How to Prepare for the GRE

How you perform in the GRE will impact which universities will consider your application, so it’s important that you know how to prepare.

This guide walks you through the key information you need to know and how to go about preparing for the GRE. Our GRE experts have helped students get into top universities and business schools, including London Business School, LSE, Imperial, Oxbridge, and more. If you’re in need of additional support with your university application, reach out to our team today.

What is the GRE?

The Graduate Record Examinations (GRE) is an admissions test used by many UK universities to assess students’ suitability for postgraduate Management and Business-related degree courses.

Why is the GRE important?

The GRE helps universities and business schools to assess your academic potential and gives departments a more consistent point of comparison between applicants from a range of academic and professional backgrounds. Your GRE score is also one part of the application process you can control (you can improve your score through hard work and effective preparation) so it gives business schools an insight into your work ethic.

For these reasons, the GRE is often a mandatory requirement for top universities/business schools. It’s important to work towards achieving the strongest possible score in order to show your commitment to your chosen course and to help you stand out amongst many competitive applicants from the outset.

What is included in the GRE?

The GRE is a postgraduate admissions test used to assess applicants’ ability to study demanding degree programmes in fields such as Business, Law, Finance, and more. It is designed to test your critical thinking skills, mirroring the kind of thinking you’ll be required to do at postgraduate level.

The GRE general test consists of three sections: Verbal Reasoning, Quantitative Reasoning, and Analytical Writing. Each of these sections is explained in more detail in the table below.

SectionDescriptionNo. of questionsTime allocated
Quantitative ReasoningThis section consists of four types of questions:

  • Quantitative comparison questions ask you to compare two quantities (A and B) and then determine which of the following statements describes the comparison: quantity A is greater; quantity B is greater; the two quantities are equal; or the relationship cannot be determined from the information given.
  • The first type of multiple-choice questions ask you to choose one correct answer from a list of five potential answers.
  • The second type of multiple-choice questions ask you to choose one or more correct answers from a list of potential answers.
  • Numeric entry questions ask you either to enter your answer as an integer or a decimal in a single answer box, or as a fraction in two separate boxes (one for the numerator and one for the denominator).

Across these four question types, you will encounter stand-alone questions as well as data interpretation questions, which are grouped together and refer to the same table, graph or other data presentation. These questions all ask you to interpret or analyse given data.

20 questions35 minutes
Verbal ReasoningThe Verbal Reasoning measure contains three types of questions:

  • Reading Comprehension questions are designed to test the wide range of abilities required to read and understand the kinds of prose commonly encountered on postgraduate courses, such as understanding the meaning of individual words and sentences as well as paragraphs and larger bodies of text, distinguishing between minor and major points, and reasoning from incomplete data to infer missing information.
  • Text Completion questions test your ability to interpret and evaluate information and reason from what you have read to create a picture of the whole. The questions involve passages with crucial words omitted and ask you to use the remaining information in the passage as a basis for selecting words or phrases to fill the blanks.
  • Sentence equivalence questions, like text completion questions, test your ability to reach a conclusion about how a passage should be completed based on partial information. However, these questions focus on the meaning of the completed whole more significantly. They consist of a single sentence with just one blank, and they ask you to identify the two choices that lead to a complete, coherent sentence while producing sentences that mean the same thing.
20 questions30 minutes
Analytical WritingThis section does not test your subject knowledge, but rather your ability to articulate and support complex ideas, construct and evaluate arguments, and sustain a focused and coherent discussion.
The section is split into two tasks:

  • Analyze an Issue task: you will be presented with an opinion on an issue and instructions on how to respond. You’re required to evaluate the issue, consider its complexities and develop an argument with reasons and examples to support your views.
  • Analyze an Argument task: you will be required to evaluate an argument according to specific instructions. You’ll need to consider the logical soundness of the argument rather than writing a response in agreement or disagreement with it.
2 questions1 hour (30 minutes per question)

Which universities require the GRE?

Some universities and business schools require students to take the GRE for MBA courses and some other postgraduate level Business, Management and Finance-related courses. The table below shows the top 10 schools for Business and Management Studies in the UK and what the average or minimum GRE score is for each.

RankingUniversityGMAT scoreGRE scores
1London Business School708Verbal: 158
Quantitative: 164
2University of Cambridge687Estimated GMAT equivalent:
Verbal: 163
Quantitative: 163
3University of Oxford690Verbal: 160
Quantitative: 160
4London School of Economics (LSE)708Verbal: 170
Quantitative: 130-170
5University of Warwick650Estimated GMAT equivalent:
Verbal: 161
Quantitative: 161
6Imperial College London600Verbal: 156
Quantitative: 158
7University of Manchester600Verbal: 165
Quantitative: 165
8City, University of London653Estimated GMAT equivalent:
Verbal: 161
Quantitative: 161
GMAT preferred.
9Lancaster University580Estimated GMAT equivalent:
Verbal: 157
Quantitative: 157
10University of Leeds600N/A – GMAT required.

How is the GRE marked?

The Verbal Reasoning and Quantitative Reasoning sections of the GRE are scored based on the number of correct responses to all of the questions. For each of these two sections, the raw score is computed (i.e. the number of questions you answered correctly) and then converted to a scaled score through a process called equating. The equating process accounts for minor variations in difficulty among the different editions of the test. You are then given a final score for each section between 130-170.

Each essay in the Analytical Writing section also receives a score from at least one trained marker using a 6-point holistic scale. In holistic scoring, markers are trained to assign scores on the basis of the overall quality of an essay in response to the task. The essay is then scored by a specific computerised programme. Your final score will typically be the average of these two scores. However, if the two scores greatly disagree, a second human score is obtained, and your final score is the average of the two human scores. Your score will be given on a scale from 0–6 and can be in half-point increments.

You will also receive a percentile rank upon completing the GRE, which rates your performance relative to that of a large sample population of other test takers.

What is a good GRE score?

A ‘good’ GRE score is relative depending on your current ability and the average score of your chosen business school/university. It’s helpful to look at the average GRE score of successful applicants to your ideal course for a benchmark on what a good score looks like for you.

Universities sometimes post their current class average on their website (many are also included in the table above), however you may also need to calculate it by converting the published GMAT score (see the section below). The most competitive business schools and universities in the UK typically look for GRE scores of 160 or above in both the Verbal and Quantitative sections, and above 5.0 in the Analytical Writing Section.

More generally, a score might be considered good if it is in the top half of all scores achieved. The table below shows the percentile rankings of scores ranging from 130 to 170 for both the Verbal and Quantitative sections of the test.

Scaled scoreVerbal percentileQuantitative percentile
17099%96%
16596%86%
16086%73%
15568%56%
15046%37%
14526%19%
14011%7%
1353%2%
1301%1%

GMAT to GRE score conversion

Often, universities only publish their required GMAT scores and not their GRE scores, so you may need to convert a GMAT score to see what you need to aim for in the test. The table below shows a rough conversion of GMAT and GRE scores.

GMAT scoreGRE equivalent
800170 in verbal and quantitative
780168 in verbal and quantitative
740166 in verbal and quantitative
710164 in verbal and quantitative
690163 in verbal and quantitative
670162 in verbal and quantitative
640160 in verbal and quantitative
620159 in verbal and quantitative
610158 in verbal and quantitative
590157 in verbal and quantitative
570156 in verbal and quantitative
540154 in verbal and quantitative
500152 in verbal and quantitative

Over many years of support, The Profs’ GRE experts have acquired knowledge on what score is most likely to secure you an offer for the top programmes in the UK. If you’d like to know more about how we can help, reach out to our team today.

When is the GRE taken?

You can take the GRE both online (remotely) and in a test centre. If you take the test online, you are able to take the GRE at almost any time or date throughout the year. If you would prefer to take it in a test centre, you will need to book a specific date and time.

You should plan when you take the GRE carefully to ensure that you give yourself enough time to prepare, as well as enough time to submit your course application/s. We recommend finding the application deadline for your chosen course and working backwards from that date – you should aim to have your GRE score ready at least three months before you submit your application.

Where is the GRE taken?

You can either take the GRE online or in a local test centre. You can use the GRE test centre locator to find the most convenient test centre for you.

How much does the GRE cost?

To take the GRE in the UK or US, you will need to pay a fee of $220. The test costs slightly more in China ($231.30) and India ($228). You will also be charged additional fees if you choose to reschedule your test ($53.90 in China and $50 everywhere else) or change your test centre ($50 everywhere). There are also some extra fees for optional additional scoring services.

5 tips on preparing for the GRE

1. Find out when you need to apply and leave plenty of time

Although you can take the GRE at any time, it’s important that you leave plenty of time to prepare for it, as the score you get will impact which universities and business schools you have a realistic chance of getting into. We suggest working backwards from the application deadline for your chosen courses, leaving at least three months between when you take the GRE and when you submit your application.

2. Learn and practise each section individually

Each section of the GRE is very different and requires different skills. Practising each section individually is a great way to identify where your strengths and weaknesses lie and ensure that you are prepared for every element to maximise your overall score.

SectionHow to Prepare
Quantitative ReasoningThis section is arguably the most important to excel at as business schools will often look for higher Quantitative Reasoning scores than Verbal Reasoning scores. A particularly high score in this section may therefore help you stand out to admissions officers.
You will be allowed a calculator during this section of the GRE, however it’s a good idea to develop your mental maths as part of your preparation as this can save you valuable time in the test.
Another skill to develop for the Quantitative Reasoning section of the GRE is your visual literacy – i.e. your ability to read symbols, charts and tables and interpret visual data quickly and accurately – as this is important for the data interpretation set questions.
Verbal ReasoningFor the Verbal Reasoning section of the GRE, you will need to know a number of English grammar rules. Many of these you may already know – albeit subconsciously – but some are less obvious. Many test takers struggle with Sentence Correction in particular, so it’s a good idea to practise these kinds of exercises to avoid dropping marks in this section.
Another great way to prepare for the Verbal Reasoning section is to get into the habit of reading from reputable sources (particularly if you are a non-native English speaker). Familiarising yourself with the kind of ‘sophisticated’ English found in publications such as The Economist, National Geographic, Business Standard, and others will give you a head start when it comes to quickly reading, understanding and interpreting the key information in passages of this style.
Ultimately, your preparation should aim to build strong foundations in both the concepts and techniques related to the full range of Verbal topics you may encounter.
Analytical WritingThe Analytical Writing section will ask you to complete two tasks: one where you analyse and evaluate an issue, considering its complexities and developing an argument, and one where you analyse an argument, considering the logical soundness of the argument rather than writing a response in agreement or disagreement with it.
It is important to prepare by practising writing in the styles of each of these questions and make sure you are able to distinguish between what the two questions are asking and write appropriate responses.
Both of your essays in this section should also have a formal, confident tone that presents your thoughts and/or analysis in a clear, concise and compelling way.

3. Know what score you’re aiming for

As the table in the section above shows, the recommended scores of applicants to even the top 10 universities and business schools differ greatly. For instance, for the University of Cambridge, you should aim for 163 in Verbal and Quantitative, whereas for Lancaster University, you’ll need to aim for 157 in Verbal and Quantitative.

With the GRE, there’s the additional complication of universities typically not publishing their average GRE scores on their course pages (favouring GMAT scores instead). We recommend using the conversion table above to work out roughly what scores you should be aiming for when applying for your chosen university. Better yet, speak to the universities themselves and see if they will provide an average or recommended GRE score.

However you work it out, it’s important to know what score you are aiming for so that you can plan what to do in order to get there. We suggest taking an initial practice test before beginning your preparation to help identify which areas in particular need improvement and formulate an effective plan. An experienced GRE tutor will also be able to help you identify where you currently are and where best to focus your efforts in the days and months leading up to your GRE test.

4. Take practice tests under timed conditions

You do not get an abundance of time in the GRE. In fact, the exam is specifically designed to test your thinking and problem solving skills under time pressure, rather than your knowledge of the content itself. With this in mind, it’s important to use the time you do have in the most effective way, and a great way to do this is by preparing with timed practice tests.

Taking practice tests under timed conditions is the best way to simulate the environment you will be faced with in the real exam. It also allows you to try out time management strategies, such as backsolving and estimating, and figure out which areas require more preparation than others.

Good quality practice tests and preparation resources are not always reliable or easy to find. ETS (Educational Testing Service), the organisation that administers the GRE, offers a selection of free practice tests you can use as part of your preparation, and you may be able to find other mini practice tests elsewhere. However, when it comes to resourceful preparation, nothing compares to The Profs’ specialised GRE tuition. Over many years of successfully tutoring business school applicants, our tutors have developed a wealth of knowledge and resources to help you prepare for every element of the GRE, from specific question styles to time management skills. Get in contact with our team today to find out how we can help you.

5. Work with an expert GRE tutor

Preparing for the GRE can be stressful, especially if there’s a lot of pressure to achieve a certain score in order to get into your dream business school. Unlike school or even university exams, you won’t receive a structured learning plan that ensures you are prepared for all of the content in the GRE, or teachers who understand the test specifications – that’s all down to you. The solution to this is to work with a qualified GRE expert.

Working with a GRE tutor will provide so many benefits to your preparation, including:

  • Identifying and focusing on areas in which you need extra support.
    It can be tricky to identify your own weaknesses, especially if you don’t know what exactly your examiners are looking for. Our experienced GRE specialists can help you tailor your preparation to areas where it’s most needed.
  • Offering insider knowledge on the test and what the assessors will be looking for.
    The Profs’ admissions test tutors have first-hand experience of the specific GRE structure and content, as well as the wider admissions process for top universities and business schools, all of which will be invaluable to your preparation.
  • Making the preparation more fun and engaging.
    It can be difficult to stay self-motivated and engaged when you’re juggling GRE preparation with normal work and all of the other requirements of applying for a university course. Ensuring the preparation process is enjoyable will take some of the pressure off while still maximising your chances of success.

Top tip: Don’t forget about any potential interviews! You don’t need to wait until invites are sent out after completing your GRE to begin interview preparation. Preparing for any interview early will leave you with more time and make sure all of your hard work in the GRE and wider application is worthwhile. Our admissions experts can help you with all areas of the application processes for business school, so get in touch to access immediate support.

FAQs

What is the difference between the GRE and GMAT?

Many business schools and universities accept both GRE and GMAT scores for Management and Business related courses. Both tests are designed to assess a similar set of skills, however there are some differences. For example, the GRE requires you to write two essays in 60 minutes, while the GMAT only includes one 30-minute essay. The rest of the GMAT is structured slightly differently too, with the total time being split across four sections: Quantitative Reasoning, Verbal Reasoning, Integrated Reasoning, and the Analytical Writing Assessment.

As a general rule, the GMAT tends to suit applicants who have strong quantitative and analytical skills and excel at interpreting data presented in charts, tables, and text to solve complex problems. The GRE tends to suit applicants who prefer essay writing over Maths, as there is a longer essay section and its Quantitative sections tend to be more straightforward (calculators are also allowed).

How long does your GRE score last for?

Your GRE score remains valid for five years. After you’ve taken the test, your GRE score will be available in your ETS account for 10–15 days. You’ll receive an email from ETS when they are available.

Is GRE required for MBA?

A GMAT or GRE score is an entry requirement for most MBA courses at top universities in the UK and US. Some universities accept GRE scores instead of a GMAT score, however sometimes only the GMAT is accepted or is the preferred test, so always check with your chosen university. In some cases, a GRE/GMAT score may not be required (or may be waived) so long as you meet other entry requirements, such as an internal university admissions test or particularly strong qualifications or work experience.