GRE Guide

The Graduate Record Examinations (GRE) is a rigorous standardized test administered by the Educational Testing Service (ETS) that measures a student’s academic readiness for graduate work. Students applying to a criminal justice master’s program may be required to take the GRE to provide a common measure of qualifications compared to other candidates.

Admission to an online master’s degree in criminal justice may depend on GRE scores alongside the applicant’s GPA, letters of recommendation, and other indicators of academic readiness.

The GRE employs a variety of question formats including multiple choice, text completion, numeric entry, and essays. The GRE General Test is divided into three sections: The verbal reasoning section measures reading comprehension and vocabulary; quantitative reasoning evaluates mathematical problem-solving ability; and the analytical writing section consists of two essays that measure standard writing skills and critical thinking. The issue writing task requires the students to write an essay that examines a selected topic, while the argument writing task asks for students to critique the logic of an argument.

Admission to an online master’s degree in criminal justice may depend on GRE scores alongside the applicant’s GPA, letters of recommendation, and other indicators of academic readiness. The weight placed on the score varies from one program to another, but a low score can negatively impact chances for admission. GRE scores are often used as the basis for awarding merit-based financial aid and research or teaching fellowships.

GRE Subject Tests

GRE Subject Tests assess an applicant’s knowledge in a specific discipline. They provide an objective measure of an applicant’s skill level in comparison to others. Students applying to graduate programs that require the GRE General Test may also be required to submit scores from a GRE Subject Test. Programs that do not require subject tests may consider them in their admission decision if the applicant chooses to submit these scores. ETS offers subject tests in six disciplines: biology, chemistry, literature in English, mathematics, physics, and psychology. This test is administered three times each year using a paper-delivered format. Students are allocated two hours and 50 minutes to complete the test. The question format is entirely multiple choice and each question offers five answer choices. The test fee is $150.

Do Criminal Justice Students Have to Take the GRE?

While many graduate programs rely on GRE scores, not all online criminal justice master’s programs require them. Several online master’s in criminal justice may require them only for admission into specific concentrations. Some programs consider GRE scores if submitted but may assign more weight to undergraduate GPA or other indicators of academic readiness. Applicants should check with their school’s graduate admissions office to verify GRE requirements and minimum scores needed for entrance into the program.

What Does the GRE Look Like?

The Structure of the GRE

The GRE contains six sections. The testing time for the computer-delivered GRE is approximately three hours and 45 minutes. The paper version is three hours and 30 minutes. In both formats, students always complete the analytical writing section first. The GRE relies on a wide variety of question types. The verbal reasoning section may use text completion, sentence equivalence, and paragraph argument formats. The quantitative reasoning component includes numeric entry, quantitative comparison, and multiple-choice questions. Students may skip between questions in each section and go back to correct and change answers. The verbal reasoning, quantitative reasoning, and any unscored sections may be arranged in any order.

ETS uses experimental unscored and research sections to develop new questions. The answers provided by the large sample of test takers help ETS to determine the difficulty level of these proposed questions. Test takers should not try to guess which of the sections are unscored but instead should answer all questions as best they can. Some versions of the GRE include a clearly identified research section as the end of the test. In this case only, test takers may skip this section. Sometimes students may receive a version of the test that completely omits an unscored section.

Delivery Format

The computer-delivered format represents the only option for the majority of GRE test takers across the world. The paper test is administered in regions without computer access. The $205 testing fee is the same for both formats.

The tests are almost identical in structure and duration. The paper version contains more questions and allows more time to complete the verbal and quantitative sections. Unlike the computer-delivered format, the paper test excludes unscored experimental or research sections. A major difference between the two formats is the delivery of scores. Unofficial scores for the verbal and quantitative sections can be accessed immediately after completing the computer-delivered test, with official scores available online in 10-15 days. The paper version requires a wait of five weeks for all official scores.

The Verbal Reasoning Section

The verbal reasoning section of the GRE measures writing ability and critical thinking. It assesses knowledge of vocabulary, grammar, and reading comprehension. The verbal section provides an indication of how well test takers analyze and evaluate written information, understand relationships between sentence parts, and recognize connections among words and concepts.

Question Types

The verbal reasoning questions focus on reading comprehension, text completion, and sentence equivalence. Half of this section asks questions on reading comprehension, while the other half requires analysis and interpretation of written texts and completion of sentences or paragraphs. The reading comprehension section includes multiple-choice and select in-passage questions. Text completion questions ask test takers to choose the correct terms for short written passages. Sentence equivalence exercises require the selection of appropriate terms to complete sentences that are similar in meaning.

Common Pitfalls and How to Avoid Them

Test takers may find the verbal reasoning section confusing. It often provides answer choices that seem logically correct but do not actually fit the questions because of grammatical, stylistic, or contextual errors. Pay attention to significant words like “however” or “although” that may modify the meaning of the text. The most useful strategy is to answer the questions based on a careful reading of the text. Test takers should avoid working backwards from the answers provided. They should be active and engaged readers of the written passages, underlining keywords and questioning the intent and meaning of the text provided before selecting answers.

Helpful Tips

Read Carefully Before Answering

Test takers should not rush through the written passages. It is important to read the entire paragraph carefully before searching through the answer choices provided.

Try to Answer on Your Own

A useful strategy is to try to fill in the blank with an answer that you think might fit, and then compare your answer to the multiple choice options.

Don’t Ignore Modifying Words or Phrases

Some terms can significantly alter the meaning of the passage. Phrases that begin with “although,” “despite, “however,” and “notwithstanding” serve to clarify the argument presented.

Proofread Before Moving Ahead

The verbal section can be tricky. Seemingly correct answers may not fit grammatically or logically in the written passage. Check answers to make sure they match the language used in the paragraph.

The Analytical Writing Section

Skill Areas

This section of the GRE assesses analytical writing and critical thinking skills through two distinct writing tasks. In the first task, test takers must develop an argument about an issue of general interest and provide supporting evidence for their position. The second asks test takers to evaluate and critique an argument provided to them.

Question Types

Each of the two required essays in this section must be completed in 30 minutes. The “analyze an issue” task asks examinees to develop an argument about a given issue, evaluating whether the statement is true, its applicability in specific circumstances, and how it aligns with their own position. In the “analyze an argument” task, they critique a passage that interprets an event or recommends a course of action. Test takers evaluate the logic of the argument’s assumptions and its use of evidence.

Word Processing Software

The computer-delivered test features a word processor equipped with basic functionalities. Test takers may insert and delete, cut-and-paste blocks of text, and undo previous actions. The software does not correct grammar or include a spell-checker. ETS omits these editing tools to maintain a level playing field with test takers who must handwrite their essays in the paper version.

Common Pitfalls and How to Avoid Them

The analytical writing section measures the test taker’s ability to reason and think logically, critically, and independently about specific issues and arguments. The best way to prepare is to become familiar with the pool of possible issue and argument tasks provided by ETS. Test takers need to understand the different types of prompts that may be used, what kinds of responses are appropriate, and how the essays are scored. The ETS scoring guide provides graded responses and commentary for sample questions. Keep in mind that clearly stated opinions and carefully written explanations carry more weight than complicated sentence structure and elaborate vocabulary.

Helpful Tips

Review the Pool of Task Topics

ETS provides a pool of possible issue and argument tasks on its website. Become acquainted with the types of issues and arguments used on the test and practice crafting responses to the provided prompts.

Understand How the Essays are Scored

Review how the written tasks are scored. Study the graded essays and commentary to find out what exam scorers are looking for and what factors contribute to a high-scoring answer.

Learn to Manage Your Time

This section is particularly challenging because test takers must develop a thesis and construct a completed essay within 30 minutes. Make sure to allocate enough time for each component of your response.

Proofread Your Essays

Save enough time to go back over written answers to correct punctuation, misspelled words, and stylistic problems. An essay full of grammar and spelling mistakes detracts from the ideas presented.

The Quantitative Reasoning Section

Skill Areas

This section of the GRE measures mathematical skills and concepts necessary for problem solving and quantitative reasoning. The questions cover four content areas: arithmetic, algebra, geometry, and data analysis. Content is based on high school mathematics levels. Calculus, trigonometry, and other advanced mathematical disciplines are not included in this section of the exam.

Question Types

Test takers encounter four question types: quantitative comparisons, multiple-choice questions with one answer choice, multiple-choice questions with one or more answer choices, and numeric entry questions. Each of the two sections of the test contains a random assortment of question types but they are not equally distributed. Some questions are presented as part of a data interpretation set based on the same tables, graphs, and other data displays. Quantitative comparisons come first, followed by multiple-choice questions and data interpretation sets.

Can You Use a Calculator on the GRE?

Test takers may not bring their own calculators. Those taking the paper test are supplied with calculators at the test site. The computer version of the GRE uses an on-screen calculator. Because the test emphasizes reasoning rather than computational skills, calculator functions are limited to addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, and square roots.

Common Pitfalls and How to Avoid Them

Test takers sometimes approach the quantitative section of the GRE needlessly worried that they do not possess sufficient mathematic skills. They may have forgotten the calculus and trigonometry they learned in high school and hurriedly try to cram these subjects before taking the test. Fortunately, the GRE measures basic mathematical skills at the level of high school algebra. The test does not require elaborate calculations or constructions of geometric proofs. Students can best prepare by reviewing basic arithmetic and algebra, mathematical concepts, descriptive statistics, and common geometry equations. Keep in mind that the focus of the test is on mathematical reasoning and not on the computations.

Helpful Tips

Review Basic Math

The test is based on quantitative skills learned in high school. Knowledge of advanced mathematics is not necessary. Review fundamental concepts like mean, median, and mode, and go over basic arithmetic and algebraic operations.

Break It Down

The quantitative section consists of word problems, comparisons, and data analysis questions. A good strategy is to read each question carefully and break it down into steps.

Don’t Run Out of Scratch Paper

The exam proctor provides scratch paper, pencils, and erasers. Use the scratch paper to organize your reasoning and work through the problems, and be sure to ask for more if necessary at the ten-minute break.

Check Your Work

Make time to go back over your calculations checking for math mistakes.

How is the GRE Scored?

Scoring is slightly different for each version of the GRE. For the verbal and quantitative sections in the computer-delivered format, the raw score (the number of correctly answered questions) is converted to a scaled score that takes into account the assessed differences in question difficulty. The paper version is based only on the number of correct answers.

For the computer version of the analytical writing section, scores for each of the two essays are determined using a computerized scoring program and a human reader. If their scores are similar, the final score is based on the average of the two. If the scores diverge, a second human rater scores the essay, and the final score is based on the average of the two human rater scores. For the paper test, two raters score each essay and the average is used as the final score. If the scores differ by more than one point, a third reader is called in to decide. For both versions of the test, scores for the two essays are averaged and reported as a single final score.

Score Ranges on the GRE General Test

GRE SectionScore Range
Verbal Reasoning130-170 (1-point increments)
Analytical Writing0-6 (half-point increments)
Quantitative Reasoning130-170 (1-point increments)
Source: ETS

What’s the Difference Between Your Scaled Score and Your Percentile Rank?

The GRE reports three scaled scores in verbal reasoning, quantitative reasoning, and analytical writing, with corresponding percentile ranks for each score. The percentile ranks help test takers compare their scaled scores with others. For example, a verbal score of 165 corresponds to a percentile rank of 96, indicating that the test taker scored better than 96% of other test takers on this section of the test.

What’s an Average Score on the GRE?

Average Scores on the GRE General Test, 2013-16

GRE SectionAverage Score
Verbal Reasoning149.97
Analytical Writing3.48
Quantitative Reasoning152.57
Source: ETS

How Do You Register for the GRE?

Anyone planning to take the GRE must first create an ETS account before registering. The GRE fee allows test takers to designate up to four graduate institutions and fellowship grantors to receive test scores. Additional score reports can be added later for a supplemental fee. You may cancel or reschedule the test at any time. You will not lose the registration fee if you contact ETS no later than four days prior to the test date.

When Should You Take the GRE?

Arrange to take the GRE within 12 months before starting graduate school. Designated schools receive official score reports 10-15 days after completion of the computer test. The paper test requires five weeks for score delivery.

How Much Does the GRE Cost?

The examination fee is $205 throughout most of the world, including the U.S. Additional handling fees are required for late registrations and for rescheduling test dates and sites.

How Many Times Can You Take the GRE?

You can retake the GRE once every three weeks, up to five times in a 12-month period, even if you cancelled your scores from a previous test. The paper test can be retaken whenever offered without restrictions.

How Should You Prepare for the GRE?

At-Home Study Methods

Test takers may choose from a variety of at-home study methods to help them prepare for the exam.

GRE Prep Courses

Many test takers invest in GRE prep courses that provide trained tutors to explain strategies and provide sample test materials. A two-month course can cost between $800 and $1500, although a few organizations offer free online test preparation courses. Most of the major test prep companies, like Kaplan or Princeton Review, deliver their courses in both online and traditional classroom settings. They also offer free practice tests and individualized tutoring. Manhattan Prep offers online, self-paced, and last-minute courses.

Studying Tips for the GRE

Make a Study Plan and Stick to It

Even if you are not enrolled in a test preparation course, carve out a period of time each day for several weeks prior to taking the exam to work on your skills.

Become Familiar with the Structure of the Exam

Review the information on the GRE website about the structure of the exam, the number of questions and question types in each section, and the time allotted to complete each section.

Review High School Math That You Forgot

The quantitative section of the test is based on high school-level mathematics. Pull out an old high school textbook and relearn any concepts that you may have forgotten.

Prepare by Taking Practice Tests

Practice tests are as close to the real thing as possible. They prepare you for the actual experience with similar questions and timed sequences in the same format as the GRE.

Learn Time Management

Be mindful of the time constraints, especially for the analytical writing section. Leave enough time to go back over your answers, double-check your math, and proofread your answers.

Helpful Resources

Test takers can easily find free test preparation materials to help them study for the GRE.

  • ETS POWERPREP Practice Tests ETS provides these free online practice tests that mimic the actual exam experience. Test takers learn how to use the online calculator, change answers within a section, and navigate back and forth between questions.
  • Quizlet Members of the Quizlet open online learning community share study sets and other preparation materials that focus on each section of the GRE general test. Users can customize available resources to fit their needs.
  • Magoosh GRE Vocabulary Flashcards Magoosh offers free flashcards that test users on the most common and the most difficult GRE vocabulary words. The site can be accessed online and through Android and iPhone apps.
  • LEAP This is a free online learning platform. It provides GRE preparation courses for the general and subject tests. Other resources include videos, blogs, and personal tutoring.

What Should You Expect on Test Day?

Test takers receive seat assignments when they arrive at the testing site and cannot leave until the test is over. If you need to use the restroom, raise your hand for permission, but keep in mind that the timing will not stop. A 10-minute break is scheduled after the third section and one-minute breaks between the remaining sections. The proctor provides scratch paper, which cannot be used before the test or during the breaks. All paper must be returned at the end of the test.

What Should You Bring with You?

What Should You Leave at Home?

Accommodations for Test Takers with Disabilities or Health-Associated Needs

ETS provides reasonable accommodations to test takers with disabilities or health-related needs. These may include extended test time or extra breaks. Some test takers may require computer screen modifications, ergonomic keyboards, or readers with refreshable braille compatibility. Test takers seeking accommodations must submit required documentation to ETS Disability Services following the procedures in the “Bulletin Supplement for Test Takers with Disabilities or Health-Related Needs.” Approval takes about six weeks, but can take longer if additional documentation must be submitted.

Submitting Your Scores

When Will You Get Your Scores?

The computer-delivered version of the GRE allows test takers to see their unofficial verbal and quantitative scores at the test site as soon as they finish the exam. Official scores, including the analytical writing score, can be accessed in your ETS account 10-15 days after completion of the test. Delivery of all official scores for the paper version requires approximately five weeks.

How Do You Submit Your Scores to Schools?

The GRE test fee includes score reports for up to four graduate schools or fellowship sponsors. The computer-delivered GRE allows you to designate the recipients on the day of the test; the paper test asks you to submit the recipients during registration. If you need to supply score reports to other schools after the exam, you can have them sent for a supplemental fee of $27 each.

What Scores Will Schools See If You Take the Test More Than Once?

The ScoreSelect option enables test takers to send their best scores to designated institutions. Whether registering for the general test or subject test, you can choose not to report your scores, you can select the most recent results, or you can submit all your scores from each test you have taken. If you need to send additional score reports after the test date, you can select the most recent, all, or any scores from the previous five years.

How Long Will Your Scores Be Valid?

GRE scores from tests taken on or after July 1, 2016 are valid for five years following the test date. Scores from tests prior to July 1, 2016 are reportable for five years following the test year from July 1 through June 30. Scores received prior to July 2012 are no longer valid.