GRE Guide for Nurses

NurseJournal Staff
Updated April 1, 2024
Nursing students pursuing a graduate degree will first need to pass the GRE. Find out how to best prepare for and take this exam.
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Are you ready to earn your online nursing degree?

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While requirements for graduate level nursing programs may vary, some applicants might need to take the Graduate Record Examinations (GRE). The GRE determines if the test-taker will be successful in graduate school.

Many schools waive the GRE requirement based on the applicant’s previous undergraduate GPA. Many online programs also do not require applicants to take the GRE and look to other educational prerequisites.

When applying to nursing school, be aware of the various requirements and timelines for applying to nursing school as both in-person and online programs may have different application processes.

This guide is an overview of the GRE, including the structure of the exam and a breakdown of the three areas in which test-takers are assessed. Review the registration process and the best ways to prepare for exam day.

GRE Subject Tests

In addition to the GRE General Test, the Educational Testing Service administers GRE Subject Tests. These specialized exams cover one subject each, including biology, chemistry, mathematics, and psychology.

The GRE Subject Test for nurse practitioners’ programs may include biology, and learners looking to enroll in online psychiatric nurse practitioner programs may need to take the psychology subject test.

While students take the GRE General Test on a computer, learners must take subject tests with pencil and paper. Designated testing centers administer these exams three times per year in September, October, and April.

The specialized tests vary in length and question style. The biology exam, for instance, has 190 multiple-choice questions with five possible answers per question.

Each subject test costs $150 and comes with a free practice book.

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Do All Nursing Schools Require the GRE?

While many graduate schools require applicants to submit GRE scores, it’s possible for a learner to earn a master’s in nursing online without it. For example, nurses with a master of science in nursing degree can often attend an on-campus or online nursing doctoral program without GRE scores.

Some online family nurse practitioner programs may waive the test requirements for applicants with high undergraduate GPAs.

What Does the GRE Look Like?

The Structure of the GRE

The GRE General Test has five graded sections and one unscored section. Students should expect to take about three hours and 45 minutes on the test, with a short break after the third section.

The first subject is always analytical writing. This portion consists of two writing assignments, and learners get 30 minutes per essay. The next five parts consist of two verbal reasoning sections, two quantitative reasoning sections, and one ungraded portion. These five sections may appear in any order, and the ungraded part may not be identified.

Test-takers should treat each section as though it will be graded. Each verbal section allows students 30 minutes to complete 20 questions. For quantitative research, the time limit is 35 minutes per section with the same number of questions.

There are two types of ungraded sections: unscored and research. Each student only receives one of these sections per exam. The unscored parts are not marked, but the research sections state their purpose.

Throughout the exam, students can mark questions to revisit and edit previous answers. Computer-based exams include an on-screen calculator to help with the quantitative reasoning sections.

Delivery Format

While most students take the GRE on a computer in a testing center, the paper version is available in several testing facilities across the country. Testing centers that are equipped to administer the computer version do not provide paper tests unless a student receives prior authorization for special test conditions.

The paper test does not include the unscored or research sections. Furthermore, learners get an extra five minutes on each verbal and quantitative portion of the paper test.

While the computer exam gives students an unofficial score immediately after the test, those who take the paper test must wait five weeks to receive a score.

The Verbal Reasoning Section

The Analytical Writing Section

The Quantitative Reasoning Section

How Is the GRE Scored?

Graders give the analytical writing section of each exam a score between 0 and 6. Professionals read the essays and rate each one based on factors, such as critical thinking, coherence, and structure. They then round the score to the nearest half-point interval.

Both the quantitative and verbal reasoning sections receive grades of 130-170. This score accounts for the number of questions a student answers correctly and the difficulty of the questions.

Instead of giving all students the same questions, the computer-based GRE relies on section-level adaptation to provide a more personalized test. This means that the better a test-taker does on one section, the harder the following section of the same type will be.

So, if a student performs well on the first verbal reasoning section, the second one will have more challenging questions. The grading system gives allowances for that difficulty level.

Students who take the paper-based GRE do not have adaptive tests, which means that the score is based mostly on the number of correct answers.

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 grades of 0-6 and 130-170 are a student’s scaled scores. Test-takers also receive their percentile ranks, which help put the scaled scores into context.

Percentile ranks show learners where they rank against their peers. For example, a student with the percentile rank of 95 did better on the section than 95% of fellow test-takers and scores lower than about five percent. Such a score shows nursing programs that the applicant has a high skill level in the relevant section.

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 should first create an account on the ETS website. Then, test candidates should review the available test dates, nearby centers, and exam fees. Once a learner finds the best day and location, it’s time to register.

During the registration process, students can designate a few schools to where the ETS should send the scores. Registrants are allowed to cancel at any time; however, the ETS does not issue refunds for cancellations processed fewer than four days before the 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.

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    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.
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    Many students use index cards to create flashcards. These work well for formulas and other hard facts that test-takers should memorize.
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    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.
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    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.
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    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 can enroll in GRE preparation courses from organizations like Kaplan, The Princeton Review, Magoosh, The Economist, and GraduateX. The cost for these courses can range from $199 to over $1,000.

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

Programs like ETS PowerPrep II offer these features for free.

Studying Tips for the GRE

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    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.
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    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.
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    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.
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    Understand prefixes and suffixes

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

Students do not have to spend hundreds of dollars to get ready for the exam. They can take advantage of many free resources.

  • ETS POWERPREP Practice Tests

    The ETS publishes its own preparation course that helps students get familiar with many aspects of the test, including question styles, the word processing system, and the provided calculator.

  • Quizlet

    Test-takers don’t have to make their own flashcards. Instead, they can use hundreds of free flashcards on Quizlet, which cover the quantitative and verbal sections.

  • Magoosh GRE Vocabulary Flashcards

    These free cards cover subjects like common words and advanced vocabulary. Students can use these on a web browser or in the free app.

  • LEAP

    Include the description for LEAP here.

This site has free 30-minute courses, example questions, blogs with tips, and social learning tools. Students can also pay for private online tutoring.

What Should You Expect on Test Day?

Students should show up to the test at least 30 minutes early. The test administrator assigns each test-taker a seat as they file into the room. After three sections, the administrator allows learners to take a 10-minute break.

During breaks, students can only leave the testing room to use the restroom. The administrator provides scratch paper and may inspect any items of clothing for written exam materials.

What Should You Bring With You?

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    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.
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    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.
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    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?

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    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.
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    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.
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    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 makes accommodations for students with disabilities who need braille devices, extended time, a magnified screen, selectable colors, or more break time.

Students who need these accommodations due to a disability can apply through their ETS accounts. They must receive approval before the test date. In the application, test-takers must present documentation relevant to their disabilities.

Submitting Your Scores

When Will You Get Your Scores?

Students who take the computer-based exam get unofficial results immediately after the test. The ETS sends the official scores to the chosen nursing programs 5-10 days later.

Learners who take the paper exam do not receive unofficial scores, and their ETS account will be updated with scores within five weeks.

How Do You Submit Your Scores to Schools?

During registration, the ETS asks students to choose higher learning institutions to receive scores. Learners can add or remove recipients until 10 p.m. the night before the exam.

The ETS automatically sends these scores to the institutions. After the exam, students can pay a fee to have the ETS send scores to additional schools.

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

Many learners choose to take the test more than once to optimize their scores. The ETS provides the ScoreSelect Option for these students. Test-takers can designate whether the ETS should send all previous scores, only the most recent results, or only grades from specific dates.

Students can choose among these options before their exam or after, which helps applicants put their best scores forward.

How Long Will Your Scores Be Valid?

Scores are valid for five years following the test date. For example, scores for a test taken on July 3, 2021, are reportable through July 2, 2026. This is a change from the previous system, which allowed students to use exam scores for five years following only the year of the test.

Additional Resources

Are you ready to earn your online nursing degree?

Whether you’re looking to get your pre-licensure degree or taking the next step in your career, the education you need could be more affordable than you think. Find the right nursing program for you.