GRE (Graduate Record Examination) for PhD Study – A Guide |
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GRE for PhD Study

Written by Ben Taylor

The Graduate Record Examination (GRE) is a graduate admissions test that is sometimes part of the entry requirements for PhD programmes in North America and Australia.

UK universities don’t usually require a GRE score, but it’s always worth checking – particularly if you’re applying for a PhD in Business or Management. It’s administered by Education Testing Services (ETS), who are also responsible for the TOEFL English language qualification.

Unlike the Graduate Management Admissions Test (GMAT) which focuses on Business and Management, the GRE is a more general exam that is used in many subject areas. It’s also possible to take a subject-specific GRE in one of several disciplines.

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How does the GRE work?

Most candidates will take the computer-delivered version of the GRE. You’ll be able to use preview, editing and tagging features in this format, changing your answers to questions within a section and marking others to return to later.

There are three main sections to the GRE:

  • Analytical Writing (score scale: 0-6, with half-point increments) – During two 30-minute essays, you’ll analyse an argument and an issue. This section assesses your critical thinking skills and not your general knowledge of the essay topics.
  • Verbal Reasoning (score scale: 130-170, with one-point increments) – The questions in this section measure your ability to comprehend and critical analyse different kinds of information.
  • Quantitative Reasoning (score scale: 130-170, with one-point increments) – You’ll need to demonstrate your problem-solving skills, interpreting and analysing data in a variety of forms. This section will test your knowledge of mathematical subjects including algebra and geometry.

There may be another ‘unscored’ section in your GRE, which will be used by the test’s administrators to trial questions for future exams.

The GRE lasts three hours and 45 minutes.

Paper-delivered GRE

If you live in a region or country where the computer-delivered GRE isn’t available, you can take the paper-delivered version of the test. This exam is typically offered on up to three dates a year.

You can find out more by visiting the ETS page on the paper-delivered GRE.

Subject-specific GRE

In addition to the general GRE, it’s possible to take a subject-specific GRE. These specialised exams assume that you’ve already studied the subject in question at undergraduate or Masters level. The available subjects are:

  • Chemistry
  • Maths
  • Physics
  • Psychology

Admissions requirements differ from university to university and PhD to PhD, so make sure you check with your prospective department which GRE is suitable for their entry requirements.

Is the GRE required for a PhD?

It depends what and where you want to study. In most cases, you’ll be able to study a PhD without the GRE. However, if you want to study a PhD in Business or Management at some anglophone universities – particularly in North America and Australia – it’s likely that you’ll be asked to provide a general GRE or GMAT score. This is sometimes also the case for British doctoral programmes in Business and Management.

If you want to study a PhD in most other subjects at an American university, you will often have to supply a general GRE score or take a subject-specific GRE in a relevant discipline.

What GRE score do I need for a PhD?

If a doctoral programme includes the GRE in its entry requirements, it won’t usually specify a particular score. Instead, the department will give the average GRE score achieved by previous cohorts so that applicants have an idea of what they should be aiming for.

Most graduate schools view the GRE as just one element of their selection procedure – a lower than average result isn’t necessarily the end of the world, especially if the rest of your application is particularly strong.

GRE preparation

ETS offers a range of free online resources to help you prepare for the GRE, including webinars and two practice papers that recreate the exam experience. Here you can also find plenty of sample questions and guidance on what each section involves.

There are also paid-for preparation packages on the ETS website if you think you need more help. Watch out for unofficial resources, as their quality won’t be guaranteed.

Where can I take the GRE?

There are more than 1,000 GRE test centres in over 160 countries. You can take the computer-delivered version of the test all year round, while the paper-delivered one is only available a few times a year. You can view a full list of dates and test locations on the ETS website.

How much does the GRE cost?

GRE fees depend on the test location and the kind of exam you’re taking. The general GRE will usually cost between USD $205 and USD $255, while the subject-specific GRE costs around USD $150.

Online GRE

There is currently an online, home-based version of the GRE available to students who aren’t able to attend a test centre due to the coronavirus pandemic. It’s very similar in form and content to the normal version of the GRE General Test, and there will be a human proctor monitoring your progress. The fee is also the same for the home-based GRE.

Find out more about the home-based GRE on the ETS website.

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Last Updated: 28 January 2021