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What is the difference between the GRE General and GRE Subject Test?

If you’ve decided to apply, or are thinking about applying, to study a master’s or postgraduate degree in the United States, the GRE or GMAT are exams you may see on your pre-application checklist. 

But what exactly is the GRE General Test and GRE Subject Test? Here is a breakdown of the two exams to help you learn the differences between them and figure out which one you need to take.

What is the GRE General Test? 

GRE stands for Graduate Record Examinations and is a standardized test required by many universities for students applying to a U.S. graduate or MBA program. University admissions departments use your GRE General Test scores as one of the factors when deciding whether or not you are a good fit for your desired program. 

As is reflected in the name, the test is a measurement of your “general” knowledge, testing you on your verbal, quantitative, critical analysis, and writing skills. 

What is the GRE Subject Test?

Unlike the GRE General Test, the GRE Subject Test is not normally required by many postgraduate programs. 

The GRE Subject Test is an exam given in 6 specific subjects that allows you to show your strength or expertise in your given field. Universities do not normally specify the subject test you must take, but you should take the subject test most related to your graduate program. 

There are currently 6 GRE Subject Tests: 

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

What is on the tests? 

The main difference between the 2 exams is the content, but there are also differences in the structure. 

The GRE General Test has multiple-choice questions, numeric entry questions, and a writing portion. You also have the option to take it as a computer-based or paper-based exam. Because there are 3 different sections (verbal, quantitative, and writing), the test is also broken up into 30-35 minute periods. 

The GRE Subject Test, on the other hand, is multiple-choice only and can only be taken as a paper-based exam. The test has only one section and the total testing time is about three hours. 

For examples of the different test types and more detailed information on the structure, take a look at the Test Content and Structure section of the official Educational Testing Services (ETS) website. 

When can I take the test and how much do I have to pay? 

The General Test is more flexible when it comes to the date, just as it is flexible with the option of a computer-based or paper-based exam. The computer-based test is normally offered year-round. But the paper-based test is offered about 3 times a year. Both tests, however, must be taken at a local test center. The GRE Subject Test is more regulated with tests being offered in April, September, and October.

The GRE General Test currently costs $205 in most countries, except for Australia, China, and NIgeria.  The GRE Subject, however, has a standard fee of $150 for all countries. The ETS also charges other GRE General fees and GRE Subject fees, which include the following: 

  • Standby testing 
  • Rescheduling
  • Changing your test center 

Which test do I need to take? 

The GRE General Test is normally required by most graduate programs, so you will most likely have to take it. The GRE Subject Test, however, is often not required. If your program mentions it as a requirement, the answer is easy: take the test. But if it is not obligatory, here are a few questions to ask yourself. 

  • How strong is my application? 

GRE scores are reviewed by admissions departments in addition to your undergraduate records, recommendation letters, and other qualifications. If you look these over and feel confident about your chances, you may not need to take the exam. Do you wish you did better in a class? Is your school or program very competitive? If the answer is yes, then the GRE Subject Test could be a good way to add weight to your application and push it forward. Nowadays, it can be hard to stand out, so the Subject Test could be just what you need. 

  • Is my undergraduate degree related to my graduate program? 

The norm has usually been that students use their undergraduate degree to prepare for their desired graduate program. But life happens. Maybe you learned that you are passionate about something else. Or, maybe you are deciding to make a career change. If you are in a similar situation, the GRE Subject Test could be a huge advantage. College admissions departments will always review your undergraduate records and may have questions regarding your decision to change fields. Being able to present your Subject Test score will show them that despite having a different academic background you are prepared for the courses that you will be taking and are dedicated to the program. 

  • How much time do I have to study? 

Remember that if you are asking yourself these questions, it is because the GRE Subject Test is not required for your graduate program. That being said, your GRE General Test scores should be your #1 priority. If you are feeling overwhelmed studying for one test, studying for two may work against you.Your application deadlines are also something to consider. Submitting Subject Test scores is meant to improve your chances. So, if you are making a last minute decision but do not feel confident about taking the test, you should think twice.  Also, keep in mind that as an international student, you are required to take the TOEFL exam to evaluate you English level. If you do not score well on the Subject Test it may hurt rather than help your chances. 

If you have any more questions regarding these GRE exams or have any studying tips, please leave us a comment below or contact us

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