GRE

Frequently Asked Questions about the General Test

Test Content

What skills does the General Test measure?

The Verbal Reasoning section measures your ability to

  • analyze and evaluate written material and synthesize information obtained from it
  • analyze relationships among component parts of sentences
  • recognize relationships between words and concepts

The Quantitative Reasoning section measures your ability to

  • understand basic concepts of arithmetic, algebra, geometry, and data analysis
  • reason quantitatively
  • solve problems in a quantitative setting

The Analytical Writing section measures your ability to

  • articulate complex ideas clearly and effectively
  • examine claims and accompanying evidence
  • support ideas with relevant reasons and examples
  • sustain a well-focused, coherent discussion
  • control the elements of standard written English (this factor plays a role only to the extent that poor writing skills impede readers’ understanding of the argument)

What is the Analytical Writing section like?

The Analytical Writing section consists of two analytical writing tasks: a 45-minute “Present Your Perspective on an Issue” task and a 30-minute “Analyze an Argument” task.

The “Issue” task states an opinion on an issue of general interest and asks you to address the issue from any perspective(s) you wish, as long as you provide relevant reasons and examples to explain and support your views.

The “Argument” task presents a different challenge — it requires you to critique an argument by discussing how well-reasoned you find it. You are asked to consider the logical soundness of the argument rather than to agree or disagree with the position it presents.

The “Issue and Argument” are complementary in that the “issue” requires you to construct a personal argument about an issue, and the “Argument” requires you to critique someone else’s argument by assessing its claims.

Are there examples of what the essay questions look like?

Yes. You can view the “Issue” topics and the “Argument” topics for the Analytical Writing section on this website. In addition, scored sample essays with commentary from GRE® readers are available for the Issue task and the Argument task.

How does the Analytical Writing section differ from the Verbal section of the General Test?

Because the Analytical Writing section is a performance test, you must organize and articulate your own ideas as you discuss a complex issue, as well as explain the logical soundness of an argument you have just read. The Verbal section of the General Test measures reading comprehension, and verbal and analogical reasoning skills in a multiple-choice format.

Whereas the Verbal section measures your ability to understand complex ideas expressed in written passages and in the relationships between words, the Analytical Writing section measures your ability to articulate and support ideas, and to analyze arguments.

How does the Analytical Writing section differ from the TOEFL Test of Written English (TWE)?

The TOEFL® and GRE® Analytical Writing measures are very different. The TOEFL TWE is not designed to measure higher levels of thinking and analytical writing, but centers instead on command of English vocabulary, grammar, spelling, and syntax. Therefore, scores on the two tests are not at all comparable.

Because the TOEFL test emphasizes fundamental writing skills, the TOEFL score can supplement an analytical writing score by helping faculty determine whether a low score on the GRE Analytical Writing measure is due to lack of familiarity with English or lack of ability to produce and analyze logical arguments.

What is the price of the General Test?

The General Test is

  • US$140 for individuals testing in the United States, U.S. Territories, and Puerto Rico
  • US$195 for individuals testing in China (including Hong Kong), Korea, and Taiwan
  • US$170 for individuals testing in all other locations

Test takers who would like to request a fee reduction, should read about the requirements and procedures in the Fee Reduction section.

How is the General Test administered?

The General Test is given year-round as a computer-based test in the U.S., Canada, and many other countries. Paper-based General Test administrations are offered in areas of the world where computer-based testing is not available.

What word processing software is used for the Analytical Writing section of the computer-based test? What tools does it have?

The GRE® Program uses an elementary word processor developed by ETS® so that individuals familiar with a specific commercial word processing software do not have an advantage or disadvantage. The ETS software contains the following functions:

  • Inserting text
  • Deleting text
  • Cutting and pasting
  • Undoing the previous action

Tools such as spell-checker and grammar-checker are not available in the ETS software, in large part to maintain fairness with those examinees who handwrite their essays at paper-based administrations. You can practice writing essays using the word processor in POWERPREP.

Scoring and Reporting

How are the sections of the General Test scored?

Note: In October 2008, the GRE Program implemented e-rater scoring technology in the scoring process for the computer-based GRE Analytical Writing section. E-rater is a computerized natural language-processing program developed by ETS.

Computer-Based General Test:

Your scores on the Verbal and Quantitative sections of the computer-based General Test depend on your performance on the questions given and on the number of questions answered in the time allotted.

Because both of these sections are computer-adaptive, the questions presented are selected to reflect your performance on preceding questions and the requirements of the test design. Test design factors that influence which questions are presented to you include

  1. the statistical characteristics (including difficulty level) of the questions already answered
  2. the required variety of question types
  3. the appropriate coverage of content

For the computer-based Analytical Writing section, each essay receives a score from at least one trained reader, using a six-point holistic scale. In holistic scoring, readers are trained to assign scores on the basis of the overall quality of an essay in response to the assigned task. The essay score is then reviewed by e-rater, a computerized program developed by ETS, which is being used to monitor the human reader. If the e-rater evaluation and the human score agree, the human score is used as the final score. If they disagree by a certain amount, a second human score is obtained, and the final score is the average of the two human scores.

The final scores on the two essays are then averaged and rounded up to the nearest half-point interval. A single score is reported for the Analytical Writing section.

The primary emphasis in scoring the Analytical Writing section is on your critical thinking and analytical writing skills rather than on grammar and mechanics. (Read the Issue and Argument scoring guides.)

During the scoring process, your essay responses on the Analytical Writing section will be reviewed by ETS essay-similarity-detection software and by experienced essay readers. See Independent Intellectual Activity.

Paper-Based General Test:

For the Verbal and Quantitative sections of the paper-based General Test, a raw score is computed. The raw score is the number of questions for which the best answer choice was given.

The raw score is then converted to a scaled score through a process known as equating. The equating process accounts for differences in difficulty among the different test editions so a given scaled score reflects approximately the same level of ability regardless of the edition of the test that was taken.

For the Analytical Writing section, each essay receives a score from two trained readers, using a 6-point holistic scale. In holistic scoring, readers are trained to assign scores on the basis of the overall quality of an essay in response to the assigned task. If the two assigned scores differ by more than one point on the scale, the discrepancy is adjudicated by a third GRE® reader.

Otherwise, the scores from the two readings of an essay are averaged. The final scores on the two essays are then averaged and rounded up to the nearest half-point interval. A single score is reported for the Analytical Writing section.

The primary emphasis in scoring the Analytical Writing section is on your critical thinking and analytical writing skills rather than on grammar and mechanics. (Read the Issue and Argument scoring guides.)

During the scoring process, your essay responses on the Analytical Writing section will be reviewed by ETS essay-similarity-detection software and by experienced essay readers. See Independent Intellectual Activity.

Are examinees that use alternative ways of developing an argument scored fairly?

You may use any one of a variety of strategies to structure your essays. Readers are explicitly trained to accept any strategy in an essay that meets the essential requirements of the essay task, i.e., a response that provides the information required by the essay prompt.

What scores are reported?

Three scores are reported on the General Test:

  • a Verbal Reasoning score reported on a 200-800 score scale, in 10-point increments
  • a Quantitative Reasoning score reported on a 200-800 score scale, in 10-point increments, and
  • an Analytical Writing score reported on a 0-6 score scale, in half-point increments

If you answer no questions at all in a section (Verbal, Quantitative or Analytical Writing), you receive a No Score (NS) for that section.

Descriptions of the analytical writing abilities characteristic of particular score levels are available in the Guide to the Use of GRE Scores (PDF).

When are scores reported?

If you take the computer-based General Test, you can view your unofficial Verbal and Quantitative scores at the test center; however, because of the essay scoring process, you will not be able to view your Analytical Writing scores at that time. Verbal, Quantitative and Analytical Writing scores on the computer-based General Test will be sent to you and the institutions you designate within 10 to 15 days of your test administration.

If you take the paper-based General Test, you will not view any scores at the test center. Verbal, Quantitative and Analytical Writing scores on the paper-based General Test will be sent to you and the institutions you designate within four to six weeks of your test administration.

Test Fairness

How can we know that the Analytical Writing section is fair for all examinees, including groups that are underrepresented in graduate school?

The GRE® Board has long been concerned that examinee groups not be disadvantaged by any major changes in the General Test. In response to that concern, extensive analyses of group differences on the Analytical Writing section were performed before the test became operational in October 1999. These analyses have since been supplemented by data from those who have taken the Analytical Writing section as an operational test, and by data from a special research study conducted in April 2001.

The findings from each of these data sources indicate that there is less difference in the scores of men and women on the Analytical Writing section than on the multiple-choice measures. The differences between African American and White examinees and between Hispanic and White examinees are also smaller on the Analytical Writing section than on the multiple-choice measures. The difference between Asian American and White examinees is about the same as the difference on the Verbal and Analytical sections. (Asian American examinees outscore White examinees on the Quantitative section.)

How can we know that the Analytical Writing section is fair for examinees whose native language is not English?

Test takers whose native language is not English (ESL) naturally find the Analytical Writing section more challenging, on average, than do native speakers of English. Steps have already been taken to ensure that these performance differences are not due to differences in the cross-cultural accessibility of the topics.

Special fairness reviews occur for all topics to ensure that the content and tasks are clear and accessible for all groups of test takers, including ESL students. In addition, scorers are trained to focus on the analytical logic of the essay responses more than on spelling, grammar, or syntax. The mechanics of writing are weighed in their ratings only to the extent that these impede clarity of meaning. The analytical writing section taps into different skills than the multiple-choice measures so it may not be surprising that the performance of ESL examinees differs on this section.

In addition, since graduate school faculty have indicated that analytical writing is an important component of work in most graduate schools, the inclusion of the Analytical Writing section should increase the validity of the General Test.

Computer-Based General Test

How does the computer-based General Test work?

The Verbal and Quantitative Reasoning sections of the General Test are adaptive tests. They are tailored to your performance level and provide precise information about your abilities using fewer test questions than traditional paper-based tests.

At the start of the test, you are presented with test questions of middle difficulty. As you answer each question, the computer scores it and uses that information, as well as your responses to preceding questions and information about the test design, to determine the next question. As long as you answer correctly, you will typically be given questions of increased difficulty. When you respond incorrectly, you will typically be given less difficult questions.

Because the computer scores each question before selecting the next one, you must answer each question when it is presented. For this reason, once you answer a question and move on to another, you cannot go back and change your answer. The computer has already incorporated both your answer and the requirements of the test design into its selection of your next question.

On the Analytical Writing section, the two writing tasks are delivered on the computer, and you must type your essay responses.

For the Issue task you will be able to choose one of two essay topics selected by the computer from the pool of topics.

The Argument task does not offer a choice of topics; the computer will present you with a single topic selected from the topic pool.

The testing software uses an elementary word processor developed by ETS® so that individuals familiar with a specific commercial word processing software do not have an advantage or disadvantage. The software contains the following functionalities: inserting text, deleting text, cut and paste, undoing the previous action, and scrolling.

How can test takers be compared if the test is tailored to the individual?

Each computer-based test meets established specifications, including the types of questions asked and the subject matter presented. The statistical characteristics of the questions answered correctly and incorrectly, including the difficulty levels, are taken into account in the calculation of scores. Therefore, it is appropriate to compare scores of different test takers even though they received different questions.

Are computer-based scores comparable to scores earned on the paper-based test?

Yes. ETS® has conducted research studies indicating that these scores are comparable.

Do I need to be computer literate?

No. You can take the test even if you have little or no previous computer experience. The test requires only basic computer skills, and these are covered in the hands-on tutorial you must complete before beginning the official timed test. The tutorial is included in GRE Powerprep® software that will be sent to you when you register. The tutorial will let you try out the functions of the computer (e.g., mouse, scrollbar) that you will need to use during the test.

Can test takers take the Verbal and Quantitative sections first and then take the Analytical Writing section?

No. Test takers must take the Analytical Writing section first.

Can test takers take the computer-based and paper-based portions of the test in different years?

No. Candidates must take both administrations in the same testing year (i.e., between July 1 and June 30).

Will Analytical Writing scores be reported separately from Verbal and Quantitative scores to schools and colleges?

No. Scores on the General Test will not be reported to candidates or institutions until all three sections of the test have been completed. Scores for the General Test will be reported within six weeks after the paper-based administration is completed.

How long is the test session for the Analytical Writing section?

The Analytical Writing session is a total of two hours.

Can I handwrite my Analytical Writing essay responses at the computer-based test center?

No. You will be required to type your essay responses. All test takers at computer-based test centers worldwide are required to type their essay responses on the GRE® Analytical Writing section in order to enable use of the Essay Similarity Detection (ESD) software.

How long is the test session for the paper-based Verbal and Quantitative sections?

The paper-based test session is a total of two and a half hours.

Are there test preparation materials available?

When you register for the Analytical Writing session, ETS® will send you a free copy of the GRE Powerprep® software and the GRE® Practice General Test book. Use the software to practice for the computer-based Analytical Writing section and the practice book for the paper-based Verbal and Quantitative sections. Allow up to four weeks to receive the material. These materials can also be downloaded free of charge.

Can test takers reschedule their test administrations if they need to?

Rescheduling is allowed, but candidates must pay a US$50 fee if they reschedule a CBT and/or paper-based administration (see 2008-09 GRE Bulletin Supplement (PDF)).

What about getting a refund?

Candidates who cancel three full days prior to the Analytical Writing test date (not including the day of the test or the day of the request) will receive a refund equivalent to half of the original test fee (same as General Test). Candidates who take the computer-based Analytical Writing section and then cancel the paper-based test three full days before the paper-based date will receive a US$35 refund. Allow six to eight weeks for receipt of the refund after the test date. (Note that candidates will not receive their Analytical Writing scores if they cancel their paper-based test.)

How many times can I take the Analytical Writing section?

It depends on whether or not you choose to report your scores or cancel them at the end of the test session.

If you choose to report your scores at the end of the Analytical Writing session, you will be registered for the next paper-based test date. You may not retake the CBT Analytical Writing session during the same time period (e.g., July 1, 2008 to September 20, 2008, or September 21, 2008 to May 2, 2009). This is true even if you cancel your registration for the Paper-Based Verbal and Quantitative session in that time period.

If you choose to cancel your Analytical Writing scores at the end of a test session, your registration for the paper-based test date will be canceled as well and your test fee will be forfeited. You may register and pay to take the GRE® General Test again within the same time period (e.g., July 1, 2008 to September 20, 2008, or September 21, 2008 to May 2, 2009).

You may take the Analytical Writing section only once per calendar month up to five times in any 12 month-period. This applies even if you canceled your scores on a test taken previously.