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How Long is the GRE?

The GRE can seem extremely grueling. It’s like a marathon but worse. It takes longer (at least for many) and it’s like having mini-sections throughout the marathon, in which you have to reach each quarter-way mark in a certain time or the road will open up and swallow you. Okay, that last bit was an exaggeration, but the fact that the clock is running for most of the test (even during the break or if you raise your hand to use the bathroom) hints at how stressful the test can be. So, how long is the GRE, exactly?

It’s long. Four hours is a good estimate — ETS will tell you three hours and forty-five minutes (not counting the break). Even the four hour estimate doesn’t include the time you spend commuting or checking into the testing center. There will likely be people in front of you taking all kinds of different tests. They might not have the same sense of serious purpose you do. Nor will the people working at the testing center. When you finally get to sit down at the computer, don’t be surprised if 20 minutes have elapsed since you’ve walked into the testing center.

But the test doesn’t automatically start as soon as you sit down. You first have to answer some questions and input personal information. You may also take the maximum time allotted on each section, including the ten-minute break and the five agonizing minutes you have to ponder over whether you want to accept your score.

All that said, you may breeze through each section, in which case the test may take less than three hours.

You should have a good sense of how long it takes you to work through each section. Below, I’ve noted the time given for each section. Based on your experience taking practice tests and working on your speed, you can adjust accordingly to answer the question: How long is the GRE for me?

How long is the GRE test?

Activity/MeasureTotal MinutesNotes
Checking in at test center5-20 minsDepending on the test center
Filling out information5-15 minsDepending on how quickly you work
Analytical Writing60 (30mins/section)This section is always first
Verbal Reasoning60 (30mins/section) (20 Qs/section)The order of this section changes
Quantitative Reasoning70 (35mins/section) (20 Qs/section)The order of this section changes
Break10 minsThis is always after the third section
Unidentified/Unscored section OR Identified/Unscored Research Section30-35 minsThe order of this section changes, but it is always unscored
Accepting your score5 minsBefore knowing your score, you can accept or reject it
TOTAL245-275 minsThe GRE experience will take you about 4-5 hours

Let’s break this down even more.

Test center check-in: 5-20 minutes

At a bare minimum, you have to sign in, the staff has to take your finger/palm print, and you have to figure out the locker experience. Sometimes you have to have your picture taken and be observed putting all your things in a locker. The minimum time before you sit down at the computer is five minutes.

You can also have the unenviable experience of getting stuck behind a line of people. In these extreme cases you may have to wait as long as twenty minutes to actually sit down at the computer. I’ve gone to testing centers in which the palm print or fingerprint machine is malfunctioning. There can be any number of hiccoughs.

Filling in information: 5-15 minutes

If you are taking the GRE for the first time, you will have to enter quite a lot of personal information (don’t worry – this doesn’t figure into your score!). This process may take as long as fifteen minutes. They will ask you your name, your level of education, the level of education of your parents, and a whole slew of other questions that they use for statistical purposes. To the best of my knowledge they are not selling this information on eBay.

How long is the Analytical Writing measure? 60 minutes

Again, if you are a fast writer you may take a little less time. However, I’m guessing 99% of test takers will use the maximum time allotted for the essays. You can always find ways to cut down on your essay writing time. Still, one hour is a long time, so make sure that when you take a practice test at home, you also write two full essays. Don’t go in on test day never having written these essays under timed conditions.

Remember: this section is always first. You can count on it.

How long are the Verbal Reasoning sections? 60 minutes

Each section is 30 minutes and 20 questions. The verbal sections are not back-to-back, unless the experimental section is a verbal section. I’m lumping the two verbal sections together only to indicate the total time.

Many students struggle with pacing on Reading Comprehension. So even though the time is set, navigating through dense passages can make the verbal sections alone seem like they last for four hours.

How long are the Quantitative Reasoning sections? 70 minutes

Each section is 35 minutes. Of course, you’ll be happy hear that you have those precious extra five minutes.  Here’s some tips on saving time with GRE math. But remember: accuracy is always your number one goal, especially if there is still time on the clock. Unlike in a marathon, you don’t get bragging rights for finishing faster.

Experimental section: 30 or 35 minutes

You may have noticed that each math section is five minutes longer than the verbal section. So if you end up getting a math section for an experimental section, expect to spend another five minutes in the testing center. If you’re good at math, you might  spend less time. Sometimes the experimental section is unidentified, and sometimes the test will tell you that this is a research section. Act as though all sections are scored, even though you know that one isn’t. Better to be safe than sorry.

Timed break: 10 minutes

You do not need to take this break, but for a better test score — and your sanity — I highly recommend you do. Also, if you don’t take advantage of the break because you are in the zone, remember that the callings of Mother Nature, which might pop up at any moment, have a way of derailing focus.

Score accept screen: 5 minutes

You have five minutes to determine whether you want to accept or reject your score. While you might be feeling the pressure here, at least you’re done! Breathe!

How long is the GRE? Totals

Checking in time: 10-35 minutes

Actually taking the GRE time: 4 hours

Therefore, from the time you walk into the testing center to the time you walk out, you are looking at close to four and a half hours. Yikes! Because it’s obviously so exhausting to sit through the entire test, I really recommend taking at least a couple of practice tests that simulate the real thing  before test day. That means no interruptions for four and a half hours! Can you do it? (You can do it.)

If you’ve still got questions about the GRE, check out our Ultimate GRE Guide!

Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in March 2013 and has been updated for freshness, accuracy, and comprehensiveness.

By the way, students who use Magoosh GRE improve their scores by an average of 8 points on the new scale (150 points on the old scale.) Click here to learn more.

5 Responses to How Long is the GRE?

1. mounika June 26, 2016 at 11:07 pm #

If i write gre in december,then at what period can i attend my college

• Magoosh Test Prep Expert June 27, 2016 at 6:17 am #

Hi Mounika,

This depends on the schools you want to attend and their application timelines. You may be able to apply for Fall 2017 entry in some cases, but in others you might have to wait until Spring 2018 or Fall 2018 if your deadlines will have passed. You should do some careful research now to find the best answer! 🙂

2. Alizabeth November 4, 2015 at 8:35 am #

Hi Chris,

I’ve been trying to figure out how many chances there will be to grab a bite and some water during the test. I know food and drink isn’t allowed and that I can eat during the ten minute break, but can I eat in between the other individual sessions at all? I am pregnant and will function better the more times I can grab a small bite.

Thanks!

3. Rishi March 5, 2013 at 12:16 am #

Hi Chris,

Thanks for the info.
I would like to know something – what is the breakup of question types in both the Verbal sections, meaning out of a total of 20 questions for each Verbal section, how many each for RC/TC/SE can appear? Is there any fixed pattern or anything might come in at random?

• Chris Lele March 5, 2013 at 3:07 pm #

Hi Rishi,

What great timing :)!! We are just about to release a post that answers your very question. It should be coming out in the next 36 hours. Stay tuned!!

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