GRE® General Test | GRE Exam Pattern

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The computer based GRE General Test comprises six sections that count to your GRE score and may also include one unscored section. The GRE exam pattern changed in August 2011 and the exam pattern of the revised GRE General Test is given below.

Details No. of Questions Duration Score
Analytical Writing 2 Essays 30 minutes per essay 0 to 6 in 0.5 point increments
Verbal Reasoning Two sections. 20 questions each 30 minutes per section 130 to 170 points in 1 point increments
Quantitative Reasoning Two sections. 20 questions each 35 minutes per section 130 to 170 points in 1 point increments
Unscored or Research Varies Varies Does not count

GRE Analytical Writing Section | Two 30-minute Tasks

The GRE Analytical Writing section comprises two essays.

  1. GRE Analysis of an Issue: You have to take a stand on a issue presented to you and write an essay justifying your stand. You will be evaluated on your ability to think critically and present it in a structured way.
  2. GRE Analysis of an Argument: In this task, you have to evaluate the soundness of the reasoning of the argument given to you. The argument presented in the GRE writing section will comprise serious flaws and you have to identify those fallacies in reasoning.

The duration for each task is 30 minutes.

The score in the GRE Analytical Writing Section is on a scale of 0 to 6 points in half point increments.

What is a good score in the GRE Writing Section?

A score of 5 or more in the GRE General Test Writing section is a good score. The evaluation criteria takes into account both your critical thinking ability and writing skills. The number of words in the essay does not really matter. So, do not fret too much about writing a long essay.

How many hours of study time is required for this section?

An average test taker should invest a total of about 20 to 25 hours to get a score of 5 or more in this Analytical Writing. Ideally you should understand what is expected in each task and prepare notes for 10 issue topics and 10 argument topics. You should write an essay each for at least 5 issues topics and 5 argument topics.

Note: The points in the GRE Analytical Writing section does not count to your final score.


GRE Verbal Reasoning

The GRE General Test comprises two verbal reasoning sections.
Number of questions: 20 questions per section
Duration: 30 minutes per section.

The GRE verbal section comprises the following types of questions

  1. Reading Comprehension
  2. Sentence Equivalence
  3. Text Completion

1. Reading Comprehension

About half the number of questions in the verbal section of GRE test are reading comprehension questions. Passages are followed by three types of questions.

  1. Multiple Choice Questions - Select One Answer
    The questions are the typical reading comprehension questions. Each question is followed by 5 options and only one option is correct.
  2. Multiple Choice Questions - Select One or More Answers
    These are more difficult than the traditional RC questions. 3 options are provided and one or two or all three options could be right. You have to select all options that are correct and only those that are correct. You will not get any partial credit.
  3. Select in Passage
    The task is to select a part of a sentence in the passage that meets the criteria or the question asked. Once you click on the passage, it highlights a sentence.

With reading comprehension account for about half the verbal reasoning section, it is imperative that your test prep should include and focus extensively on improving your reading ability. Your ability to understand what is given in the passage and analyse different answer options that may be close to arrive at the correct answer is a key skill that a graduate level student is expected to have. And this entrance exam tests it extensively.

Another important point to note is that the passages come from a wide gamut of subject areas - you could get a passage as much from geology as from molecular biology or physics or chemistry or sociology. Your test prep should include a reading habit that is wide in scope.

2. Sentence Equivalence

A sentence with a single blank and six answer options are given. You have to select two of the six options. The answer options you choose should be words will have similar meaning and will make the completed sentence meaningful.

The obvious question - How important is to study word list and improve your vocabulary to score well in Sentence Equivalence?

Your test prep necessarily will have to include learning new words using a high frequency word list to improve your vocabulary. Words tested include quite a few words that we do not use in our day to day life. Words such as ameliorate, exacerbate, and abominate appear in the GRE exam. Remember, it is not only knowing the meanings of these words, but also your ability to apply them in the given context that will help you ace this question type.

3. Text Completion

A passage comprising one to five sentences with one to three blanks. If the passage contains only one blank, you will be provided with 5 answer options. If the passage contains more than one blank, 3 answer options will be provided for each blank. There is only one correct option for a blank.

Note: You have to get the answer to all blanks right to earn credit. No partial credits.

Your vocabulary and the ability to apply your word power in a context plays a key role in acing this question type.

Section Level Adaptive Test

The GRE Verbal Reasoning Section is a Section Level Adaptive section.

What does it mean?
It has the following salient features

  1. The level of difficulty of the second verbal reasoning section is determined based on how well you did in the first verbal reasoning section.
  2. Questions within each of the verbal reasoning sections have the same level of difficulty and carry equal credits.
  3. The revised GRE exam pattern allows you to skip a question, go back change answer to a question, and decide which question or question type you want to attempt first.

How many hours of study time is required to get a good score in GRE Verbal?

An average test taker will have to study for about 125 to 150 hours that includes improving your word power and reading skills. However, this does not include time needed to take GRE mock tests.


GRE Quantitative Reasoning

You have attempt two quantitative reasoning sections.
Number of Questions: 20 questions per section
Duration: 35 minutes per section

The Quantitative Reasoning section comprises the following types of questions. The revised GRE has enough variety in the types of questions that it tests in the quantitative reasoning section.

  1. Multiple Choice Questions - Select One Answer
    These are the traditional questions that appear in any entrance exam and are commonly referred to as problem solving questions. A mathematics question with 5 answers to choose from. Only one option is correct.
  2. Multiple Choice Questions - Select One or More Answers
    In this type of question, you will be provided with a mathematics question. You have to select one or more answers from a list of options provided.
    What makes it challenging is that some of the questions may not specify the number of options that are correct. And you probably guessed it right - no partial credit. You have to mark all the correct options and only those that are right.
  3. Numeric Entry Questions
    This question type is the equivalent of a fill-in-the blanks question in the quantitative reasoning context. A math question is given to you without any answer options. You have to solve the question and enter the answer in the box provided.
  4. Quantitative Comparison
    Compare two quantities and then determine how these two quantities compare based on a four statements given.

What is actually tested in GRE Quant?

It will not be an over simplification to state the GRE quantitative reasoning syllabus is the same as high school mathematics syllabus.

Note, students from diverse backgrounds at the undergraduate level take the GRE. Though, engineers account for a large proportion of the test takers, undergraduate majors in biology, history, physiotherapy, fine arts take the GRE to pursue masters and doctoral programs in their respective field of study. The common denominator in mathematics is therefore, high school level math.

So, it's time to dust up those old books and start brushing concepts, formulas in arithmetic, algebra, and geometry.

If you plan to apply to an engineering or sciences program at the graduate level, your score in the quantitative reasoning section is going to one of the most important eligibility criteria in the admission process. A high final score in the GRE with a 167 or higher score in quant is likely to not only result in an admission to a top school, but also result in some form of scholarship.

All efforts invested in pouring over your study guide, solving hundreds of questions and taking mock tests and spend time to analyse those mocks tests will pay rich dividends in bolstering your graduate school or business school application.

Section Level Adaptive Test

The GRE Quantitative Reasoning Section is also a Section Level Adaptive section.

How many hours of study time is required to score high in GRE quant?

An average test taker needs to invest about 80 to 100 hours in building fundamentals, solve adequate practice questions, take chapter wise tests to consolidate and gain confidence in quantitative reasoning.


One Unscored (experimental or research) Section

The revised GRE General Test will include an unidentified/unscored verbal or quantitative reasoning part. Because you do not know which of the 5 sections are not scored, you have to attempt all of them as though your performance in that part will count to your final score.

Alternatively, the test may include an identified research section and will always appear as the last section.

The total duration of the exam is 3 hours 45 minutes.


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