The Graduate Record Examinations (GRE) was introduced in 1949 by Educational Testing Service (ETS), an academic assessment organization which had been formed two years earlier by the American Council on Education (ACE), The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, and The College Entrance Examination Board.
Prior to 1985, the GRE focused on quantitative reasoning and verbal reasoning. In 1985, a new Analytical Reasoning section was added to the exam. In 1993, the GRE became a computer adaptive test, and in 2002, the Analytical Reasoning section of the GRE was replaced by an Analytical Writing section.
In 2011, a major overhaul of the GRE, termed the GRE revised General Test, was introduced. The three primary skill areas—Analytical Writing, Verbal Reasoning, and Quantitative Reasoning—were preserved, but changes were made to the specific material on the exam, the method of delivery, and the scaling of scores. This new version of the examination was designed to align more closely with the skills and proficiencies needed to succeed in graduate education, make it easier for admissions committees to distinguish between different candidates' levels of performance, improve the test-taking experience, and enhance test security.
Function of the Test
The GRE is an admissions examination used by a wide variety of graduate program fields. The exam is primarily taken by undergraduate seniors or by college-educated adults who are applying for admission to a graduate program. Its use is ubiquitous in graduate programs across the United States, and it is also accepted in a variety of programs around the world. For example, one study by ETS found that 10% of GRE test takers were interested in studying in Canada, while 8% were interested in studying in Europe.
Between August 1, 2011 and June 30, 2012, 466,674 candidates completed the GRE.
The GRE is primarily given as a computer adaptive test (98% of candidates take the computerized form), though a few paper-and-pencil test sessions are also offered per year. The computer adaptive test is offered year-round at Prometric test centers. The fee to register for the examination is $50.
After completing the GRE, candidates may see an unofficial score report for the Verbal Reasoning and Quantitative Reasoning sections, but not for the Analytical Writing section. Official score reports are made available online approximately ten to fifteen days after the test date. Candidates who wish to retake the examination may do so once every 21 days, but only up to a maximum of five times within a 365-day period.
Candidates with disabilities who require special testing accommodations must register for the GRE by mail through ETS Disability Services. Accommodations must be approved before the exam may be scheduled. ETS reports that it takes approximately six weeks to review documentation of a disability, so candidates are encouraged to start the process as early as possible before the intended testing date.
The GRE Test has five sections that last about half an hour each. Both the computer and paper versions last about three hours and forty-five minutes, and contain one analytical writing section (paper version contains two), two verbal reasoning sections, and two quantitative reasoning sections. The Verbal Reasoning and Quantitative sections consist of only multiple choice questions. 
Each candidate is expected to arrive at least half an hour before the exam is scheduled to start. For admission, an ID verification is required. This may vary, but could include fingerprinting, photographing, a signature, or biometric voice identificication. Snacks, drinks, electronics, or any other personal items aside from identification are not allowed in the testing room. Outerwear, such as hats, jackets, and scarves are allowed, but may be inspected by the test administrator. 
- Sample Verbal Reasoning Questions
- Select the two answer choices that, when used to complete the sentence, fit the meaning of the sentence as a whole and produce completed sentences that are alike in meaning.
- When the victim did not prove as _______ as expected, the blackmailer decided to resort to a more intense method of motivation.
- A. sycophantic
- B. patronizing
- C. indolent
- D. tractable
- E. sardonic
- F. amenable
- The industrious third grade teacher was given a classroom full of _______ students, but by the end of the year they all received awards for good behavior.
- A. flagrant
- B. obsteperous
- C. boorish
- D. officious
- E. unruly
- F. sagacious
- For each blank, select one entry from the corresponding column of choices. Fill all blanks in the way that best completes the text.
- 3. He believed that in order to (i) _______ the problem fully, he would need to understand all of its (ii) _______
- 4. The author's novel was (i) _______ but she managed to develop numerous (ii) _______ fully and enjoyably by its end
- 5. The rumors were (i) _______ and she welcomed the opportunity to (ii) _______ them.
- Sample Quantitative Reasoning
- If the question specifies how many answer choices to select, select exactly that number of choices. If the question does not specify how many answer choices to select, select all that apply.
- Circle A represents students who major in liberal arts at a certain university.
- Circle B represents students who major in the life sciences at that university,
- and circle C represents engineering majors at the same university.
- Why is circle C a disjoint set? Select all correct answers.
- A. No engineering students are also liberal arts majors
- B. No engineering students are also life science majors
- C. No engineering students have part-time jobs
- D. A small subset of engineering students double majored in liberal arts or life sciences
- Jack, Jill, and John are siblings. Jack is twice as old as Jill and half as old as John. If the ages of all three siblings are contained within the answer choices, how old could Jill be?
- A. 2
- B. 4
- C. 8
- D. 16
- A triangle has vertices at points (0,0), (0,3), and (4,0). Which of the following are lengths of the triangle’s sides?
- A. 2
- B. 3
- C. 5
- D. 7
- Which two lines are parallel?
- A. y-4x-3=0
- B. y-2x-3=0
- C. 4y-12x-16=0
- D. 3y-9x+18=0
Unscored items and research items may be inserted randomly across the GRE in both marked and unmarked sections. However, the scored content of the GRE is distributed as follows:
|Distribution of questions on the GRE exam|
|Section|| # of
|Score range|| Time limit
|Analytical Writing||2||0 to 6|| 60
(30 per prompt)
|Verbal Reasoning||20||130 to 170||30|| May be|
|Quantitative Reasoning||20||130 to 170||35|
The GRE is divided into five sections: one Analytical Writing section containing two tasks, two Verbal Reasoning sections, and two Quantitative Reasoning sections. The examination is a computer adaptive test, meaning that performance on earlier test items influences the difficulty of later test items. However, unlike most computer adaptive tests, the GRE performs its adaptations at the section level. The first Verbal Reasoning section and the first Quantitative Reasoning section are of average difficulty, whereas the second sections of those skill areas are made easier or more difficult depending on candidates' performance on the first sections.
The Verbal Reasoning and Quantitative Reasoning measures are scored the same basic way. First, for each section, the number of correct answers is counted up to determine the raw score for that section. (Guessing is not penalized.) Then, each raw score is scaled based on the difficulty of that specific section. (For example, a raw score of 15 on an easier section is worth fewer scaled points than a raw score of 15 on a harder section.) Finally, the scaled scores of the two sections of the Verbal Reasoning measure are combined into a single score between 130 and 170, and the same is done for the Quantitative Reasoning section.
For the Analytical Writing section, each essay is scored holistically by a human and by a software program on a whole-number scale from 1 to 6. If the human and computer scores are close to one another, the human score is used. If the scores do not agree, a second human grader assesses the essay, and the average of the two human scores is used. Finally, the scores on the two essays are averaged together and rounded to the nearest half-point to yield a final score between 0 and 6.
There is no single "passing score" on the GRE. Individual graduate programs determine how heavily to weight GRE scores in assessing applicants and what specific cutoff scores (if any) to use.
ETS publishes GRE scoring statistics broken down by graduate major field. For example, on the Verbal Reasoning test, engineering students score an average of 150 points, while arts and humanities students score an average of 157 points. Conversely, on the Quantitative Reasoning test, engineering students score an average of 159 points versus the average score of 150 points for arts and humanities students.
Answers to Sample Questions
Verbal Reasoning: 1;D,F 2;B,E 3;B,F 4;A,E 5;A,D Quantitative Reasoning: 1;A,B,C 2;A,B 3;B,C 4;C,D
- ETS: A Research Foundation for the GRE revised General Test: A Compendium of Studies December 4 2014
- ETS: Who We Are December 4 2014
- ETS: A Snapshot of the Individuals Who Took the GRE revised General Test December 4 2014
- ETS: Test Centers and Dates December 4 2014
- ETS: GRE Information and Registration Bulletin December 4 2014
- ETS: Accommodations for Test Takers with Disabilities or Health-related Needs December 4 2014
- GRE Content 17 November 2014
- http://www.ets.org/gre/revised_general/test_day/ Day of Test] 17 November 2014
- ETS: How the Test is Scored December 4 2014
- ETS: General Test Percentage Distribution of Scores Within Intended Broad Graduate Major Field Based on Seniors and Nonenrolled College Graduates December 4 2014