What Unit Conversions Should You Know For The GRE?

Many times, if units are involved in a GRE Math question, the question itself will supply the relative conversions.  Sometimes, though, it expects you to have a few basic ones memorized.  What should you know?


The very basic, very common conversions

Even the ones in this category, the test may supply, but sometimes it doesn’t.  These are the ones you definitely should have memorized.

1 minute = 60 seconds

1 hour = 60 minutes

1 foot = 12 inches

1 mile = 5,280 feet

Also, the basic metric decimal conversions (all powers of ten)

1 m = 100 cm = 1000 mm

1 km = 1000 m

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1 kg = 1000 gram

I would say: make sure you know these.


Some less common conversions

These are unit conversions used only in America, England, and some of the Commonwealth Nations.  They are not used in the rest of the civilized world.  It is highly unlikely that the GRE would expect you to know any of these, but because it’s even a remote possibility I will list them.  If you want to be absolutely hyper-prepared in this particular category, if you believe that being over-prepared is always the lesser of two evils, then memorize these as well.

1 yard = 3 feet

1 pint = 16 ounces

1 quart = 2 pints

1 gallon = 4 quarts

Again, in all likelihood memorizing these will be absolutely unnecessary.  If they appear at all, in all likelihood, the GRE will provide the conversion as part of the question.  BUT, if you want to be hyper-prepared for every last hypothetical contingency, then go ahead and memorize them.

One unit that definitely will not appear without an explicit conversion factor is pounds, simply because of the sheer complexity of the issue —- there are avoirdupois pounds, troy pounds, London pounds, Merchants’ pounds, etc. etc.  There are few people on the entire planet who have everything about pounds straight in their heads!  The GRE will definitely not ask anything about “pound” without providing an explicit conversion!


Area and Volume Units

Here’s one thing you definitely need to know.  They may expect you to know a common length unit conversion (1 ft = 12 in), or they may even give it to you, but the one thing they absolutely expect you to be able to do on your own: change a length-units conversion to a conversion for area-units or volume units.  The basic idea is:

Area units = (length units)^2

Volume units = (length units)^3

For example, 1 ft = 12 in, so that means:

1 sq ft = 1 ft^2 = (12 inches)^2 = 144 sq inches


1 cub. ft = 1 ft^3 = (12 inches)^3 = 1728 cub. inches

Another example with metric units.  We know 1 m = 100 cm.  This means:

1 m^2 = (100 cm)^2 = 10,000 cm^2

1 m^3 = (100 cm)^3 = 1,000,000 cm^3

The GRE probably will tell you, but may expect you to know, that 1 cubic centimeter is the same thing as 1 milliliter.  Therefore,

1 m^3 = 1,000,000 cm^3 = 1,000,000 ml = 1,000 L

Again, the equivalence of 1 cm^3 = 1 ml is probably something the test will tell you if it appears at all, but there’s a small chance they could expect you to know it.  You could memorize that if you want to be hypersafe.

By contrast, the GRE absolutely, unequivocally, expects you to be able to convert length units to area or volume units.


Practice question

1) http://gre.magoosh.com/questions/797

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19 Responses to What Unit Conversions Should You Know For The GRE?

  1. Sarah June 22, 2015 at 4:32 am #

    It is a great help from you. I got my answers for which I was looking. Thanks a lot.

  2. Kavya June 30, 2014 at 2:28 am #

    Hi,I am weak at my quants side and can you help me how can I improve my quants ability in gre?

    • Mike MᶜGarry
      Mike June 30, 2014 at 10:10 am #

      Dear Kavya,
      I would suggest signing up for Magoosh. We have 150+ lesson videos that can teach you everything you need about the GRE. You can find out more information on this blog. I hope this helps.
      Mike 🙂

  3. shivani February 28, 2014 at 10:15 am #


    I do not understand how to start my preparation.can u help me.

    • Mike MᶜGarry
      Mike February 28, 2014 at 11:33 am #

      Dear Shivani,

      I would recommend: start with this blog post:
      The free ebooks noted are a wonderful place to start.

      Best of luck to you!
      Mike 🙂

      • sharif March 9, 2014 at 11:54 am #

        Hi mike…

        If i read all the three free ebooks present in


        Is that enough for me to crack gre with good score.

        Am not going to read any other books other than these three books can i crack the gre i.e can i get 305+
        waiting for reply.

        • Mike MᶜGarry
          Mike March 9, 2014 at 1:44 pm #

          Dear Sharif,
          I’m happy to respond. 🙂
          In all likelihood, the answer to your question is “no.”
          You see, one of the questions of mediocrity is of the form, “If I do only this, will that be enough? Can I succeed by only doing this?” That mode of thought leads in a direct path to mediocre results. It’s a very tempting mindset, so many people fall into it, and consequently, many people get mediocre results.
          Some of the questions of excellence include: “What else can I do? How can I push myself to understand more deeply? What other resources can I use to improve myself?” Pursuing excellent requires a dedication and commitment well beyond what most people are able to manifest — that’s precisely why it’s rare.
          I urge you to think about your mindset and pursue the mindset that is more conducive to excellence.
          Mike 🙂

  4. Morgan Culture December 30, 2013 at 12:47 pm #

    Hey there,

    Love the helpful hints in the articles, as I’m just considering taking either the GRE or GMAT. The breakdowns of contents are great!

    Would love to see more editing though; i.e. using “conversation” instead of “conversion” and “lenght” multiple times instead of “length”, particularly as it seems many of the viewers here are not native English speakers and would benefit from correct usage.

    • Mike MᶜGarry
      Mike December 30, 2013 at 7:30 pm #

      Thanks for pointing out those typos. I just fixed them. Thanks for your help.
      Mike 🙂

  5. Anurag August 4, 2013 at 5:57 pm #

    Hello Sir,
    I would like to know the currency conversions such as dime,cent,quart to dollar relationships or any other that might appear.

    • Mike MᶜGarry
      Mike August 4, 2013 at 9:53 pm #

      Dear Anurag,
      I would say, if I were a betting man, I would bet my last dollar that the GRE will NEVER expect you to know this. You see, people all over the world take the GRE. It would be blatantly unfair if the GRE expected knowledge of some particular country’s currency — whether dollars or euro or yen or rupees, some folks would have a clear advantage, and others a distinct disadvantage, and ETS works very hard to make sure the GRE is *as fair as possible*. Therefore, I would say, you will not need to worry about it. If they write question in which currency appears, they will have to explain the relationships as part of the question.
      BUT, if you are curious, $1 U.S. = 100¢ — in fact, one cent(1¢), the value of a penny, is called a “cent” because it is 1/100 of a dollar (*centum* = hundred in Latin). US coins include four coins very common in circulation:
      the penny = 1¢
      the nickel = 5¢
      the dime = 10¢
      the quarter = 25¢ (called a “quarter” because it’s 1/4 of a dollar)
      There’s also a rare 50¢ coin and a rare $1 coin. Denominations of 1 or more dollars are typically in bills, not coins. All of which you do not need to know for the GRE.
      It has always seemed deeply ironic to me that my fellow Americans perfectly understand multiples of ten with respect to currency, but they are completely befuddled by the multiples of ten in the metric system! 🙂
      Mike 🙂

      • Anurag August 6, 2013 at 4:19 am #

        I understand,Thank you so much!

        • Mike MᶜGarry
          Mike August 6, 2013 at 2:33 pm #

          My friend, you are quite welcome. Best of luck to you!
          Mike 🙂

      • DF December 21, 2017 at 3:33 pm #

        It seems you’re contradicting yourself. In the article you felt that the “mile – feet” conversion was “basic,” and here you said US currency conversions were not. Well, there are only a handful of major countries in the world that use miles and feet, and both conversions feel equally region/culture-specific to me as an international student. I have lived in the US for over 3 years (and don’t drive) and did not know 1 mile = 5280 feet until I had to look it up recently. (I knew 1 mile is roughly 1.6 km and 1 ft is roughly 30 cm, but that wouldn’t have helped me much with the exact conversion.)

        Like you said with respect to currency, someone who lives in one of those few countries that use miles and feet and yard and such has a clear advantage over others who don’t (which is, of course, the test agency’s fault and not yours, if they do expect test takers to know 1 mile = 5280 feet).

        • Escanor November 26, 2019 at 1:05 am #

          Yes, good points. I thought that only the USA uses such conversions. Are there other countries using these metrics?

          • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
            Magoosh Test Prep Expert December 7, 2019 at 2:44 pm #

            Hi Escanor! The US is the main culprit for unusual units, but they crop up elsewhere. Just be sure to know the unit conversions on this post and you should be ok 🙂

  6. Thom September 16, 2012 at 3:54 pm #

    Hello guys,

    I am following this website for a long time now and I think it is one of the best out there. I like your style and content, which covers almost all of the New GRE.

    I have one request – can you make a new thread on data interpretation as many of us are actually struggling with this topic. I was looking on the internet for websites where I can practice this, but in vain. Do you know any good material out there, many thanks if you can help me!

  7. Vikas September 6, 2012 at 11:58 pm #

    mike just want to confirm…difference between foot and feet..


    1 is foot…
    2 or more is feet..

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