Getting into Grad School – The Graduate Records Exam (GRE)

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If you have already selected the graduate school to which you plan to apply, congratulations.  Now we need to talk about getting you admitted to the graduate school of your choice.  One large hurdle you will need to prepare for is the Graduate Records Exam, known as the GRE.

You will not be alone! More than 600,000 potential graduate students take the GRE General Test in the U.S. each year.  These applicants have widely varying educational experiences and even native languages.  A graduate degree from a U.S. college or university is a sought-after opportunity, so GRE students represent more than 200 different countries annually.  The GRE is used in the admissions process to objectively evaluate graduate school candidates and compare their qualifications and readiness for graduate school.

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Applying To A Graduate Program

When you apply, the school or program’s admissions team will use your GRE score, along with things like your undergraduate transcripts and letters of recommendation, to determine if you are a qualified candidate for graduate level studies at their institution.  It should go without saying that it is very important you do well on the GRE!

The current GRE General Test is a basic skills assessment which measures your overall verbal reasoning, quantitative reasoning, critical thinking and analytical writing skills.  The General Test does NOT measure skills directly related to any specific field of study. While there can be a variety of GRE Subject Tests that are out there, many master’s degrees only require the GRE General Test. You should review the requirements based on the type of graduate school program you’re applying for. There might be some programs that require you to take one of these Subject Tests (they include subjects like Biology, Chemistry, Literature in English, and Psychology) but it is not likely.

The GRE general test is an evaluation of your readiness for graduate level course work in three specific areas:

  • Analytical Writing — Measures critical thinking and analytical writing skills, specifically the test taker’s ability to articulate complex ideas clearly and effectively
  • Verbal Reasoning — Measures reading comprehension skills and verbal and analogical reasoning skills, focusing on the test taker’s ability to analyze and evaluate written material
  • Quantitative Reasoning — Measures problem-solving ability, focusing on basic concepts of arithmetic, algebra, geometry and data analysis

You will need to register for the GRE at a testing center in your area.  You can register online at Make sure you look carefully at testing dates and when scores will be made available, so that you register early enough to have your test data included in your application. 

Determining Eligibility for Non-Standard Testing Accommodations

If you have test anxiety or are applying for a competitive graduate program with very high standards, you may want to take the test soon.  If you do not get your desired score, you can re-take the test.  The GRE testing parameters allow you to take the GRE General Test once per calendar month, and no more than five times within any 12-month period.

ETS, the company that administers and oversees the GRE, is committed to serving all students.  For that reason, they offer “services and reasonable accommodations” to students with special needs.  If you believe you may be eligible for nonstandard testing accommodations, go to the ETS website and review the eligibility requirements. 

According to ETS, some of the common accommodations that are requested include:

  • Extended testing time or extra breaks required for snacks, medication, or trips to bathroom.
  • Different screen or keyboard requirements if your test is to be delivered on a computer.
  • Oral interpreters or sign language interpreters for assistance with spoken directions
  • Alternate test formats to address any deaf or blind applicants that may be needed

If you do qualify for this assistance, follow the special testing enrollment directions. If you are concerned that you might need to take the test multiple times in order to pass, you should exercise due diligence to understand how long it takes to be approved for non-standard testing accommodations.

GRE Test Preparation

Plan your time so that you can prepare for the GRE well in advance of your scheduled test date.  Because this test score is so important, there is an enormous variety of commercial GRE test preparation materials available.  If you take a walk down the “college” aisle of any large bookstore, you will be able to examine and review several different books (many with accompanying software) to guide you in doing your best on the GRE.

When you register for the GRE General Test, you are also eligible to download free software from ETS.  The Powerprep® Software: Test Preparation for the GRE® General Test includes two computer-based GRE General Tests, sample analytical writing topics, scored sample essays with reader commentary, test-taking strategies, a math review, and test tutorials. They also offer several sample questions for the verbal reasoning, quantitative reasoning, and analytical writing parts of the test.

Many will tell you that the GRE is not a test of memorization and that you will have to fundamentally understand the subjects the test will cover. It can be recommended that you prepare over a matter of months so make sure you take that into account when trying to pick test dates. There are online study plans that break the prep down to weekly increments that can sometimes help those that struggle with organization.

2016 GRE Test Updates

As technology continues to shift and change, so does several parts of the GRE Test itself and its supporting test materials. GRE released their official preparation app for the GRE General Test so you can now prep for the test on your phone. The app allows you to study on the go and is also enabled for those with visual disabilities.

Also, in August 2014, GRE announced that additional test prep materials would be added which included 150 questions that had never been seen before. Along with those questions, GRE also supplied tips and insights around each question to help future test takers better understand what to expect.

The GRE list of test dates and locations was down from August 25 – August 29, 2016 due to maintenance. Once that time is up, users should be able to go and see the different dates possible to take the test. Remember to plan for multiple tests to be taken if you think that is a real possibility!

It takes a lot of time, energy and commitment to do this the right way, but the personal and professional rewards can be worth it. The GRE Test will push you to expand your understanding in a variety of subjects and likely force you to become a better test taker. If you follow our guide, you should be better prepared and know what to expect. This will be one of the first of many tests you can expect when earning your Master’s in Education. Best of luck, but you won’t need luck if you follow the roadmap we have outlined!