What is the GRE and is it Important?

The Graduate Record Exam, or GRE, is a test used in the admission process for many graduate schools. It is developed, administered, and scored by the Educational Testing Service (ETS). Many schools encourage students to submit scores from both the GRE general test, which evaluates reasoning, quantitative, and verbal ability, and GRE subject tests, which are designed to evaluate knowledge of specific fields. Although not all schools require GRE scores, for many universities with a competitive admissions process a high GRE score can increase an applicant’s chance of admission or of being awarded scholarships, fellowships, or teaching assistantships.

The History of the Graduate Record Exam

The test was created in 1936 by the nonprofit Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. In 1946, the American Council on Education (ACE), The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, and The College Entrance Examination Board (which is still responsible for the SAT), worked together to found the nonprofit

Educational Testing Service (ETS) which creates and offers standardized tests including the Graduate Record Examinations (GRE), Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test (PSAT/NMSQT), College Level Examination Program (CLEP), and Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL). These tests were designed with a philosophy of meritocracy, as a way of evaluating and comparing student abilities in an objective manner.

The Graduate Record Exam General Test

The GRE general test consists of six sections designed to evaluate three types of student abilities:

  • Verbal Reasoning
  • Quantitative Reasoning
  • Analytical Writing

It can be taken either online or in a paper version at a testing center. It normally takes 3 hours and 45 minutes to complete the test. The verbal and quantitative reasoning sections are machine scored on a scale of 130 to 170 and usually are in multiple choice format while the writing sections are in essay format and scored holistically by trained raters on a scale from one to six. Scores are also accompanied by percentile rankings which show how well an individual’s score in a section of the test compares with that of other test takers.

The Graduate Record Exam Subject Tests

GRE subject tests are offered in six subjects:

  • Biology
  • Chemistry
  • Literature in English
  • Mathematics
  • Physics
  • Psychology

GRE subject tests are timed tests taking two hours and 50 minutes. In addition to a raw score based on number of correct answers, students are also given percentile rankings which compare their performance to that of other test takers.

Related Resource: Top 10 Affordable Master of Social Work Online (MSW) Degrees

The Importance of the GRE

Many universities require GRE general scores as part of an application and some departments also require subject tests. Even when GRE scores are optional rather than required, strong scores can make an applicant more appealing to a program. If a university requires GRE scores, taking them and doing well is important. For programs which are not particularly competitive, and admit the majority of applicants, it might not be worth spending money on GREs if they are not required. GRE scores alone will not determine whether one is admitted to a program but they can strengthen or weaken an application.