About the GRE Test

January 01, 0001 by CATPrep

NOTE: The GRE Test is changing August 1st, 2011! Read about the new GRE test here.

GRE Scores

On the GRE, math and verbal are scored differently:


  • Quantitative 200-800 points
  • Verbal 200-800 points
  • Writing 0-6 by increments of 0.5

In the computer test, the quantitative and verbal sections will be scored immediately, and your answers to those 2 sections will be provided before you leave the testing facility. The writing exam will be graded by 2 separate graders each. The writing scores are averaged together, and rounded up to the nearest half point. The writing scores will not be available immediately, but will instead be mailed to the address you provide within 6-8 weeks.

In the paper test, all 3 sections need to be mailed off and graded by hand, so all scores will be mailed to your given address in 6-8 weeks. Test-takers may call for scores five weeks after your paper test.

Scores on the paper test have been found to be equivalent to scores on the computer test, so this difference should not be an issue. Students who are better typers (faster and more accurate) are shown to score higher on the essay portions of the computer test, however. It is therefore a good idea to practice your typing skills before the test.

Adaptive Scoring

The GRE computer test has an additional feature where the computer will change the questions asked, based on your performance. If you get many questions correct, the computer will ask you harder questions. If you get questions wrong, the computer will take it easier on you. When the computer has settled on a score for you the test is over, so the computer tests don't have a fixed number of questions.

It is not a good idea to try and second-guess the computer, and try to figure out how you are doing from the questions asked. However, this is also a good reason not to worry if the computer is asking you questions that are too hard: if you are getting impossibly hard questions, you must be doing very well!

Average Answers

Average scores for the verbal section are in the range of 400-500, although students with majors that are intensive in using language (such as humanities) score over 500 points on average. Students who are applying to graduate school in an area that requires language skills (humanities, social sciences, education) should score in this range or higher.

Average scores in the quantitative section are often between 500-600, although students in science and engineering are expected to score between 700-750 on average. Students who are applying to graduate school in areas that require math (for mathematics, science, engineering, and economics) should have scores in this range or higher.

Average scores for the analytical Writing section for all majors are usually between 4.0-5.0. This is a good target range for students of all majors.

Experimental Sections

The format of the GRE leaves open the possibility of adding additional sections to the test, although these sections will not count towards your score. One experimental section of the test will be announced, and participation in it is optional (although high scores in these sections can be rewarded with monetary prizes). Another experimental section might be included, but it will be unannounced and will be either verbal or quantitative (no additional essays, luckily). Scores in either experimental section will not be counted towards your final score. These scores will also not be reported to your target institutions.

It is not a good idea to try and identify the unannounced experimental section. You should do your best work on every section of the GRE, even though some of your hard work may not count towards the final score.

GRE Test Format

There are two versions of the GRE test: the paper test and the computer test. People who live in the USA, US Territories, and Canada will take the computer test. The paper test is only reserved for geographic areas that have no computer or internet access. There is a 10 minute break provided if necessary, or you may choose to skip the break or end it prematurely.

The GRE has both a general test that all students take (with verbal, quantitative, and analytical writing sections), and optional subject tests that focus on particular subjects. Subject tests are registered for separately. It is important to check with each individual school to determine which tests are required for admission to different programs. Some programs don't require you to take any subject tests, and some programs may require 2 or more subject tests to be considered for admission.

Unlike the SAT test, you are not penalized for providing an incorrect answer on the GRE general test. It is therefore not a good idea to ever leave a question blank on the test. If you do not know the answer to a particular question, eliminate some erroneous choices, and make an educated guess. Remember, however, that on the computer test you may not go back and fix your answer if you realize your mistake later. Take your time on all questions, to avoid these kinds of problems! The computer-based test selects the next question based on your answer to the current one, so difficulty and score go up with each correct answer (or down with each incorrect answer).

At any time during the test you may choose to leave the testing site. You will not get your money back, and you may not register for the GRE again for another month, so you may as well continue until the very end, even if you feel you are doing poorly. This way you can get a good understanding of the information that is on the GRE test, so you can better prepare for the next time you want to take it. Also, you may be doing much better than you think!

Permitted Materials

You may not bring a calculator to the GRE test. This may make some of the math sections harder for some people, but if you prepare ahead of time, this shouldn't be too big an issue. Pencils will be provided by the testing center, along with scrap paper (however, taking the paper-based test, scrap paper is not permitted, you'll be instructed to work out any problems within the available space in your workbooks). You may not bring pens, pencils of your own (mechanical pencils are expressly forbidden), additional paper, books, or other materials into the testing center.

You may not have any form of food or drink in the testing area, though you can have access to this during your break or any time you leave while the time continues. You may also not bring in objects that can transmit or store voice or text, such as cell phones, pagers, PDAs, etc...

The types of questions asked on the GRE are not generally conducive to cheating, so it is a waste of time to attempt to cheat on the test. Instead, use your time to study the relevant material, get good sleep, eat a healthy breakfast, and be prepared to do your best on the test.

Multiple Choice

Both the computer test and the paper test have multiple-choice sections, although on the computer test, once an answer has been selected for a given problem, that answer can never be changed. you only get one chance to answer a question, and if you are wrong, you can't go back and fix it. On the paper test, however, you are free to go back and change answers as you see fit.


In the paper test, the analytical essays must be written on the paper provided by the testing center. Additional paper can be requested, if needed. On the computer test, the essay must be typed into the text-box provided on the computer. This textbox has some common computer commands available (cut and paste), but not other (no "copy" command, no spell check, no grammar check, etc...) features. The text editor does not accept the common Ctrl+X or Ctrl+V commands to cut and paste: these operations must be performed by clicking the specified buttons with your mouse.