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GRE Test: An Overview of GRE Subject Tests

By Peterson's Staff updated on Tuesday, January 29, 2013

In addition to the general GRE test, some graduate schools or fellowship committees may require you to take additional GRE Subject Tests. These GRE tests are specific to eight fields of study and are sometimes required if you have a heavy background or a major in one of them. Unlike the general GRE exam, the Subject Tests are paper-based only and are administered on only three dates during the year in October, November, and April. The ETS site has comprehensive outlines of the subject matter covered by each GRE test, but here are some quick facts for each test (to help your GRE practice and GRE preparation):

Biochemistry, cell, and molecular biology GRE test

  • Approximately 180 multiple-choice questions, many of which are grouped in sets and based on laboratory situations, diagrams, or experimental results.
  • Organized into three major areas: biochemistry (36 percent); cell biology (28 percent); and molecular biology and genetics (36 percent). In addition to the total score, a subscore in each of these subfield areas is reported.
  • Emphasis on questions requiring problem-solving skills and content knowledge.

 

Biology GRE test

  • 200 five-choice questions, many of which are grouped in sets and based on laboratory and field situations, diagrams, or experimental results.
  • Organized into three major areas, each with its own sub-areas: cellular and molecular biology (33 to 34 percent); organismal biology (33 to 34 percent); ecology and evolution (33 to 34 percent).
  • In addition to the total score, a subscore in each of these subfield areas is reported.

 

Chemistry GRE test

  • Approximately 130 multiple-choice questions.
  • A periodic table is included in the test booklet, as well as a table of information presenting various physical constants and some conversion factors among SI units. Additional values of physical constants are printed within question texts as necessary.
  • Test questions are constructed to simplify mathematical manipulations. As a result, neither calculators nor tables of logarithms are needed.
  • The content of the test emphasizes the four traditional fields of chemistry: analytical chemistry (15 percent); inorganic chemistry (25 percent); organic chemistry (30 percent) ; and physical chemistry (30 percent).

 

Computer Science GRE test

  • The test consists of about 70 multiple-choice questions, some of which are grouped in sets and based on materials such as diagrams, graphs, and program fragments.
  • The test is divided into four categories. Approximate distribution of questions in each edition of the test according to content is as follows: software systems and methodology (40 percent): computer organization and architecture (15 percent); theory and mathematical background (40 percent); and other topics (5 percent).

 

Literature in English GRE test

  • Each edition of the test contains approximately 230 questions on poetry, drama, biography, the essay, the short story, the novel, criticism, literary theory, and the history of the language.
  • Some questions are based on short works reprinted in their entirety, some on excerpts from longer works.
  • The test draws heavily on literature in English from the British Isles, the United States, and other parts of the world.
  • The factual questions may require students to recognize or identify information about literary and critical movements, literary periods, specific writers and works, and particular styles.
  • The critical questions test the ability to read a literary text perceptively. Students are asked to examine a given passage of prose or poetry and to answer questions about meaning, form and structure, literary techniques, and various aspects of language.
  • The test is divided into four parts: literary analysis (40 to 55 percent); identification (15 to 20 percent); cultural and historical contexts (20 to 25 percent); and history and theory of literary criticism (10 to 15 percent).

 

Mathematics GRE test

  • The test has about 66 multiple-choice questions drawn from undergraduate-level courses.
  • Approximately 50 percent of the questions involve calculus.
  • Roughly 25 percent of the test covers elementary algebra, linear algebra, abstract algebra, and number theory.
  • The remaining areas of the test cover areas of mathematics currently studied by the majority of undergraduates.

 

Physics GRE test

  • The test has about 100 five-choice questions, some of which are grouped in sets and based on materials such as diagrams, graphs, experimental data, and descriptions of physical situations.
  • The International System (SI) of units is used predominantly in the test. A table of information representing various physical constants and a few conversion factors among SI units is presented in the test book.
  • The test covers nine different areas of physics: classical mechanics (20 percent); electromagnetism (18 percent); optics and wave phenomena (9 percent); thermodynamics and statistical mechanics (10 percent); quantum mechanics (12 percent); atomic physics (10 percent); special relativity (6 percent); laboratory methods (6 percent); and specialized topics (9 percent).

 

Psychology GRE test

  • The test usually has about 205 multiple-choice questions.
  • The questions are drawn from common undergraduate psychology courses.
  • The test offers only two subscores, but divides the questions into three content categories: experimental or natural science, including learning, language, memory, thinking, sensation and perception, physiological psychology, ethology, and comparative psychology (40 percent); social or social science, including clinical, abnormal, developmental, personality, and social psychology, (43 percent); and general psychology (17 percent).

 

In closing, the general GRE examination is required by most graduate schools for admission, but some schools (or programs) require also require one or more GRE test focused on a specific subject. As with the general test, additional GRE practice and GRE preparation for these subject tests will increase your scores. So, study hard and good luck!

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