“How long is the GRE?” - it’s about to get a lot shorter. Educational Testing Service (ETS), the organization that administers the test, is removing one GRE section entirely, and reducing the number of questions in the remaining sections. These changes will shorten the test by half – meaning it will now take only two hours, instead of four. This move follows other changes in admissions testing. The number of colleges that do not require the SAT or ACT has increased dramatically. Universities in Canada and colleges in the US have all modified their GRE requirements, but if you still need or want to take the GRE, this article will break down the current length of the test, what the new changes will mean for your GRE test prep, and how to stay cool under pressure.

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Article Contents
11 min read

How Long is the GRE: How Many GRE Sections Are There? How Many Questions Are in Each GRE Section? What Will Change About the GRE Test Why is the GRE Changing? How Long is the GRE? Preparing for Test Day How Long is the GRE? Strategies for Test Day Conclusion FAQs

How Long is the GRE: How Many GRE Sections Are There?

The Graduate Record Examinations (GRE) covers three specific areas with its three distinct GRE sections:

  • Verbal Reasoning
  • Quantitative Reasoning
  • Analytical Writing

Wondering if you should go to grad school? Watch this video:

Each section tests something different, but the three main academic areas that the GRE tries to test are your:

  • Vocabulary, comprehension, and analytical skills (VR)
  • Problem-solving, calculation, algebraic and geometry skills (QR)
  • Writing, critical-thinking, and analytical skills (AW)

Within the three sections are sub-sections, which you typically had between 30-35 minutes to complete. So, the entire length and structure of the current GRE looks like this:

While this is not as long as taking the MCAT, which usually lasts eight hours, the length of the GRE was one of the many grievances (legitimate grievances, if you ask us) that students had about the test. Especially since there are two unscored sections that you have to complete, which is similar to what is on the LSAT, even though these sections have no bearing on your scores or performance.

Fortunately, these two unscored sections will also be cut in the new, shorter version of the test. Now, we’ll go through how many questions each of the GRE sections has and explore ways you can use your time wisely when taking the test.

How Many Questions Are in Each GRE Section?

The current breakdown of the number of questions for each GRE section looks like this:

  • Verbal Reasoning – 20 questions each section
  • Quantitative Reasoning – 20 question each section

The Analytical Writing section does not use typical, multiple-choice questions, like the other sections. Rather, you had to complete two different tasks: a written essay and a summary of a written passage. However, these two tasks are also timed, giving you30 minutes to complete each. One of these tasks – Analyze an Argument, the written summary – will be removed from all future GRE tests.

What Will Change About the GRE Test

The “new” GRE test will look a little different than the current version. The things about the current GRE being removed are:

  • The Analyze an Argument Section
  • One section each from Verbal and Quantitative Reasoning
  • The ten-minute break
  • The two unscored sections (experimental and research)

With all these sections removed, the new length of the test is around two hours (1 hour, 58 minutes, to be exact). Even though the length of the GRE is changing, the subject matter will stay the same. You’ll still have to study, prepare mentally and physically, and learn strategies to make sure you get a high GRE score the first time around.

But the essential change affecting you and all future test-takes is that the test will now take less time. What this means for how to study for the GRE and your overall graduate school application timeline is up to you. You can now maybe dedicate less time to prepare, if you feel comfortable with the subject matter of the various sections. You could also dedicate more time to preparing other elements of your application, such as your graduate school statement of purpose, research proposal, or PhD motivation letter.

Why is the GRE Changing?

The GRE has lost a lot of support over the years. In the last four years, the number of people taking the test has dropped by 50%. The catalyst of this drop has been a growing resentment of the test among many people, mostly those who viewed the test as an obstacle for how to get into grad school. Preparing properly for the GRE takes a lot of time and money, which is something only the most privileged students could afford. This meant they were usually better-prepared than other, less well-off students who could not afford premium prep resources, or simply did not have the time to prepare. When several scientific studies emerged proving these claims, it was the death knell for the GRE.

Harvard University, Yale University and Cornell University and many other Ivy League colleges and top colleges in the US have all either made the GRE optional or eliminated it altogether, although a minority of programs still require it. Shortening the test is an effort by ETS to maintain the relevance of the GRE in graduate school admission. Whether it will have the desired effect is anyone’s guess.

How Long is the GRE? Preparing for Test Day

Take a Diagnostic Test

One of the first things to do to prepare for the GRE, and the new GRE, is to take a diagnostic test. ETS has not yet released updated practice tests, but you can still take the longer practice test and either skip over the unscored or scored sections or complete the full test. You can also alternate between timed and untimed or half-timed sections to build up your skills in separate areas.

Build Your Stamina with Timed and Untimed Tests

Untimed tests will be best to focus on understanding and answering the questions. However, timed tests are important to help you get into the headspace of what the actual GRE test will feel like and to increase your stamina. Even though the test is being shortened by two hours, it still might be difficult for you to sit for two hours in such a stressful situation. Taking a timed test will help you get accustomed to the physical demands of having to stay in one place.

It’s something that you have to be familiar and comfortable with so you don’t freeze and get anxious when you have to be calm, cool and collected. Doing timed tests will also help you create a mini timetable for how long you should spend on each question so you don’t leave any blank. But, again, if you feel like some of the GRE sections will be easier for you, you can practice more in the section(s) that are more difficult for you.

Create a Study Schedule

The GRE is not the only thing you have to prepare for in the lead-up to applying to grad school. There are a lot of things you have to cover in a little over a year, as most graduate programs start in either the Fall or Winter, although some begin in the summer. The application deadline of your particular program should be the basis for creating your study schedule.

You can work backward from that and decide when would be the best time to take the GRE, and even retake it, if you have to. You should give yourself at least a three-month cushion between your GRE test date, and when you have to submit your application.

So, if you apply for the Fall term, when applications usually close in December, you should take the GRE in September. This way, if you have to take the test again, you have a little over a month to study and take it again. You have to observe a 21-day waiting period before you take the test again, which you can use to study and even use a GRE tutor or GRE prep course if you had a hard time the first time around. A GRE tutor can help you with personalized advice based on your strengths, weaknesses and individual study style.

Read and Practice with Sample Questions and Answers

Familiarizing yourself with all of the question types within the GRE will lessen the shock and anxiety of seeing them during the actual test. The more you read, the more you’ll be comfortable with how they are structured and what they are asking. You should focus on the questions from the section that is most difficult for you and spend less time on the sections that’ll be easier for you. It’s important to know that even though you should pay attention to each section, if you are more comfortable or familiar with the subject matter of the section, focus more on the others when studying. This will take a load off your shoulders, and also shorten your overall study time.

Use GRE Test Prep Resources

The amount of GRE prep courses out there should give you everything you need to prepare for the GRE. You can study on your own to practice the questions, but even something like reading texts from various sources, such as academic journals, trade journals, research papers, and long-form investigative articles also count as GRE prep resources, given all the reading and comprehension you’ll have to do on the test. You can also hire a GRE tutor to give you more personalized advice to either answer the questions more quickly, and strategies that you can use to focus on the test and calm your nerves.

How Long is the GRE? Strategies for Test Day

Analytical Writing

Here you have only 30 minutes to write a well-written, coherent essay about a topic that you might know nothing about. But that’s OK, because there are ways you can prepare that will shorten how long you spend reading the passages, interpreting them, and writing your response. What, and how you write is what’s most important for both tasks; the length does not matter.

Analyze an Argument

The Analyze an Argument task (farewell to you) is a read-and-interpret exercise where you have to write a summary outlining whatever it is the question asks you about the passage. But the main point of the section is to get you to take apart the passage’s argument and find and explain why the passage is flawed. Where in the previous section you had to create and defend your argument, in AanA you have to criticize and counter a viewpoint.

What you Should Do

One of the best and easiest ways to approach this section is to incorporate the flawed ideas and positions of the paragraph into your essay, so you can keep them in mind while you are writing. You can insert specific words, or entire sentences in quotations and then take them apart. You will only have 30 minutes so you don’t have to point out ALL of the argument’s flaws so pick two or three that you can elaborate on in your text.

Analyze an Issue

Analyze an Issue is where you take a position based on the prompt given. It will be a short, sometimes controversial prompt, which makes it easier to take the position, but what’s important is:

  • How you organize your essay (intro, thesis, 2 supporting paragraphs, conclusion)
  • You explore as many different viewpoints in your essay
  • You take a clear position and present valid points
  • You write with the right amount of clarity and flair

What You Should Do

Your writing style is as important as the position you take, the latter of which is the easiest part of the section. It’s crucial that you write with precision and transition between your arguments and paragraphs seamlessly, which will only strengthen your overall argument and get the reader on your side. You should use the same transition verbs that are used in scholarly articles and academic essays, including, “furthermore”, “additionally”, “yet” and more that illustrate your depth of language.

Verbal Reasoning

The Verbal Reasoning section might be the one you spend the least amount of time on, depending on your strengths. The section has three sub-sections with a total of 20 questions divided among them. The question formats for each section will give you either a:

  • Text that needs to be completed (has more than one answer)
  • Sentence that needs to be completed (has one answer)
  • Passage that needs to be analyzed (one answer)

What’s important in this section is to analyze particular words and phrases that will clue you in on what the main thesis of the text, sentence, or short passage is, which will help you understand it faster. Uncovering the thesis will also make all the other elements come into focus, such as opposing viewpoints, evidence, and what assumptions you can make.

Look for:

  • Transition verbs - “despite”, “because of”, “although”, “moreover”, “however”
  • Positive or negative adjectives that will give away the author’s opinion and what they are trying to argue or criticize
  • Read all the answers thoroughly and compare and contrast them so you can find which answers apply to the text and question and which do not
  • In the Sentence Equivalence section, you have to look at every word, as even within a single sentence, you’ll find different viewpoints or modifiers that will make it hard to complete the sentence
  • Make logical leaps; this means you have to imagine what might or might not be true based on what is written, but also what is implied, to find the correct answer


  • Don’t pay attention to jargon, and spend time trying to understand esoteric words that usually have nothing to do with what the author is saying or what the question is asking
  • Don’t be thrown off by the changing subject matter; it’s natural and to be expected
  • Don’t constantly read and re-read; ideally you should read the sentence or text once or twice, read the questions and then the answers and only focus on which answer makes the most sense

Quantitative Reasoning

There are different question formats for each section, but the Quantitative Reasoning section has the most variety, as it has four unique question types:

  • Multiple-choice/w single answer
  • Multiple-choice/w multiple answers
  • Quantitative comparison questions
  • Data interpretation/numeric entry questions

All these different question types and the subject matter of the QR section is what usually caused the most stress among students who haven’t used math in a long time. It is also the most stressful because you have to be mathematical in answering the questions, meaning you have to take apart a word problem, convert them (maybe) into numbers to plug into a formula, and find numeric answers for questions; all while the clock is ticking.

What You Should Do

Preparing for this section is hard because you won’t have time to re-learn everything about algebra or geometry. Instead, you should focus on reading and understanding different formulas and how the separate variables and coefficients relate to each other, so you don’t spend time trying to do it during the test. A lot of the quantitative comparison or problem-solving questions will either be:

  • Word problems
  • Quantity questions expressed in formulas

So, for some questions you will not have to do any math at all, but understand, through process of elimination, deduction or logic which answer is correct. You can practice for these types of question by reviewing sample questions and getting used to the wording and phrasing, or how to read algebraic formulations so they become clearer to you as you progress. As with any of the other sections, the faster you are able to comprehend what the question is asking the faster you’ll be, in general.


“How long is the GRE?” is a question that has a new answer. The GRE that you might take will be much shorter than the one we explored in this article, but the strategies and advice will still be relevant. Even though the test is shorter, the GRE will still use adaptive technology that makes each subsequent section more difficult according to your performance on the previous section, so you have to be able to use your time wisely and adapt just as the GRE adapts.


1. How long is the GRE?

The “old” GRE test took up to four hours to complete, but the “new” GRE test is shorter by half, as some sections have been removed, and the number of questions has been reduced.

2. Why is the GRE shorter?

ETS, the organization that writes and oversees the GRE, has shortened the test to make it more palatable to students and graduate schools, particularly the latter who have started to eschew the test and remove it from its graduate school admission requirements.

3. How can I prepare for the GRE?

You should prepare for the GRE by taking practice tests, reading and breaking down the question types, reading as much material from various sources (even newspapers, magazine articles, editorials), creating a study schedule, and learning as many strategies and tips to use your time effectively.

4. Do I need to take the GRE?

Whether you need to take the GRE depends on what you need it for, and whether the program you want to enter requires it. Should you take the GRE instead of the LSAT or GMAT to get into law schools and MBA programs, you can still also use them to get into graduate programs, as your scores are valid for five years. But if you do not want to invest the time and resources into preparing for the test and want to start grad school as soon as possible, you can choose a program that does not require it.

5. What is a good GRE score?

The score ranges for each of the three GRE sections are different, so the VR and QR sections have a score range between 130-170, while the AW section is scored between 0-6. The best possible score for the VR and QR sections is between 165-170, while an average score will be somewhere between 155-160. The best possible score for AW is 6, but anywhere between 4.0 and 5.5 is quite exceptional; average would be anywhere between 3.0 and 4.0.

6. Will the GRE be scored differently?

No, the GRE score scale will not change; the score ranges will also stay the same.

7. Is the GRE hard?

How hard is the GRE? The GRE is generally regarded as harder than the SAT or ACT, but not as hard as the LSAT and MCAT. The GRE tests skills you may already have as a university graduate, but the LSAT and MCAT require you to learn and internalize completely new skills, which is what makes them more difficult.

8. Is the GRE worth it?

Having (good) GRE scores will certainly help your application for a program that makes it optional. But with so many top-rated, high-quality graduate school programs dropping it, you have to ask yourself whether you want to put in the time and money and deal with the added stress of a preparing, worrying, and thinking about the test when you don’t have to.

To your success,

Your friends at BeMo

BeMo Academic Consulting

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