What to Expect On the GRE

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What to Expect On the GRE

Like the title suggest, this article focuses on “what to expect on the GRE.” If you’re reading this, it must mean that you are planning on going to graduate school, including business or law school.

The GRE (Graduate Record Examination) is an admission requirement for graduate schools in the United States, Canada and other English-speaking countries. The purpose of the GRE test is to assess the quantitative and verbal reasoning, critical thinking, and analytical writing skills of the candidate. This test is used to help graduate schools decide if the applicants are suitable for their study program. Some schools require you to take the GRE subject test while others may require you to take the GRE General Test.

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The GRE General Test

The GRE offers two ways to take the test; the computer-based and paper-based GRE. These test types have the same content; the only difference is the testing time and the number of questions per section. The GRE encourages applicants to go for the computer-based test. This article will focus more on the computer-based GRE as it is the most common way the exam is taken. The General GRE test takes about 3 hours and 45 minutes to complete.

What to Expect From the GRE

The GRE is divided into four sections;

  • Analytical Writing Section
  • Verbal Reasoning Section
  • Quantitative Reasoning Section
  • Unidentified/Unscored Section, or
  • Research Section (This section may be included in place of the unscored section)

The first section of all GRE tests, whether computer or paper-based, is the analytical writing section. The verbal reasoning section, the quantitative reasoning section and the unidentified/unscored section may appear in any order. The research section, which always appears at the end of the test, is unscored and may be used in place of the un-scored section.

Analytical Writing Section

Contrary to what most test-takers believe, this section is made up of two separate essays that require 1 hour to complete. The two components of the analytical writing section are;

  • Analyze the issue
  • Analyze the argument

For the first part, you will be given a topic of general interest which you will be expected to respond to however you want. You will be given a chance to formulate your thesis and support it with detailed explanations containing facts and examples to support your claim. The purpose of this section is to test how well you respond to complex ideas. The ETS releases a series of possible Issue topics to help applicants prepare for the exam.

In the second part of the Analytical Writing section, test-takers are required to criticize the given essay. The ETS presents an opinion to the test-takers and directs that the test-takers find faults with the shared view. You are not expected to endorse or oppose their opinion. All you need to do is to analyze the argument and convey your thoughts clearly with sound logic.

Unlike, other sections of the GRE, you don’t get a score on your essay immediately after the exam. This is because real people and not computers mark the essay section.

Verbal Reasoning Section

The allocated time for the completion of this section is one hour. The Verbal reasoning section includes things like sentence completion and reading comprehension questions. It focuses on analyzing and evaluating written materials. Passing this section requires you to know a lot of complex vocabulary. This section is not just about you know many words. It is also about understanding the actual meaning and contextual meanings of the words. It is about being able to evaluate the meaning of words in other contexts.

There are three types of questions in the verbal reasoning section:

  • Reading comprehension
  • Text completion
  • Sentence equivalence

Reading Comprehension

The reading comprehension section tests your ability to comprehend complex texts like the kind taught in graduate school. The text is usually from different fields of study, including but not limited to science and literature. The questions test how well you comprehend the given text.

Text Completion

Text completion questions are “fill-in-the-blank” questions. You are given an incomplete sentence with either one, two or three blanks to fill to complete the sentence. This tests your ability to assimilate information.

Sentence Equivalence

Sentence equivalence questions are also “fill-in-the-blank” questions. The only distinction is that you are given one problem with two solutions. This tests your ability to conclude from incomplete information.

Quantitative Reasoning

This section is divided into two parts, and each piece lasts for 35 minutes. Using mostly multiple-choice questions, this section aims at testing how you solve math problems like algebra, arithmetic, geometry and data analysis. On-screen calculators are usually provided at the test centre for use during the Quantitative Reasoning sections.

The GRE quantitative reasoning is divided into;

  • Problem-solving
  • Quantitative comparison


Problem-solving consists of three problem types, namely;

  1. Multiple Choice Questions: Multiple choice questions presents you with a math problem which you will be expected to solve. After solving, you will need to pick the answer that matches your given result as the correct answer.
  2. Multiple Answer Questions: Multiple answer questions give you a math problem to solve. Unlike the multiple-choice option, more than one choice can be correct.
  3. Numeric Entry Questions: These questions don’t come with answer options. You’re expected to solve the math problem and input your answer in the allocated space.

Quantitative Comparison

Quantitative Comparison questions present you with two columns and ask you to compare the content of these columns. The contents of these columns can range from anything like equations to exponents to angle measurements.

Unidentified/Unscored Section

This section of the GRE test is for research purposes. This is an extra Verbal Reasoning or Quantitative Reasoning section that is not scored. They are used by test providers to develop new questions and do not count towards the candidates’ score. While taking the test, there is no way to know if the section you are working on is the unscored section as they are not marked. This unidentified section can appear randomly at any time after taking the Analytical Writing Assessment.

Research Section

Unlike the unidentified section, the research section is marked and usually comes at the end of every test. It is unscored, so it doesn’t count to your final GRE score. This section is optional, meaning you can choose whether or not you want to take it.


While taking the test, candidates should be focused on time management. The GRE test allows you to skip questions and gives you the option to come back to these questions before your trial is over. If any question is giving you problems, you can easily skip the question and quickly go back to it before the time allocated for finishing the test runs out.

Immediately after the GRE test, the computer gives you an unofficial score. This total score is gotten from two out of the earlier listed section: Verbal Reasoning and Quantitative Reasoning sections. Since the individual marks the Analytical Writing section, it takes a few weeks to get back your official result.

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