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Taking the GRE test can be intimidating.
Your GRE score will be critical to whether you are accepted to your top choice for grad programs. How do you prepare for it? What is on the GRE test?
This article will breakdown the structure of the GRE test, section by section, so that you get ready for it.
GRE Structure Breakdown
The test is broken into 7 separately timed sections. The GRE sections are:
1. Analytical Writing (also known as the scary GRE essays
a. One “Analyze an Issue” essay
b. One “Analyze an Argument” essay
2. Verbal Reasoning (two timed sections)
3. Quantitative Reasoning (two timed sections)
4. Experimental Section (one unscored section)
You might also be interested in the helpful GRE resources available from the ETS, which creates and administers the GRE test.
What is Tested on the GRE? (Question Types and Topics)
The writing section of the GRE has two parts, the Issue essay and the Argument essay.
For the Issue essay, you will be required to express and defend a position on some topic, which might be related to politics, culture, education, etc. The questions are broad and open ended, so you have a lot of freedom in how you answer.
An important point to remember about this section is that the graders do not care if your opinion is right or wrong. They are looking for how well you analyze the issue and support your answer.
The Argument essay will require you to read and evaluate another person’s argument. You will have to explain the structure and evidence of the argument and point out any errors in the logic.
The biggest difference between the Issue and Argument essays is the your perspective during the task.
In the Issue essay, you will be constructing the strongest argument you can and supporting it with evidence and logic.
In the Argument essay, you will be tearing apart someone else’s argument to point out it’s strengths and flaws.
The Verbal Reasoning section measures your ability to read and understand sentences and longer passages. You will be required to analyze sentence structure, the logical connections in an argument, dissect grammar, etc.
There are three Verbal Reasoning question types:
1. Reading Comprehension
2. Text Completion
3. Sentence Equivalence
As you might have guessed, the reading comprehension questions measures how well you understand a writing sample. The writing sample will range in size from one paragraph to multiple paragraphs of text.
You will be tested on how well you understand individual words and sentences or the meaning of entire passages. Approximately half the questions will be based on passages.
Text completion questions are very different from reading comprehension questions. Instead of answering questions and drawing conclusions about a passage, you will be required to fill in the blank in a sentence to create a cohesive thought.
You will be presented with a passage where an important word or phrase has been removed and you will have to choose between several phrases that would fit well in that blank.
*Some of the links included in this article are affiliate links for The Graduate School Site, which means that I will get paid a commission if you purchase something using the link. This commission will not increase your price for the service.
Check out this video from Magoosh GRE Prep that explains the sentence completion question type and gives strategies for correctly answering the questions.
You can also practice answering these questions with Magoosh’s 7 Day Free Trial.
The sentence equivalence question type is similar to text completion questions, but with a twist.
You will be given a sentence with a important word removed and you have to choose two words so that:
1. Each word completes the sentence in a coherent way
2. Either word choice creates a sentence with equivalent meaning
You are not necessarily looking for two synonyms, so be careful about choosing two words that mean the same thing.
The quantitative reasoning sections are the math portions of the GRE. The questions will come from four mathematical areas:
4. Data analysis
You will answer pure math questions as well as word problems.
The highest level of math that you will be assessed on is high school level math. The sections do not include questions on calculus, trigonometry, or other higher level math questions.
The question types within the Quantitative Reasoning sections are:
1. Quantitative Comparison Questions
2. Multiple-choice Questions
3. Numeric Entry Questions
Quantitative Comparison Questions
The quantitative comparison questions are deceptively simple. You will be required to compare two quantities and select from four possible answers.
1. Quantity A is greater.
2. Quantity B is greater.
3. The two quantities are equal.
4. The relationship cannot be determined from the information given.
Be careful in this section to not perform unnecessary calculations. You do not usually need to know exactly how the two quantities compare and you can waste a lot of time trying to be precise.
These questions types are standard math questions in arithmetic, algebra, geometry, and data analysis. You will be presented with two kinds of answers:
- Select one answer choice
- Select one or more answer choices
For the select one or more questions, you may or may not be told how many answers to select.
Numeric Entry Questions
For the numeric entry questions, you will be required to fill in one or two blanks with your answer. Fractions will be answered with two blanks, one for the numerator and one for the denominator.
There are no answer choices, so these questions will require more careful calculation on your part than other question types.
Getting Ready for the GRE
You can figure out which GRE sections you need to work on by taking some practice tests.
Many of the online GRE study programs have free practice GRE tests and free trials that you can use to measure your progress.
How Long is the GRE?
The GRE test by itself is 3 hours and 45 minutes long, but with breaks and check-in you will spend 4-5 hours at the testing center.
The whole process is exhausting, so make sure you have plenty of sleep before taking the GRE.
Length of GRE Sections
The GRE is broken into 7 sections: Analytical Writing (two sections), Verbal Reasoning (two sections), Quantitative Reasoning (two sections), and one unscored Experimental section.
- Total length: 60 minutes
- “Analyze an Issue” essay – 30 minutes
- “Analyze an Argument” essay – 30 minutes
- Total Length: 60 minutes
- 30 minutes per section
- 20 questions per section
- Total Length: 70 minutes
- 35 minutes per section
- 20 questions per section
- Total Length: Varies 30-35 minutes
- Length depends on whether the section is Verbal or Quantitative
You will also be given a 10 minute break after the third section.
Understanding and preparing for the GRE requires a lot of work.
Your experience on test day will take 4-5 hours and it will be exhausting.
You might feel overwhelmed when thinking about the GRE test as a single experience with a single, critical score.
Instead, think about the test as components. The test has 7 sections, each with its own strategies and traps.
You should try to understand each component and dominate each one individually, so that you get the best GRE score you can.
Looking to Upgrade Your Grad School Efforts?
Check out our Resources page. The resources include helpful websites, books, and proven study tools to give you every advantage in your graduate school program.
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