GRE Guide

Many graduate programs require the Graduate Record Examinations (GRE), especially for business majors and aspiring nurse practitioners. While some schools recommend GRE scores as part of the application process, aspiring graduate students can benefit from submitting GRE scores. The Educational Testing Service (ETS) administers the GRE General Test, which includes three sections: verbal reasoning, quantitative reasoning, and analytical writing. Among standardized admission tests, only the GRE allows students to answer questions out of order, change their answers, and send only their best scores to schools.

Whether students take the GRE online or on paper, they complete the analytical writing section first, followed by the remaining two subsections of verbal reasoning and two subsections of quantitative reasoning, which may appear in any order.

The GRE General Test measures overall analytical, critical thinking, mathematical, and communication skills. Students may complete the test online or on paper, completing the essay portion of the analytical writing section first, then advancing to verbal and quantitative reasoning. This part includes four question types: multiple choice with one answer, multiple choice with more than one answer, numeric entry, and quantitative comparison.

GRE Subject Tests

While graduate programs often require applicants to submit GRE General Test scores, some also recommend that applicants submit scores from GRE Subject Tests. ETS offers subject tests in mathematics, psychology, literature in English, physics, biology, and chemistry. Most graduate nursing programs do not require GRE Subject Tests; however, the tests give applicants an advantage over other candidates. Each subject test is structured differently, comprising between 66 and 230 questions, at a cost of $150. Students must take subject tests at a testing center, on paper, which are offered annually in September, October, and April.

Do Nursing Students Have to Take the GRE?

Students can select from many online family nurse practitioner programs without GRE requirements. Some schools require the GRE only for nurse practitioners who do not meet the minimum GPA. Others recommend that students with satisfactory GRE scores submit them to be considered holistically with other admissions qualifications. Students can also explore online psychiatric nurse practitioner programs without GRE requirements.

What Does the GRE Look Like?

The Structure of the GRE

The GRE encompasses three primary sections: analytical writing, verbal reasoning, and quantitative reasoning. Each primary section contains two subsections. The analytical writing section includes two 30-minute prompts: analyze an issue and analyze an argument. Students answer in essay format. Students typically complete the GRE in roughly three-and-a-half to four hours. The computer-delivered GRE may also include unscored questions following the analytical writing section or research questions at the end of the test. Students do not know which of the sections are unscored, and their answers are for ETS research purposes only.

Whether students take the GRE online or on paper, they complete the analytical writing section first, followed by the remaining two subsections of verbal reasoning and two subsections of quantitative reasoning, which may appear in any order. The analytical writing section comprises essays only. In the verbal reasoning section, students must answer questions using sentence equivalence, reading comprehension, and text completion. The quantitative reasoning section encompasses quantitative comparison, multiple choice, and numeric entry questions. Students may return to a question to change their answer within their current section, and choose which questions in a section to answer first.

Delivery Format

Students can take the GRE in a computer-delivered or paper-delivered format. Student may not choose the test format, which is based upon where they register and the format available at that location. On the computer-delivered GRE, the verbal reasoning section includes two subsections of 20 questions each, with a time limit of 30 minutes each. The quantitative reasoning portion comprises two sections of 20 questions each, with a time limit of 35 minutes each. Only the computer-delivered test includes the unscored and research questions mentioned above.

The paper-delivered test follows a similar format, but with 25 questions per section of verbal and quantitative reasoning, allowing 35 and 40 minutes completion time, respectively. Both tests cost $150. Students who take the paper-delivered test can view their scores online in five weeks. Those who take the computer-delivered test may access unofficial scores immediately, and official scores take 10-15 days.

The Verbal Reasoning Section

Skill Areas

The verbal reasoning section of the GRE for nurse practitioners evaluates a student's reading comprehension skills and their ability to recognize analogies and other relationships between words and concepts through text. Roughly half of this section requires students to read a passage and answer questions, while the other half requires students to complete existing sentences or passages.

Question Types

Students must answer three question types: text completion, reading comprehension, and sentence equivalence. Text completion questions present the student with a passage containing up to three blanks. The student chooses from three possible answers to fill in each of the blanks. The reading comprehension component accounts for roughly half of this section, including approximately 10 passages, with one to six questions each. In the sentence equivalence section, students choose two answers from six multiple-choice options to complete a sentence and maintain its meaning.

Common Pitfalls and How to Avoid Them

Trust your instincts in the GRE's verbal reasoning section. If an answer seems obvious, it could be testing your better judgement when facing several options. If an answer seems logical, but lacks proper grammar or syntax, it is incorrect. Always read each passage thoroughly to truly comprehend it before choosing answers.

Helpful Tips

Focus on Keywords: Words like however, although, and nonetheless can alter sentence structure and change its meaning. Look for such words to provide clues to understanding the author's argument.

Trust Your Instincts: Try to avoid glancing at the multiple choice options before filling in the blanks on your own. Once you have an idea of the answer, you should find similar options among the answer choices.

Consider the Passage's Big Picture: It is tempting to look for answers to the questions first, but this method will prove more difficult and time consuming. Always read the passage first to gain an understanding of its meaning.

Double Check for Errors: Save time for proofreading at the end of the section. You might need a second glance to catch an errant grammatical or style mistake.

The Analytical Writing Section

Skill Areas

The GRE's analytical writing section tests critical thinking and articulation skills, assessing the test taker's ability to construct and present a coherent argument. The section involves analyzing an issue and analyzing an argument. The former requires students to form and state their argument on an issue, providing supplemental reasoning and examples, while the latter requires a thorough examination based on the evidence and logic of an existing argument.

Question Types

This section includes two 30-minute timed sections for analyzing an issue and analyzing an argument. The issue analysis consists of one statement or passage, followed by a prompt with instructions to develop and articulate a clear position on the issue, supported by verifiable reasoning. To analyze an argument, students must read a passage of an existing argument and determine its strengths and weaknesses, potentially suggesting additional evidence that could reinforce the author's position.

Word-Processing Software

Test takers such as those in registered nurse and online psychiatric nurse practitioner programs who opt for the computer-delivered GRE will use word-processing software specially developed by ETS. The stripped-down program purposely includes only basic functions such as deleting and inserting text, copying and pasting, and undoing previous keystrokes. It does not include grammar- and spell-checking tools, since this would provide an unfair advantage over students taking the paper-delivered test.

Common Pitfalls and How to Avoid Them

While the flexible structure of the analytical writing section represents a departure from the fill-in-the-blank and multiple-choice questions of the GRE's other portions, this section's scoring system still confuses many students. Review ETS prep materials to explore the grading process, which can help you draft higher-scoring essays. Additionally, prepare yourself for any one of the sample prompts for defending an issue or argument. Your responses should include decisive, direct language and avoid unnecessary flourishes, superlatives, or complicated words.

Helpful Tips

Study Sample Prompts: ETS provides samples of all potential prompts, detailing essay instructions. Review all sample prompts to avoid surprises.

Review High-Scoring Essays: Test takers should review the scoring system and also read previous high-scoring sample essays. When crafting your own response, consider emulating the strengths of previous essays that impressed scorers.

Prioritize Proofreading: Scorers view excessive grammatical errors and misspelled words negatively, so always make time to proofread your work.

Test Your Time Management: To avoid feeling rushed on test day, consider practicing with a sample prompt, abiding the time limit of each task. Spending too much time outlining your idea but not articulating it can undermine your performance in this section.

The Quantitative Reasoning Section

Skill Areas

The quantitative reasoning section evaluates a student's grasp of basic mathematical concepts and skills and tests their reasoning ability through problem solving using quantitative methods. In addition to math problems involving algebra, geometry, arithmetic, and data analysis, this section includes questions in the form of word problems and sometimes poses math problems in the context of real-world scenarios. Questions encompass math and statistics skills up to the high school-level algebra II equivalent.

Question Types

Nursing students completing the quantitative reasoning section of the GRE will encounter four question types: numeric entry, quantitative comparison, one-answer multiple choice, and one-or-more-answer multiple choice. Some questions are presented individually, while others comprise a multi-question data interpretation set. Data interpretation sets may include numeric entry or either type of multiple-choice questions. Word problems, followed closely by algebra and percents, fractions, and ratios comprise the majority of questions.

Can You Use a Calculator on the GRE?

Students may use a calculator for the quantitative reasoning section of the GRE; however, they may not bring their own calculator. Administrators approve the use of calculators to minimize basic computation tasks and enable students to emphasize more important reasoning abilities. Students taking the computer-delivered test can access the on-screen calculator provided in this section, which includes only multiplication, division, addition, subtraction, and square-root functions. Test takers completing the GRE on paper receive a calculator at the test center.

Common Pitfalls and How to Avoid Them

Students preparing for the quantitative reasoning section of the GRE should avoid overwhelming themselves with unnecessary marathon-style math training. This section covers basic functions of math and statistics up to high school algebra only. While you should focus on revisiting challenging areas, don't stress your shortcomings in advanced calculus. Consider ways of simplifying your strategy for sections like quantitative comparison. For example, try to use the process of elimination to find an answer before working through each calculation.

Helpful Tips

Keep it Simple: Try to focus on the equation or calculation at hand, and eliminate unnecessary data, such as an extra zero in a fraction or after a decimal point.

Commit Equations to Memory: Memorizing basic functions of algebra and geometry is highly recommended. Ideally, on test day you can avoid spending too much time on routine equations and focus on individual questions.

Use Your Scratch Paper: You may only use the scratch paper provided by administrators during the test, and you must return all of it once finished. Administrators suggest replenishing your supply during the test's 10-minute break.

Practice Basic Math Skills: It is critical to simplify tasks in this section. Students should consider GRE test prep the right time to revisit basic functions appearing throughout the test, such as averages and probability.

How is the GRE Scored?

On the GRE General Test, the verbal reasoning and quantitative reasoning sections each encompass a score range of 130-170 possible points, in one-point increments, while the analytical writing portion encompasses a range of 0-6 points, in half-point increments. A section with no answers at all reports no score, or NS.

The GRE's analytical writing portion is scored the same. However, students taking the computer-delivered test receive a section-level adaptive score for both the verbal and quantitative reasoning sections, meaning the computer chooses the student's second section based upon their performance in the first. A student receives a raw score (number of questions answered correctly) for each section, later converted into a scaled score through the equating process. Students taking the paper-delivered test receive raw, not section-level adaptive, scores for the non-writing sections.

Two trained professionals score each essay from 0-6 points. Essay scores are then averaged and rounded up to the nearest half point to tally the section's final score.

Score Ranges on the GRE General Test

GRE Section Score Range
Verbal Reasoning 130-170 (1-point increments)
Analytical Writing 0-6 (1-point increments)
Quantitative Reasoning 130-170 (1-point increments)

Source: ETS

What's the Difference Between Your Scaled Score and Your Percentile Rank?

Beyond your scaled score, your percentile rank puts your performance in a context, comparing your GRE score to that of other test takers. While your official score includes both a scaled score and percentile rank, schools tend to place more importance on the latter, as your percentile rank provides a snapshot of your relative performance. For example, a scaled score of 4.0 in analytical writing translates to a percentile rank of 59%, meaning that student outperformed more than half of other test takers in the section.

What's an Average Score on the GRE?

Average Scores on the GRE General Test, 2013-16

GRE Section Score Range
Verbal Reasoning 149.97
Analytical Writing 3.48
Quantitative Reasoning 152.57

Source: ETS

How Do You Register for the GRE?

Students begin the standard GRE registration process by creating an ETS account. Students must register at least two days before taking the GRE. Applicants registering for the computer-delivered test may complete the process online or by phone, while registrants for the paper-delivered test may register by mail or online at

When Should You Take the GRE?

Students may retake the GRE every 21 days, however they may only register five times per year. A student considering the paper-delivered test should keep in mind that their scores may take up to five weeks to post.

How Much Does the GRE Cost?

The GRE General Test costs $205. Subject tests cost $150. Late registration incurs an additional fee of $25. Rescheduling your test date, changing your testing center, or changing your subject test each cost $50. Additional score reports cost $27 per recipient.

How Many Times Can You Take the GRE?

Students may retake the test up to five times in 12 consecutive months, or once every 21 days, whether or not the student canceled prior test scores within that period. Due to its limited availability, the paper-delivered test is not bound by such restrictions, and students may take it whenever offered in their area.

How Should You Prepare for the GRE?

At-Home Study Methods

Students can use a variety of at-home study methods to prepare for the GRE.

  • Printed Study Guides: Available for self-guided study, many test takers appreciate a hard copy study guide over an ebook. Printed study guides walk students through GRE sections and content.
  • Flashcards: Students can use flashcards to help them study for each GRE section, including their choice of sample questions, vocabulary words, and basic math problems.
  • Private Tutoring: Private tutors customize study plans to the student's needs and focus on improving areas of weakness.
  • Studying Apps: Ideal for students on the go, GRE prep apps provide intermittent intervals of study time for students to focus on multiple test sections and memorization methods.
  • Online Practice Tests: Some tests ease students into studying with a simple practice test, while others offer practice tests more challenging than the GRE itself.

GRE Prep Courses

ETS offers students their choice of diverse GRE prep courses. Students can access free and low-cost prep resources, including sample quizzes and webinars on the company's website. Some of the big names in standardized testing, such as Kaplan and Princeton Review, offer online and in-person study options, typically charging around $200 for self-paced programs and up to $1,800 for private tutoring.

Studying Tips for the GRE

Stay Steady and Organized: Consistency is key when studying for the GRE. Start early enough to make a study plan and stick to it, even if you can only study for a short time.

Review Past Lessons: Brush up on basic math, parts of speech, and vocabulary. Consult a study guide for which past lessons to prioritize.

Know Your Prefixes and Suffixes: Reviewing common prefixes and suffixes can help you decipher the probable meaning of words based solely on their composition.

Focus on Challenging Areas: If your practice test requires equal study time for each section but you know you need to emphasize reading comprehension, modify it to focus on your weak spots.

Practice, Practice, Practice: Use study methods that work for you and then practice until you know each section thoroughly.

Helpful Resources

ETS offers a variety of free and low-cost resources for students preparing to take the GRE, including:

  • ETS POWERPREP Practice Tests: Students taking the computer-delivered GRE General Test get free test previews and basic test prep. Students can also purchase an advanced online prep course through their ETS account.

  • Quizlet: A leading source for DIY, modular study prep online, this source offers hundreds of flashcards, study sets, and open courseware options.

  • Magoosh GRE Vocabulary Flashcards: This source offers several multi-channel options for students to study for the GRE's verbal reasoning section, including digital flashcards and a mobile flashcard app.

  • LEAP: Students can access free comprehensive study prep tools, including webinars, free prep classes, tutoring, and open courseware. They can search thousands of sample questions, and review hundreds of blogs and videos.

What Should You Expect on Test Day?

Students should arrive at least 30 minutes early on test day. Your administrator will assign seats before the test begins. Students receive scratch paper for use during the timed sections. They may not use scratch paper before the test or during breaks. The GRE includes a 10-minute break following the analytical writing section, and one-minute breaks in between the other sections. Students may use the restroom during the test, however timing of that section continues.

What Should You Bring with You?

  • Valid Photo ID: Students need a valid ID to create their ETS account and register for the GRE. They must also bring that same photo ID to check-in. The name on your photo ID must be an exact match to your registration name. If administrators cannot verify your identity, you cannot take the test or receive a refund of test fees.
  • Confirmation Email/Voucher: Students need the confirmation email they received after successful registration for the GRE. This confirms to administrators your correct test center and test date, which test you are taking, and to whom your scores will be sent.
  • Layers of Clothing: It is a good idea to wear layers that can be added or removed easily.

What Should You Leave at Home?

  • Study Notes/Books: Study notes, books, and electronic devices including phones, smartwatches, and PDAs are prohibited.
  • Your Own Scratch Paper: Students may only bring the paper displaying their confirmation email into the test room, and they may not use it as scratch paper. The administrator will disburse scratch paper and collect any unused paper after the test is complete.
  • Your Own Calculator: Students may not use their own calculator during the test. Instead, students can use the calculators provided on-screen for the computer-delivered test, or an approved calculator in person for the paper-delivered GRE.

Accommodations for Test Takers with Disabilities or Health-Associated Needs

ETS offers accommodations for test takers who meet eligibility qualifications for learning or health-related disabilities. Applicants must submit a professional evaluation diagnosing their learning or physical disability within the last five years, or psychiatric disability/brain injury during the last year. Common accommodations include additional testing time, screen magnification, extra breaks, and Braille compatibility. Check the ETS website for more information on applying for accommodations.

Submitting Your Scores

When Will You Get Your Scores?

Students taking the computer-delivered test get GRE scores in 10-15 days, and their scores are delivered to their designated schools at the same time. Students taking the paper-delivered test receive scores and the scores are sent to their designated schools within five weeks.

How Do You Submit Your Scores to Schools?

Students can designate up to four schools or fellowship sponsors to send scores. Registrants may submit only their most recent score or all of their test scores from the last five years if they have taken the GRE more than once during this period.

What Scores Will Schools See if You Take the Test More Than Once?

Available for both the GRE general and subject tests, ETS' ScoreSelect option enables students to choose which scores to send to each school on their list. They may choose not to report scores immediately when available, send only the most recent, send any from the last five years, or select which schools see which scores only after they take the GRE.

How Long Will Your Scores Be Valid?

Scores are reportable for five years from the test date for students who took the test on or after July 1, 2016. Those who took the GRE prior to July 1, 2016 may report their scores for five years following their test year. Test scores from before July 2012 are no longer reportable.