GRE Test Structure: Exam Content for Students and Test Takers

The GRE General Test or also known as the Graduate Record Examination is composed of six sections which has an overall testing time of about three hours and forty-five minutes with a 10-minute break after the third section. The five measures of GRE are Analytical Writing, Verbal Reasoning, Quantitative Reasoning, Unscored, and Research. The Analytical Writing section is always taken first. Then, the Verbal Reasoning, Quantitative Reasoning, and Unscored or Unidentified sections may come in random order. Each section is scaled differently so each measure must be answered as best as possible for it counts toward the score.

What Are the Sections Of The GRE General Test?

The three sections of GRE are: 

  • Analytical Writing
  • Verbal Reasoning
  • Quantitative Reasoning

What are the differences between Analytical Writing, Verbal Reasoning, and Quantitative Reasoning? 

  • Analytical writing. It is composed of an issue and argument that must be analyzed by the examinee. One issue and argument is needed to be completed. Analytical writing has 60 minutes allotted time per task. 
  • Verbal reasoning. It contains passages that the examinee needs to analyze, evaluate and synthesize. There are 20 passages for verbal reasoning. 30 minutes allotted time per passage is given to the examinee. 
  • Quantitative reasoning. It is composed of basic mathematical problems, elementary mathematical concepts and problem-solving tasks. There are 20 tasks for quantitative reasoning. 35 minutes per task is allocated for quantitative reasoning. 

What are the unscored and research sections? 

The unscored and research sections of the GRE General Test are parts of the experimental section. This is an extra Verbal Reasoning or Quantitative Reasoning section but unscored. This part of the exam is not marked so an examinee would not know whether a section is a regular section or an unscored experimental one. Its purpose is for the test developers, Educational Testing Service (ETS), to test the difficulty of questions they are planning to use on future tests. The definitions of the unscored and research sections are below:

  • Unscored section. The unscored section is also referred to as the “experimental section.” It can either be a verbal or quantitative test. The number of questions varies. 
  • Research section. The research section is an unscored section. It can be verbal or quantitative test. The number of questions varies. The GRE research section is optional. It is used to assess potential questions in a real test-taking environment. 

GRE Test Structure can be seen in the table below [1]

GRE Test Structure

   

GRE Test Section

Duration

Number of Section

Number of Questions

Analytical Writing

60 minutes 

1

2

Unscored 

Varies 

Varies

Quantitative Reasoning

35 minutes

2

20

Verbal Reasoning

30 minutes 

20

Research

Varies 

Varies

Total 

3 hours and 45 minutes

7

82

The table above lists the structure of the GRE Test Sections. It is composed of the main sections analytical writing, qualitative reasoning, and verbal reasoning sections. Along with these sections are the duration, number of sections, and number of questions.  

What are the formats of the GRE General Test?

Computer-delivered and paper-based are the two formats of the GRE General Test. The Educational Testing Service (ETS) gives test-takers the independence to choose what exam pattern is more convenient for them to take.

What is the difference between computer-delivered and paper-based GRE Test?

Adaptiveness is one of the differences between the computer-delivered and paper-based GRE test. This means that an examinee’s performance in a previous section determines the difficulty of the next section. The computer-delivered format performs this. Thus, it gives a better assessment of a test taker’s capabilities than the other exam pattern, the paper-based test.

Another difference is the availability of the test scores. Results from the paper-based test becomes available for approximately six weeks whereas scores from the computer-delivered test is readily available after the test proper. According to Educational Testing Service (ETS), approximately 99% of the test takers in 2014 to 2019 chose to take the computer-delivered test and only 1% took the paper-delivered version.


Differences between the two GRE test formats are listed in the below table: [2]:

GRE Exam Pattern of Computer-Delivered and Paper-Based

GRE Test Sections

Computer-Delivered

Paper-Based

Verbal Reasoning

  

Duration

30 minutes

35 minutes

Number of Sections

2

2

Number of Questions

20

25

Quantitative Reasoning

  

Duration

35 minutes

40 minutes

Number of Sections

2

2

Number of Questions

20

25

Analytical Writing Assessment

  

Duration

60 minutes

30 minutes

Number of Sections

1

2

Number of Questions

2

2

Research

  

Duration

Varies

Not applicable

Number of Sections

1

Not applicable

Number of Questions

Varies

Not applicable

Unscored

  

Duration

Varies

Not applicable

Number of Sections

1

Not applicable

Number of Questions

Varies

Not applicable

TOTAL

  

Time Duration

3 hours 45 minutes

3 hours 30 minutes

Number of Sections

7 sections

6 sections

Number of Questions

82

102 questions

Differences between the GRE computer-delivered and paper-based formats are presented in the table above. These include dissimilarities in test duration, number of sections, and number of questions among test sections.

What is the similarity between computer-delivered and paper-based GRE Test?

In both GRE exam formats, test takers must attempt the Analytical Writing section first which is followed by the Verbal Reasoning, Quantitative Reasoning, and unscored section in random order. Both GRE exam patterns also have a 10-minute break and the flexibility to choose which questions to answer first so test takers may skip questions in a section. Lastly, calculators are provided in both GRE test formats.

How does the computer-adaptiveness of the GRE work?

The computer adaptiveness feature of the GRE General Test appraises an examiner’s ability based on his performance on the previous section. The computer adapts to the test taker’s ability level.

The revised GRE General Test is now “section adaptive.” This means that the computer only adapts between sections and not all questions. All examiners start with a medium- level section and the following sections’ difficulty level depends on their previous performance. The succeeding sections may be easy, medium, or hard.

Are all GRE questions worth the same amount of points?

Yes, all GRE questions are worth the same number of points.

How long does it take to complete the GRE Test?

The time duration of a GRE Test is 3 hours and 45 minutes. 

Does GRE format, structure, and content change annually?

No, the GRE format, structure, and content does not change annually. But since it is a standardized test, it needs to be updated from time to time. In fact, ETS (Educational Testing Service), the developer of the test, updated it on August 1, 2011 [3].

Read more: History of GRE Test

Where to find the GRE Exam Dates and Locations?

Locations and dates for the GRE can be found at the ETS official website. The ETS offers different options for test takers from choosing the testing location to choosing their test date that works best for them. 

Read more: GRE Test Dates & Locations

Does GRE Test Structure Change Based on Locations, or Countries?

No, the GRE’s structure does not change based on location nor country. Since it is a standardized test, it requires a test to be administered and scored in a consistent manner. This includes having the same questions from a common test bank.

Read more: Countries that Accept GRE

What GRE section is most important in applying to business school?

Quantitative reasoning is the most important section in the GRE General Test when aiming for business school admission. Quantitative reasoning is important because businesses include mathematical information that must be measured to evaluate progress. Analytical Writing is the next important section for business schools. It allow students to solve business-related problems in their academics.

Read more: MBA Programs that Accept the GRE

What GRE section is most important in applying to law school?

Verbal reasoning is the most important section in the GRE General Test in registering for law school. Verbal reasoning assessment is necessary because it determines the skills that are important in the legal profession. Verbal reasoning skills involve matching elements, sequencing, and solving complicated questions. It is followed by the Analytical Writing section. Analysing law sample situations is vital in law school.

Read More: GRE vs. LSAT

What GRE section is most important in applying to doctorate programs?  

Analytical writing is the most important section in applying to doctorate programs. Analytical skills assessment is essential because it evaluates the critical thinking ability, attention to detail, decision-making and researching skills needed in doctorate degrees. The next important section depends on the specific doctorate course of the test taker.

Additional Reading

  1. https://www.ets.org/gre/institutions/about/general/structure/
  2. https://e-gmat.com/blogs/gre-exam-pattern/
  3. https://www.manhattanreview.com/gre-history/