The GRE Test 2020-2021: Everything You Need to Know

Student with cap - Guide to everything you need to know about the GRE - Magoosh Original image by Syda Productions

The GRE test (Graduate Record Examination) is a computer-based standardized exam many American graduate programs require in the admissions process. The GRE exam comprises six sections and takes 3 hours and 45 minutes to complete. In those six sections, you can expect to see Verbal, Quantitative, and Analytical Writing Assessment (AWA) sections. To learn all about GRE exam topics and how to approach them (as well as all about the GRE test itself), watch the video below and read on for Magoosh’s official guide to the GRE!

Table of Contents

Supplemental Materials

Once you’ve finished learning all about the GRE exam, you’ll find the answers and explanations for all this post’s practice questions, plus an in-depth examination of “good” vs “bad” GRE practice, at the very end of this post.

Chapter 1: What is the GRE Test?

What is the GRE Test?

Let’s start out with some GRE basics. You’d think that knowing the GRE’s full name would give you some clue to what the test itself is. But what does GRE actually mean? It stands for “Graduate Record Examination.” That could be almost anything!

To clarify: the GRE test is an exam that American universities, including master’s and doctoral programs, use to evaluate candidates. However, individual universities do not offer the GRE as an entrance exam. Instead, the Educational Testing Service (ETS), an independent organization, writes and administers the test. Admissions committees (adcoms) then use an applicant’s GRE scores, most often in combination with other factors such as undergraduate GPA, letters of recommendation, and personal statements, to evaluate the candidate’s admissions file.

If you’re thinking about applying to a graduate program, it’s important to find out as soon as possible whether it requires applicants to submit GRE scores for admission. Not only will this give you a better idea of the school’s requirements, but it will also help you pin down your GRE test date and register for the exam.

When is the GRE Exam Offered?

The GRE exam is offered almost every day of the year. (Not on Sundays or national holidays, though! If you have a full-time job, Saturday is probably your best bet.) However, there’s a big caveat to that: seats at test centers fill up fast on GRE test dates, so it may not be available to you every day of the year. That’s why you should register for the exam as soon as you know you want to take it, bearing in mind deadlines for the programs to which you’re applying.

If you’re taking the paper-based GRE exam (rare, but it still happens), it’s so important to schedule your test date as soon as you know you’ll be taking the GRE. Why? Because there are only two GRE test dates a year FOR PAPER-BASED TESTS. You can take it in February or November—but that’s it.

Can you retake the GRE?

Yes, but there are strict rules about when you can retake it. No more than once every 21 days, no more than five times a year. Basically, if you think you may want to retake the GRE exam, it’s all the more important to register right away. Consider the application schedules of the schools to which you’re applying and plan accordingly.

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chapter 2: what does the gre exam evaluate?

What Does the GRE Exam Evaluate?

Now that you know how important it is to register early (super important!), let’s look at an overview of the GRE general test. What is the GRE test like? Although it’s broken down into six sections, the GRE only tests you in three areas: Verbal, Quantitative Reasoning, and the Analytical Writing Assessment (AWA).

If you’re wondering what’s on the GRE, what to expect on the GRE exam, or even what is the GRE like?, basically think of it as the SAT, but harder. The GRE test setup is pretty similar to the SAT’s.

The Verbal Reasoning section is similar to the SAT’s equivalent. It includes some text completion questions, critical reading, and sentence equivalence. That last type of question—sentence equivalence—is unique to the GRE exam. It asks you to fill in a blank in a sentence with two separate words, with the aim of creating two sentences that have the same meaning. For that, you’ll need to brush up on synonyms.

The Quantitative Reasoning section is a series of math questions that rely on nothing more than high-school-level mathematics. Don’t start celebrating yet, though: that doesn’t mean the questions are easy. The scope of questions includes algebra, geometry, statistics, and other high school level subjects. It does not include trigonometry or calculus. There’s no need to memorize sine and cosine or integrals and derivatives. Like Verbal, there are three main question types: problem solving, quantitative comparison, and numeric entry. Quantitative comparison asks you to compare two quantities and figure out which one is larger.

Finally, the Analytical Writing Assessment requires you to write two essays. One is an “argument” essay, in which you are given an argument someone else has made, and you write about what more you need to know to evaluate the argument. The second type is an “issue” essay, in which you take a position and make an argument of your own about a specific issue.

All About the GRE Test and Timing

The total length of the GRE exam is about 3 hours and 45 minutes. That’s a long time! How does it break down? Take a look:

  • Analytical Writing Assessment: This section takes one hour, split into two 30-minute tasks.
  • Quantitative Reasoning: This is split into two sections, each 35 minutes long, with 20 questions per section.
  • Verbal Reasoning: This area is also split into two sections, each 30 minutes long, with 20 questions per section.

There is an additional unscored research section that the GRE uses for its own purposes. This could be either a Verbal or a Quantitative Reasoning section. You will not know which section is experimental. Definitely do not try to guess!

There is a 10-minute break following your third section of Quantitative or Verbal. You will receive quantitative and verbal sections in a random order, but, once you have completed three sections, you will be given your 10-minute break.

All About GRE Scoring

The GRE is scored on a 130–170 point scale for both the Verbal and Quantitative Reasoning sections. That means, even if you get all answers wrong, you’ll get 130 points per section! Don’t get too excited, though: that’s true for everyone else who takes the test, too.

The writing section is scored on a different scale: 0–6, in half-point increments. So, while you can’t get a 0 on the other two sections, you can get a 0 on the writing section.

So, what GRE score is considered strong? That’s a tough question. Exam score standards vary considerably, which you can see in this list of scores for top university programs in the United States.

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Chapter 3: gre vs gmat

All About the GRE vs GMAT

In recent years, some business schools have begun to accept the GRE as a replacement for the GMAT. (To clarify, only business schools use the GMAT. Choosing between the GRE exam vs the GMAT really only applies if you’re a business school candidate.) Both tests have Verbal and Quantitative sections.

So why might you prefer to take the GRE exam?

Well, if you’re very strong in verbal skills but weaker on math, the GRE is probably your better bet. GMAT math is much harder than GRE math.

If you’re stronger in math than verbal, you still might want to consider taking the GRE, depending on your skill set. GMAT verbal isn’t necessarily easier than GRE verbal, but it is more focused on grammar and identifying errors than the GRE is. So if you’re strong in math and vocabulary, the GRE still might be the way to go.

Finally, if you’re strong in math and better at grammar than vocabulary, the GMAT is probably a good test for you.

However, it really doesn’t matter what test you’ll do better on if your target programs don’t accept the scores!

Which Business Schools Accept the GRE?

Several top business schools (think Harvard and Stanford) have begun to accept GRE scores in place of GMAT scores. However, not all programs do.

The universities in the following table all accept GRE scores as part of the application to their MBA programs. The program rankings are from US News & World Report’s 2019 Best Business Schools Rankings.

Take a look below to see which b-school programs accept both GRE and GMAT scores. Some schools only accept the GRE for particular tracks, so check the admissions pages of the programs you’re applying to before registering!

MBA Programs That Accept the GRE

RankUniversity Name
#1University of Pennsylvania (Wharton)
Philadelphia, PA
#2Stanford University
Stanford, CA
#3Harvard University
Boston, MA
#3Massachusetts Institute of Technology (Sloan)
Cambridge, MA
#3University of Chicago (Booth)
Chicago, IL
#6Columbia University
New York, NY
#6Northwestern University (Kellogg)
Evanston, IL
#6University of California—​Berkeley (Haas)
Berkeley, CA
#9Yale University
New Haven, CT
#10Duke University (Fuqua)
Durham, NC
#10University of Michigan—​Ann Arbor (Ross)
Ann Arbor, MI
#12Dartmouth University (Tuck)
Hanover, NH
#12New York University (Stern)
New York, NY
#12University of Virginia (Darden)
Charlottesville, VA
#15Cornell University (Johnson)
Ithaca, NY
#16University of California—​Los Angeles (Anderson)
Los Angeles, CA
#17Carnegie Mellon University (Tepper)
Pittsburgh, PA
#17University of Southern California (Marshall)
Los Angeles, CA
#19University of North Carolina—​Chapel Hill (Kenan-​Flagler)
Chapel Hill, NC
#19University of Texas—​Austin (McCombs)
Austin, TX
#21Emory University (Goizueta)
Atlanta, GA
#21Indiana University (Kelley)
Bloomington, IN
#21University of Washington (Foster)
Seattle, WA
#24Georgetown University (McDonough)
Washington, DC
#25University of Florida (Warrington)
Gainesville, FL
#26Rice University (Jones)
Houston, TX
#26University of Notre Dame (Mendoza)
Notre Dame, IN
#27Washington University in St. Louis (Olin)
St. Louis, MO
#29Georgia Institute of Technology (Scheller)
Atlanta, GA
#29Vanderbilt University (Owen)
Nashville, TN
#31Ohio State University (Fisher)
Columbus, OH
#32Brigham Young University (Marriott)
Provo, UT
#33Arizona State University (Carey)
Tempe, AZ
#33Pennsylvania State University—​University Park (Smeal)
University Park, PA
#35University of Minnesota—​Twin Cities (Carlson)
Minneapolis, MN
#35University of Wisconsin—​Madison
Madison, WI
#37University of Georgia (Terry)
Athens, GA
#38Michigan State University (Broad)
East Lansing, MI
#38University of Texas—​Dallas
Richardson, TX
#40Texas A&M University—​College Station (Mays)
College Station, TX
#40University of Maryland—​College Park (Smith)
College Park, MD
#40University of Rochester (Simon)
Rochester, NY
#43Boston College (Carroll)
Chestnut Hill, MA
#43Southern Methodist University (Cox)
Dallas, TX
#43University of California—​Irvine (Merage)
Irvine, CA

#43University of Pittsburgh (Katz)
Pittsburgh, PA
#47Iowa State University
Ames, IA
#47University of California—​Davis
Davis, CA
#47University of Illinois—​Urbana-​Champaign
Champaign, IL
#50Boston University (Questrom)
Boston, MA
#50University of Alabama (Manderson)
Tuscaloosa, AL
#52University of Arizona (Eller)
Tucson, AZ
#54College of William and Mary (Mason)
Williamsburg, VA
#54University of Tennessee—​Knoxville (Haslam)
Knoxville, TN
#54University of Utah (Eccles)
Salt Lake City, UT
#57Baylor University (Hankamer)
Waco, TX
#58Northeastern University
Boston, MA
#58Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey—​Newark and New Brunswick
Newark, NJ
#58University of Oklahoma (Price)
Norman, OK
#61George Washington University (Washington DC)
#61Texas Christian University (Neeley)
Fort Worth, TX
#63Babson College (Olin)
Babson Park, MA
#63Fordham University (Gabelli)
New York, NY
#65Tulane University (Freeman)
New Orleans, LA
#66University at Buffalo—​SUNY
Buffalo, NY
#67University of Kentucky (Gatton)
Lexington, KY
#69Auburn University (Harbert)
Auburn, AL
#69Louisiana State University—​Baton Rouge (Ourso)
Baton Rouge, LA
#69University of California—​San Diego (Rady)
San Diego, CA
#69University of Missouri (Trulaske)
Columbia, MO
#74Case Western Reserve University (Weatherhead)
Cleveland, OH
#74Pepperdine University (Graziadio)
Malibu, CA
#74Purdue University—​West Lafayette (Krannert)
West Lafayette, IN
#74University of Massachusetts—​Amherst (Isenberg)
Amherst, MA
#74University of South Carolina (Moore)
Columbia, SC
#79Florida State University
Tallahassee, FL
#79University of Colorado—​Boulder (Leeds)
Boulder, CO
#79University of Connecticut
Storrs, CT
#79Stevens Institute of Technology
Hoboken, NJ
#84Drexel University (LeBow)
Philadelphia, PA
#85Chapman University (Argyros)
Orange, CA
#85North Carolina State University (Poole)
Raleigh, NC
#87University of Arkansas--Fayetteville (Walton)
Fayetteville, AR
#87University of Louisville
Louisville, KY
#87Binghamton University—​SUNY
Binghamton, NY

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chapter 4: gre test scores

GRE Test Scores

Before you take the GRE, it’s important to familiarize yourself with GRE test scores: how you’ll be evaluated and what your score means in context.

This is all the more important because at first, the GRE scoring scale may seem pretty arbitrary. After all, who has ever been graded on a test from 130-170?

Well, if you’re taking the GRE exam…you will be, along with thousands upon thousands of other test-takers who have been graded using the same range.

And, just to clarify, both these scales apply to the Verbal section and Math section, so, technically, the GRE is out of 340. However, few (if any) programs will care about your composite score, and instead will look at your GRE test scores on both multiple-choice sections, usually giving one much more significance (depending on your field).

Now: how do you know if you have a good GRE score?

GRE Score Percentiles

Always look at your percentile ranking. That is, when you receive a score report, you will also receive a number indicating the percent of people you scored better than (in the chart below, look to the right of the score for the percentile rank).

If you score in the top 90% in both Math and Verbal, then you are a competitive candidate, even at competitive schools. Period. Less competitive schools may only require 50%. So, look at your percentile rankings.

But, if you scored below 30% in any section, then you may want to seriously consider taking the test again. Doing so is by no means the end of the world.

With that in mind, here are some percentile tables to help you translate your GRE practice test scores into GRE percentiles (percentiles from the official GRE exam will be on your score report).

GRE Exam Score Percentiles: Verbal

ScorePercentileScore Percentile

GRE Exam Score Percentiles: Quantitative

ScorePercentileScore Percentile

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chapter 5: who takes the gre test

Who Takes the GRE Test?

Future graduate students, that’s who. Graduate programs use the GRE as an admissions metric for Master’s and Doctoral programs. This applies almost across the board, from the sciences to the humanities. And yes, you have to take all the sections, no matter what program you’re applying to (although STEM programs will usually not care much about your Verbal score, while humanities programs rarely worry about your Quant score).

Are there exceptions to this? Of course: medical school (MCAT), law school (LSAT) and sometimes (but, as we’ve already seen, not always) business school (GMAT).

To sum it up:

  • If you’re applying to a Master’s or Doctoral program in the Arts, Sciences, or Humanities, you probably need to take the GRE.
  • If you’re applying to medical or law school, you almost definitely don’t need to take the GRE.
  • If you’re applying to business school, you might need or want to take the GRE—see the section above comparing the GRE and the GMAT.

While we’re here, let’s address two frequently asked questions about the GRE:

1) What are the criteria for eligibility for the GRE?
There aren’t any. A 12-year-old could take the GRE exam if she wanted (I wouldn’t recommend it, but she technically could). You can take it in college, after college—it’s really up to you, though there are a few factors to take into consideration.

Actually, while there aren’t any eligibility requirements for GRE per se, there are a few things that can make you ineligible to take the exam:

  • If you’ve taken the exam five times within the last year, you’ll have to wait to take it again.
  • You’ll have to wait at least 21 days between GRE exams before retaking the test.
  • You’ll need a valid form of ID.

But that’s pretty much it.

2) Do you need your passport to take the GRE if you’re an international student?
Good question! YES. If you are not a U.S. citizen and you’re taking the exam in the United States, you’ll need your passport at GRE sign-in. You’ll also need it if you’re taking the GRE exam at an international location. Don’t forget it on test day!

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chapter 6: gre test prep

GRE Test Prep

Do you have to prep for the GRE? No, you don’t have to.

Should you prepare for the GRE? Yes!

Even if you’re a person who uses words like punctiliously fluently in everyday life and, as Gilbert and Sullivan say, is brimming full of facts about the square of the hypotenuse, you’ll still need to familiarize yourself with the instructions, work on your timing, and generally get used to the test format.

How Hard is the GRE Test?

Improve your GRE score with Magoosh.

Are you trying to trick me with this question? Because I get it all the time, and the answer is the same as it is to “How long is a piece of string?”

The answer is…it depends!

More specifically, when you’re wondering what to expect from the GRE…well, it depends on you. What did you study in college? How long ago were your classes? What are your strengths? Your weaknesses? Have you prepared for the GRE exam? How? Have you taken any practice tests?

If you’re really going to push me for an answer…it’s definitely harder than the SAT and ACT. If you are weak in math, it is easier than the GMAT. As for the MCAT and the LSAT…? Apples and oranges. Let’s not even go there.

How Long Should I Study for the GRE?

That, too, depends on you. What’s your target score? What did you study at college? How long ago were your classes? (Okay, don’t worry—I won’t repeat the whole spiel—but you get the idea!)

The best way to figure out how long you’ll need to study for the GRE is to take a diagnostic test: a practice test that you use to “diagnose” your strengths and weaknesses. Then, you’ll have some idea of how much work you need to do before the official exam.

Check out the study schedules below and cross-reference them with your calendar. Be honest about your commitments: it’s totally fine if your five-hour Netflix Sundays are non-negotiable, but factor that into your study time. There’s nothing worse than watching Netflix feeling guilty that you should be studying for the GRE exam. More importantly, you need to be realistic about how much time you have to know how much you’ll be able to accomplish. Magoosh’s quiz, How Long Should I Study for the GRE, can also help give you an idea of your study needs!

How to Study for the GRE Exam

When it comes to studying for the GRE test, you have four basic options: books, classes, a tutor, or online prep. While we’re obviously a little biased, there are definite pros and cons to each option.

GRE Books

If you’re a self-starter with lots of energy and motivation, working with GRE books can be a good option. They’re inexpensive, and you can follow them at your own pace. On the other hand, without having taken the test or studied it, it can be hard to determine which books will actually equip you for test day (Chris shares some thoughts on this over it the Best GRE Books post). Also, just following a book straight through may not be the best option for you if you have particular weaknesses you need to address, as almost everyone does, and need special guidance.

With all of that said, Magoosh has an eBook you can get for free here, and an affordable paperback GRE Prep book that you can buy on Amazon. Both are excellent! We also have some advice on how to set up your GRE study schedule.

GRE Classes

GRE classes can be a good option if you need motivation, if you have a compressed timeframe, or if you want to have an expert explain the test to you in person. On the other hand, they can be expensive, may not fit your schedule or be easily accessible from your location, and you’ll need to do some research to find reputable classes.

GRE Tutors

An excellent option for those who need extra motivation, want personalized study plans and support, and/or are looking to address particular problem areas. Tutors will normally be more expensive than classes, because you’re paying for one-on-one time. The biggest issue here is finding someone qualified—not just because he or she scored well on the GRE exam, but also because of strong tutoring skills (and these are different than teaching skills needed for a large group).

Online GRE Test Prep

Online GRE test prep, in a lot of ways, offers the best of all worlds. Lots of materials—often more than any one book could ever provide—practice on computers (after all, the GRE is a computer-based test); and some level of personalization. Online test prep lets you go at your own pace, but provides a clearer, and often more tailored, path forward than books do. Good online GRE prep will also be transparent, letting you know what you can expect from the program and having the data (and testimonials) to back their claims up.

At the end of the day, you’ll need to evaluate what works best for you based on what you need to improve (Verbal? Math?), how long it’s been since you dealt with GRE-type materials, and how familiar you already are with the best practices for the GRE.

Best Online GRE Practice

There are two key components to finding the best online GRE practice that apply to every possibly way you might choose to study for the exam:

  1. Practice Questions
  2. Full-Length Practice Tests

When you’re choosing your GRE program of study, those are the materials you’re going to rely on most, and so those are the materials you need to evaluate first.

You’ll rely on these resources most because they’re the best possible way to improve your score and guide the direction of your studies. That’s in addition to giving you important information about how you’re doing along the way, and how close you are to achieving your goals!

Constantly evaluating your progress with practice tests—I’m talking about once a week—is vital to see what you need to practice. And practice questions are the key to, well, practicing!

So now, the big question: how do you distinguish good GRE materials from the bad ones?

Good GRE Practice vs. Bad GRE Practice

You might think that all practice is good practice. After all, practice makes perfect, right?

Not always! In fact, the wrong kind of practice can harm your GRE performance, sometimes significantly.

When you’re looking for GRE prep, you want to make sure that the program has:

  1. Practice questions that mirror exactly what you’ll see on test day
  2. Lots of practice, including full-length GRE practice tests
  3. Detailed answers and explanations for every problem, ensuring that you understand how to answer similar questions correctly
  4. Access to experts to help answer any questions you may have and guide your practice when necessary
  5. A proven track record (or even a score guarantee) of helping students improve their GRE scores significantly

As you can see, the quality of questions and explanations are two of the most important factors in choosing a program. There is no point in practicing problems that are unlike what you’ll see on test day, and there is no point in practicing even the most test-like problems if you don’t understand the solutions.

To illustrate the difference between a good practice question (and a good explanation) and a bad practice question (and a bad explanation), jump down to the end of this post, where we take an in-depth look at a sample math problem from Chris Lele, Magoosh’s GRE Expert.

Not ready to dive that deep into how Magoosh develops our practice problems? No problem—let some happy Magooshers tell you why they recommend Magoosh GRE prep.

To start, students love that we know how to help boost your scores. In 2017 alone, Magoosh has helped GRE students raise their scores an average of 7.3 points. That’s even more than our 6-point score improvement guarantee!

Students also love our video explanations, which offer step-by-step instructions for how to answer every single question in our GRE prep.

Enough about us…let’s talk about study schedules.

All About GRE Study Schedules

The final step to your study success will be creating the perfect GRE study schedule for you. We have several free, expert-crafted schedules that you can adapt to your own needs. Whether you have one week or six months, we have a plan that can help get your GRE score where you want to be.

Again, the key to success here involves being honest about how much time you have, where you are now, and the scores you’re aiming for; for more advice, check out Making the Most of Magoosh GRE Study Schedules.

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chapter 7: gre awa section

The GRE AWA Section

Ah, the Analytical Writing Assessment. The dragon you must slay before you can get to the rest of the GRE test. If the thought of writing an essay for a standardized test is giving you high-school flashbacks, don’t worry! The AWA, just like those mythical dragons, can be mastered…with the right tools.

Many people give the AWA short shrift—after all, it is not included in the 260–340 score range. However, a very low writing score could hurt your chances of getting accepted to many graduate programs. So, it is important, even if you have to take a little time out from your busy GRE prep schedule, to do just enough practice for this.

AWA Scoring

The AWA is scored on a scale from 0.0 to 6.0, in 0.5 increments. While very few people are able to get a perfect 6, most graduate programs aren’t too concerned about your score, as long as you are able to get a 4.0 and above. Of course, you know best whether your graduate program falls into that range. Are you looking to go to journalism school? Well, then anything less than a 5.0 is problematic. Looking to do computer science or engineering? For most programs, a 4.0 should be sufficient.

A 4.0 translates to roughly the 50% mark. Basically, you are able to write two essays, 30 minutes each, better than half of the essay applicants. To get to this level should be your goal. If your program requires at least a 4.5, which some do, you will then be only 0.5 off.

The Two AWA Essays: Issue and Argument

The AWA is always the first section on the GRE exam. And while a lot of test-takers think of it as the GRE essay, it’s actually the GRE essays. That’s right: two.

Yes, the AWA is not just one long, taxing essay but two, relatively long, taxing essays. For the first essay, you will have to take a side on a complex issue and craft a 4–6 paragraph essay, offering supporting examples and logic to support your position. This is the Issue statement, and, for most, is usually the more difficult of the two essays. One awesome thing about the Issue essay? ETS has released their pool of possible Issue topics—great for studying, because you know that the Issue you’ll see on test day has to be among these.

The next essay is called the Argument. Instead of having to argue your own position, the way you must do on the Issue task, you must criticize someone else’s argument. This someone else happens to be the GRE test-writers. But don’t worry—they are not going to ask you to challenge an essay written on Marxist theory. The arguments are always based on real-world, straightforward examples. Better yet, the arguments are usually filled with gaping logical holes that make it relatively easy for you to take apart the argument (don’t worry, the logical skills you employ on the critical reasoning questions in the Verbal section are far more nuanced). More good news! There’s also a pool of possible Argument topics.

How to Ace AWA

So what does it take to get a 4.0? Well, for both the Issue and the Argument task, you will want to write an essay that is each of the following:

  • Well-structured: The essay should have an Intro, Body Paragraphs and Conclusion. Your intro should end with a clearly defined thesis, so the person reading your essay knows what you are trying to prove.
  • Well-reasoned: For the Issue paragraphs, your body paragraphs should contain examples, either actual or hypothetical, that cogently defend your position. For the Argument task, you convincingly show why the argument is weak.
  • Well-expressed: The GRE wants to get a sense of how well you write. And by write, I mean, do you use relatively sophisticated speech? Do you vary up your sentences? Do grammar issues interfere with your expression?

Together, the three points will give the GRE reader an overall impression (what they call a holistic approach) of your writing ability. Again, this score will be based on a scale from 0.0 – 6.0.

As you can see, you’ll need to adapt your strategy for each essay. For more on how to do this, here are our Top 5 Strategies for the GRE Argument Essay as well as an AWA Argument Sample Essay Breakdown. Contrast this with AWA Issue Strategies and a Mock AWA Issue Essay to see exactly how differently you’ll need to approach each of these topics!

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chapter 8: gre math

The GRE Math Section

What Makes Math on the GRE Test Different?

As you learn more about GRE math, you’ll notice that it’s different from what you’d see on just any old math test. In the first place, ETS (the test-maker) doesn’t even use the term “math.” Instead, it’s “Quantitative Reasoning.”

That title alone gives us a big clue about exactly what content’s being tested—or rather, how it’s tested—on the GRE exam.

How the GRE Tests Math

Above all, GRE math is set up as a reasoning test. This means that, in terms of content, you don’t have to worry about advanced calculus, trigonometry, geometric proofs, or really anything that you studied past the third year of high school.

Ah, yes: There’s the issue. For most of us applying to grad school, high school was, well, a little while ago. So you may need to refresh your memory of the basics before you go on to study how the GRE uses them to test your reasoning. You can expect to see questions about:

  • Basic geometric properties (circles, triangles, quadrilaterals, etc.)
  • Integer properties
  • Exponents and roots
  • Word problems (including rate questions and probability)

We go into greater detail about the distribution of math content in our article What Kind of Math is on the GRE? Breakdown of Quant Concepts by Frequency.

So don’t worry on this front. There’s nothing particularly advanced about the content on GRE Quant. You will need to brush up on math formulas, but luckily, we can help you out! Check out the Magoosh GRE Math Formula eBook to review what you need to know about the GRE, then print out the Math Formula Cheat Sheet for easy reference.

See? Piece of cake.

The format, however, is slightly trickier.

The Format of the Quantitative Reasoning Test

The GRE math section breaks down into two categories (Problem Solving and Quantitative Comparison).

Circular chart showing problem solving 35 minutes, quantitative comparison 35 minutes - magoosh

Let’s start with Problem Solving, which has three problem types, and you’ve probably only seen two of them before.

  1. Multiple Choice Questions: The good old standby of high school teachers around the nation, multiple choice questions crop up in the problem solving section of the GRE exam.
  2. Multiple Answer Questions are a neat or nasty twist on multiple choice questions, depending on how you feel about Quant. On these problems, more than one choice can be correct.
  3. Numeric Entry Questions are, to be fair, similar to what you probably saw on high school tests, with the exception that here, nobody wants you to show your work. You solve the problem and type the number in.

Quantitative Comparison (QC) questions are different beasts altogether. QC questions ask you to compare two columns, A and B, and decide which is bigger. The tough part here is that columns A and B don’t contain numbers like “4” and “5.” (Wouldn’t that be nice?) Instead, you can expect to see anything from equations to exponents to angle measurements in those columns: QC questions test the same concepts as problem solving, just in a different form.

You’ll have 35 minutes for each of the two sections, which contain 20 questions each. Yep—that’s just over a minute per problem. But it is possible to answer all the questions in both sections (hopefully correctly) within that time frame; it’ll just take lots of GRE practice tests…and some clever strategizing.

GRE Math Strategies

There’s more to solving questions on the GRE Math test than just cranking through the math. Yes, that’s definitely one way to answer these questions—but it’s not always the most efficient. Given the GRE exam’s time constraints, you always want to strive for efficiency as much as accuracy!

So how can you approach GRE Quant problems? The first thing to realize is that the questions are intentionally confusing. So are the answer choices. This isn’t because the test is trying to trick you, but it is checking to see if you fall into common trap—those answer choices will be waiting right there.

It’s important to be prepared for confusing problems (and know how to approach them), because if you come across a seemingly simple problem, guess what? It’s probably not. Knowing this already gives you a leg up on GRE Quant.

To master GRE quant, check out GRE Math Basics: Quick Tips. Then come back, because there are two major strategies that can help you out on the GRE:

  • Estimation and Approximation
  • Plugging In

Estimation and Approximation

This strategy, which you may also have heard referred to as “ballparking,” is pretty much what it sounds like. The key to using it effectively, though, is to use mental math. A lot of test-takers are so relieved to see that on-screen calculator that they use it even when mental math would be a lot faster. Try out a sample GRE quant problem using estimation to see how much more efficient this technique can be.

Plugging In

Alternately known as “backsolving,” this strategy uses the answer choices to help you solve the problem. After all, the answer(s) have to be in there somewhere, right? (Note that this is not an option that will work for numerical entry! It works slightly differently for quantitative comparison questions, too.)

You can plug in when the answer choices are numbers and there are variables in the question stem. Start with answer choice C so that you can eliminate at least three answers in one go. If plugging C into the question stem gives you a number that’s too big, you’ll know that D and E are also not going to work.

Ready to give plugging in a try? Check out this GRE practice problem with answer and explanations that recap when you can plug in. Then, hone your skills even further with the GRE Math Review Quiz on plugging in!

GRE Sample Questions: Quantitative Reasoning

Now that you know the content that GRE Quant covers as well as the format in which the GRE tests it, try your hand at a few Quantitative Reasoning questions in different formats!

Answers and explanations are at the bottom of this post, so you can check your work when you’re done.

Multiple Choice Questions

1. Pump A can empty a pool in A minutes, and pump B can empty the same pool in B minutes. Pump A begins emptying the pool for 1 minute before pump B joins. Beginning from the time pump A starts, how many minutes will it take to empty the pool?


Multiple Answer Questions

2. If x > 0, and two sides of a certain triangle have lengths 2x + 1 and 3x + 4 respectively, which of the following could be the length of the third side of the triangle?

Indicate all possible lengths.

(A) 4x + 5
(B) x + 2
(C) 6x + 1
(D) 5x + 6
(E) 2x + 17

Numeric Entry Questions

3. If Powers of −n - gre numeric value questions Magoosh, what is the value of n?

Quantitative Comparison Questions

4. formula comparing quantity a to quantity b

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chapter 9 gre verbal

The GRE Verbal Section

The GRE Verbal test’s reputation tends to precede it. To answer one of the most common questions: yes, GRE Verbal does require knowledge of a lot of vocabulary, and a lot of complex vocabulary, at that.

However, it’s not a pure vocabulary test. In addition to knowing what all those words mean, you’ll need to be able to evaluate their meanings in context, looking at longer passages, shorter passages, logic problems, and English grammar. So what to know about the GRE verbal section? Take a look.

GRE Verbal Test: How Important Is Vocabulary?

In one simple word: very. But it’s only important in that you need to know what the words mean. Are you rolling your eyes at the obviousness of this? When you’re done, know that previous versions of the test also tested antonyms and analogies. In contrast, the GRE currently emphasizes the use of complex vocabulary in context.

Other GRE Verbal Content

In addition to vocabulary, it’ll also help your GRE Verbal score if you have:

You’ll see why these are helpful skillsets as we take a look at…

GRE Verbal Question Types

There are four main GRE Verbal question types. On test day, you can expect to see the following question types:

What do these look like?

Text Completion questions will be fill-in-the-blank sentences…with the added twist that they can contain between one and three blanks. As with all questions on the GRE exam, no partial credit is awarded.

Sentence Equivalence are the half-sibling of Text Completions. These sentences only have one blank, but two correct answers. We will discuss these and Text Completion questions in more detail below.

Reading Comprehension questions will test your comprehension of various dense, often philosophical texts of different lengths (usually 100-450 words long). The texts can be from any field, including science, literature, and, yes, philosophy. The questions can ask about anything from overall comprehension of the text to the GRE Verbal section’s favorite topic, vocabulary.

Here’s what you’ll see on test day: The GRE Verbal section begins with text completions, then mixes in the other question types as you go along. Take a look at the tables below for a more complete breakdown, and check out GRE Verbal Section Question Types Breakdown for some takeaways about this mix.

Text Completion

Question TypeNumber of Questions
Single Blank2 questions
Double Blank2 questions
Triple Blank2 questions
*NoteThe 2nd question in the pair is the more difficult of the two.

Reading Comprehension

Medium Reading Passage#7 - 9/10
Paragraph Argument#11
Short Reading Passage#12 - 13
*NoteThe medium and short passage will, on one of the verbal sections you see, be condensed into a very long reading passage.

Sentence Equivalence

QuestionsQuestion Numbers
Sentence Equivalence#14 - 17
*NoteQuestions don't increase in difficulty as you go along.

Reading Comprehension (Again)

Passage TypeQuestion Numbers
Short Reading Passage#18 - 19
Paragraph Argument#20
*NoteThis is an approximation. Sometimes the order is switched.

GRE Verbal Strategies

With all of that in mind, there’s an important strategy that you should apply to almost all GRE Verbal questions. Let’s take a look at those before going into greater detail about how you can address each question type individually.

First, know that you can’t trust the answer choices. Just like in Quant, one (or more) of them will be right, yes—but the wrong ones are there because they’re tempting. For better or for worse, you’ll never have to narrow down your answer choices to supercilious and banana. It’ll be more like supercilious and arrogant.

What does that mean for you as a test-taker? Don’t look at the answer choices until you have to. Come up with your best answer to the question stem, then find the answer that’s closest. Be especially wary of words that “sound” right. ETS (the test-maker) definitely knows what sounds right—but isn’t—because thousands of test-takers choose those answers every year.

Strategies for Different GRE Verbal Question Types

That’s a good start. But what else can you do to boost your Verbal score and study smarter (rather than harder)?

If you haven’t guessed by now, you’ll need to know your vocabulary. But there are lots of ways to learn these words, some more helpful than others. Check out How to Study Vocabulary for the Revised GRE for the most effective (and efficient) ways to improve your vocab.

For those long, dense reading comprehension passages, you’ll need to stay active: check out Active Reading Strategies for the GRE. There are a few other winning strategies that will also come in handy; you can check them out here.

To get a better grasp of Sentence Equivalence questions, check out the different forms these items may take. Finally, it’s only logical (sorry!) to focus your logic studies on the types of reasoning questions that the GRE actually tests. We have you covered there, too, with Types of Critical Reasoning Questions on the Revised GRE.

GRE Verbal Practice Problems

Now that you know what to expect from GRE Verbal in terms of content and form, let’s take a look at how it all comes together. Try your hand at the following GRE Verbal questions, then check out how you did by looking at the answers and explanations at the bottom of the post.

Text Completion

1. The notion that our political parties trumpet their differences during election time only to make amends as soon as the incumbent is sworn into office has become (i) ________; reelection into any political office has long come with (ii) _______—nary a peep of dissent against the party line or your political career is kaput.
Select one entry for each blank from the corresponding column of choices
Blank (i)
(A) trite
(B) untenable
(C) hazardous

Blank (ii)
(D) a heightened sense of danger
(E) a series of broken promises
(F) the concession of unflinching partisanship

Sentence Equivalence

2. Through ___________ of style, tone, and diction, a great writer can, in a single work of fiction, take readers in and out of the vernacular of characters as different as an Appalachian college freshman, a visiting professor from Cambridge, and an Italian-American Brooklyn police officer.

(A) instances
(B) modulation
(C) steadiness
(D) use
(E) meditation
(F) nuances

Reading Comprehension

Passage 1

Protective coloration is common among animals. Some animals are countershaded for camouflage. For example, the next time you pass a fish market, look at the specimens laid out for viewing. Fish are nearly always darker on top than on the bottom. The selective theory of camouflage has long been favored by some ichthyologists, who believed that countershading reduces the contrast between the shaded and unshaded areas of the body when the sun is shining on the fish from overhead and lessens its vulnerability to predators. However, the discovery that the Nile catfish is reverse-countershaded—that is, its dorsal (upper) surface is light and its ventral (lower) surface is dark—turned this theory on its head.

However, enterprising ichthyologists saved the selective theory of camouflage by observing that the Nile catfish swims upside down, primarily to feed from the surface of the water. Some ichthyologists speculate that the Nile catfish also swims upside down for protection.

3. The passage provides information on each of the following EXCEPT:

(A) etiology of countershading
(B) etiology of reverse-countershading
(C) feeding habits of countershaded fish
(D) selective theory of camouflage
(E) protective coloration of animals

Passage 2

Ernst Haeckel, the great German zoologist, refurbished an old theory of creationist biology, and suggested that the tree of life might be derived directly from the embryological development of higher forms. He proclaimed that “ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny” or, to explicate this mellifluous tongue- twister, that an individual, in its own growth, passes through a series of stages representing adult ancestral forms in their correct order—an individual, in short, climbs its own family tree.

4. In the first sentence, the underlined and bolded word “refurbished” most nearly means in the context of the passage:

(A) developed
(B) proved
(C) resurrected
(D) employed
(E) rebuked

Paragraph Argument

5. The median house value in Butlerville has fallen significantly in the last few months. Nonetheless, the number of homes sold has been at its lowest level in seven years.

Which of the following best explains the discrepancy?

(A) The value of homes is not the only determinant of whether a house will be sold.
(B) The neighboring city of Jacksonburg has seen a recent surge in home sales.
(C) The Butlerville economy is struggling and the unemployment rate has reached historic rates.
(D) Analysts predict that the number of homes sold will increasing in the coming year.
(E) Homes priced over a million dollars have seen the sharpest decline in sales.

So how’d you do? Don’t worry if some of the questions (or even most of the questions) stumped you. Remember: the GRE is a learnable test! However, as we’ve seen, there are good and bad ways to prepare for it. With that in mind, here’s one of the best!

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GRE Test Chapter 10 - magoosh

GRE 2020

How hard is the GRE 2020? If you’ve been worrying about GRE 2020 changes (or even worse, a new GRE format in 2020!), it’s time to set your mind at ease: recent GRE experiences in 2020 are the same as they’ve been for the past few years. There has been no recent GRE test format change or changes to the GRE exam. That means that instead of prepping for GRE test changes, you can focus on mastering the overall GRE test pattern instead.

What else do you need to know if you’re taking the GRE in 2020? Finding out when is the GRE in 2020 (and setting your personal deadlines) is an important first step. Setting aside a chunk of money will also be important—if you’re wondering, “How much is the GRE test in 2020?” as of this writing, the registration fee is $205 in most places.

If your exam was canceled due to COVID-19, check out our GRE at home and GRE prep during COVID-19 posts to learn about your options for taking the GRE.

GRE Test Takeaways and Next Steps

What is the GRE exam all about? Now you know. Congrats! You’ve reached the end of this GRE test guide! Give yourself a pat on the back for learning all the GRE basics and trying your hand at some GRE-level practice.

Now that you know all about the GRE test, what’s the next step? Take that all-important free GRE test as a diagnostic here on our Magoosh GRE blog at no cost, or sign up for a free 7-day trial of Magoosh GRE and get started practicing! As you go forward, plan on taking plenty of practice tests, including the official GRE guide full-length tests.

Still want more content? Head over to our GRE FAQ to get your burning questions answered or check out the GRE eBook to read our top blog posts on all things GRE. And for an insider’s look at how Magoosh develops our high-quality GRE practice questions, scroll down to learn more and grade your practice questions.

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gre supplemental material

Supplemental Materials

Supplement 1: Example of a Good GRE Quant Practice Question

Earlier in this post, we discussed the difference between “good” and “bad” GRE practice questions. We promised that we’d illustrate that difference by taking an in-depth look at a sample GRE math problem from Chris Lele, Magoosh’s GRE Expert. Now’s the time to dive in!

Here’s a sample GRE Quant question to get us started:

Sample Quant Question

A semicircle with area of x pi is marked by seven points equally spaced along the half arc of the semicircle, such that two of the seven points form the endpoints of the diameter. What is the probability of forming a triangle with an area less than x from the total number of triangles formed by combining two of the seven points and the center of the diameter?

(A) 4/5
(B) 6/7
(C) 17/21
(D) 19/21
(E) 31/35

Let’s Discuss: Is This an Example of “Good” or “Bad” GRE Practice?

Make sure that you’re familiar with this question! In the following sections, we are going to contextualize this question, and explain why it’s harder than most of what you’ll see on the GRE.

Good Practice Gone Bad

In simple terms, this is a good GRE practice question. This, however, could also be a bad GRE practice question, without the right context. If Chris told us that this was the average difficulty of every Quant question on the GRE (don’t worry—it isn’t!), that not only discourages me, but it also means that I’ll spend too much time working on super hard questions and may waste my time on test day by missing out on easier points.

Why? Now I’m spending too much time on the harder problems, overcomplicating easy problems unnecessarily, or even making silly mistakes, like adding instead of subtracting, on easier problems because I haven’t practiced them and don’t know what patterns of errors I tend to make on those types of questions.

Another way this could have been a bad GRE practice question is by oversimplifying: asking for the diameter of the circle (since we are given its area, it’s simply a matter of using one formula and there’s the answer—easier than most of what you’ll see on test day!)

Finally, Chris could have put this in a form that the GRE doesn’t use, or doesn’t often use for this content area. He didn’t; you can definitely expect to see multiple-choice geometry questions on the GRE!

If you’re aiming for a perfect 170 in Quant, this is definitely a problem you’d be interested in solving correctly. On the other hand, if you’re aiming for a perfect 170 in Verbal (and your Quant score doesn’t matter that much), you know that if you see a question approaching this difficulty level on test day, you may not want to waste time answering it.

Now, the moment you’ve been waiting for: the answer and explanation!

Good Explanation (and Why We Like It)

Chris writes:

Again, this is a very difficult question, one that requires many steps, and one that has numerous twists. The question is without a doubt expansive, covering in its sweep combinatorics, probability, basic geometry, advanced triangle theory, counting properties and much more. So hang on for the ride!

Step #1 – Find area of circle in terms of x

In order to deal with this whole area of the triangle business, we first have to figure out the area of the circle. That way, we can also derive the radius, a number that be instrumental in helping us in Step #3.

First though we find the area of the circle, which is twice that of the semi-circle ({pi}x)(2) = 2{pi}x. To solve for the radius, we use {pi}r^2 = 2{pi}x; r = sqrt{2x}.

Step #2 – Figure out the whole seven points issue

So we have the radius. But how does that help in figuring out the resulting area of any of the inscribed triangles? Well, remember the seven points? If two points are different sides of the diameter and the other five points are evenly spaced along the arc, then the semicircle is broken into equal sixths. Therefore the central angle of each will be 30 degrees (the arc of a semicircle corresponds to 180 degrees).

Step #3 – Find the range of the areas of possible inscribed triangles

Using the information above, we can start to play around with triangles, keeping in mind that any two points along the arc will form radii with the center of the diameter (remember that the original question asked us to make triangles using the middle of the diameter).

A good idea is to come up with a triangle that both meets the criteria and is easy to solve area-wise. That way you can see how close you are to an area of x. For instance, you could assume that the triangle is an equilateral, the two points on the arc a distance of 60 degrees away (and thus the central angle will be 60).

A radius of sqrt{2x} will form the sides of the equilateral. Using the formula for the area of the equilateral triangle, (s^2)(sqrt{3}/4), where s equals the side of the triangle, or in this case the radius, we get (sqrt{2x})^2 = (2x)(sqrt{3}/4) = {x}sqrt{3}/2. Because sqrt{3} equals approximately 1.7, we can see that such an equilateral triangle has an area less than x.

But don’t give up just yet. In trying to increase the area you should keep in mind that skinnier triangles, say with points on the opposite side of the semicircle, will not have an area greater than that of an equilateral. So we want to increase the angle but not too much.

The next most sensible triangle—that is one in which we can use simple formulas to determine the area—is a 45:45:90 triangle, which means that the two points on the semicircle will have to be 90 degrees apart (that way the central angle will be 90 degrees. And with two equal sides (remember all radii are equal), we know have a 45:45:90 triangle with sides of sqrt{2x}. Using the formula for the area of a triangle, we get (sqrt{2x})(sqrt{2x})(1/2) = x.

An important insight: if we bring the points together, we end up with an equilateral, which we know to have a smaller area. Therefore, moving the points on the arc together results in a triangle with less area. Moving the points apart makes the triangle skinnier, something that also results in a triangle with less area.

Therefore, the isosceles right triangle represents the largest possible triangle, area-wise, that you can inscribe given the conditions of the problem (pretty advanced stuff, right?).

Step #4 – Find the total number of triangles

Voila! Finally, we have it. The only possible triangle to yield x will be an isosceles right triangle, or a 45-45-90, with a central angle of 90. If we find the number of these triangles and subtract that from 1, we have the probability of choosing a triangle with an area less than 1.

The total number of isosceles right triangle is four, which we can find by choosing points along the circle that are 90 arc degrees apart.

Next we want to find the total number of triangles. Because one point is already fixed (the center of the diameter), we have to determine how many triangles can be formed by using two of the seven points. The ordering of the vertices is not important. Meaning that a triangle with points A, B, and C, is the same as triangle with points B, C, A. Therefore we use 7C2 = 21.

Step #5 – Don’t count the line!

Just when you thought we were finally done with this monstrosity of the problem, there is one final, and subtle twist. We have to discount one of these twenty-one triangles because it is actually not a triangle. If we choose both end points of the diameter and the center of the diameter, we have a straight line (this line is the diameter of the semicircle).

Therefore, there are twenty triangles, sixteen of which have an area less than x. so the answer is (A) 4/5.

Whew! Okay, now that Chris has broken down the question, let’s break down why that’s a great explanation!

Right off the bat, I know that this is going to be a helpful explanation. Chris re-emphasizes the difficulty level, then categorizes the different content areas the question tests. This is great: if I missed this question, I might want to return to those areas to brush up a bit (if I want that 170).

Next, Chris breaks down the steps to answering the problem. He doesn’t pad the writing, but he provides at least a paragraph of explanation per step. This is especially important for a practice question of this complexity. Even if I’m notaiming for a 170, mastering the various steps of this problem could help me boost my score in any of the (many) content areas it covers, thanks to Chris’s explanation.

So what would a bad GRE answer look like?

Example of a Bad Explanation (and Why It’s Dangerous!)

Example 1


Okay, so the answer’s A…any guidance on how you got there?

Example 2

ANSWER: A. Only A correctly describes the probability of forming a triangle with an area less than x from the total number of triangles formed by combining two of the seven points and the center of the diameter. B, C, D, and E all fail to do this.

This type of “explanation” is more common than you’d think—and it’s really common to see this type of explanation in bad Verbal questions, as well. All it does is tell us that A correctly answered the question, by rephrasing the question. We don’t need the question rephrased: we need it explained!

One of the (many) advantages of Magoosh’s GRE prep is our helpful explanations. They may not always be as complex as Chris’s, but then again, most problems aren’t that complex, either!


That’s the end of our in-depth discussion of “good” vs “bad” GRE practice. If you answered the practice questions in this post, scroll down to Supplement 2 to see the answer key and review the explanations.

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Supplement 2: GRE Practice Question Answer Key & Explanations

Earlier in this post, you had the opportunity to try your hand at some GRE Quant and some GRE Verbal practice questions. Now’s the time to grab your scratch paper and grade your practice!

Be sure to review the explanations, as well as the answers, so that you can learn from your mistakes and gain valuable insight into the types of questions you’ll see on GRE test day!

GRE Quantitative Practice: Answers & Explanations

Click here to jump back up to the GRE Quant practice questions.

1. ANSWER: B Click here for a video answer and text explanation.

2. ANSWER: A, C, E
Remember, for this MAQ, you must choose all 3 correct answers (no more, no less, no B, and no D!) in order to get full credit.

Geometry Triangle with Variables Explanation

3. ANSWER: 1 Click here for a video answer/explanation.

Picking numbers is not the best approach for this. This one is much more readily dispatched using algebraic simplification of the prompt equation.

First, subtract 1 from both sides of that starting equation, then divide both sides by 3 to simplify.

subtraction process

Because this is an equation, we can multiply both side by any number. Multiply by the denominator (B + 3A).

4A = B + 3A

Subtract 3A from both sides.

A = B

Thus, the quantities have to be equal!

GRE Verbal Practice: Answers & Explanations

Click here to jump back up to the GRE Verbal practice questions.

1. ANSWER: B and F
This is a toughie. The first part is saying that there is an idea floating about, one that goes like this: during election time the different parties pretend they are much different, but once the election is over that changes and they are buddy-buddy (“make amends”). The second part of the sentence shows that this notion is totally wrong: anyone who wants to get reelected will always stick to the party line.

Therefore, once an incumbent is in office, the differences are still very important. (A) was a trap answer that many went for. It actually means unoriginal. We want a word, however, that shows that the notion is flat out wrong, or (B). If an idea or a position is untenable it cannot be defended. (F) matches up nicely with the idea of being in lockstep with the party line.

2. ANSWER: B and F

The key phrases are “through”, “of style, tone, and diction”, “can take readers in and out of the vernacular of characters”, and “as different”. By changing style, tone, and diction, a great writer can reproduce the voices or idiomatic speech and thoughts of characters from a wide range of backgrounds. Look for words that fit this description.

B. modulation can mean a shift in accent, emphasis, or inflection.
F. nuances (subtle distinctions or variations) also fits here (although some of the differences in style and tone might not be as subtle as others).
A. instances (examples or cases) is too vague here and doesn’t resonate with the variety of examples that complete the sentence.
C. steadiness is at odds with the flexibility of style that is being praised here.
D. use, like A. instances, is too bland—every writer uses style, tone, and diction; this sentence is about how a great writer can vary these elements.
E. meditation (contemplation or thinking about something) doesn’t fit grammatically or contextually.

Remember to take note of unfamiliar words and make it a point to learn them so you can be as prepared as possible for questions like these!

This is a “hunt-and-peck” question.

(C) isn’t supported by the passage. Sentence 1 of Paragraph 2 mentions the feeding habits of the Nile catfish, which is an anomaly because it is reverse-countershaded. The feeding habits of countershaded fish are not discussed in this passage. Some readers may find this question challenging because it can
be difficult not to confuse countershading and reverse-countershading when reading the passage.
(A) is incorrect. Eliminating this response will be difficult for readers who don’t know the meaning of etiology, which means to describe or assign a cause. Sentences 5-6 of Paragraph 1 describe the etiology of countershading as a protective mechanism that helps fish escape predators.
(B) is incorrect. As is the case with (A), eliminating this response will be difficult for readers who don’t know the meaning of etiology. The final sentence of Paragraph 2 describes the etiology of reverse-countershading by suggesting that the Nile catfish also swims upside down for protection.
(D) is incorrect. The selective theory of camouflage is central to this passage. Sentences 5-6 in Paragraph 1 and Sentence 1 in Paragraph 2 deal with the selective theory of camouflage. In fact, one could argue that the primary purpose of the passage is to discuss the selective theory of camouflage. This response should be easy for readers to eliminate.
(E) is incorrect. Sentence 1 in Paragraph 1 states that protective coloration is common among animals. Sentence 2 in Paragraph 1 states that some animals are countershaded for camouflage. Some readers may have difficulty eliminating this response because they may believe, incorrectly, that fish aren’t animals, and most of the passage deals with protective coloration among fish.

The way NOT to approach this question is to simply try to match the answer choices with the word in quotation marks. Oftentimes, the word has a secondary, or even tertiary, definition.

To avoid getting trapped, do not look at the answer choices. Instead, go back to the passage, and read the relevant part. Do your best to actually forget the word in quotation marks. Indeed, you want to make the sentence in which the word appears a text-completion, by replacing the blank with your own word. Doing so will require you to break apart the sentence, and focus on the relevant parts (or clue words), much as you would do on actual text completion. Finally, match your word with the answer choices, choosing the one that most closely matches your word.

If you follow these easy steps, you should get the question correct. The primary challenge is not looking at the answer choices. Once you see them, they bias your interpretation of the passage. Also, make sure not to simply plug the answer choices back into the passage, and determine which one sounds best. Doing so could very well get you in trouble.

Returning to the passage, let’s try to put our own word in (for simplicity’s sake, I’m paraphrasing):
Ernst is — an old theory (and expanding on it).

Words/phrases that could fit in the blank include, “dusting off,” “touching up”, “resuscitating,” etc.
Which of the answer choices is the closest match for these words? (A) developed is too neutral. We want a word to show that these theories have been around, and Ernst is simply bringing them back and elaborating on them. The only answer choice that does this is (C) resurrect.

Our job is to find an answer that best accounts for the discrepancy. First off, we want to simplify what the argument is saying: Homes are cheaper than ever, but fewer are being sold. We need to find an answer that explains why.

In Critical Reasoning, part of finding the correct answer is eliminating the incorrect ones. Of course, you have to have a good reason for eliminating the wrong answers. (This post helps break down the wrong answers).

(A) The value of homes is not the only determinant of whether a house will be sold.
This answer choice may sound tempting, only because it may not be immediately apparent what the implications of the answer choice are. Even if there are other indicators of whether a home sells, what are these indicators? Regardless, our question of why fewer homes are being sold is not directly answered.
Whenever you are unsure on an answer choice, do not feel you have to eliminate it right away. Come back to it if necessary. Often a much obvious answer choice awaits.
(B) The neighboring city of Jackson has seen a recent surge in home sales.
This answer choice is Out of Scope, because we are trying to explain what is going on in Butlerville not in Jacksonburg.
(C) The Butlerville economy is struggling and the unemployment rate has reached historic rates.
Here is a good reason people aren’t buying homes. People are unemployed and not making money (you do need money to buy a home, after all). So now we have the answer as to why fewer homes are being sold. This is the correct answer.
(D) Analysts predict that the number of homes sold will increasing in the coming year.
The coming year does not explain why so few house have sold in the current year. Out of Scope
(E) Homes priced over a million dollars have seen the sharpest decline in sales.
While this may be true, it does not explain why fewer people in Butlerville are buying homes.

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6 Responses to The GRE Test 2020-2021: Everything You Need to Know

  1. Abhi Bhagat August 9, 2019 at 12:33 pm #

    The median house value in Butlerville has fallen significantly in the last few months. Nonetheless, the number of homes sold has been at its lowest level in seven years.

    in option C why will a person living in butterville buy a house there?

    • David Recine
      David Recine August 13, 2019 at 9:26 am #

      C explains why people living in Butlerville would NOT buy a house there. It may also explain why people outside of Butlerville would not move to Butlerville to buy a house or try to invest in Butlerville’s housing market. An area with a bad economy is unappealing to people who want to relocate or invest, and the bad economy also makes it difficult for local people to buy a house.

  2. Georgia July 7, 2018 at 10:09 am #

    Hi Rachel

    Not sure if you are still taking comments on this post, but regarding the question about the semicircle with an area of xn. I haven’t done math in nearly 10 years and will probably not need a great score since I’m applying to humanities programmes, so this is the kind of question I would definitely skip or only guess at. However, I did try and make a stab at finding the diameter of the circle in terms of relation to the semicircle’s area, but what I don’t understand is that the area is given xn, yet all the calculations that follow seem to only be working with x. Forgive me if this is a nonsensical question, but why does the n completely disappear from the equations?

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
      Magoosh Test Prep Expert July 11, 2018 at 10:16 am #

      Hi Georgia,

      First, it’s great that you are attempting these types of questions! While this might a good candidate for a question to skip if you aren’t looking for a high quant score, it’s the type of question that will stretch your mathematical reasoning and improve your general math skills 🙂 We try to answer all of the questions on our blog, but sometimes it takes us a while to get through them all!

      It looks like there is a typo in this question! I looked at it closely, and I think that Chris meant to put “pi” instead of “n” in the question. The explanation uses “pi*x” as the area of the semicircle. So, this is definitely not a nonsensical question! It looks like we made a little mistake here, and we love it when our readers point them out so that we can correct them in a timely manner! I’m going to send this to our content improvement team to get a second pair of eyes on it and hopefully fix the problem! =)

  3. Gustavo July 3, 2018 at 4:36 pm #

    GRE Quantitative Practice: Answers & Explanations
    #2, Why is one of the answers “E”

    Apparently, If X= 1

    4 < E value = 19 < 10

    or is anything I am missing?

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
      Magoosh Test Prep Expert July 19, 2018 at 10:37 am #

      You are correct that if x = 1, e isn’t the answer. But although your calculations are correct, you’re missing the fact that x doesn’t have to equal 1. As long as there are some values for x in which answer E would be correct, then answer E could be the length of the third side, with the right value plugged in for x. In contrast, answers B and D don’t satisfy the inequality, no matter which values you plug in.

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