GRE
NOTE FOR THE 2020-21 APPLICATION CYCLE: the GRE has cancelled fall subject tests due to the covid-19 pandemic. As a result, many schools have made all GRE scores (subject and general) optional this year. The logistical information below is not necessarily accurate during the pandemic.Many graduate programs' applications require scores from the GRE General Test and the GRE Math Subject Test.
The GRE general test
The GRE General Test is similar to the SAT. There are three sections: Verbal Reasoning, Quantitative Reasoning, and Analytical Writing. The verbal and quantitative sections are comprised of questions similar to SAT critical reading and math, respectively. In the Analytical Writing section, you type two essays. These essays must follow a much more specific format than SAT essays.- What does my score say about me? Getting a high score subject test has little to no correlation with completing a successful PhD. Worse than that, the GRE has serious equity issues. For these reasons, and others, some programs have dropped their GRE requirements completely.
- When and where can I take the general test? When do I need to register? It's offered throughout the year almost every day in most cities. When you should register depends a bit on local availability -- it's recommended you register early (maybe a month or so before) but often you can register much closer to the test.
- How do I study? You can take a practice test on the GRE website and look over some essays to get an idea of the format they require. There are many, many resources online for the general GRE.
The GRE math subject test
Around 50% of questions on the GRE Math Subject Test are calculus-based. The other 50% of questions cover undergraduate math topics such as abstract algebra, number theory, and analysis.- How much do my scores matter? Unfortunately, the Math GRE is an important component of your application.
The conventional wisdom is that you should aim for a good score (around 80th percentile or higher):
while most schools do not require any minimum score, a GRE score significantly lower than this makes your application less competitive at top programs.
That being said, the subject test is just one part of your application, and it's testing your ability to take a very specific kind of math exam.
Many faculty consider success on the GRE not well-correlated with success in grad school.
So while you should try to get a good score, a bad one shouldn't dissuade you from applying to any particular school.
"I got a 51st percentile when I took the GRE subject test the first time. I wasted a bunch of time over the summer doing practice tests and got a 79th percentile in the fall. I only submitted my second score and got into every program I applied to except Harvard. The GRE sucks and I'm sorry some schools still insist that you take it."
- When and where can I take the subject test? It's offered only 3 times a year (September, October, and April). So, if you want the opportunity to retake it, you should aim to take the April test in your junior year or the September test in your senior year. If you take the September one, you won't be able to see your results before the deadline to schedule an October test. The subject test isn't offered in very many locations, so it's a good idea to schedule it early (a couple of months in advance) if you want to have the best chance of taking the test near you.
- What resources can I use to study? Below is an incomplete list of some resources to get you started:
- ETS has released a small number of previous tests; these are floating around the internet. The more recent ones are more relevant if you want to get an idea of how you'd do on your actual test, since the content/ percentiles have changed over the years. Since there are so few released tests, be judicious about when you take them as you study.
- The Princeton Review has a book called Cracking the GRE Mathematics Subject Test. This is the most standard/well reviewed book you can buy to study, although others exist.
- UCLA runs a minicourse on the math GRE; the materials for it can be found here.
- Charles Rambo made a practice test (with solutions).
- UChicago grad students Jon DeWitt and Michael Neaton have a compendium of problems here which are GRE-flavored but intentionally somewhat more challenging.
Any other tips?
- For most, the math GRE is not a leisurely paced test. Practice doing problems/techniques efficiently, and make sure to time yourself if you're taking a practice test.
- Guessing is no longer penalized on the math GRE. So, be savvy and know techniques to eliminate answer choices.
- Here is some advice/discussion of the math GRE written by Jon DeWitt and Michael Neaton at UChicago.