Graduate level nursing programs may have varying requirements, with some applicants needing to take the Graduate Record Examinations (GRE). The purpose of the GRE is to assess the potential success of the test-taker in graduate school.

Several schools waive the GRE requirement based on the applicant’s undergraduate GPA. Additionally, many online programs do not require the GRE and instead consider other educational prerequisites.

When applying to nursing school, it is important to be aware of the different requirements and application timelines, as in-person and online programs may have distinct application processes.

This guide provides an overview of the GRE, including its structure and a breakdown of the three areas in which test-takers are evaluated. It also offers guidance on the registration process and the best strategies for preparing for exam day.

GRE Subject Tests

In addition to the GRE General Test, the Educational Testing Service also offers GRE Subject Tests. These specialized exams focus on specific subjects such as biology, chemistry, mathematics, and psychology.

For those interested in nurse practitioners’ programs, the GRE Subject Test may include biology. Similarly, individuals looking to enroll in online psychiatric nurse practitioner programs may be required to take the psychology subject test.

While the GRE General Test is taken on a computer, the subject tests are administered using pencil and paper at designated testing centers. These exams are offered three times a year, in September, October, and April.

The length and question style of the specialized tests vary. The biology exam, for example, consists of 190 multiple-choice questions, with five possible answers for each question.

Each subject test carries a fee of $150 and includes a complimentary practice book.

Featured Online MSN Programs

Do All Nursing Schools Require the GRE?

Although numerous graduate schools mandate the submission of GRE scores, it is indeed feasible for individuals to obtain an online master’s degree in nursing without this requirement.

For instance, nurses who possess a master of science in nursing degree often have the opportunity to pursue a nursing doctoral program, whether on-campus or online, without the need for GRE scores.

Additionally, certain online family nurse practitioner programs may exempt applicants with exceptional undergraduate GPAs from the test requirements.

What Does the GRE Look Like?

The Structure of the GRE

The GRE General Test comprises five graded sections and one unscored section. Test-takers should allocate approximately three hours and 45 minutes for the exam, including a short break after the third section.

The first section always focuses on analytical writing, consisting of two writing assignments with a time limit of 30 minutes per essay. The subsequent five sections consist of two verbal reasoning sections, two quantitative reasoning sections, and one ungraded section. The order of these five sections may vary, and the ungraded section is unidentified.

It is important for test-takers to approach each section as if it will be graded. The verbal reasoning sections allow 30 minutes for 20 questions each, while the quantitative reasoning sections provide 35 minutes per section, with the same number of questions.

There are two types of ungraded sections: unscored and research. Each test-taker will receive only one of these sections per exam. The unscored sections are not evaluated, whereas the research sections clearly state their purpose.

Throughout the exam, test-takers have the option to mark questions for later review and edit previous answers. Computer-based exams include an on-screen calculator to assist with the quantitative reasoning sections.

Delivery Format

Although the majority of students opt to take the GRE on a computer at a designated testing center, it’s worth noting that a paper version is still available at select testing facilities nationwide. However, it’s important to mention that testing centers that offer the computer-based exam typically do not administer paper tests unless a student has received prior authorization for special testing accommodations.

It’s worth highlighting that the paper-based test does not include the unscored or research sections. Additionally, students taking the paper test are granted an extra five minutes for each verbal and quantitative section, which can be advantageous.

In terms of score reporting, it’s important to consider that while the computer-based exam provides students with an unofficial score immediately after completion, those who take the paper-based test will have to wait approximately five weeks to receive their official score.

Overall, it’s crucial for students to carefully consider the format that best suits their individual needs and preferences when deciding between the computer-based and paper-based GRE.

The Verbal Reasoning Section

The verbal reasoning sections evaluate a student’s ability to comprehend written concepts. It requires learners to analyze, relate, and synthesize information in essays. This part of the exam tests the understanding of sentence structures and relationships.

The GRE assesses verbal reasoning skills using three question types: reading comprehension, text completion, and sentence equivalence. Reading comprehension questions involve reading a passage and answering multiple-choice questions to demonstrate comprehension.

Text completion questions present a passage with missing words, and test-takers must select the correct words from three choices.

Sentence equivalence questions provide a single sentence with a blank, and learners must choose two answers that can complete the sentence.

GRE scores can determine acceptance or placement on the waitlist, making it crucial for test-takers to avoid avoidable mistakes. Rushing can cause students to miss important nuances in the question text, resulting in point deductions.

To maximize scores, students should read the full text before reviewing the questions and highlight key words, such as “however” and “also.” Paying attention to punctuation and grammar is also essential, as they can alter sentence meaning.

Successful students ensure that both answers in sentence equivalence questions align with the original text.

    • Read the full passage first: Some students may feel tempted to read the questions before the passage, but reading the passage first gives students a better understanding of the material.
    • Fill in the blanks: Fill-in-the-blank questions might be easier if the student tries to fill in the blanks before reading the answers. This strategy ensures that the answers align with the learner’s intuition.
    • Check both answers: Some fill-in-the-blank questions have two correct answers that students must select. Test-takers can avoid mishaps by ensuring both words fit the blank equally well.
    • Proofread: If time allows, learners should reread the material after answering the questions. This strategy can help test-takers identify potential errors and improve their scores.

The Analytical Writing Section

In addition to fundamental English language concepts, the analytical writing section of the exam evaluates a learner’s critical thinking skills, ability to construct persuasive arguments, and aptitude for effective communication. While coherence is important in the essays, this section does not assess specific content knowledge.

This section consists of two questions: one that necessitates analyzing an issue and another that requires analyzing an argument. For the issue question, successful students address a broad topic and consider multiple perspectives on the subject. The argument question presents test-takers with one side of an issue along with supporting evidence, requiring learners to explain the reasoning behind the argument.

For computer-based test-takers, this section is completed using a specialized word processing program developed by ETS. The software is designed to provide minimal functionality and ensure fairness between paper-based and computer-based tests. However, online test-takers are limited to a few actions, including inserting text, deleting, undoing, cutting, and pasting. Additional tools such as spell check are not available.

Many students find the questions on the analytical writing section of the GRE unfamiliar, which can leave them uncertain about what the graders expect. For instance, some learners mistakenly believe that using complex and extensive vocabulary will improve their scores. However, it is important to note that a broad vocabulary alone is unlikely to significantly enhance a student’s score. Instead, emphasis should be placed on presenting a clear and well-reasoned argument.

To better understand the grading system, exam candidates are encouraged to enroll in GRE preparation courses that cover scoring.

By refining word choice, enhancing structure, improving readability, and elevating eloquence, the content has been optimized while preserving the original meaning.

    • Review the topics: The ETS posts all of the possible essay prompts before the exam. Students should take time to read the prompts and practice writing responses.
    • Leave time for proofreading: Test-takers are wise to keep an eye on the time and leave a few minutes for proofreading. Doing so ensures that students turn in their best work.
    • Learn and review scoring guidelines: Learners can take GRE preparation courses to understand how graders score this section. They can also review the guidelines before test day to keep the ideas fresh.
    • Explain in full: Test-takers should reread their essays to check for inconsistencies in their logic. It’s important not to assume the reader agrees or even understands the subject.

The Quantitative Reasoning Section

This section provides students with an opportunity to showcase their mathematical and quantitative problem-solving skills. It covers a range of topics, including arithmetic, algebra, geometry, and data analysis.

The word problems in this section go beyond basic concepts and require students to demonstrate their reasoning abilities. They need to determine which formulas to use to arrive at the correct solutions.

The ETS employs four question formats to assess quantitative skills. The first format is quantitative comparison, where students solve two equations and compare the resulting values. The next two formats are multiple-choice questions, but with a slight difference. Some multiple-choice questions require selecting only one answer, while others demand identifying all correct options.

Numeric entry questions are also included in this section. These questions do not provide answer choices, so test-takers must solve the problems and input their answers.

For students taking the computer version of the test, a calculator is available on the screen during this section. Testing centers provide calculators for those taking the paper test.

Both types of calculators have basic functions, limited to addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, and square root. Test-takers are not allowed to bring their own calculators to the exam.

One common mistake among test-takers is focusing on studying advanced mathematics like calculus, which is not necessary for this section. Instead, it is important to review fundamental concepts from grade school-level math and high school-level algebra.

Another common pitfall is spending too much time on completely solving the equations in the quantitative comparison section. Savvy students understand the underlying concepts of each equation and can arrive at the correct answers quickly.

    • Get back to basics: As learners prepare for the GRE, they should study basic mathematical concepts, such as mean, median, mode, and solving for x. These skills are essential on the exam.
    • Get scratch paper: Whether a student takes the computer or paper test, plenty of scratch paper is helpful. During the break, learners should stock up on more paper.
    • Memorize important equations: Students with limited time to prepare should focus on memorizing the formulas that they may encounter on the exam.
    • Proof the work: Test-takers should take some time to look over their work and proof mistakes. Even a small mistake can lead to an incorrect answer in this section.

How Is the GRE Scored?

The analytical writing section of each exam is scored on a scale of 0 to 6 by graders who evaluate factors such as critical thinking, coherence, and structure. The scores are then rounded to the nearest half-point interval.

For the quantitative and verbal reasoning sections, students receive grades ranging from 130 to 170. These scores consider both the number of correctly answered questions and the difficulty level of the questions.

Unlike traditional exams with fixed questions, the computer-based GRE uses section-level adaptation to provide a personalized test experience. This means that as a test-taker performs well in one section, the subsequent section of the same type becomes more challenging. The grading system takes into account this varying difficulty level.

In contrast, the paper-based GRE does not feature adaptive tests, and the score is primarily determined by the number of correct answers chosen.

Overall, understanding how the GRE scoring system works is crucial for students aiming to achieve their desired scores.

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?

Student’s scaled scores are represented by grades ranging from 0 to 6 and 130 to 170. In addition, test-takers are provided with percentile ranks, which offer valuable context to these scaled scores.

Percentile ranks indicate where learners stand in comparison to their peers. For instance, a student with a percentile rank of 95 outperformed 95% of fellow test-takers in that particular section, scoring lower than only about five percent. Such a score signifies a high level of proficiency in that specific area to nursing programs evaluating applicants.

What’s an Average Score on the GRE?

Average Scores on the GRE General Test
GRE SectionScore Range
Verbal Reasoning150.37
Analytical Writing3.6
Quantitative Reasoning153.66

Source: ETS

What’s a Good GRE Score for Nursing Programs?

Kaplan provides the following comparison of what a good GRE score looks like and how it compares to other scores.

Comparing GRE Scores
Top ScoresCompetitive ScoresGood ScoresBelow Average Scores
Top 10%Top 25%Top 50%Bottom 50%
Verbal: 163-170Verbal: 158-162Verbal: 152-158Verbal: <151
Quantitative: 165-170Quantitative: 159-164Quantitative: 153-158Quantitative: <152
Writing: 5-6Writing: 4.5Writing: 4.0Writing: <3.5

How Do You Register for the GRE?

To register for the GRE, students must first create an account on the ETS website. Afterward, test candidates should carefully review the available test dates, nearby test centers, and associated exam fees. Once a suitable day and location have been identified, students can proceed with the registration process.

During registration, students have the option to select a few schools to which ETS should send their scores. It is important to note that while registrants have the flexibility to cancel at any time, the ETS does not provide refunds for cancellations made less than four days before the scheduled test date.

When Should You Take the GRE?

Nursing graduate school hopefuls should take the exam roughly one year before they plan to begin classes. This allows time to retake the test for higher scores to include in nursing school applications.

How Much Does the GRE Cost?

In the U.S., the GRE General Test costs $205 and the Subject Tests cost $150 each. Students may incur additional fees for taking the exam in certain countries, registering late, and choosing the paper exam.

How Many Times Can You Take the GRE?

Students must wait 21 days in between computer tests and can take the exam up to five times per year. Those who take the paper exam can take it as often as the testing center offers it.

How Should You Prepare for the GRE?

At-Home Study Methods

Students can access many different tools to help them do their best on the GRE.

Printed study guides

Online and brick-and-mortar bookstores stock printed study guides for GRE hopefuls. Students can choose from single-subject or full-test guides and study anywhere.

Flashcards

Many students use index cards to create flashcards. These work well for formulas and other hard facts that test-takers should memorize.

Private tutoring

Students who struggle with solo studying can work with a private tutor to prepare for the exam. A simple search for GRE tutors may pull up plenty of local professionals.

Studying apps

In today’s tech-based society, many students have access to incredible study tools in their pockets. Apps like Magoosh can prepare learners much like a printed book.

Online practice tests

Part of preparing is measuring progress. Online practice tests can help students determine which study methods work for them and what subjects they should focus on.

GRE Prep Courses

Test-takers have the option to enroll in GRE preparation courses offered by reputable organizations such as Kaplan, The Princeton Review, Magoosh, The Economist, and GraduateX. These courses can vary in cost, ranging from $199 to over $1,000.

These courses can be taken either in-person with a set schedule or online with a self-paced format. Many of these programs cover the exam material comprehensively, provide practice exams, and review the scoring systems.

Additionally, there are programs like ETS PowerPrep II that offer these features for free.

Studying Tips for the GRE

Focus on weak areas

Students shouldn’t shy away from studying the subjects they don’t understand. Instead, learners should spend most of their study time on weak areas.

Go back to high school

Test-takers don’t have to worry about revisiting college literature or advanced calculus classes. The GRE covers high school-level content.

Focus on time management

For some students, the most difficult part of the GRE is the time restriction. Timed practice tests can help learners work on time management.

Understand prefixes and suffixes

The key to understanding many difficult words is to learn as many prefixes and suffixes as possible.

Set a schedule

It’s important for students to avoid putting off studying until the last minute. Learners should schedule regular time to study and pencil it into their calendars.

Helpful Resources

Preparing for exams doesn’t have to break the bank. Students can take advantage of numerous free resources available. The ETS provides its own preparation course, offering insights on question styles, the word processing system, and the provided calculator. Instead of creating their own flashcards, test-takers can access a wide range of free flashcards on Quizlet, covering both quantitative and verbal sections.

These flashcards encompass various subjects, including common words and advanced vocabulary, accessible through a web browser or the free app. Additionally, there is a website offering free 30-minute courses, example questions, insightful blogs, and social learning tools. For those seeking personalized assistance, private online tutoring is also available for a fee.

What Should You Expect on Test Day?

To optimize their test experience, students are advised to arrive at least 30 minutes before the scheduled time. Upon entering the room, the test administrator will assign each test-taker a seat. After three sections, learners will be granted a 10-minute break.

During these breaks, students are only permitted to leave the testing room for restroom use. The administrator will provide scratch paper and may conduct inspections for any written exam materials concealed in clothing items.

What Should You Bring With You?


Valid photo ID

A valid ID helps the ETS determine who showed up for the exam. The ID must be the original document, government issued, not expired, and include the student’s full name and photo.

Confirmation email/voucher

Test-takers should print their confirmation email and bring it to the testing center. This proves that the student paid for the exam.

Layers of clothing

Some testing centers are cold, while others are warm. Students should dress in layers they can easily remove if needed.

What Should You Leave at Home?


Study notes/books

Test administrators do not allow any notes, books, or study materials into the testing center. This policy helps maintain fairness and prevent cheating.

Your own scratch paper

The testing center provides each learner with as much scratch paper as necessary. Students are not allowed to bring their own scratch paper.

Your own calculator

Fairness is important to the ETS. That’s why they provide each student with the same basic calculator and do not allow test-takers to bring their own.

Accommodations for Test-takers With Disabilities or Health-associated Needs

The ETS provides necessary accommodations for students with disabilities who require braille devices, extended time, a magnified screen, selectable colors, or additional break time. Students in need of these accommodations due to a disability can apply through their ETS accounts, ensuring they receive approval prior to the test date. In the application, test-takers must submit relevant documentation pertaining to their disabilities.

Submitting Your Scores


When Will You Get Your Scores?

After completing the computer-based exam, students receive unofficial results right away, while the official scores are sent to their selected nursing programs by ETS within 5-10 days.

For learners who opt for the paper exam, unofficial scores are not provided. Instead, their ETS account is updated with the official scores within five weeks.

How Do You Submit Your Scores to Schools?

During the registration process, the Educational Testing Service (ETS) requires students to select the higher learning institutions where they wish to send their scores. Until 10 p.m. on the evening prior to the exam, learners have the flexibility to add or remove recipients as needed.

Subsequently, the ETS automatically transmits these scores to the designated institutions. Post-exam, students also have the option to pay a fee in order to have the ETS send their scores to additional schools.

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

To maximize their scores, many learners opt to take the test multiple times. For these students, the ETS offers the ScoreSelect Option. Test-takers have the flexibility to decide whether they want to send all previous scores, only the most recent results, or select grades from specific dates.

This option allows students to strategically present their best scores, either before or after their exam. It empowers applicants to showcase their achievements in the most favorable light.

How Long Will Your Scores Be Valid?

Test scores remain valid for a period of five years from the date of the test. For instance, if you take a test on July 3, 2021, your scores will be reportable until July 2, 2026. This policy represents a notable shift from the previous system, which limited the use of exam scores to the year of the test itself.

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