Taking the GRE may be a necessary step in order to get into grad school, depending on which program you’ve got your sights set on and its requirements; but, you may be wondering, what is on the GRE? Along with crafting a study schedule, you’ll need to understand what types of questions are on the GRE and how you can best prepare to tackle the test!

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What is on the GRE? General Overview of the GRE The GRE Question Types and Preparation Conclusion FAQs

What is on the GRE?

Embarking on graduate education is a journey marked by dedication and intellectual growth. It’s also a journey that requires ample preparation, and that includes, but isn’t limited to, studying for tests like the Graduate Record Examination (otherwise known as the GRE).

The GRE is a test that serves as a gateway to numerous graduate and business school programs. Whether you’re looking to apply to one of many American law schools that accept the GRE, wanting to pursue a Master’s degree in Canada, or actively weighing any options in between, knowing how to study for the GRE is vital knowledge to have. But, before you can review a GRE study guide and set a study schedule, you’ll want ensure you first have a thorough understanding of the GRE’s content.

This blog is a comprehensive guide that should provide some clarity as to what is on the GRE; offering in-depth insights into its structure, content, and the types of questions you will encounter.

Understanding these elements is crucial for effective preparation and success. Here, we'll provide you with the tools and knowledge needed to navigate the GRE confidently, transforming what might seem like an intimidating hurdle into a manageable and even rewarding part of your educational journey.

General Overview of the GRE

The GRE is more than just a test; it's a comprehensive assessment tool designed to measure a wide array of skills deemed essential for success in graduate-level education. This standardized test evaluates three critical areas: verbal reasoning, quantitative reasoning, and analytical writing. There is also an ‘experimental’ unscored component of the GRE (which we’ll explain, too).

Each of the test sections is meticulously crafted to gauge specific skill sets:

  1. Verbal Reasoning: This section tests your ability to analyze and draw conclusions from written material, reason from incomplete data, and understand the meanings of words, sentences, and entire texts.
  2. Quantitative Reasoning: Here, your basic mathematical skills are put to the test, along with your understanding of elementary mathematical concepts. This section also assesses your ability to reason quantitatively and to solve problems within a quantitative context (and, don’t worry, you can use a calculator if needed).
  3. Analytical Writing: This section challenges your critical thinking and writing skills. It requires you to articulate complex ideas clearly and effectively, a key skill in any graduate program.

As you embark on your GRE preparation journey, it's important to remember that this test is not just about recalling what you know; it's about demonstrating how effectively you can apply your knowledge and reasoning skills in different scenarios.

Test Sections Breakdown

Delving deeper into each section of the GRE reveals the diverse range of abilities and thinking styles that the test evaluates:

What is the Experimental Section of the GRE?

The experimental section can be either an extra Verbal or Quantitative section and is used by the test makers (ETS) to trial new questions. This section does not count towards your final score. However, it's indistinguishable from the scored sections, so test-takers need to treat all sections with equal seriousness.

At this point, you’ve probably wondered, ‘how hard is the GRE?’ and our answer is: it’s tough! Having unscored questions can be additional pressure on some due to the fact that ever question (whether scored or not) must be tackled with equal attention and skill. But, great preparation in the months leading up to your GRE test date can help you navigate the test with confidence.

You might also be wondering what the purpose of the experimental section is, and what you can expect. Those are excellent questions! Here’s what you need to know about its purpose:

  • Test Development: The primary purpose of this section is for ETS to evaluate new questions for future use. They assess the difficulty level and quality of these questions based on how test-takers respond to them.
  • Maintaining Test Standards: This process helps ensure that the GRE remains a reliable and valid measure of the skills it's designed to test.

And, here is what you will encounter:

  • Similar Format: The experimental section will mimic either a Verbal or Quantitative section in format and types of questions.
  • Variety of Questions: Just like the scored sections, it may contain a mix of question types - for Verbal, this could be reading comprehension, text completion, and sentence equivalence; for Quantitative, it could be problem-solving and data interpretation questions.
  • Placement in the Test: This section can appear at any point after the Analytical Writing section. There's no way to tell which section is experimental during the test, so, don’t stress!

Focusing on preparing for the GRE sections -- verbal reasoning, quantitative reasoning, and analytical writing – is most critical! Knowing that certain, random questions may be experimental/unscored isn’t mean to be a daunting reality for students. Rather, it can help ensure you’re putting equal effort and time into all portions of the test and questions. It can also help reduce stress; if you encounter an unusually difficult question on the test, there’s a 50/50 chance it may be an unscored question! So, we recommend putting in an equally strong effort for all questions on the GRE.

The GRE Question Types and Preparation

Understanding the various question types on the GRE is crucial for effective preparation. It’s not just about knowing the right answers, but also understanding the best approaches to tackle each type of question.

Unique Question Formats

The GRE includes some unique question formats that you need to be familiar with:

  • Numeric Entry Questions: In these questions, you’ll have to provide your own answer rather than choosing from given options. This format tests your ability to arrive at an exact answer without relying on multiple-choice cues.
  • Multiple-choice Questions with Multiple Answers: Here, you might be asked to select more than one correct answer. This format requires careful reading and analysis to ensure that all correct options are identified.

Preparing for the GRE – Beyond Content Review

While a thorough understanding of the content is vital, mastering the different question types and test-taking strategies is equally important. To put it simply, GRE test prep is imperative!

When should you start to prepare for the GRE? Well, we recommend a MINIMUM of 3 months…ideally, you’ll give yourself 6 months. Practicing and preparing for any test is crucial, but for graduate school admissions tests like the GMAT and the GRE, allowing yourself to have several months to create a study schedule and adhere to it is best.

Practice and Strategy

Regular practice with mock tests and sample questions is crucial for success in the GRE. It familiarizes you with the test format, helps in time management, and reduces test-day anxiety. Here are some strategies for effective GRE preparation:

  1. Understand the Test Format: Familiarize yourself with the test structure, question types, and timing early on in your studying endeavour. This knowledge will help you manage your time effectively during the test, as well as during the following preparation stages…
  2. Develop a Study Plan: Create a realistic study plan that allocates time for each section of the GRE. Ensure you spend extra time on areas where you need the most improvement.
  3. Practice Regularly: Consistently completing GRE practice questions is key! Use official GRE preparation materials to get a sense of the real test, and if you’re struggling, don’t be afraid to get a GRE tutor who can help you tackle questions with confidence.
  4. Analyze Your Performance: After each practice test, spend time analyzing your answers. Identify your strengths and areas for improvement. Practice makes perfect, and you should study and practice until you’re able to achieve your desired score on any mock tests and materials!
  5. Seek Feedback: If possible, get feedback on your practice essays and work on the suggestions to improve your writing skills. (A GRE tutor may be helpful at this stage as well).

Additional Test Information

Knowing the GRE’s scoring system, what to expect on test day, and the guidelines for retaking the GRE can give you an extra edge in your preparation.

Scoring System

The Verbal and Quantitative sections are scored on a scale of 130-170, while the Analytical Writing section is scored on a scale of 0-6. Understanding how the scoring works can help you set realistic score goals. What is a good GRE score? Well, it can vary (and the sections are scored differently). Here is a general range of what a ‘good’ score looks like:

  •  Verbal Reasoning: 150-155
  • Quantitative Reasoning: 153-157
  • Analytical Writing: 3.6-4.0

Test Day Expectations

Familiarize yourself with the test center rules, what to bring, and the overall test-day procedures to reduce stress. Knowing your GRE test date well ahead of time and researching where you’ll be taking your test can help you have a seamless test day experience. If you’re taking an online test, you’ll likely have to understand how to use ProctorU and ensure you have a reliable internet connection and quiet environment to take your GRE!

Retaking the GRE

Know the policies for retaking the GRE. Understanding these guidelines can assist in planning your test-taking strategy, especially if you aim to improve your scores. You can retake the GRE after a 21-day waiting period, up to five times within any continuous rolling 12-month period. This allows you to attempt improving your score if needed.


A thorough understanding of the GRE’s format, content, and question types is indispensable for effective preparation. It’s a unique type of test, and a requirement for many graduate programs!

 Remember, the GRE is not just a test of knowledge, but a test of how you apply that knowledge under timed conditions! If you’re struggling with the GRE, you may wish to consider speaking with a tutor, or, a graduate admissions consultant if there are other components of your application that are troubling you. There are graduate programs that don’t require the GRE, but, because many do, thousands of applicants write the test successfully each year. With the right approach, diligent study, and an understanding of the test’s nuances, you can navigate this important examination successfully.


1. How long should I prepare for the GRE?

Ideally, give yourself 3-6 months of dedicated study time.

2. Can I use a calculator on the GRE?

Yes, a basic on-screen calculator is available for use in the Quantitative Reasoning section.

3. Is the GRE test adaptive?

The computer-based GRE is section-level adaptive, meaning the difficulty of the second section is based on your performance in the first.

4. How often is the GRE offered?

The GRE is offered year-round at test centers and virtually as well.

5. What is a good GRE score?

A 'good' score depends on the admission requirements of the programs you are applying to, but scores above the 50th percentile are generally considered competitive. Here is a general range of what a ‘good’ score looks like:

  •  Verbal Reasoning: 150-155
  • Quantitative Reasoning: 153-157
  • Analytical Writing: 3.6-4.0
6. What types of questions are included in the Analytical Writing section of the GRE?

The Analytical Writing section consists of two tasks: "Analyze an Issue" and "Analyze an Argument." The first requires you to write about your perspective on a given issue, while the second asks you to evaluate the logical soundness of an argument presented.

7. Can I skip questions or sections on the GRE?

Yes, within each section, you can skip questions and return to them later. However, once you complete a section and move on, you cannot go back to it.

8. How is the GRE scored if I leave questions unanswered?

The GRE is scored based on the number of correct responses, with no penalty for incorrect answers. Therefore, it's beneficial to answer every question, even if you have to guess.

9. Can I retake the GRE if I'm not satisfied with my score?

Yes, you can retake the GRE after a 21-day waiting period, up to five times within any continuous rolling 12-month period. This allows you to attempt improving your score if needed.

To your success,

Your friends at BeMo

BeMo Academic Consulting

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