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?
|Checking in at test center||5-20 mins||Depending on the test center|
|Filling out information||5-15 mins||Depending on how quickly you work|
|Analytical Writing||60 (30mins/section)||This section is always first|
|Verbal Reasoning||60 (30mins/section) (20 Qs/section)||The order of this section changes|
|Quantitative Reasoning||70 (35mins/section) (20 Qs/section)||The order of this section changes|
|Break||10 mins||This is always after the third section|
|Unidentified/Unscored section OR Identified/Unscored Research Section||30-35 mins||The order of this section changes, but it is always unscored|
|Accepting your score||5 mins||Before knowing your score, you can accept or reject it|
|TOTAL||245-275 mins||The 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.