Many graduate schools require applicants to take a standardized test, such as the Graduate Record Examinations or GRE. GRE tests include the General Test, which measures your ability to think critically, and individual Subject Tests, which measure your achievement within a specific field such as biology or physics. Understanding the similarities and differences between these tests can help you determine which tests you should take.
The General Test includes three sections: verbal reasoning, quantitative reasoning and analytical writing. The verbal reasoning section tests your ability to analyze and understand sentences and texts, while the quantitative reasoning section tests your problem-solving skills and understanding of basic mathematical concepts. The analytical writing section tests your ability to communicate and defend complex ideas through writing. The Subject Tests test your knowledge of specific fields, including biochemistry, biology, chemistry, literature in English, mathematics, physics and psychology.
Graduate schools use GRE scores to compare candidates, although many other qualifications also factor in admissions decisions. Your score on the General Test reflects your ability to perform graduate-level thinking and analysis, according to Educational Testing Service, the company that developed the GRE tests. In contrast, your score on the Subject Tests shows how much you know about a particular field. You can contact the graduate programs you are interested in to determine whether they require the GRE General Test or Subject Tests. Even if a program doesn't require Subject Test scores, they will probably consider your scores if you submit them with your application, according to ETS.
The verbal reasoning and quantitative reasoning sections of the General Test are scored on a scale from 130 to 170, in 1-point increments. The analytical writing section of the General Test is scored on a scale from 0 to 6, in half-point increments. Subject Tests are scored on a scale from 200 to 990 in 10-point increments. The biochemistry, biology and psychology Subject Tests also include subscores that range from 20 to 99 in 1-point increments. GRE score reports also include percentile rankings that help you compare your scores to those of other test takers.
Taking the Tests
In most areas of the world, you can register to take the General Test on a computer at a test center at any time. In locations without computer testing, a paper version of the General Test is offered in October, November and February. The General Test takes about four hours. The Subject Tests are only available in paper versions and are offered in October, November and April. Subject Tests take up to three and a half hours, according to ETS.
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