How is the GRE Exam Structured?

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The admissions process for most graduation programs requires the successful completion of an entrance exam. The Graduate Record Examination (GRE) is the general admission exam used for graduate program admissions. The GRE exam structure consists of three sections that measure your ability to succeed in a graduate school or business school setting. You may opt to take this test in either a paper-based or computer-based version, but the structure of each varies.

GRE Content Sections

The Verbal Reasoning section measures your ability to analyze and draw conclusions based on text; to summarize, synthesize, and understand the structure of a text; and to understand the meanings of words and concepts as well as the relationships between them. Question types in this section include text completions, reading comprehension, and sentence equivalence. The second content section, Quantitative Reasoning, tests your ability to understand, interpret, and solve problems using numbers and operations, including knowledge of arithmetic, algebra, geometry, and data. Question types in this section include comparison questions, multiple choice, and open-ended numeric entry. The Analytical Writing section, commonly known as the essay, tests your ability to articulate and support your ideas, examine claims, and communicate clearly and effectively.

GRE Computer-Based Structure

The computer-based GRE test lasts about three hours and 40 minutes, featuring six sections plus one ten minute break. The sections included on the computer-based version include one 30-minute Analytical Writing section consisting of two separate writing tasks, one that requires you to analyze an issue and the other to analyze an argument. Two Verbal Reasoning sections will last 30 minutes each and consist of 20 questions each. Two Quantitative Reasoning sections last 35 minutes each and consist of 20 questions. In addition, your test will consist of one additional section in either verbal or quantitative reasoning that is not scored. This section includes "experimental questions" that are being tested for inclusion on future exams. These six sections of the test can appear in any order. The computer-based test allows you to mark specific questions within a section for later review and edit answers within a section, as well as an on-screen calculator for use in the quantitative sections.

GRE Paper-Based Structure

The sections of the paper-based GRE exam are the same as the computer-based version, but there are some aspects of the test that vary. With the paper-based test, you are free to move around within a section within the allotted time. Answers are entered directly into the test booklet rather than in a separate answer sheet. During the test, you will be provided a calculator for use on the quantitative reasoning sections; you may not use your own calculator during the test.

If you are prepared to take the test, you may register online for a session at a testing center in your area. Familiarizing yourself with the GRE exam structure is an important part of your preparation for this test, which is in itself a key part of the application process for graduate or business school.