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GRE Syllabus & Exam Pattern

If you aspire to earn your post-graduate degree from a university abroad, taking the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) is the typical first step. Many universities across the US, Canada, UK and other education destinations have GRE® score among the key criteria for selection.

The GRE® syllabus underwent a major change in August 2011, with the introduction of the Revised GRE® Exam Pattern. It is considered the most significant change brought to the pattern since its inception.

The exam is now divided into two tests:

  1. GRE® General Test
  2. GRE® Subject Test

Each of these tests serve a different purpose.

GRE® General aims to test the candidate’s knowledge on the following:

  1. Verbal Reasoning Skills
  2. Quantitative Reasoning Skills
  3. Analytical Writing Skills

The GRE® Subject Test focuses on the subject one wants to pursue higher education in. GRE® General Test is a standard test that all test takers have to take, whereas the Subject Test is required by only certain universities based on the specific field of study chosen.

GRE® Exam Syllabus

What is the new GRE® Exam syllabus?

The new GRE® pattern, or the Revised GRE® Pattern, was introduced in August 2011. This is widely regarded to be the biggest change in pattern that has happened in the history of the exam. The New GRE® Pattern has three sections—GRE® Quantitative, GRE® Verbal, and AWA—which are evaluated on a scale of 260–340, with 0–6 rating for the Analytical Writing section. Whenever there is a pattern change in an exam like the GRE®, the question that invariably follows is:
While we can broadly define the GRE® Quantitative Syllabus, the GRE® Verbal Syllabus, on the other hand, is slightly more ambiguous. It would help you to understand what the sections are composed of, and the type of questions they comprise, for a better understanding of the GRE® exam syllabus.

What is the difference between GRE® Syllabus 2018 vs 2019?

If you quickly want to know what are the changes in GRE® Syllabus for 2019 when compared to 2018, there aren’t any. If you are well versed with the last year syllabus, then you are good to go with last year syllabus itself.

The GRE® exam pattern is summarized below:

GRE® Exam SectionNumber of QuestionsDuration
Analytical WritingAnalyse an Issue. Analyse an Argument.30 minutes for each task
Verbal reasoning2 sections of 20 questions each30 minutes for each section
Quantitative reasoning2 sections of 20 questions each35 minutes for each section
Unscored sectionQuestions varyTime varies
Research section (Excl. for Ph. D & Post Docs.)Questions varyTime varies
GRE<sup>®</sup> Syllabus. GRE<sup>®</sup> Quant. GRE<sup>®</sup> Verbal, GRE<sup>®</sup> AWA, GRE<sup>®</sup> Test, GRE<sup>®</sup> Exam Pattern, GRE<sup>®</sup> Study, GRE<sup>®</sup> Analytical Writing, GRE<sup>®</sup> Sections, GRE<sup>®</sup>

GRE® Syllabus – General Test

Under the Revised GRE® Exam Pattern, the general test is divided into three sections. These are:

  1. Analytical Writing
  2. Quantitative Reasoning
  3. Verbal Reasoning

The syllabus for the first two sections, i.e. Quantitative Reasoning and Analytical Writing is well-defined, but the syllabus for Reasoning section is ambiguous. Let us look at what each section is composed of to get a better understanding of the syllabus to be covered.

Geometry: This is arguably the most challenging topic in the entire quants syllabus. It comprises properties of lines (parallel and perpendicular), different types of triangles like isosceles, equilateral and other polygons, circles and their various properties, pythagorean theorems and the concepts of area, perimeter, and volume.

Analytical Writing

This section aims to test the test takers on their ability to:

  1. Critically examine ideas including:
  2. Issues
  3. Arguments

Express their ideas in a manner that emphasizes

  1. Clarity
  2. Logical flow
  3. Preciseness

Remember that this section does not aim to test the test takers grasp of a particular topic, but their approach to critically analyse a topic and express their own opinion.

The Analytical Writing section of the Revised GRE® Pattern consists of two tasks:

  1. Analyse an issue
  2. Analyse an argument

Analyse an Issue

In this section, the test taker is presented with a statement about a topic of popular interest. The person is expected to analyse the issue raised in the statement and provide her own take on it. You are free to take a stand that either agrees with the point of view expressed on the original statement, or a stand contrary to it.

Remember that the test does not test you on the stand you take, but on how well you are able to defend your point of view. Your reasoning must be coherent throughout the essay. The aim of this section is to test how well you capture critical thoughts in a written format.

A typical example of this task is:

Issue statement:The comforts of life available today are making people “soft,” and they are gradually losing their strength of character and becoming weaklings.

Task instruction:Discuss your response, giving logical reasons to support your opinion. Also say under what circumstances the statement might or might not stand. Explain your position taking into consideration those circumstances, too.

Analyse an Argument

In this section, the test taker is presented with an argument. He or She is expected to analyse the author’s argument logically, and point to strengths and weaknesses in their argument.

Remember that the test does not ask the exam writer’s opinion of the issue being discussed, but their ability to breakdown an argument presented to them. One is expected to critique and question the point of view presented in the original statement, and not burden it with one’s own views on the issue at hand.

A typical example of this task is:

In surveys Mason City residents rank water sports (swimming, boating and fishing) among their favorite recreational activities. The Mason River flowing through the city is rarely used for these pursuits, however, and the city park department devotes little of its budget to maintaining riverside recreational facilities. For years there have been complaints from residents about the quality of the river's water and the river's smell. In response, the state has recently announced plans to clean up Mason River. Use of the river for water sports is therefore sure to increase. The city government should for that reason devote more money in this year's budget to riverside recreational facilities.

Write a response in which you examine the stated and/or unstated assumptions of the argument. Be sure to explain how the argument depends on the assumptions and what the implications are if the assumptions prove unwarranted.

GRE® Math Syllabus: Quantitative Reasoning

The quantitative reasoning section of the GRE® General Test aims to assess the test taker’s:

  1. Basic mathematical ability
  2. Understanding of high school level mathematical concepts
  3. Ability to use mathematical models to solve a quantitative problem
  4. Ability to reason quantitatively

The questions asked in this section can be purely mathematical in nature, or may be drawn from a real-life scenario. Most of the questions will be so-called “word problems”, where the candidate will have to convert the details provided into a quantitative problem before solving them.

This is designed to access the knowledge of the candidate across four content areas


This includes the following topics:

  • Integers and their properties
    • Divisibility
    • Factorization
    • Prime numbers
    • Remainders
    • Even and odd
  • Arithmetic operations
  • Exponents and roots
  • Estimation
  • Percent and ratio
  • Rates of change
  • Absolute value of numbers
  • The number line
  • Decimal representation of numbers
  • Sequences of numbers


This includes the following topics:

  • Exponents
  • Algebraic expressions
    • Factoring
    • Simplifying
  • Relations and functions
  • Equations and inequalities
  • Linear and quadratic equations
  • Linear and quadratic inequalities
  • Word problems
    • Setting up equations to solve the same
  • Coordinate Geometry
    • Graphs of functions
    • Graphs of equations
    • Graphs of inequalities
    • Intercepts and slopes of lines


This includes the following topics:

  • Lines
    • Parallel
    • Perpendicular
  • Circles
  • Triangles
    • Isosceles
    • Equilateral
    • 30°-60°-90° triangles
  • Quadrilaterals
  • Other polygons
  • Congruent and similar figures
  • Three-dimensional figures
  • Area
  • Perimeter
  • Volume
  • The Pythagorean theorem
  • Angle measurements

It is important to remember that GRE® does not test a test taker’s ability to construct proofs.

Some of the conventions used in quantitative reasoning section are:

  1. Only real numbers are used
  2. All figures are assumed to be in a plane, unless specified otherwise
  3. Figures may not be drawn to scale
  4. Coordinate systems and number lines are drawn to scale
  5. Graphical data presented in the form of bar graphs, circle graphs, line graphs etc. are drawn to scale

Quantitative reasoning section of the GRE® General Test consists of four types of questions:

  1. Quantitative comparison questions
  2. Multiple-choice Questions — Select One Answer Choice
  3. Multiple-choice Questions — Select One or More Answer Choices
  4. Numeric Entry Questions

These questions can either be independent of each other, or be part of a data interpretation set. You are allowed to use a basic calculator for the quantitative reasoning section of the test.

Data analysis

This includes the following topics:

  • Basic descriptive statistics
    • Mean
    • Median
    • Mode
    • Range
    • Standard deviation
    • Interquartile range
    • Quartiles
    • Percentiles
  • Interpretation of data
    • Line graphs
    • Bar graphs
    • Circle graphs
    • Box Plots
    • Scatter plots
    • Frequency distribution
  • Elementary probability
    • Compound events
    • Independent events
  • Conditional probability
  • Random variables and probability distribution
    • Normal distribution
  • Counting methods
    • Combinations
    • Permutations
    • Venn diagrams

    The aim of the quantitative reasoning section is to test students on high school mathematics and statistics. Trigonometry, calculus and other higher-level mathematical concepts are not covered in this test. Though may be covered in GRE® Subject Test, based on your field of study.

GRE® Verbal Syllabus: Verbal Reasoning

The GRE® verbal reasoning section of the GRE® General Test assesses the test taker’s ability to:

  1. Analyse written material.
  2. Evaluate written material.
  3. Obtain information from written material.
  4. Analyse the relationship between different components of a sentence.
  5. Recognize the relationship between concepts and words representing them.

This section is divided into three parts basis the GRE® Verbal Syllabus:

Reading comprehension

This makes up about 50% of the GRE® verbal reasoning section of the GRE® General Test. In this, the test taker is presented with a passage and has to answers related to it. The test is made up of about 10 passages and most of them are one paragraph long. The passages are derived from books and periodicals on:

  • Physical sciences
  • Biological sciences
  • Social sciences
  • Arts and humanities
  • Everyday topics in popular culture

The abilities assessed in this subsection are:

  1. Understanding the meaning of words and sentences
  2. Understanding the meaning of larger blocks of text like paragraphs
  3. Being able to identify minor and major points in a passage
  4. Ability to summarize a passage
  5. Draw conclusions from text presented
  6. Dealing with incomplete data and infer missing information
  7. Identifying underlying assumptions an author works from
  8. Analyzing an argument to identify its strengths and weaknesses
  9. Developing alternative explanations for a situation

Text completion

This section tests the test taker’s ability to form a complete picture from the text presented. If one is able to understand the overall sense that a passage conveys, one would be able to fill in crucial words that have been omitted out of the passage. This section presents:

  1. Passages composed of up to five sentences
  2. The passage may have up to three blanks
  3. Three or five options are presented for each blank
  4. Each blank has only one right answer
  5. Answer for each blank is independent of the answer chosen of other blanks

Remember that the correct answers would ensure that the passage is not only grammatically correct but also logically and stylistically coherent.

Sentence Equivalence

This subsection also tests the test taker’s ability to draw conclusion about a passage presented from partial information. In this case, the test taker is presented with a single sentence with a. single blank – the test taker has to choose two ways to complete the sentence that have the same meaning while also being grammatically correct. For each blank six answer choices are presented. No credit is given if only one of the two selected answers is correct.

Remember that correct answers may not be words that mean the same thing. The completed sentences have the same meaning – not the missing words.

GRE® Syllabus – Subject Test

The GRE® Subject Tests are meant to assess a test taker’s knowledge in her chosen field of study. Some schools and universities use the score as a criterion for selection alongside undergraduate scores, recommendation letter, GRE® General Test scores etc. This test is conducted in the following six disciplines:

  1. Biology
  2. Chemistry
  3. English Literature
  4. Mathematics
  5. Physics
  6. Psychology

Let us look at the GRE® Exam pattern and syllabus for each of these below:


  • Consists of 190 multiple choice questions, with each question presented with five choices
  • Questions may be based on description of lab and field studies, diagrams or experimental results presented.
  • The test covers three major areas each of which is given equal importance:
    • Cellular and molecular biology
    • Organism biology
    • Ecology and evolution
  • Along with the total score, a sub-score in each of the three areas is also provided.


  • Consists of 120 multiple choice questions.
  • Periodic table and a table containing values of physical constants is provided.
  • Calculators and log tables are not required for this test.
  • The test covers four fields of chemistry listed below along with importance for each section:
    • Analytical chemistry – 15%
    • Inorganic chemistry – 25%
    • Organic chemistry – 30%
    • Physical chemistry – 30%
  • It is important to remember that individual questions can test more than one field as the interrelation between these fields is a key area assessed by the test.

English Literature

  • Consists of about 230 questions on topics among:
    • Poetry
    • Drama
    • Biography
    • Essay
    • Short Story
    • Novel
    • Criticism
    • Literary Theory
    • The History of the Language
  • Some questions would be based on text presented – this could be a short work in its entirety or an extract from a longer work.
  • The questions can be:
    • Factual – requiring identification of literary or critical movements, period in which a work was composed, identifying the author, etc.
    • Analytical – requiring answers about meaning, forms, structure, literary technique and other aspects of language
  • The test covers the following topics:
    • Literary analysis – 40% to 55%
    • Identification – 15% to 20%
    • Cultural and historical context – 20% to 25%
    • History and theory of literary criticism – 10% to 15%


  1. Consists of 66 multiple choice questions
  2. The test covers the following topics taught at undergraduate level mathematics:
  • Calculus – 50%
  • Algebra – 25%
  • Additional topics like real analysis and discrete mathematics – 25%


  • Consists of 100 multiple choice questions, with each question presented with five choices.
  • Questions may be based on description of physical situations, diagrams, graphs or experimental results presented.
  • The exam tests the candidate’s understanding of fundamental principles and her ability to apply the same for problem solving.
  • SI units are typically used in the exam paper.
  • The topics covered include:
    • Classical mechanics – 20%
    • Electromagnetism – 18%
    • Optics and wave phenomena – 9%
    • Thermodynamics and statistical mechanics – 10%
    • Quantum mechanics – 12%
    • Atomic physics – 10%
    • Special relativity – 6%
    • Laboratory methods – 6%
    • Specialized topics like nuclear and particle physics, and condensed matter – 9%


  • Consists of 205 multiple choice questions, with each question presented with five choices.
  • Some of the questions may be based on description of experimentation or graphs.
  • The exam adheres to terminology, criteria and classifications as defined in DSM-5.
  • The test is made up of six sub-scores:
    • Biological – 17% to 21%
    • Cognitive – 17% to 24%
    • Social – 12% to 14%
    • Developmental – 12% to 14%
    • Clinical – 15% to 19%
    • History, measurement and methodology – 15% to 19%

Common FAQS

  • Is GRE® syllabus for MS same for all branches?

GRE® Syllabus for the GRE® General Test is the same irrespective of the branch of the student / the course the student intends to pursue for Masters.

  • Is GRE® syllabus and GMAT syllabus same?

Both GRE® and GMAT have similar sections. GRE® includes sections on Verbal Reasoning, Quantitative Reasoning & Analytical Writing sections while GMAT includes Verbal, Quantitative, Integrated Reasoning and Analytical Writing Assessment sections. The test difficulty varies for both the tests basis the sections.

  • Is GRE® & CAT syllabus same?

The syllabus might look similar for both the tests, but in CAT, the intensity of Quants part is higher than the GRE®. Likewise, the English vocabulary part in GRE® is tougher than CAT.

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