GRE 101

A Complete Guide To GRE - 2019

You might have just heard the word for the first time, and are now wondering ‘What is the GRE exam?’

Naturally, you might have questions:

Who needs to take the GRE? What is tested on the GRE? Why does this score matter?

That is exactly what we’re going to discuss today.

Table of Contents

Chapter 1

What is the GRE test?

Note: The cost of the GRE exam fee have been changed and varies depending on the country you take it in but you can expect to pay between USD$200 and USD$240

In this post, we will look at what is the GRE and why this exam is so important. We will also learn a little bit about the exam pattern, what kind of questions you can expect on the GRE and other important GRE exam details.

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The GRE is designed and administered by the Educational Testing Service or ETS. So the GRE tests you on three different skills – verbal reasoning skills, quantitative reasoning, and analytical writing skills.

The overall test comes to around 3 hours and 45 minutes so that’s roughly four hours. We will learn a little bit more about each of these skills now.

What is GRE?

But what is the GRE test for? Well – If you’re applying to a Masters or a Ph.D. program in the U.S., GRE scores are almost mandatory.

For most of the programs they require a GRE score. Additionally universities in other countries like Germany, UK, France have also started accepting GRE scores.

There are many universities which have started accepting your GRE. As of last year, the exam is conducted in more than 180 countries and it takes about 200 dollars to write this test.

The test is mainly computer-based. They do offer paper-based tests as well but they’re very rare so most likely you’re going to be taking the test on a computer.

GRE Test Dates:

ETS releases the GRE exam dates a year in advance giving you ample time to book a date once you’ve settled on it.

You also have the liberty to attempt the GRE multiple times.

This comes with a catch though – you can attempt up to a maximum of five times within a period of twelve months.

Also, note that you can attempt the GRE once in a span of 21 days so if you have to attempt it again you need to wait for 21 days before you can attempt again.

You are free to select your exam date over a telephone, fax, mail and online (which is what we recommended as you can register for GRE fastest online).

Another factor to note is the GRE score validity. These scores are valid for a period of five years but it depends on when you’ve taken the test. Unlike TOEFL score which is valid for only two years, GRE provides you with long time score validity. 

For example, if you have taken the GRE exam on or after July 5, 2019, your scores are valid up to July 4, 2024. But if you take the test before July 1, 2019, scores are valid for the following testing year i.e June 30, 2024.

GRE Login:

Generally, GRE test centers fill up quickly, so if you decide to the GRE exam you need to start applying early.

ETS allows you to create an account at any time whether or not you plan to register for GRE exam.

How to apply for the GRE exam:

For GRE registration you need to follow certain steps.

1. Create an account on ETS website

The first step is to create an account on the official ETS site. Only then can you could apply for the GRE, view your GRE scores and also send the universities of your choice your report for admission.

2. Select the test centers and GRE exam date

Select carefully the nearest or the best center. Block your date and time for the exam. Keep in mind that you’ll need to spend 4 hours at the test centre so choose wisely.

3. Fill your personal details and verify them

Before you pay the application fee you need to fill in all the mandatory details that are asked in the form with red asterisks. You can even buy official GRE study material during the application process.

4. Pay the GRE fee

Here a question arises, “How much does the GRE cost?”.

The GRE exam fee varies depending on the country you take it in but you can expect to pay between USD$200 and USD$240.

This fee is for an international test taker. For GRE test takers in the US the price is a little bit lower now.

This fee is to be paid using accepted forms of payment.

After the completion of payment a confirmation mail with selected GRE exam date, time, test centre address and some other information regarding the application will be received.

Once you’ve created your GRE login on the ETS website you can apply, view or even cancel your application, get GRE Diagnostic services, buy materials and get notifications about your test and scores.

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Chapter 2

Why is your GRE score important?

Why is a good GRE score important? Most of you are aware as to why the GRE score is important but there are a couple of important factors that I want to highlight.

Remember that when you apply to universities the other applicants are going to be from extremely diverse backgrounds.

Now it’s very difficult to compare two different candidates with a very different academic background, the cultural background may be very different, research experience as well so the universities do place a lot of importance on the ETS GRE score which is kind of a measure of raw ability.

Importance of good GRE scores

If you remember, the GRE tests you on your writing skills, your quantitative reasoning which is basically your math skill and verbal reasoning which is essentially your English and communication skills.

So they’re testing you on very basic skills which kind of highlight what your raw abilities are so because this is a standardized test it’s easier for them to make a comparison across people from different backgrounds.

In that sense, if you get a good score, it sets you apart from the other applicants.

Now the other factor is that the GRE compensates for any shortcomings in your own profile.

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You might think that your academic performance could have been better or you could have done some extra research projects but these are not things that you can change right now.

It’s not possible for you to go back in time and change those things whereas the GRE is something that you have at hand right now so getting a good GRE score can compensate for any shortcomings that you think that you might have on your profile.

So a good GRE score is like a first stepping-stone to get into a good university which will open up your opportunities in the future right. You can think of it as the most important first step that you’re going to take towards a better future.

Chapter 3

GRE Exam Pattern

What is the GRE exam pattern like now?

You might have heard people talk about a verbal score and a Quant score, right? So verbal is scored on a scale from 130 to 170.

ETS has its own reasons for choosing such a scale. So the lowest that you can get is 130 which is pretty much equal to a zero score and 170 is the maximum that you can get.

The GRE score range for both Verbal and Quant sections are between 130 and 170. 

Similarly for GRE math as well you have a scale from 130 to 170 so a lot of people added up and say that the GRE total marks are 340.

GRE exam pattern

If you’re wondering what a good GRE score is, it’ll help to know that the average GRE score for both sections falls typically around 150-152. But to know what a ‘good’ score is, you’ll need to look at percentiles.

Now for you to make sense of what you’re seeing, ETS also provides you with GRE score percentiles. They will give you what is your percentile score for verbal as well as for Quant.

So if you got 165 and it corresponds to a 95%, let’s say that means that 95% of the test takers have scored lesser than your score which is 165 so you are in the top 5%.

So besides the scaled score they also provide a GRE percentile score.

So that’s about the scoring.

Now to measure your verbal score and Quant score, there are two verbal sections and two Quant sections and each section has 20 questions.

The verbal sections are timed for 30 minutes and the Quant sections are timed for 35 minutes.

Remember that these sections are timed individually so you can’t carry over the time to another section. So you’re done with the section, you’re done with the 30 minutes and the next section will start with a fresh set of questions.

So that’s your verbal and Quant. So you have two sections of verbal and two sections of Quant with 20 questions per section.

For Quant, you get five minutes extra per section which is 35 minutes and the verbal sections are timed for 30 minutes.

Now besides your verbal and the Quant, analytical writing is given on a separate scale.

GRE Exam Pattern
SectionsNo.of QuestionsTime AllottedPosition During Exam
Analytical Writing
(One section with 2 separately timed essay tasks)
One "Analyse an Issue" task and one "Analyse an arguement" task 30 minutes per task 1st section
Verbal Reasoning
(Two Sections)
20 Questions 30 minutes per section Anywhere in between
Quantitative Reasoning
(Two Sections)
20 Questions 35 minutes per section Anywhere in between
Research Section
(Identified)
Varies Varies Last Section
Unscored Section
(Unidentified)
Varies Varies Anywhere in between

The score on analytical writing is on a scale from 0 to 6 in increments of 1/2 a point so to measure this score they give you two writing tasks. The average GRE score for AWA is around 3.5.

A good GRE AWA score is anything above 4.

The first essay task is called analyzing an issue and the second essay task is called analyzing an argument.

Now each task is for 30 minutes. If you add up all these you get 6 sections and the total comes to around 3 hours and 10 minutes right but if you remember I mentioned that your test is roughly around 3 hours & 45 minutes.

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So there seems to be a gap of around 30-35 minutes now. There is one more section that could come up in your exam – we call this as an unidentified section.

Now this one does not actually contribute to your score so it’s like a dummy section which ETS uses to gather data.

Your performance in this section does not actually contribute to your final score but the problem is that they don’t tell you in advance so you won’t know which section is this special un-scored section.

So as far as you are concerned it could be any one,  it could just be like any other section on the test so you have to treat this section as well as a part of the Test.

Now this section could again be a verbal or Quant so depending on whether it’s Verbal or Quant it will again be 30 minutes to 35 minutes okay so that’s the seventh section that you will get on the test.

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So just to quickly summarize you’ll have two Quant sections with 20 questions each timed for 35 minutes each, the 2 verbal sections are timed for 30 minutes each and you also have two writing tasks which are timed for 30 minutes each.

Besides that it’s possible that you get an unidentified section which is either verbal or Quant so depending on whether it’s verbal or Quant you will either get 30 minutes or a 35 minutes section and it will still have 20 questions.

Choosing a GRE exam date is important. If you’re taking the computer-based GRE, which most people do, you choose your own test date, with the exception of Sundays and holidays.

If you’re taking the paper-delivered test however, there are far fewer exam dates available to you. There are only three GRE exam dates annually for paper-based tests – i.e. in October, November, and February.

Chapter 4

What Is The GRE Syllabus?

As far as the topics that are tested on the GRE is concerned, it’s a little bit different in that the GRE does not have a well-defined syllabus.

I’ve been using the word skills because it tests skills and not just knowledge. It’s not like your knowledge based exams that you would have come across in your academic pursuit.

Now, what do I mean by this? Think about it like this – you’re practicing for a music exam.

Do you start a few days before the exam? Of course not – music is a skill so a skill needs to be practiced. Riding a cycle or swimming are examples of skills. Now it’s not possible to learn these by preparing in the last minute or you know preparing for a couple of days.

GRE Verbal and Quant topics

You can’t expect yourself to be able to swim after a day’s worth of practice, you need to practice a lot before you are able to swim.

This is again a test of skills so these skills can be cultivated only by rigorous practice and of course it’s not just any practice – your GRE preparation has to be done in a methodical manner.

Having said that we do have a little bit of an idea about what you can expect on the GRE.

As far as the verbal section is concerned we know what kind of question types the test will throw at you. You might have already heard of GRE Reading Comprehension questions where you’re given a passage and you’re given questions based on that.

Now critical reasoning is also a kind of reading comprehension but the stress over here is on logical reasoning and not just a test of your English. Sentence Equivalence and Text Completion questions are questions which test a little bit more of your vocabulary as well as reasoning skills.

In both these cases, you will be given a passage or a sentence with one, two or three blanks and you’re expected to choose answer choices that will fit into the blank. Besides this vocabulary is also an important component of the verbal section.

The standards required for the GRE are pretty high so a lot of people might have to work on their vocabulary. So that it’s on par with what is expected or what kind of questions will be thrown at you during the GRE.

As far as Quant is concerned you have certain basic topics that they cover- arithmetic, algebra, geometry, a little bit of coordinate geometry, some data analysis, and data interpretation, some basics of probability – there is no Bayesian Inference, it’s just simple theoretical probability that you’ll be working with again.

Some basic statistics, not too advanced. You have a few measures of central tendency and then measures of dispersion like standard deviation and variance.

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They also talk a little bit about probability distributions and the normal distribution but that’s not too much in detail and it’s also quite rarely tested and so it’s mostly pre-calculus level mathematics – what you would typically learn in say ninth or tenth grade.

Having said that remember that questions can literally come from any concept.

Like I said before, the GRE does not have a defined syllabus so your GRE prep is not something that you can cram in the last minute.

You need to be methodical, you need to start preparing in advance and you need to spend a lot of time practicing these kinds of questions, taking GRE mock tests so that you’re comfortable on the day of the test.

Sometimes a situation arises where you need to take the TOEFL exam also and this depends on the schools you wanted to get admission. So you need to plan accordingly for both the exams.

Chapter 5

What Is A Good GRE Score?

I’ve got a 303 in my GRE, is it a good score?
I’ve scored 338 in my GRE, can I get admitted into MIT?
My GRE score is 292, are there universities in the US that accept this score?

These are examples of questions that GRE test-takers typically have. All these questions boil down to one basic question, ‘What is a good score in the GRE’?

As a note, it should be understood that like most competitive exams, the GRE doesn’t have a definite qualifying score.

Instead, the ETS follows a ‘percentile’ GRE scoring pattern.

For example, a 165 in the GRE Verbal converts to the 96th percentile and a 170 in the GRE Quant converts to the 97th percentile – which means that 96 or 97 percent of the test takers have scored less than that.

The higher your score is, the higher is your GRE percentile.

This could be confusing to test-takers, hence, the ETS has its own ‘Percentile Conversion Chart’ published.

On receiving your GRE score, you could just check the chart for the percentile value to get an idea of how you have fared compared to other test-takers.

This helps understand better where you stand, because a mere score of 160 in Verbal doesn’t say much, but understanding that it puts you in the 86th percentile helps realize its value.

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The GRE is a qualifying exam to study-abroad, more relevant in the US, Canada, Singapore, and Asian countries. Some universities in Germany. Europe, Australia consider the GRE score for admitting a student.

Given that, what is an ideal GRE score that will ensure an admit?

Well, the answer to the question depends upon your answers to the following questions,
What is your dream university?
What course would you want to pursue?
How do other components if your profile looks like, and so on.

What is a good GRE score?In general, a good GRE score is the one that gets you an admit from your dream university with scholarship and helps compensate for any other lack in your academic profile.

To understand further, we shall split the GRE test scores into sub-ranges and take a closer look:

A 320+ in the GRE

A 320+ score out of the GRE total score and a decent profile like an 8-point CGPA, internships & projects or work experience can get you an admit from one of the top 15 universities.

If your goal is to get into the Ivy League Universities then your profile should showcase these qualities and a corresponding GRE score.

A 310-320 in the GRE
Similarly, a 310-320 in the GRE is a good score, which, along with a supporting profile, will place you in one of the good universities in the US or Canada.

For those of you with this score range, aiming to get into universities ranked between 20 and 50 would not be too ambitious.

A 300-310 in the GRE
With a 300-310 score in the GRE, you have some chances of getting into universities ranked between 50 and 100.

However, your profile, which includes your CGPA, projects, and internships, would have to be good enough to help you get an admit with funding.

A GRE score of 290-300
If your score falls in this range, do you wonder whether your GRE score is sufficient to get admission into US universities?

Yes! Your chances of getting into good US universities are still open. To compensate for a low GRE score, work meticulously on building a stunning profile which will ensure admits and scholarships.

A GRE score <290
The lowest possible score on the GRE is 260.

While there may be some universities that may want to give you an admit, the value of the degree cannot be vouched for.

So, rather than dwelling upon the score and waiting for the university to give you a call, it is better to trust your abilities and experience, learn from your GRE Test-taking experience: take the test again, improve your score and march towards a better future.

GRE Scoring Chart:

GRE scoring chart

To summarize, a good GRE score varies based on your dream university.

If you want to study abroad, it is always good to have that dream of the university in mind and work towards getting into it with focused determination.

It is, of course, always advisable to have a few back-up universities and courses in mind to apply to in case your score falls in a lower range, but the score that gets you into your dream university is the ‘best GRE score’.

Chapter 6

Benefits of GRE Online Preparation over Traditional Classroom Coaching

This is a really good question and one that we find more students are asking. Honestly – there is no one-size-fits-all approach that you can adopt here. You will need to consider a number of factors before settling on an answer. That being said, there are some clear advantages to preparing online. In this chapter, we have gathered some benefits of online GRE courses over classroom coaching to give you a more clear picture so that you can choose wisely.

1. Convenience and Flexible

Possibly the biggest determinant when making your choice is this – time. How much time do you have on your hands to spare for your preparation? Are you a student with a heavy workload or a working professional in a full-time job? How accessible is the classroom should you have to travel to get there?

These are just some of the questions you need to ask yourself before you decide which option would work better for you. If you find that you have a heavy workload to deal with from college/work or you just do not have the time or energy to travel to a classroom, you should definitely consider taking the online route.

Preparing online means you save on time you would have otherwise spent travelling. You can study at any time, anywhere. Find yourself bored in class? Prepare for the GRE online. Slow day at work? Learn those GRE words online. In a cab on your way back home? Practice those pesky sums online.

2. Learning – The Personalized Way

No two people taking the GRE (or any exam for that matter) have the same level of preparedness. Your strengths and weaknesses will vary vastly from mine.

For instance, I might find Permutations & Combinations easy to deal with while you might struggle with it.

Let’s think about how this might be dealt with in a classroom environment where there would be about 30 other students, each with their own specific needs and just one tutor to cater to their varying needs.

It goes without saying, it simply wouldn’t be possible for one tutor to address everybody’s needs. Sure, if they took three days per topic, they might be able to ensure everybody is on the same page. But what if you were comfortable with the topic and were looking to move forward to the next? You can’t.

You’d be held back. This, in our opinion, is one of the biggest drawbacks of classroom-based coaching. It isn’t tailored or personalized to your strengths and weaknesses.

Online courses however offer that flexibility, and your course can be tailored to ensure you spend more time on areas you’re weak in and less on those you’re comfortable with.

At Galvanize, for instance, we design custom study-plans for every student. These study plans take into consideration their strengths, weaknesses, time available to them and of course, their target score. We then give the student a study plan that will help turn their weaknesses into strengths within the time limit they have set for themselves! Sound too good to be true? You best believe it’s true!

3. Support and Assistance – Personalized

A lot of people think one of the biggest advantages of a classroom-based course is that you can trust that should you have a query or a doubt, you can simply raise your hand and get it cleared – and they’re right!

But those same people make the mistake of thinking you can’t do this with an online prep course! Several online courses offer personalised assistance as well! What does this mean? In short, you have access to a teacher/expert/mentor just as you would in a classroom. AND unlike in a classroom, this expert coach is your own personal coach. Sounds good, doesn’t it?

Not only do you get the same benefit of doubt-clearance but this tutor is yours and yours alone. AND you don’t have to worry about being made fun of for asking ‘silly questions’ – only you and your tutor will be able to see your questions!

4. Accuracy of your Assessments

When you’re competing with 30 other students for your tutors attention, it can be hard for them to figure out your unique needs. This is not the case with online GRE prep courses.

With an online course, technology steps in to save the day! How? They rely on adaptive technologies and algorithms that adapt to your performance, and help you target your weaknesses while strengthening what you already know.

As a result, your course is constantly evolving with you to ensure you’re consistently progressing.

5. [Most Important] Being Cost-Effective

There’s no way (or need) to sugar coat this – classroom GRE prep courses can be quite draining on the wallet. They can range in price anywhere between $400 to  $5000 depending on where you live or the course you choose. You may think this is a cost worth incurring because it helps get you where you want to be i.e. a good university but you forget you’ll incur several additional costs after your tests!

The application process on it’s own is not cheap. You’ll want to save as much as you can for where it really matters. An online GRE prep course will give you the same results (if not better) for half the price! How is that not a good enough reason to make the switch?

6. Content – Fresh and Unique

Most classroom based courses have difficulty changing their material – their lessons and questions. Online courses however, are freed from that constraint. Technology has made it so as soon as any updates need to be made, an online course is able to implement that change immediately.

Lessons. Questions. Strategies. The GRE is as much a test of skill as it is knowledge. Why would you rely on outdated data?

7. Constant Motivation

When you think of online courses, you might worry that there’s no ‘human’ on the other end. That can seem a little daunting. But it’s also not factual. Most online GRE courses will put you in touch with someone to monitor your progress, motivate you when needed and ensure you’re not straying.

That’s what we do at Galvanize at any rate. We assign each student a Course Manager who’s role it is to ensure you’re on track towards getting your target score AND to assist you in any way when you need it. We know how important it can be to have a human to talk to sometimes.

8. Real Test-like Environment

The GRE is a computer-adaptive test. This is not news to anyone but you’d be surprised just how many people underestimate how hard it can be to take a test on a computer for over 3 hours.

It’s something you need to get used to. You need to practice getting comfortable taking a nearly 4 hour long test on a computer without losing concentration or stamina.

An online GRE prep course is the best way to build this comfort.

9. Track your Performance Regularly

At a classroom course, if you take a test, you’ll know the results only the next day – best case scenario. Not only do you have to wait a day but you probably won’t get a detailed analysis of your performance – at best, you’ll be told where you lost points.

But more that where you lost points, it’s important to know why. It’s even more important to know how you can keep from making this mistake in the future.

Most online GRE prep courses are continuously monitoring your progress – noting how you perform in each test and recording a detailed analysis. This is important because if at any time you want to check to see how you’ve progressed, it’s crucial for this data to be stored and for you to have easy access to it.

At Galvanize, after each mock test, our subject experts will give you detailed feedback in the form of ‘Personalised Feedback Reports’. This will contain in-depth insights into your performance as well as steps you an take to better yourself. Best of all, these reports are yours to keep and refer back to anytime.

Of course, like with any other major decision, you should think about what will work best for you. Online GRE coaching is fast growing in popularity for the reasons mentioned above – take them into consideration when making your decision. At the end of the day, preparing for the GRE, whether online or offline will require the same levels of dedication and grit. An online GRE course will perhaps just make the journey easier for you.

Bonus GRE Resources

How to prep for the GRE if you’re weak in Math

Tackling Sentence Equivalence & Text Completion Questions

Prioritizing the Question Types on the GRE Verbal

now it's your turn

I'd like to hear from you

There you have it— an elaborate intro on the GRE.

Are you going to work on your GRE right away?

Or maybe you’re ready to take our Free GRE Sample Test.

Either way, leave a comment below right now.

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