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Are currently in school and contemplating grad school

Have been away from school for a year or ten years and are contemplating grad school

Are contemplating grad school for any reason

Have decided to go to grad school but are nervous at the prospect of having to take yet another standardized test

Have decided to go to grad school and have no idea how to even start studying for the GRE


You’ll definitely want to keep reading, and here’s what you’ll find:

Succinct explanations of what to expect from the GRE

Links to sample questions from each section of the test

A guide to the best resources available for GRE prep

Answers to frequently asked questions about the GRE


The Format and Scoring of the GRE

The GRE is composed of three different types of sections: math, verbal, and essay. Below are brief descriptions of and examples of the types of questions you might encounter in each section.

Analytical Writing Assessment
In this section, you will be asked to write two essays: one is called the “Issue” and the other is the “Argument.” You will have 30 minutes to complete each essay.

In the Issue essay you will be asked to analyze or respond to a general statement, typically about politics, culture, or education, and take a position on said issue. Looking for sample Issue topics? Check these out!

In the Argument essay, you will be asked to examine the logic of a text (typically no longer than a paragraph). This essay requires close reading and a firm grasp on the rules of logic. Looking for sample Argument topics? Check these out!

How this Section is Scored

Your essays will be scored by professional graders (typically university literature/writing professors) on a scale of 0.5-6.0, based on .5 increments. These graders are looking for the “three c’s”: clarity, coherency, and cogency. (If you’re not sure what those words mean, it might be time to get those vocabulary flashcards out!)

The essay graders only have 30 seconds to grade your essay, so it needs to be clear, coherent, and cogent from the get go. As any teacher will tell you, well-written essays take much less time to grade than poorly-written essays do; if your grader has to take the entire 30 seconds to read your first paragraph because it’s so unclear, that does not bode well for your score.

Verbal Reasoning

The Verbal Reasoning section is, not surprisingly, about how well you know words and how to use them. An average American vocabulary will not suffice to get you through the intense sentence completion questions or reading comprehension exercises.

The ETS has developed three types of questions, each designed to test a different facet of your verbal reasoning skills.

Test your knowledge with some sample questions.

How this Section is Scored

Both the Verbal Reasoning and Quantitative Reasoning (aka Math) sections are “section-level adaptive,” which means that based on your performance in the first section, you will get either a more difficult or less difficult second section of questions.

All answers contribute equally to your final score in each section, and the raw score—which is converted to a scaled score that adjusts for difficulty level and the differences in test editions—is the number of questions you answered correctly.

Quantitative Reasoning

Non-math lovers, fear not! You will not have to do any advanced math on the GRE. The type of math you’ll be asked to do is the stuff you learned in high school: basic geometry, algebra, probability, word problems, etc.

You don’t even have to show your work! As you’ll see from the sample questions here, that doesn’t mean you’ll be able to do all of the problems in your head.


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Free Resources to Help You Prepare for the GRE

Test Taker

Dear Test Taker,

Gone are the days of driving to the local Barnes & Noble to scour the shelves for GRE prep resources (although, if you’d rather use a book, here’s a helpful list of GRE prep book reviews). Everything you need to prepare, you can easily find online, and usually for free. The problem is that there are so many resources, it can be tough to know where to start. We’ve done the legwork for you so that you can spend your valuable time studying instead of searching.


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Free Online Study Resources

Magoosh GRE Blog
Magoosh provides new tips, practice questions, and study techniques on a regular basis, and they have also created some thorough overviews of the GRE available on the web. From flashcards to a free study plan to math assistance, Magoosh is designed to prepare you for GRE test day.

Educational Testing Service is responsible for the creation and grading of the GRE, so their website is an informative place to go for resources. They have lots of sample questions, study tips, and free resources available to you.

Manhattan Prep
Manhattan Prep offers a free practice test that is specially designed to be as similar to the real GRE as possible. Not only that, but after you take the practice test, you can review all of your answers AND see explanations for the correct answers.

Economist GRE Tutor Cost
Magoosh Cost
Manhattan Prep Cost
Kaplan Cost
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Online VS. In Person Prep Courses

If you’re going to pay money for a GRE prep course, you need to choose one that best fits your needs. Check out the following sites to see which prep course is best for you:

Best GRE Prep Courses: Compare Side-By-Side
Crunch Prep

*None of the free or paid resources mentioned are endorsed by WVU in any way


Is the GRE required?

Not necessarily. If you’re applying to graduate school in the humanities, then the GRE is most likely required. The best way to find out is to peruse the program’s website or directly contact the program director.

If you’re applying to Law School or Med School, you shouldn’t take the GRE, rather, you should look into taking the LSAT or MCAT. Some business schools require the GMAT, but some are now also accepting the GRE.

How much does the GRE cost?

The GRE costs $205, plus the possibility of other fees. If you have to travel a long distance to take the test at an approved testing site, the cost will go up considerably.

How do I sign up to take the test?

Go to the ETS website and follow the instructions. A little tip: if you’re not a morning person and don’t want to take the GRE at 6 AM, book early.

When should I take the GRE?

If you’re currently in college, it’s probably best to take the GRE before you graduate, simply because your brain is in good test-taking shape and you’ll find it easier to do well on the test.

If you haven’t been in school for awhile, it’s really up to you when you take the test—but obviously, it’s best to take it before your graduate school’s application deadline. Keep in mind that scores take 10-15 days to be sent to universities.

Where can I take the GRE?

You must take the GRE at an approved testing center.

What kind of score should I be shooting for?

It depends on the school you’re applying to, the program that you’re interested in, and the scores of the other students who are applying to similar programs. As vague as that sounds, it’s tough to get more specific without knowing your specifics. The Magoosh GRE blog has an excellent post — updated with the latest 2018 stats— on this topic that will help give you a better idea of what you should be shooting for.

Do I have to take the test on a computer?

Unless you live in a country without computer based testing centers, you have to take the test on a computer. Staring at a screen for four hours is no easy task, which is why it’s so important to take practice tests that simulate the GRE as much as possible.

What are the GRE Subject Tests?

The GRE is a general examination of your intellectual abilities. If you want to show schools what you can do in a specific subject—such as chemistry, physics, biology, biochemistry, psychology, mathematics, or literature—the GRE Subject Tests are for you. They are paper-based and only given three times a year (October, November, and April), and only in the subjects listed above.

Note: The subject tests don’t replace the general test, but schools will accept them and they can help you stand out in the application pool. You can find more information about the subject tests on ETS’ website.

Check Out Our Additional Guides

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Additional Resources for Graduate Students

A Weekly Blog
A Practical Guide



To learn more about graduate school at West Virginia University, visit us online at graduate.wvu.edu.


West Virginia University Office of Graduate Admissions and Recruitment PO Box 6510, Morgantown, WV 26506-6510 304-293-5980 | graduateadmissions@mail.wvu.edu

Download the complete GRE Cheat Sheet guide