What is the GRE Test?

What is the GRE Test?

Many undergraduate students who study fields like international relations, political science, and international studies may be thinking about continuing their education onto graduate school. For some, they may want to earn a policy degree that will allow them to work more directly on issues of international development, diplomacy, for a government, etc… For others, they are interested in a career in academia.

Either way, one thing that both career paths have in common is that for the vast majority of schools, in order to get into their graduate programs in international relations, or the graduate programs in international affairs (or many other fields within the social sciences), you will need to take the GRE exam.

Given the importance of this test, you may be asking yourself: What is the GRE Test?

In this article, we will break down what exactly is the GRE Test. We will talk about the reason that the GRE Exam is offered, when the GRE Test can be taken, how schools will receive your GRE scores, the cost of the GRE examination, among many other questions.

The GRE Exam

The GRE Exam is the General Records Examinations and is a test for students who are wishing to be accepted to graduate school. The GRE exam was developed by the Educational Testing Services, and measures a student’s analytical writing, their quantitative skills, as well as their verbal reasoning skills.

There are two GRE Exams, which are The General Test, as well as the Subjects Test.

The GRE Exam differs from other graduate exams such as the LSAT (which is used for students looking to enter into law school), the GMAT (used for entrance in business graduate schools), the PCAT (for entrance in graduate programs in pharmacy), and the MCAT (for medical school) (although schools such as business programs could also use the GRE for acceptance)

As you see, the GRE is an exam similar to many others exams, and is used as one measure for acceptance into graduate schools.

It is important to note that the GRE exam is not the only factor that admissions committees use when deciding on who to accept into their programs. However, in most cases, the GRE exam scores are a very important part of a person’s application to graduate programs.

The GRE Revised General Test

Along with the main GRE Exam, ETS has also developed what is the Revised General Test. As ETS explains, “

With the GRE revised General Test, you decide which scores to send to schools. If you feel you didn’t do your best on test day, that’s okay. You can retake the test and then send only the scores you want schools to see. It’s all part of theScoreSelect® option, only available with GRE tests.

Plus, the GRE revised General Test is the only admissions test for graduate or business school that lets you skip questions within a section, go back and change answers, and have control to tackle the questions within a section you want to answer first” (ETS).

While the Revised GRE test is not accepted by all schools, there are some schools that do accept this test.

Score Select Option

One of the options when taking the GRE exam is what is referred to as the “Score Select” Option. Here is  the explanation from the ETS on what exactly is the Score Select Option, and also how it works with regards to the GRE exam: The Select Score Option

“means you can take a GRE test once now, or again in the future, and only send the GRE test scores from whichever test date(s) you want schools to see. Best of all, you always have five years to decide. Here’s how it works:

On test day, when viewing your scores at the test center*, you can choose not to send your scores at this time OR you can select either option below for each of your four FREE score reports:

  • Most Recent option — Send your scores from your current test administration.
  • All option — Send your scores from all General Test administrations in the last five years.

After test day, you can send additional score reports for a fee and select from these options for each report you’d like to send:

  • Most Recent option — Send your scores from your most recent test administration.
  • All option — Send your scores from all test administrations in the last five years.
  • Any option — Send your scores from one OR as many test administrations as you like from the last five years.

No matter which option you choose:

  • You will select by specific test dates, so your scores are all from the same testing session.
  • The schools you designate will only see the scores that you selected to send them. There will be no special indication if you have taken additional GRE tests.”

How Often Can I Take the GRE?

A person can take the GRE every 21 days (ETS).

GRE Prep Programs

GRE Prep Programs are often classes offered by a company to help students prepare for the GRE test. These programs vary in cost, in size, and are offered at a variety of locations around the United States and abroad.

One of the more frequently asked questions with regards to the GRE Test has to do with whether taking a GRE prep course is necessary to prepare someone for the exam. The short answer to this question is that there is no one, right answer to this question.

I believe that every student knows her/himself how they can best study and prepare for exams such as the GRE Test. For example, some students feel that they need the structure of a classroom, or individual private tutoring in order to do their best on the GRE exam. For others, they might feel that they can do as well by buying the GRE books and studying on their own, or with a group of friends who are preparing for the same exam.

I think that taking a GRE Prep program can have great benefits for someone looking to take the GRE exam.

However, in my opinion, a primary reason why a student might think about taking the GRE prep courses is because of the cost. GRE prepatory courses can be very expensive for students, and thus, they may have to seriously weight the costs of the program with the benefits that they may believe they can receive from the test.

To offset the costs of these programs, GRE companies have been known to offer money back guarantees in the case that the student does not score better on the GRE test than what they scored during the first time they took the GRE exam in the prep program. Now, it is important to note that while this increase in score could be attributed to the education received in the GRE class, it could also be because of the overall increase in the hours of study that one is putting into the exam preparation.

However, taking a course with experts on the GRE is not a bad idea. I think it can be quite helpful for students looking to study for the exam. But what I would recommend is to shop around and compare not only the prices for the GRE prep courses, but also examine who offers the courses, how long are the classes, what methods and approaches do they take, how much one-on-one tutoring may be available, etc…

If you are going to pay for such a program, you will want to make sure that you find one you believe will best fit your learning style.

GRE Prep Materials

There are a number of GRE prep materials that are being sold on the market. I have listed some of the materials below. Again, I would recommend that you carefully review these different materials and options, considering other reviews, the price of the products, as well as the value that you feel the GRE products offer you.

GRE Books: There are hundreds of different GRE books on the market today. While there are many different companies and brands out there looking to sell their products, there are a number of similarities in the products. With regards to the books, the products tend to offer a description of the exam, as well as many tips on taking the GRE test, as well as practice exams (with the answers included so that those preparing for the test can look to see how they scored).

Some of the examples of GRE Test prep materials include practice tests, practice math problems, GRE vocabulary flash cards, as well as

A search in Amazon will bring up hundreds of different GRE Prep materials.

Given the amount of resources available (both free and paid resources), I would recommend first finding sources that are free, given the amount of information and advice online for the GRE test. If you are going to purchase GRE prep materials, I would recommend reading reviews on the products, as well as setting up a plan to figure out what you believe you need, and then find the necessary materials. You want to make sure that you do not purchase multiple products with overlapping information, since you don’t want to be paying large amounts of money for multiple products that are telling you the same exact facts.

Tips for the GRE Exam

One of the other great things about the Internet today is just how much free advice is available. For example, there are a number of articles on GRE tips. We have put together just some of the advice offered on the GRE exam below.

The US News has an article entitled Test Prep: 6 Tips for GRE Success. In the article, they list the following pieces of advise as students prepare for the GRE test.

  1. Re-examine high school math such as Algebra and Geometry.
  2. Continue learning words: There is a great deal of vocabulary on the GRE, and thus, continuing to learn more words is a great strategy while preparing for the GRE test. (Others, such as Manhattan Prep, also speak about the importance of vocabulary. They argue that it is not enough to just learn vocabulary; one must learn it within context (Manhattan Prep). It is necessary to ensure that those preparing for the GRE exam truly understand how the words are used, and how they differ from other, yet similar words (Manhattan Prep)).
  3. Take a GRE course (again, they argue doing so if one has the economic means to do so) (see our discussion above).
  4. The importance of GRE Practice Tests: While it is very important to continuing studying for the GRE exam, it is also important that one familiarized themselves with the GRE test format. Practice tests are a great way to become more familiar with the structure of the exam (Others agree, and argue that students have to treat these tests very seriously (Manhattan Prep). It is important to try to take the tests in a timed fashion, aiming to create test like conditions to the best extent possible. This will not only give the student experience with what the test will feel like, but it could also help them in terms of feeling more confident given that that have went through a process similar to what they will go through on the day of the GRE exam).
  5. Consider re-taking the exam: The question about retaking the exam is one of the most discussed questions about the GRE, but they argue that there are times when schools may only see (or care) about the most recent test score (see above for our conversation about whether one should retake the GRE exam).
  6. Lastly, they recommend taking an English courses to help prepare students for the verbal parts of the exam.

Here are some other pieces of advice when preparing for the GRE exam.

Manhattan Prep recommends that one of the first things you should do in your GRE test preparation is to begin the study process early. If you have not had a math course in a number of years, it might take you longer to become versed in the math being asked on the GRE. Or, if you know math well, but have not studied the social sciences, or vocabulary in a while, you will similarly want to leave time to learn this material Therefore, allow yourself more than enough time to learn, re-learn, and/or become comfortable with every part of the GRE exam. This is very important.

One mistake that I believe many could make is thinking that they only need weeks or a month to prepare for the GRE exam. The test deserves much more attention. Therefore, think about the test months (and even a year) out. Take time every day to study for the GRE. Given other school and work obligations, it might not be realistic to be spending 8 hours a day for one year studying. However, you could set aside 30 minutes a day practicing math problems, or learning new vocabulary. Over time, could significantly build your knowledge base. Then, come exam time, you will have put in many hours of work, and can then be very prepared to take the exam and to hopefully score well.

Last Minute GRE Tips

As we have discussed, it is ideal that a student will spend months preparing for the GRE exam. However, there are additional tips as a student approaches the exam. For example,

Again, scholars, practioners, and students alike can agree or disagree on advice given when one is preparing the GRE test. What is important is to find what works for you. Attempt to set up conditions that make it easier for you to prepare for the exam. Find tips that work for you, and work hard in your studying.

Kevin Rocci of Magoosh says that there are certain things that could be done within one week of the GRE exam date. He says:

Keep the intensity high and continue to study. No need to change anything at this point. If you are unsure what to do in your final week, here are some suggestions:

  • Take a practice test 5 – 7 days before the actual exam so that you can practice your pacing and build up your stamina for the long test ahead. Make sure to include all the essays and an experimental section too.
  • Review your notes, especially problems and concepts that you have struggled with. It’s important to have everything you’ve learned fresh in your mind on test day.
  • Any practice you do at this point should be timed.
  • Work on your weaknesses as much as you can.

This is important advice. A week before the exam, continue to do what one has been doing during the months prior. Take practice exams. Again, try to simulate test-like conditions. In addition, keep studying. While learning new vocabulary is still important, make sure that you are comfortable using the words that you have already learned/know.

Then, on the day before the exam, Rocci argues that you should just relax. It is important to not stress out, and to understand that you have prepared to the best of your ability.

Others have offered additional advice on what to do the day before the GRE. For example, CrunchPrep, while agreeing that you should not study for the GRE Exam the day before the exam, there are other things that you can and should do. They recommend making a list of universities that you are interested in. This is important because you “Before you finish your test, you will be asked to choose four universities to which you can send your test scores for free. The computer shows you a list of universities along with the respective countries and states.”

In addition, the also recommend that you visit the test center. On the day of the GRE test, you don’t want to be worrying about how to get to the test center, or you don’t want to mistime how long it takes to get to the testing facilities. They also recommend getting sufficient rest, setting an alarm clock, etc…

Again, study approaches are different for every student. What is important is to find a routine that works best for you and your studying approach. Just make sure that you dedicate the necessary time to the GRE exam, and try to relax throughout the process. The key is to prepare, and then to just do your best on the day of the exam.


We hope that this article has been helpful in explaining to you exactly “What is a GRE Test?” In the article, we have introduced the idea of the GRE exam, the importance of the exam for entrance into most graduate schools in certain fields, ways that a student can prepare for the GRE test (which includes a discussion about GRE prep courses, GRE books and other materials, as well as some tips to help you as you begin your preparation for the exam.

If you have any questions about the GRE that we can help with, please feel free to contact us, and we would be happy to speak with you. In addition, we have also collected a number of links on the GRE Exam which we believe will be of additional help to students.

GRE Exam Resources

Frequently Asked Questions About the GRE

ETS GRE Revised General Test: https://www.ets.org/gre/revised_general/faq

ETS GRE Subject Tests: https://www.ets.org/gre/subject/faq

Discover Business: How To Study for the GRE: http://www.discoverbusiness.us/education/online-mba/resources/gre/

GRE Sample Test Questions

Peterson’s Sample Test Questions: https://www.petersons.com/graduate-schools/sample-gre-test-questions.aspx

ETS Verbal Reasoning Sample Test Questions: https://www.ets.org/gre/institutions/about/general/verbal_reasoning_sample_questions/

ETS Quantitative Reasoning Sample Test Questions: https://www.ets.org/gre/institutions/about/general/quantitative_reasoning_sample_questions/

GRE Math Problem Sample Questions: http://www.majortests.com/gre/problem_solving.php

GRE Guide Sample Tests: http://www.greguide.com/gre-sample-tests.html

Graduates Hotline: GRE Vocabulary Questions: http://gre.graduateshotline.com

Graduates Hotline: GRE Vocabulary Flashcards: http://gre.graduateshotline.com/gre_flash_cards.php