While researching the best universities and programmes for your Masters studies, you will also be checking the admission requirements. In some cases, only a language test will be sufficient. However, for many reputable programmes you will also need to sit an aptitude test. The choice is usually between GMAT and GRE.

But if you dive deeper, you will find out that the GRE offers a General Test and Subject Tests. When you have a choice, how do you decide which test will maximise your chances of admission? Here are some practical tips that will help you, kindly provided by Access Masters’ partner Princeton Review.

When you sign up for the GRE, you will have the option to take the general exam or a subject test. You may choose one or both. The exam you select will determine what you study, how universities will handle the information, how much you will pay and when you can take the exam. Find out the differences between these vital tests for graduate school entry and decide for yourself on the best examination for your education plans.

What is the GRE General Test?

The GRE general test is a required admissions exam for getting into many graduate schools across the United States. This test includes sections that test your reading, math, vocabulary, reasoning and essay writing skills. You may choose to take this test on the computer or as a paper-based exam.

Computer-Based Test

Taking the test on the computer gives you the chance to show your skills by responding to questions on the computer. You will write two essays, have two verbal reasoning and two math sections. You may also get a third verbal or math section that consists of unscored questions the ERS uses for trial questions and test research.

Each section of the computer-based test is adaptive based on the previous portion. How well you do on the first section of the verbal and math portions of the test determines the types of questions you get for the second section of that type. In each part, every problem contributes an equal weight to your score.

Paper-Delivered GRE

The paper version of the test has a similar format to the computer test, but it does not include an unscored section. On the paper test, the timing differs slightly, with five minutes more per verbal and math portion and five more questions in these sections than the computer-based GRE. You do not have a separate answer sheet for the paper-delivered version. Instead, you mark all answers in your exam book.

Because all the questions for the exam are already in the book, this test does not adapt to your performance on any individual section. The number of correct questions you answer determines your raw score, which equates into the final score to show your actual ability regardless of which test you took, computer-based or paper-delivered or the edition of the exam.

What is the GRE Subject Test?

While the GRE general test is an admissions requirement for most schools, other schools only recommend subject tests. These individual tests focus on a specific subject. They can help you stand out from other applicants, which is critical if you want to attend a programme with a small number of openings or a prestigious graduate school. You do not have the option to take subject tests on the computer.

ETS offers six GRE subject tests:

  • Biology
  • Chemistry
  • English literature
  • Mathematics
  • Physics
  • Psychology

Take one of these exams if you plan to go into a graduate programme in that field or if you were highly proficient in it in your undergraduate studies.

What is on each test?

The content of the GRE tests depends on whether you take the general or a subject test. As graduate school entry tests, the subject matter will reflect what you learnt during your undergraduate years.

What is on the GRE General Test?

The GRE general test consists of three major sections — verbal reasoning, quantitative reasoning and analytical writing. These sections measure your ability to read and analyse complex written pieces, solve math problems and create a pair of coherent written essays in 30 minutes each.

  • Verbal: The verbal sections see how well you can analyse writing and understand the meaning of words through vocabulary-based questions.
  • Math: Math subjects covered on the exam include arithmetic, geometry, algebra and data analysis.
  • Writing: The analytical writing examines both your ability to write well and how well you can produce focused responses to the prompts.

What types of Subject Tests are available?

All subject tests last two hours and 50 minutes, consisting of a single section. The content of the individual exams depends on the subject.

  • Biology: Over 188 questions, the test evenly covers cellular and molecular biology, organisms and ecology and evolution.
  • Chemistry: This test has 130 questions that cover analytical, inorganic, organic and physical chemistry.
  • English literature: The literature exam consists of 230 questions covering drama, criticism, poetry and other written pieces of English. Historical works covered include British and American literature through 1925 and world literature after 1925.
  • Mathematics: About half the math test covers calculus, a fourth algebra and the remainder other math topics common in undergraduate work. This test has 66 multiple-choice questions.
  • Physics: With 100 multiple-choice questions, the physics test covers quantum mechanics, atomic physics, mechanics, electromagnetism, optics, general relativity, thermodynamics, specialised topics and laboratory methods.
  • Psychology: Topics covered on the 205 questions on the psychology test cover six subsections, which each receive a subscore, in addition to the overall score. These topics include biological, cognitive, social, developmental, clinical and methodology.

Cost of each test and when to take the test

The GRE exam fees depend on where you live. Because these tests have international administration, people in several countries can register to take them.

GRE General Test cost and schedule

The GRE general test costs $205 if you register on time, regardless of paper or computer administration. Additional fees for late registration or rescheduling apply in specific cases. Scheduling tests depends on if you will take a paper-delivered or computer-based test. For paper tests, administration occurs at set times throughout the year. Check the calendar for the upcoming paper test dates.

You can schedule a computer-delivered test at any time throughout the year at Prometric test centres. You will be able to select the testing center you want to go to when you sign up for a computer-delivered test.

GRE Subject Test cost and schedule

The GRE subject test fee is $150 per test. You may choose one of three test dates to take these tests each year — September, October and April. You may only sign up for one exam per administration.

Deciding which aptitude test you need to take

If you are not sure of the test you need, research the requirements of the schools you want to attend. You will likely need to take the GRE general test for admissions. However, some schools recommend that you also take a subject test, meaning you must take both the GRE general and a subject test to be a competitive applicant to such places.

How much you should study and tips for preparing

Studying for the GRE general and subject tests should start with taking a practice exam to determine your strengths and weaknesses on the test you want to take. Test prep centres will offer these exams, but you can also find resources from ETS, the company that makes the GRE.

Give yourself at least six weeks or longer to prepare. Because the test is expensive, you don't want to have to take it multiple times to get your highest possible score. Consider investing in tutoring services or classes that will help you with learning about the material on the test and brushing up on your weak points.

Start your preparation for the GRE General or Subject Test

Don't put off preparing for the GRE. Whether you plan on taking the general test or a subject test, schedule your preparation courses now to give yourself ample time to practise what you learnt in the class and to refresh your memory about the material. Sign up with The Princeton Review as your learning partner to unlock a 162+ on the GRE, guaranteed.*. Enroll today to save over $250!