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The Graduate Record Examination (GRE), is one of the most required standardized test students take prior to enrolling for a Master’s degree or Ph.D. program. If you apply to grad school, your GRE scores will likely be used by admission officers as one determinate of fit for their school and program. Even if the programs do not require taking the GRE, you should still consider taking it since strong scores can give your application a strategic boost.

What is the GRE?

The GRE General Test contains 3 sections including Analytical Writing, Verbal Reasoning and Quantitative Reasoning.

Verbal Reasoning: Contains three types of questions: Reading Comprehension, Text Completion, and Sentence Equivalence. At least half of the Verbal Reasoning section tests your knowledge of some sophisticated vocabulary. Throughout this section you’ll be asked to select words or sets of words to fill in the blanks in sentences. All questions are multiple choice and the scores range between 130-170.

Quantitative Reasoning: Covers math.  For some people who take the GRE, it may be years since they’ve last taken a math class or had to put their geometry skills to use, so studying is key. This section of the GRE tests algebra, geometry, data tables and graphs, and basic statistics. All questions are multiple choice, and scores range from 130-170.

Analytical Writing: Requires you to write two essays. The first essay will ask you to take a position on an issue and support that idea with evidence. The second prompt will test your ability to write a critique. You’ll have 30 minutes to complete each essay. Scores range between 0 and 6 and are given in half point increments.

Generally, a 75th percentile (318 and above) is a pretty good GRE score, and a 90th percentile (329 and above) is an excellent one. A score of 300+ is considered average, and a 292 score is considered below average.

The GRE also offers specialized subject tests. Each Subject Test is intended for students who have an undergraduate major or extensive background in one of the following disciplines: Chemistry, Mathematics, Physics or Psychology.

The GRE costs $205 to register and is a computer-based exam. You can either take it at a testing center or at home if you meet some specific equipment and environment requirements. Your scores are valid for 5 years after taking the exam.

If you want to do your best and get the scores you need, you should probably spend between 1 and 3 months studying (or over 100 hours) preparing. ETS, the people who create and administer the GRE, also offer two computer-based practice GREs you can download for free.