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GRE General Test Overview

What Is It?

The GRE General Test measures verbal reasoning, quantitative reasoning, critical thinking and analytical writing skills that are not related to any specific field of study.
Verbal Reasoning The skills measured include the test taker's ability to:

  • analyze and evaluate written material and synthesize information obtained from it
  • analyze relationships among component parts of sentences
  • recognize relationships between words and concepts

Quantitative Reasoning The skills measured include the test taker's ability to:

  • understand basic concepts of arithmetic, algebra, geometry and data analysis
  • reason quantitatively
  • solve problems in a quantitative setting

Analytical Writing The skills measured include the test taker's ability to:

  • articulate complex ideas clearly and effectively
  • examine claims and accompanying evidence
  • support ideas with relevant reasons and examples
  • sustain a well-focused, coherent discussion
  • control the elements of standard written English

Who Takes It and Why?

Prospective graduate applicants take the General Test. GRE test scores are used by admissions or fellowship panels to supplement undergraduate records and other qualifications for graduate study. The scores provide common measures for comparing the qualifications of applicants and aid in evaluating grades and recommendations.

Where Do People Take It?

The General Test is offered year-round at computer-based test centers in the United States, Canada and many other countries. It is offered at paper-based test centers in areas of the world where computer-based testing is not available. See which format is available in your area.

Who Accepts It?

Any graduate or professional school, any department or division within a school, or any fellowship granting organization may require or recommend that its applicants take the General Test, a Subject Test, or both.

Test Content

Computer-based General Test Content and Structure

The computer-based General Test is composed of Verbal Reasoning, Quantitative Reasoning and Analytical Writing sections. In addition, one unidentified unscored section may be included, and this section can appear in any position in the test after the Analytical Writing Section. Questions in the unscored section are being tested for possible use in future tests, and answers will not count toward your scores.
Total testing time is up to three hours, not including the research section. The directions at the beginning of each section specify the total number of questions in the section and the time allowed for the section.
The Analytical Writing section is always first. For the Issue task, two topics will be presented and you will choose one. The Argument task does not present a choice of topics; instead, one topic will be presented.
The Verbal and Quantitative sections may appear in any order, including an unidentified unscored section. Treat each section presented during your test as if it counts.

Typical Computer-based GRE General Test

Section

Number of Questions

Time

Analytical Writing

1 Issue Task*

45 minutes

Analytical Writing

1 Argument Task*

30 minutes

Verbal

30

30 minutes

Quantitative

28

45 minutes

Unscored**

Varies

Varies

Research***

Varies

Varies

* For the Issue task, two essay topics are presented and you choose one. The Argument task does not present a choice of topics; instead one topic is presented.
** An unidentified unscored section may be included and may appear in any order after the Analytical Writing section. It is not counted as part of your score.
*** An identified research section that is not scored may be included, and it is always at the end of the test.

Paper-based General Test Content and Structure

The paper-based General Test is composed of Verbal Reasoning, Quantitative Reasoning and Analytical Writing sections. In addition, one unidentified unscored section may be included, and this section can appear in any position in the test after the Analytical Writing Section. Questions in the unscored section are being tested for possible use in future tests, and answers will not count toward your scores.
Total testing time is up to 3-3/4 hours. The directions at the beginning of each section specify the total number of questions in the section and the time allowed for the section.
The Analytical Writing section is always first. For the Issue task, two topics will be presented and you will choose one. The Argument task does not present a choice of topics; instead one topic will be presented.
The Verbal and Quantitative sections may appear in any order, including an unidentified Verbal or Quantitative unscored section. Treat each section presented during your test as if it counts.

Typical Paper-based General Test

Section

Number of Questions

Time

Analytical Writing

1 Issue Task*

45 minutes

Analytical Writing

1 Argument Task*

30 minutes

Verbal (2 sections)

38 per section

30 minutes per section

Quantitative (2 sections)

30 per section

30 minutes per section

Unscored**

Varies

30 minutes

*For the Issue task, two essay topics will be presented and you will choose one. The Argument task does not present a choice of topics; instead, one topic will be presented.
** An unidentified unscored section may be included and may appear in any order after the Analytical Writing section. It is not counted as part of your score.

Modified Versions of Verbal and Quantitative Questions

The test you take may include questions that are modified versions of published questions or of questions you have already seen on an earlier section of the test. Some modifications are substantial; others are less apparent.
Thus, even if a question appears to be similar to a question you have already seen, it may in fact be a different question and may also have a different correct answer. You can be assured of doing your best on the test you take by paying careful attention to the wording of each question as it appears in your test.
The GRE Program is investigating the feasibility of reusing questions that have been published in GRE practice materials. As part of that investigation, you may see questions from these materials on a test you take.

The Scoring Process

The processes for calculating reported scores for adaptive tests and traditional paper-and-pencil tests are similar, in that the number of questions answered correctly is adjusted according to the difficulty level of the questions on the test form. Thus, the same number of correct responses on different test forms will not necessarily result in the same reported score.
In paper-and-pencil tests, the differences in difficulty among test forms are relatively small and are adjusted through a process known as score equating. The number of questions answered is also figured into the calculation of the reported score because it limits the number that can be answered correctly.
With adaptive testing, an examinee is administered a set of questions with a difficulty level that is specifically designed to match the examinee's ability level. The mathematical process for calculating a score in this situation incorporates the statistical properties of the questions, the examinee's performance on the questions, and the number of questions that are answered.

How the Sections of the General Test Are Scored

Computer-Based General Test:

Your scores on the Verbal and Quantitative sections of the computer-based General Test depend on your performance on the questions given and on the number of questions answered in the time allotted.
Because both of these sections are computer-adaptive, the questions presented are selected to reflect your performance on preceding questions and the requirements of the test design. Test design factors that influence which questions are presented to you include:

  • the statistical characteristics (including difficulty level) of the questions already answered
  • the required variety of question types
  • the appropriate coverage of content

For the computer-based Analytical Writing section, each essay receives a score from at least one trained reader, using a six-point holistic scale. In holistic scoring, readers are trained to assign scores on the basis of the overall quality of an essay in response to the assigned task. The essay score is then reviewed by e-rater, a computerized program developed by ETS, which is being used to monitor the human reader. If the e-rater evaluation and the human score agree, the human score is used as the final score. If they disagree by a certain amount, a second human score is obtained, and the final score is the average of the two human scores.
The final scores on the two essays are then averaged and rounded up to the nearest half-point interval. A single score is reported for the Analytical Writing section.
The primary emphasis in scoring the Analytical Writing section is on your critical thinking and analytical writing skills rather than on grammar and mechanics. (Read the Issue and Argument scoring guides.)
During the scoring process, your essay responses on the Analytical Writing section will be reviewed by ETS essay-similarity-detection software and by experienced essay readers. See Independent Intellectual Activity.
The GRE Program has recently implemented another review process of individual test performance for the computer-based GRE General Test Verbal and Quantitative sections. The purpose of the process is to analyze each test takers performance data to determine if the test presented to the individual was an appropriate selection of test questions by the computer. It appears that in a very small number of cases, the computer algorithm may not have functioned as effectively as intended. As a result, ETS is offering these test-takers the option of taking a free retest on the affected section only. In this optional retest effort, the GRE Program is attempting to be as fair as possible to all examinees. (See Retest FAQs.)  
Paper-Based General Test:
For the Verbal and Quantitative sections of the paper-based General Test, a raw score is computed. The raw score is the number of questions for which the best answer choice was given.
The raw score is then converted to a scaled score through a process known as equating. The equating process accounts for differences in difficulty among the different test editions so a given scaled score reflects approximately the same level of ability regardless of the edition of the test that was taken.
For the Analytical Writing section, each essay receives a score from two trained readers, using a 6-point holistic scale. In holistic scoring, readers are trained to assign scores on the basis of the overall quality of an essay in response to the assigned task. If the two assigned scores differ by more than one point on the scale, the discrepancy is adjudicated by a third GRE reader.
Otherwise, the scores from the two readings of an essay are averaged. The final scores on the two essays are then averaged and rounded up to the nearest half-point interval. A single score is reported for the Analytical Writing section.
The primary emphasis in scoring the Analytical Writing section is on your critical thinking and analytical writing skills rather than on grammar and mechanics. (Read the Issue and Argument scoring guides.)
During the scoring process, your essay responses on the Analytical Writing section will be reviewed by ETS essay-similarity-detection software and by experienced essay readers. See Independent Intellectual Activity.

GRE General Test Score Scales

Three scores are reported on the General Test:

  • a Verbal Reasoning score reported on a 200-800 score scale, in 10-point increments
  • a Quantitative Reasoning score reported on a 200-800 score scale, in 10-point increments
  • an Analytical Writing score reported on a 0-6 score scale, in half-point increments

Any section in which you answer no questions at all will be reported as a No Score (NS).

Analytical Writing Measure Score Review - Fee:

Test takers may request a review of their Analytical Writing section of the General Test up to six months after the administration. Submit the fee with your written request; include your full name, date of birth, test date, registration number, address, and phone number. Mail the request to the General Inquiries address. If the score review process results in a higher or lower score, the new score will be reported.

Paper-Based Test Hand Scoring- Fee:

Hand scoring for the Verbal and Quantitative sections of the paper-based General Test is available up to six months after the administration. Submit the fee with your written request; include your full name, date of birth, test date, registration number, address, and phone number. Mail the request to the General Inquiries address. If the score review process results in a higher or lower score, the new score(s) will be reported.

Additional Score Information

For more details regarding GRE scores and scoring, read the GRE Guide to the Use of Scores (PDF).
See also:
GRE Score-Related Test Policies for Test Takers, which include information on

  • Absence from a Paper-Based Testing Session
  • Preventing Unauthorized Release of Your Scores
  • ETS Review of Test Questions
  • Cancellation of Scores by ETS
  • Test Fairness and Score Use

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  • 20.05.2006

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