GRE Sections in Brief
GRE SectionsQuestion CountTime
Analyze an Issue Essay130 minutes
Analyze an Argument Essay130 minutes
Verbal Reasoning (x2 sections)2030 minutes
Quantitative Reasoning (x2 sections)2035 minutes
Unscored Section2030-35 minutes

Intro to the GRE Sections

Here’s what to expect when you sit down at the testing center’s computer to take the GRE. 

Analyze an Issue Essay

30 minutes 

This section asks you to write a response to a broad, philosophical question. We think of essays as low priority GRE sections. 

Analyze an Argument Essay

30 minutes 

This section asks you to write a critique of the quality of the reasoning in a short passage. Again, we want to be aware that the Verbal and Quantitative GRE sections are a higher priority for many programs than are the essays.

Verbal Reasoning 

2 sections, 30 minutes each 

This section tests reading, vocabulary, and critical thinking skills with the following question types: 

  1. Sentence Completion 
    Fill in the blank vocabulary questions have one, two, or three spaces.  
  2. Sentence Equivalence 
    These vocabulary questions test synonyms. 
  3. Reading Comprehension Passages 
    Most questions are multiple choice. Others are answered by highlighting a specific sentence on the screen. 
  4. Logical Reasoning Passages 
    Multiple choice questions have 1 or more correct answers. 

Quantitative Reasoning 

2 sections, 35 minutes each 

This section tests your math and data interpretation skills with the following question types: 

  • Quantitative Comparisons 
  • Multiple Choice Questions that may have 1 correct answer or several. 
  • Problem Solving: Non-Multiple Choice questions answered by typing in your own answer. 

Unscored Section 

30-35 minutes 

This extra, unscored section may be either a Verbal or Quantitative Reasoning GRE section. It may appear at any time after the essays and will not be identified as an unscored section. 

Research Section 

Time Varies 

This is an extra, unscored section that the test writers administer to gather demographic data on testers. Not all testers get a research section. If you do, it will always appear at the end. Total testing time: about 4 hours.

Computer-Based Testing 

If taking a test on the computer is new for you, don’t worry: you’re in the same boat as most other testers. The good news is that with a little practice, computer-based testing isn’t necessarily any more difficult than testing with paper and pencil. It’s just different. It’s important to understand that the GRE is section-adaptive. That means that the difficulty level of future sections is adjusted according to your performance on earlier ones. For example, if you do very well on your first math section, the second math section will be harder (and thus earn you the opportunity for a higher score). The difficulty does not adjust from one question to the next within a section. You’re free to move around the section as much as you like and to answer questions in whatever order you see fit. Early in the process of your test prep, it is helpful to take one of the two official ETS practice tests

Computer Layout for GRE Sections

Essays (Analytic Writing)
Here, the screen will be divided into two parts. You’ll see the prompt on the left side and a word processing window on the right where you’ll type your response. The word processing software is adequate but limited: you’ll be able to cut, copy, and paste, but there’s no spell check.

Quantitative Reasoning

For the multiple choice questions, you’ll simply click your answer choice(s); for others, you’ll type in your answer. There is a very simple on-screen calculator that can add, subtract, multiply, divide, and take a square root. There is no exponent button, much less any advanced capabilities like graphing.


Verbal Reasoning

These questions are answered by clicking on answer choices or, occasionally, clicking a specific sentence in a passage. The software does not provide a way for you to underline or highlight a passage as you read it, but you’ll be able to use scrap paper for all sections, so you can take notes as you read.

Scoring for GRE Sections

Verbal Section and Quantitative Section Scoring

Your scores on the multiple-choice sections are converted into two “scaled scores,” one for verbal and one for quantitative. The scale is 130 to 170 for each. Keep in mind that the percentiles are of those fairly competitive students contemplating graduate school. 

GRE Scaled ScoreVerbal Reasoning PercentileQuantitative Reasoning Percentile
1709998
1699997
1689895
1679794
1669692
1659590
1649388
1639286
1628983
1618780
1608478
1598174
1587871
1577668
1567164
1556760
1546356
1535952
1525448
1515044
1504540
1494137
1483632
1473328
1462925
1452521
1442218
1431815
1421613
1411310
140108
13986
13874
13753

Essay Scoring 

In case you’re curious, here are the percentages for the GRE Essays (Analytic Writing)

6.099
5.598
5.093
4.580
4.056
3.538
3.015
2.57
2.02
1.51