardest GRE math questions with tips on how to solve them.

Recommended Article: GRE Math Study Guide

How Long Is the GRE?

The GRE lasts for 3 hours and 45 minutes in total. The time is split between six sections. This includes an experimental section and a 10-minute break after the third section.

Here’s an overview of how the time is split [2]:

Time Table

Where and When Can You Take the GRE?

You can take the GRE General Test in more than 1,000 test centers in over 160 countries. In China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Korea, the tests are sometimes available up to 3 times a month.

In most places, though -- like the United States -- the ETS (Educational Testing Service) offers the test once a month and you can only take the test up to 3 times a year. Find available test centers and dates on the ETS website [3].

You can also take the GRE General Test at home if you’re in an area where a computer-based test can’t be administered. Home tests are similar to the GRE General Test taken at testing centers. The content and the experience are pretty much the same and you’ll be supervised by an invigilator.

Who Takes the GRE?

A row of student answering their examination

All graduate students are allowed to take the test. But, obviously, not everyone wants to take it, unless they need it for a particular purpose. The test-makers themselves [4] explain who their usual test-takers are:

“Prospective graduate and business school applicants from all around the world who are interested in pursuing a master's, specialized master's in business, MBA, J.D. or doctoral degree take the GRE General Test.”

 

- ETS

You’ll have to submit your GRE score if you want to apply to virtually any college today. There are exceptions, of course, like some medical programs. But they only confirm the rule, right?

How Is the GRE Scored?

You’ll get three separate scores on the GRE, one score for each section. Here’s how is the GRE scored:

  • Analytical Writing - scored on a 0-6 scale in half-point increments
  • Quantitative Reasoning and Verbal Reasoning - scored on a 130-170 scale in one-point increments

Essays are first scored by at least one professional, human rater. This rater will assess your essay based on how well you’ve answered the questions. The essay is then also assessed by a computerized program called e-rater, just to ensure the human rater wasn’t biased.

Recommended Article: How Long Are GRE Scores Valid?

What Is a Good GRE Score?

Top view of an answer sheet with a pencil above

Here’s what the average scores for each subject area look like:

  • Verbal → 152-158 score
  • Quant → 153-158 score
  • Writing → 4.0 score

With that said, a good GRE score depends on the graduate school you want to attend. Highly competitive schools will definitely want scores that are higher than the average.

The Verbal and Quantitative Sections Are Section-Adaptive

Ok, I know what you’re thinking -- what on Earth does section-adaptive mean? Don’t worry. It’s not that complicated.

It simply means you’ll get harder questions if you do well at the beginning of the exam. It works vice versa too. You’ll get easier questions later if you don’t do so well at the beginning.

The questions don’t adapt during (or inside) the first section. You’ll get the same questions regardless of how well you do. Think of the first section as a test section that determines your overall ability.

The computer will only adapt the content of the second section based on how well you’ve done on the first one. Get it? This doesn’t apply to the writing section, though, because there is no second section.

When Should You Start Your GRE Prep?

An answer sheet, a document, and a pencil on top of a table

There’s no one answer that fits all. However, we usually advise students to start their GRE prep at least 2-4 months before taking the test.

If you want to decide for yourself, consider the following factors:

  • How much time do you have left?
  • How much time can you dedicate to studying each week? 
  • What are your strengths and weaknesses? 
  • What’s your target score?

Answering these questions will help you get more clarity, as well as plan your exam prep.

Recap: What Does GRE Stand For?

If anyone mentions the word GRE around you, you’ll finally know exactly what they’re talking about. I’ll give you a brief summary just to make sure we’re on the same page.

GRE stands for Graduate Record Examination. But it’s usually not referred to by its full name. Most applicants just call it “the GRE test”, or they use a more derogatory term I’m not acquainted with.

The exam tests your ability in three content areas: writing, verbal and quantitative reasoning. Basically, you’ll just have to churn out everything you’ve learned in high school.

Does all this information on the GRE make you want to take it immediately? Why or why not? Let me know in the comments.

References:

  1. https://www.ets.org/gre/revised_general/about/mba
  2. https://www.princetonreview.com/grad-school-advice/how-long-is-the-gre
  3. https://www.ets.org/
  4. https://www.ets.org/gre/revised_general/about

About the author

William Cohen

William Cohen

William is an electrical engineer whose great passion is helping promising students achieve their goals and dreams. He enjoys sharing his knowledge and expertise with aspiring learners from all over the world.

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