Jonathan Golding, Ph.D. and Anne Lippert, PhD

Careers in Psych

De-Mystifying the GRE: Part 3

Understanding the ins and outs of taking the GRE

Posted Apr 28, 2016

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In 2011 the GRE was revised so that the online version is considered “adaptive by section”. What this means is that for the math and verbal sections you will receive at least two sections. The level of difficulty of the second section is a function of your performance on the first section of each subject. That is, if you were correct a lot on section 1, you will get a more difficult second section. However, you have the ability to score higher with this more difficult second section. If you did not get a lot correct on section 1, your second section will be easier but your scoring potential is capped at a lower range.

You should be aware that some test takers will also see an additional experimental math or verbal section, which will not be included in you final score. For example, if you receive three math sections, you will know that your experimental section was math, but you won't be able to tell which of the three was not scored.

The test takes about 3 hours 45 minutes to complete.

When the GRE is over, you are given the opportunity to report or cancel your scores. If you choose to report your scores, you will be presented the unofficial scores for the math and verbal sections since these are computer scored. You will have to wait to get your analytical section score.

If you choose to cancel your scores, they are basically wiped out—neither you nor any school will see them. Thus, you really have to think hard about taking this option.

The GRE also has something called the ScoreSelect® option. This option lets you send the GRE test scores from only those test date(s) you want graduate schools to see. You can make your decision about sending test scores the day of a test or at a later date.

What About Your Score?

Your score for the math section, scored by computer, will be between 130 and 170 (in one-point increments). The same is true for the verbal section.

The scoring of the analytic section is interesting. The GRE site states that each of your essays receives a score from at least one trained reader. The essays are scored on the basis of overall quality—critical thinking and analytical writing are emphasized, while grammar and mechanics are not weighted as much. ETS then states that each of your essays “is then scored by e-rater®, a computerized program developed by ETS that is capable of identifying essay features related to writing proficiency.” If the human and the e-rater scores closely agree, the two scores are averaged to obtain a final score. If there is disagreement, a second human scorer is used--the final score is the average of the two human scores. Ultimately, your final scores on the two essays are then averaged and rounded to the nearest half-point interval on a 0–6 score scale. A single score is reported for the Analytical Writing measure.

Your GRE scores are good for 5 years.

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Are GRE scores important?

Your GRE scores can be extremely important. Because the GREs are a standardized test, the argument is that this score allows each graduate school selection committee to compare your score in an equal fashion against all other applicants. This gets even more important if you are going to a college that is perceived as less strong academically. For example, a student going to the University of Kentucky (U.S. News and World Report college ranking of 129) might get a math GRE score of 150, but a student going to Harvard (U.S. News and World Report college ranking of 2) might get a math score of 135. The University of Kentucky student’s math score would be the stronger score. Another way GRE scores can work for you is if you have only mediocre grades (e.g., a 3.20 overall GPA), but if you score really high on the GRE your high score can, in effect, offset those modest grades. Keep in mind that some schools use GRE scores to make decisions about scholarships and fellowships.

It is important to understand that the weight a graduate school puts on GRE scores can vary. Therefore, make sure you are clear on how much a program values these scores. You can contact most graduate schools and someone will let you know how the GRE is considered in admissions and funding decisions. They will probably also tell you the average scores of previously admitted students. To get this information on your own, you can check graduate program websites, read about specific programs in the APA book Graduate Study in Psychology, or contact the staff member and/or faculty member in charge of the particular program for which you would like to apply.

I need to make one final point about GRE scores. Although GRE scores are used by graduate programs when making selection decisions, other aspects of your record are also considered. These include letters of recommendation, statement of purpose, and your GPA.

In closing, I hope the information I provided gave you a better understanding of the GRE. You might also want to check out the Wikipedia site at

Good luck if you plan on taking the GRE!

Please note that the comments of Dr. Golding, Dr. Lippert and the others who post on this blog express their own opinion and not that of the University of Kentucky.

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