GRE General Test Vs. Subject Test

by Avery Martin
Many prospective chemistry graduate students take the chemistry GRE subject test.

Many prospective chemistry graduate students take the chemistry GRE subject test.

The Graduate Record Exam tests your knowledge and aptitude for graduate work. The general tests are designed to assess critical thinking and analytical skills without requiring knowledge of specific subjects. Some graduate schools require an additional GRE subject test to assess specific knowledge related to your field of study. Both tests provide prospective schools with the information needed to determine your potential success in graduate school.

GRE General Test

Most graduate programs require you to submit your general GRE test results along with your application. The general test consists of three sections -- analytical writing, verbal and quantitative reasoning. The analytical writing section always comes first. The verbal and quantitative sections are not always presented in the same order. All general tests contain research questions that won't count against your score but may be used in future tests. However, you won't know the real questions from the research questions. General tests may be administered by paper or on a computer. Computer-based tests are adaptive and provide progressively harder questions when you score correctly. When you miss a question, you usually get an easier one next. The analytical writing section might provide you with a passage and then ask you to write a response regarding your position on the claim, including citing specific evidence from the passage to support your claim.

GRE Subject Test Overview

A total of eight GRE subject tests are available for students entering specific fields in computers, English, mathematics and social and physical sciences. Each test focuses on your working knowledge of the specified subject and covers various content areas of the prospective field. Subject tests are paper-based only, and as such are not adaptive. For example, the biology GRE test contains questions about specific laboratory and field situations to assess your experience and knowledge of practical situations.

GRE Subject Test Organization

The biochemistry, cell and molecular biology subject test consists of approximately 180 multiple-choice questions organized into three sections. Biology and psychology tests are also broken down into three sections. Math, computer science, chemistry and literature contain four sections, while physics contains nine sections. Unlike the general GRE test, subject tests are designed to test your problem-solving skills related to your specialized field. Students who need to take a subject test should take practice tests and study for both the general and subject tests separately. The science tests may ask questions about the chemical properties of a molecule or test your ability to analyze a set of test results.

Sample Questions

The GRE test isn't an IQ test, and you can study to improve your scores. This applies equally to both the GRE general test and the subject tests. When studying for the general test, practice writing sample essay questions with a 30-minute time limit. The GRE website has sample questions available for practice. The GRE subject tests require a review of your past undergraduate courses in your prospective field. Review questions from the analytical, verbal and quantitative reasoning sections. The analytical section might ask you a question about how much humans rely on technology and whether you think that detracts from the ability to think independently. An argument task might require you to point out any evidence that you need to support a new law. The verbal portion of the test might inform you about new energy and then explain the costs involved. One of the questions might ask you what the passage implies about the acquisition of new energy. The quantitative reasoning section might require you to choose the greater quantity, without actually having to complete a math problem. For example, is x + 1 or x -1 the greater quantity?

About the Author

Avery Martin holds a Bachelor of Music in opera performance and a Bachelor of Arts in East Asian studies. As a professional writer, she has written for, Samsung and IBM. Martin contributed English translations for a collection of Japanese poems by Misuzu Kaneko. She has worked as an educator in Japan, and she runs a private voice studio out of her home. She writes about education, music and travel.

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