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GRE Scratch Paper

So … The GRE. What to bring? Is there special GRE scratch paper? Are there fancy GRE pencils? Custom GRE calculators?

The answer is yes — kinda.

gre scratch paper, gre what to bring

Checking in to a testing center can be a dehumanizing experience. You must empty all your pockets, store your valuables in a locker, and, once you are inside the testing area, maintain complete silence.

These regulations are understandable, as they help to prevent cheating. But they who taketh away also giveth: along with a pencil, the test monitors will provide you with scratch paper before you walk into the exam room.

It is important not just to use it, but to use it wisely. Below are some important points to keep in mind when using scratch paper.

Tips for Using GRE Scratch Paper

The Basics

Keep in mind that you will get more than enough scratch paper. If you happen to run out, raise your hand. The testing center manager will walk over and provide you with more paper.

You will also receive a standard No. 2 pencil. You cannot bring your own writing implements.

You cannot write on the scratch paper before the section begins. The reasons for this are twofold: it would not be fair if you were able to dump all your formulas and high-frequency vocabulary on the page before you even begin the test. Second, students used to write answer grids on the paper to help them eliminate mistakes, giving them an unfair advantage. As soon as the clock starts you can write whatever you want on the scratch paper, answer grids included.

Tip #1: Develop good habits

Below are several tips you should keep in mind when using scratch paper. Do not wait to try them out on test day. Instead, practice doing problems and mock tests with scratch paper by your side, applying the tips below.

Tip #2: Keep your GRE scratch paper organized

Do you find yourself furiously scribbling off the margins of the paper? I certainly do. So practice keeping your work organized. Remember that you don’t need to economize space — just raise your hand if you need more paper.

Tip #3: Keep it neat

I have awful handwriting. I used to write short stories by hand and could never read them. Perhaps they were Pulitzer-prize worthy… the world will never know. (Luckily, I  switched long ago to various electronic mediums). Since high school, I’ve been able to avoid writing anything by hand, so it’s not surprising that my handwriting has devolved into something pre-K. Since you’ll be writing by hand on your GRE scratch paper, a little handwriting practice will do you some good.

For the GRE, I typically don’t write much more than numbers when I use the scratch paper. Even then, I tend to mistake 7’s for 9’s, and 2’s for 4’s. The only solution I’ve found is to slow down just a touch. Though this might cost me an extra second, such a precaution can save me from a lot of careless errors. So if you’re like me — though I’m sure your writing is more legible than mine — my best advice is to slow down a little. Doing so will also help you be organized so you’re not writing at odd angles and running off the page.

Tip #4: Don’t overlap

If you try to stuff too much on one page, you are likely to start mixing up information in problems. You can also get easily lost going back and forth between the computer screen and your GRE scratch paper. By only doing a few problems per page and making sure that those problems are organized neatly, you prevent yourself from making careless mistakes and spending unnecessary time trying to figure out where you wrote your answer.

GRE What to Bring

You can’t bring your own scratch paper, but I wanted to talk about what you allowable stuff you should bring to the testing center.

gre what to bring, gre scratch paper


Don’t underestimate the need for caloric infusion midway through the grueling four hours of test taking. In fact, because you’ve been nerves all morning and likely didn’t sleep that well, you might not even be aware of how hungry you are. But when you feel those abdominal rumblings midway through a long passage on the idiosyncrasies of casting in Elizabethan plays, to be without sustenance is to send your already fried nerves into overdrive.

You can’t actually bring snacks into the testing room — but you can bring them into the testing center. You’ll get a locker the size of ten GRE prep books stacked on top of each other. You can squeeze most kinds of snacks in here, and you might even have room for a diminutive laptop. But you can only access your locker contents during break time. Technically, you’re allowed to leave the testing room, but the clock will be running. You’ll have to open the locker, get your stuff off, and then try to scarf down a banana (or whatever viands you’ve brought) all while the clock is ticking.

If you finish the section early, make sure you have enough time to get back, because the next section will automatically begin whether or not you are sitting in front of the computer. Of course, if your blood sugar has completely crashed and you are having visions, your main priority should be getting to your locker.

No calculator

What I mean by this is you can’t bring a calculator to the exam. Sure, you can use a calculator, but that’s the one provided onscreen as part of the GRE test. So, sorry: you can’t bring your newfangled TI-2000-something or another hoping that it’ll make mincemeat out of any parabola the test throws at you.

Smartphone and laptop

You can bring these when you take the GRE. (In fact, you can bring just about anything to store in your locker). But you can’t access them till after your test is over. So don’t think you can type notes into or rely on your trusty “cheat sheet.” The only things you can remove from your locker are your snacks.


GRE scratch paper is a valuable tool. Make sure you practice good scratch paper habits before you walk in and take the test.

Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in January of 2012 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.

33 Responses to GRE Scratch Paper

  1. Husnain Manzoor October 17, 2016 at 10:46 pm #


    I have a question regarding Quant section of GRE. I have already given my GRE general test before and scored a 300 (Q:152, V:148). The university that i am applying to requires a higher quant score and they have asked me to retake the “Quant” section of the exam.

    Is it possible that I can retake the entire exam and leave the Verbal section blank and just answer the Quant section and get a score for the section that i have answered and have the other sections display as NS (No score). The university is not bothered with my Verbal score, all they want is a high Quant score and the admissions officer there was the one who suggested that I do this.

    Any help regarding this matter would be much appreciated.

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
      Magoosh Test Prep Expert October 18, 2016 at 3:14 am #

      Hi Husnain,

      As far as I know you can do this, but you still have to stay in the testing center for the full duration of the exam. If you are sure that you don’t need anything but the quant score, you can do this. Good luck! 🙂

  2. Praveen Chand August 30, 2016 at 5:46 am #

    Hi Chris!

    I am very much thankful to you and your team for all the wonderful resources online. The practice questions(weekly questions) helped me a lot in improving myself. I gave the GRE a week back and scored 330/340(Q : 170 V : 160)

    Thanks again! Cheers!

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
      Magoosh Test Prep Expert August 30, 2016 at 3:35 pm #

      Hi Praveen!

      Firstly, on behalf of Chris and the rest of the team at Magoosh, you’re very welcome! And secondly, congratulations on your excellent scores 😀 It’s awesome to hear that we were able to help improve and reach your goals!

      Good luck with the application process 🙂

  3. Sneha July 29, 2016 at 12:25 pm #

    Hi, My brother recently gave his GRE test and in a moment of absent mindedness, he went through his notes in the break by mistake. He was asked by an invigilator to stop it immediately and allowed to complete the test but now he has received an email, asking him to explain his actions. They threaten cancelling his score as well. Has this happened to anyone else before?

    Does explaining how it was an honest mistake due to forgetfulness help? Please help!

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
      Magoosh Test Prep Expert August 6, 2016 at 6:56 am #

      Hi Sneha,

      We’ve never heard of this happening to a student, so unfortunately, we can’t be of much help. That said, we hope everything works out ok! 🙂

  4. -Margaret November 26, 2015 at 9:02 am #

    I know this is an old thread, but it comes up high in the search results for pencils at the GRE. ETS now states in their policies that the testing centers will NOT provide pencils and erasers for the test. They tell you to bring “three or four sharpened No. 2 or HB pencils and a good eraser.” Absolutely no mechanical pencils are allowed. I’m guessing that the vagueness of the “or” means you can bring more if you wish, but I do not know for sure. Anyone have a report on this?

    • Sada August 30, 2016 at 4:48 am #

      Can someone confirm this? Did ETS change its policy about the pencil, making test takers to bring their own?

      • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
        Magoosh Test Prep Expert August 30, 2016 at 3:33 pm #

        Hi Sada,

        There is no mention on the ETS website that students taking the computer-based exam need to bring their own pencils/erasers. There are specific instructions, though, for students taking the paper-delivered test:

        Take three or four sharpened No. 2 or HB pencils and a good eraser. Pencils and erasers will not be supplied at the center. Mechanical pencils and pens are not permitted.

        That said, you may want to contact your testing center to confirm what you need to bring on test day, just to be sure 🙂

  5. Daniel October 20, 2015 at 2:53 am #

    where in the policy does it say that one cannot write on the scratch paper before the section begin?
    I usually divide my scratch paper into 8 boxes (one for each question) to keep my notes organized.
    Would it be allowed to do that in the break?

  6. Yash October 7, 2015 at 2:49 pm #

    Hi Chris,

    I was wondering if the scratch paper is graph paper similar to the GMAT.


  7. Selena September 15, 2015 at 8:12 pm #

    Hi Chris,
    I dont know if this was answered, but are multiple pencils provided as well on top of extra scratch paper? Or does the testing center only hand you one pencil and you have to raise your hand for me once the lead flattens out?

    • Tris September 25, 2015 at 1:48 pm #

      I would also like to know the answer to this question as it concerns me that I will lose valuable time only having one pencil that either has to be sharpened or replaced.

      • Jessica Wan
        Jessica Wan September 25, 2015 at 4:46 pm #

        Hi Selena and Tris,

        You can notify the test proctor if you need more pencils and/or paper.

        Hope this helps!

  8. bob June 30, 2015 at 9:57 am #

    Hey Chris,

    This is going to sound childish but are we allowed to take a water bottle with us or they will provide us with water bottle……

  9. Nick May 13, 2015 at 8:40 pm #


    Is the scratch paper blank or ruled? I would personally prefer blank. Also I do most of my questons using a mechanical pencil that I’ved used for the past 10 years, I wonder if I should switch to an old school #2 pencil during my practice so I’ll be most comfortable come test day.


    • Chris Lele
      Chris Lele May 14, 2015 at 4:50 pm #

      Hi Nick,

      Those are some good questions! First off, the paper is blank. As for the #2 pencil, I’d say hunt one down. The best way to prepare for test day is by simulating the experience as closely as possible, down to the very feel of the writing instrument.

      Good luck 🙂

  10. kam February 13, 2015 at 12:05 pm #

    Hi Chris,

    Are we given a scratch paper and pencil whilst undertaken a computerised GRE test?

    • Rachel Wisuri
      Rachel February 17, 2015 at 3:01 pm #

      Yes. 🙂

  11. Valerie December 15, 2014 at 10:09 am #

    Whatever you do- DO NOT take home scrap paper! I made the mistake of writing down my verbal and quantitative scores, and then tore off about a 1 1/2 inch square of paper. Now, ETS won’t release my score,and they’re going to hold a tribunal. Has anyone gone through this before?

    • Chris Lele
      Chris Lele December 16, 2014 at 11:49 am #

      So sorry to hear that! This is the first time I’ve heard this happening. I think it does stipulate that you can’t leave the “inner sanctum” of the test center with anything in your pocket, beyond your locker key.

      I really hope that they go easy on you and see that you made an honest mistake, and are not some agent who sells test prep secrets to Kaplan.

      Best of luck, and do let us know what happens.

      • Valerie January 16, 2015 at 12:54 pm #

        Hi, Chris.

        I ‘won’ my case, and ETS finally released my scores. Phew! That was a close one- but the process took over a month to resolve. Thanks again for this great site; it’s extremely informative and it gives us test-takers piece of mind, too!

        • Bvk17 October 17, 2015 at 5:18 am #

          I faced the same problem in the test today. I tore off a paper so that I could make a note of my Quant and verbal scores. While going out, the test centre guys took the chit from me. Although there was just my score in the chit, they noted down my name. I’m afraid now, if they will report this to ets. Has anyone else faced the same problem?

  12. Jeff September 6, 2014 at 8:21 pm #

    Hello Chris,
    What was your strategy for annotating passages in the Verbal section. Did you write stuff down on the scratch paper or did you not use the paper at all for verbal. In other words, how did you keep track of information?


    • Chris Lele
      Chris Lele September 8, 2014 at 11:49 am #

      Hi Jeff,

      Over the years, I’ve always encouraged students to form mental maps of the passage (really, just big picture sense of what each paragraph talks about and how the paragraphs connect to each other). It often takes a little bit of struggle but I find it far more efficient than annotating the passage, a strategy that can take one “out” of the passage and waste precious minutes. Try it out, giving it some time, and see how it works. That’s how I’ve done passages as well.

      Hope that helps!

  13. Stephanie July 17, 2014 at 3:02 pm #

    Hi Chris,

    On the GRE, I know the paper is yellow or pink — or at least that’s what I heard (is that right)? I’m wondering how big the sheets of scratch paper are — 8.5” x 11” or legal size or A4, etc? Just an estimate would be good to know. I just like to mimic the test environment as much as possible so practicing on paper about the size and color for the GRE would be helpful to me. Thank you!

    • Chris Lele
      Chris Lele July 18, 2014 at 2:08 pm #

      Hi Stephanie,

      That’s a good question! My recollection is that they are either pink or yellow. They are also of legal size. I like your attention to detail :). Good luck!

      • Stephanie July 19, 2014 at 9:05 am #

        Thank you, Chris! I’m going on a hunt for some now. =)

      • Stephanie July 19, 2014 at 9:06 am #

        Thank you, Chris!

        • Chris Lele
          Chris Lele July 21, 2014 at 11:37 am #

          You are welcome 🙂

    • Emily September 8, 2014 at 7:50 am #

      I got blue paper on which the pencil did not show up well. I could not see what I was writing and lost time trying to find my calculations and formulas. I called to complain after the test. I was told that they rotate colors daily for security reasons.

  14. Carla January 17, 2012 at 5:29 pm #

    Hi Chris, is that true that if I ask for more scractch paper the ETS guy will take my scratched papers out in order to provide the new ones?

    • Chris Lele
      Chris January 18, 2012 at 1:51 pm #

      You know I’m not sure if that is ETS’s policy. At the same time, the person at the testing center – whom I don’t think is affiliated with ETS in any way – may choose to do so. The truth is testing centers can vary depending on their policies and the overall quiet of the testing center.

      My guess is that ETS would not make this a policy because the GRE allows you to go back to questions. If your work is on that scratch paper, it would be unfair for them to take away the paper in order to hand out blank scratch paper.

      Hope that helps!

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