Expert Guide: How Long Is The GRE?

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The GRE can feel like a slog — you have to take time out of your normal schedule, focus on complicated math and unfamiliar vocab for hours, and there’s a ton of pressure to do well.

Nonetheless, you may be wondering, “Exactly how long is the GRE?” ETS designates 4.5 hours for each testing slot, but how does that break down? We’ll cover the answer to that question plus tips to deal with the test length in this article.

feature image credit: Endurance/used under CC BY 2.0/Resized from original.

 

How Long Is the GRE?

Approximately three hours and 45 minutes for the computer-based GRE (including breaks), or exactly three hours 40 minutes for the paper-based GRE (including breaks). These timing estimates include all six GRE sections plus breaks: Analytical Writing, Verbal Reasoning, Quantitative Reasoning, a ten-minute break, and a sixth unscored section on the computer-based test.

Note that because the length of the unscored section on the computer-based test varies, it’s not possible to say with 100% accuracy the exact computer-based GRE length.

 

How Long Does the GRE Take? Section-by-Section Breakdown

While the GRE test length itself comes in at under four hours, even including breaks, computer test appointments are four and half hours long because of the administrative/logistical procedures (confirming identity, getting everyone seated at a computer and set up, etc.).

 

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Computer-Based GRE Timing

We’ve constructed one possible GRE schedule for the computer-based GRE in the chart below. Pay special attention to the timing of each of the sections, as that doesn’t change from test to test.

Section Total Questions Total Time (min)
Analytical Writing: Analyze an Issue 1 30
Analytical Writing: Analyze An Argument 1 30
Verbal Reasoning 20 30
Break None 10
Quantitative Reasoning 20 35
Unscored ? (varies) varies (likely 30-35)
Quantitative Reasoning 20 35
Verbal Reasoning 20 30

Total GRE Time, including breaks: About 3 hours 45 minutes

 

Based on the GRE’s timing constraints for each of the sections, you should spend no more than 90 seconds per Verbal Reasoning question and 84 seconds per Quantitative Reasoning question. You’ll have 30 minutes to plan and write your free response answers to each Analytical Writing question.

For the computer-based GRE, you will always have to complete three sections (normally about 1.5 hrs) before the sole ten-minute break. It’s important to remember, however, that the section order (other than Analytical Writing, which always goes first) will vary. For instance, the first section you complete before the break could be an unscored, experimental section, or a Quantitative Reasoning section, or a Verbal Reasoning section.

 

THE GRE Experimental Sections

There are two different extra unscored sections on the computer-based GRE; you’ll receive one or the other, never both.

The first type of experimental, unscored section is unlabeled and can appear in any order after the Analytical Writing section. The unscored section will be indistinguishable from a normal Verbal or Quantitative Reasoning section (unless it doesn’t have exactly 20 questions on it), so you can’t count on any particular section being unscored. This unscored section is used to test out questions for use in future tests or to ensure validity (making sure scores on newer GREs can be compared scores on older tests).

The other type of unscored section on the GRE is a labeled research section. The research section will always appear at the end of the test, is always labeled as a research section and is only included if there is no unidentified unscored section. ETS gives no explanation for the reason behind the research section other than that “Questions in this section are included for ETS research purposes.”

 

Yes, yes, all research is proceeding according to my master plan...excellent. Mad Scientist/used under CC BY 2.0/Cropped from original.
All research is proceeding according to my master plan…excellent, excellent. Mad Scientist/used under CC BY 2.0/Cropped from original.

 

Paper-Based GRE Timing

In the chart below, we’ve created a possible schedule for the paper-based GRE:

Section Total Questions Total Time (minutes)
Analytical Writing: Analyze An Issue 1 30
Analytical Writing: Analyze An Argument 1 30
Break None 10
Quantitative Reasoning 25 40
Verbal Reasoning 25 35
Quantitative Reasoning 25 40
Verbal Reasoning 25 35

Total GRE Time, including breaks: 3 hours 40 minutes (source: ETS.org)

 

As with the computer–based GRE, the paper GRE will always begin with two Analytical Writing questions, followed by two Verbal Reasoning and two Quantitative Reasoning sections in any order. There is no experimental or unscored section on the paper-based GRE.

Note that on the paper-based GRE, the ten-minute break is after the second Analytical Writing section instead of after the third test section. There’s also more time for the Verbal and Quantitative Reasoning sections, although the time per question isn’t all that different from what it is on the computer-based GRE: 84 seconds per Verbal Reasoning question and 96 seconds per Quantitative Reasoning question. You’ll still have 30 minutes to plan and write your free response answers to each Analytical Writing question.

 

3 Tips for Coping With GRE Length

1. Take a full-length practice GRE to familiarize yourself with what it’s like to take a long standardized test. Use POWERPREP II software if you’ll be doing the computerized test to get the most realistic simulation.

If you’ll be taking the paper GRE, there’s a sample test PDF you can use to practice with. You can also use the practice PDF if you don’t have access to a computer that can run the POWERPREP II software, but we recommend against doing this unless you absolutely must. The timing and number of questions per section are slightly different on the paper GRE compared to the computer GRE; taking a paper practice GRE won’t give you the most realistic testing experience for the computer-based test, and the score you get may not entirely reflect how you’ll do on the computer-based GRE.

2. Use your break, and use it well. Bring a snack (protein-heavy is best, so you don’t have a sugar crash during the second part of the test) and water. You should also stretch, stand up, get your blood moving. You only have one ten-minute break during the test – make the most of it.

3. Schedule the GRE for your most focused time of day. The computer-based GRE is offered in the morning and afternoon, so if you’re planning far enough in advance you should be able to pick a testing time that’s good for you. If you’re a morning person, for instance, you’ll want to go for one of the earlier slots, whereas if you’re more energized in the afternoon you’ll want to schedule your GRE for a later time slot.

Some computer-based GRE test centers even offer multiple slots during each time period (e.g. an 8:30 slot, a 9:00 slot, a 9:30 slot). If the test center you want to take the GRE at does have that flexibility, you can get even more granular with your testing time. Maybe your peak alertness time is 8am-1pm, but the best time to travel to your test center is 7:30-8:15 because of rush hour traffic – in that case, maybe the 8:30 slot would be best to beat traffic.

 

What’s Next?

Now that you know how long the GRE is, what about what’s on it? Learn more about the GRE test format and how long you should study for the GRE.

How often is the GRE offered? Find out with our guide to choosing GRE test dates.

What about GRE subject tests? Delve into the intricacies of GRE subject test content and timing here.


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Author: Laura Staffaroni

Laura graduated magna cum laude from Wellesley College with a BA in Music and Psychology, and earned a Master's degree in Composition from the Longy School of Music of Bard College. She scored 99 percentile scores on the SAT and GRE and loves advising students on how to excel and fulfill their college and grad school dreams.

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