GRE History

The GRE was created by ETS in 1949 and aims to measure Verbal Reasoning, Quantitative Reasoning, and Analytical Writing skills. ETS is composed of a combination of Researchers and Statisticians, test developers, and educational policy specialists dedicated to social responsibility, equity, opportunity, and quality. It is also the graduate test with the most diverse student base, used by students applying to a great variety of schools and programs.

ETS has adapted the GRE to fit the changing needs of learners, educational institutions, and education policy. Its goals are to raise awareness of educational issues, develop assessments that are valid and fair, and conduct research that drives innovation and informs education policy. The 2011 test revision and the continued use of the experimental or research section have contributed to the ability of ETS to continuously update its material to meet the changing needs of its stakeholders, including students taking the test.

2011 Revision

The GRE was significantly revised in August 2011, changing the scoring system from a scale of 200-800 to a scale of 130-170, and changing the test from a continuously adaptive test to one that is only adaptive by section. After the first quantitative and verbal sections, the computer evaluates performance and adjusts the difficulty level of the second quantitative and verbal sections, so students who perform well on their first sections will "level up" to a more difficult test. The computer also adjusts the "scaled score" so that more difficult tests can achieve higher scores.

The ETS has one experimental or research section on the GRE that it uses to continuously evaluate and update its test. The experimental section can be Quantitative or Verbal Reasoning, and may be any of the five sections after the Analytical Writing section. The experimental section is not scored, but it is used by ETS to evaluate GRE test takers' performance on certain questions, so that they can be adapted for possible inclusion in future tests. In some cases, instead of or in addition to the experimental section, there is an optional research section at the end of the test that is clearly identified.


One of the structural changes that is currently driving the evolution of the use of the GRE is its expansion into the realm of MBA admissions. Historically, the GMAT has been the preferred test for business schools because it tests quantitative skills and English language abilities that are specifically relevant to business school. In recent years, however, ETS has created a score comparison tool that makes it possible for business schools to directly compare the competitiveness of students who have taken either test, although the administrators emphasize that the tests measure different capabilities. Generally, the GMAT is regarded as having more difficult Quantitative Reasoning sections, whereas the GRE is regarded as being more challenging in its Analytical Writing and Verbal Reasoning sections. If you plan to take the GRE, you should plan to "learn the language of the test" by leveraging the intellectual skills and abilities that you developed during your undergraduate education.

Aside from their differences in content, the main distinction between the GMAT and the GRE is the way their adaptive testing algorithms work. For the GMAT, each test question is independently timed and the test adapts after each question, getting more difficult after each correct answer. For the GRE, each test section is independently timed and the test adapts after the first section of each type. This makes it possible for you to review all of your answers at the end of a section, and it means that your first and second sections may have different difficulty levels.

GRE Subject Tests

The GRE General Test is intended to provide a benchmark reflecting students communication ability and their knowledge acquired during their undergraduate education and subsequent professional experience. It is a "general" test because the only knowledge required are basic mathematical problem-solving techniques, and a thorough understanding and familiarity with the English language. If you are applying to graduate programs that require skillsets or knowledge bases, then you may need to take additional GRE Subject Tests to demonstrate a deeper understanding of those areas. Even if your graduate program does not require GRE Subject Tests, however, they may be useful as a networking tool, to provide evidence of your academic background as well as your ability to contribute to professional teams.

GRE Subject tests are available in Biochemistry, Cell, and Molecular Biology; Biology; Chemistry; Literature in English; Mathematics; Physics; and Psychology. They are accepted by thousands of graduate schools, as well as subdivisions or specific programs within those schools. While the GRE General Test is most useful as a way to "get your foot in the door" at educational institutions, the subject tests enable students to flesh out their backgrounds and help find graduate programs that will cater to their specific strengths and passions. ETS also used to offer a Computer Science test, but that was discontinued in April 2013 due to insufficient demand.