There are many hurdles to leap when applying for graduate school, and one of the biggest for some students is the GRE. Required of almost all students who will be applying to grad school, this test is vitally important, which explains why so many aspiring grad students are looking for the best way to prepare for it. Those who hope to get into a competitive psychology graduate school program will also need to take the Psychology Subject Exam for the GRE.

What is the GRE?

The GRE is the Graduate Record Examination. It is a required examination for most students who are planning to enter graduate school, whether for a master’s or doctorate degree. This is a standardized test that was created in 1949 by the Educational Testing Service, which still administers the test today.

The GRE scores a student on three key points: verbal reasoning, quantitative reasoning, and analytical writing, which includes critical thinking. The idea is that these skills have been learned over the course of high school and undergraduate study, and are now an integral part of the test-taker’s educational experience.

The GRE at a Glance

  • The test scoring is based on one point for each correct answer and one-fourth of a point subtracted for each incorrect answer. There is no deduction for questions that are not answered.
  • The test typically takes just under four hours, including short breaks.
  • The GRE can be taken up to five times. The shortest re-testing interval is once per month.
  • Many students choose to take the GRE during their third year of undergraduate study; however, students can also wait until they begin the graduate school admissions process. The decision is very individual – the key is to complete the test in ample time to allow scores to be sent to the chosen schools before the applications deadline.
  • The test is usually taken via computer; however, in areas where internet access is not readily available or reliable, the GRE might be taken in traditional paper format.
  • The GRE costs $195 per testing session. There are additional fees for changing a test center, rescheduling a test, late registration and stand-by testing.

Here is further pertinent information about the GRE, including a breakdown of each testing segment and what students can expect from questions and scoring.

Section Type of Questions What it Measures Questions and Timing Scoring
Verbal Reasoning

Multiple Choice

Reading comprehension, reasoning skills, evaluation of written information, vocabulary

40 questions to be completed within 60 minutes

130-170 (one-point increments)

Quantitative Reasoning

Multiple Choice

Understanding of mathematics, interpreting data, analyzing information

40 questions to be completed within 70 minutes

130-170 (one-point increments)

Analytical Writing

Essays

Writing skills, critical thinking, articulation, breaking down complex ideas, focused response

Two essays to be completed within 30 minutes

0-6 (half-point increments)

How will the GRE score affect admission to graduate school?

Though the score on the GRE is an important component requested by graduate schools, it is not the only piece of information that matters. The admissions committee will take into account other points as well, such as the undergraduate GPA, a personal statement, references or letters of recommendation, a resume detailing previous and current work in the field, and other tests that might be pertinent, such as the Psychology Subject Test. Though an impressive score on tests will definitely get noticed, it won’t be quite enough to grant admission if other application components are lacking.

Preparing for the GRE

While there are numerous ways to prepare for the GRE, students might find that one particular method helps more than another. For instance, students who learn well through audio and visual means might find that tutoring or taking a dedicated GRE course online can help them more, while students who learn best through reading might boost their score dramatically through the use of books and websites. These are some of the more common options for preparation:

Courses or Tutoring

Hiring a private tutor is an option for those who enjoy studying with someone else, as well as those who have trouble with testing in general. Taking an online or in-person course about the GRE can also be helpful for those who learn best through a classroom setting.

Princeton Review

From self-paced to private tutoring, this site offers a wide variety of options for tutoring and courses. In addition, there are a few short free options to choose from.

Kaplan Test Prep

This site offers everything from a free practice test to paid courses and tutoring that can help boost the scores on the GRE and subject tests.

Complete Revised GRE Course

This massive open online course is free, self-paced, and provides students with another opportunity to take a course that will help with the GRE and possibly with subject tests as well.

Books

There is a glut of books on the market today that promise to help raise scores on the GRE. Some of these books are from well-known, reputable companies who have made it their business to help students through a variety of tests throughout their educational career.

The Princeton Review: Cracking the GRE 2016 Edition

This book includes four complete practice tests, test-taking strategies, explanation and review of topics covered and additional preparation materials online.

Kaplan: GRE Premier 2016

Six practice tests, video tutorials and online components are included with this book to provide extensive and thorough GRE test preparation and practice.

ETS: The Official Guide to the GRE, Revised General Test, 2nd Edition

This is the official preparation guide, produced by the Educational Testing Service, the same organization which creates and administers the GRE. Also included are four real practice tests with answer explanations and an online component to simulate computer-based test taking

Websites

There are websites dedicated to helping students understand what to expect from the GRE, how to best take the test, how to practice, and much more. These are some of the more common and popular sites that students turn to when they want to learn more.

Discovery Business: How to Study for the GRE

Provides background information, tips, tricks and example GRE questions.

Spark Notes

Discusses all aspects of the GRE, including test day advice, general strategies and comprehensive guides for each section of the GRE.

Magoosh

Provides online tutorials for improving GRE performance. Study Plans are not free, but many other GRE study resources are, including video explanations of the correct answers to each question from a practice test offered by the ETS.

Practice Tests

Taking numerous tests before the “real deal” can help students understand what to expect and perhaps resolve some of the nervousness surrounding the test itself. These practice tests are top-notch and can help students get a better grasp of what they will be doing on the big day.

Manhattan Prep’s Free GRE Practice Test

Sign up to take a free practice test, which is specially designed to simulate the adaptive nature of the new revised GRE.

ETS Pool of Argument Topics

This is a list of the Argument topics for the Analytical Writing Section of the GRE. This list is complete; if you take the GRE, your Argument topic will come from this list.

ETS Pool of Issue Topics

This is a list of the Issue topics for the Analytical Writing Section of the GRE. This list is complete; if you take the GRE, yourIssue topic will come from this list.

McGraw Hill

Offers one full-length GRE practice test.

Study Groups

Working with a small group of peers can aid in study skills and knowledge. Gathering together a small group for regular sessions that focus on the GRE has proven to be successful for many students. But how does the group form? These links can help students find each other.

Meetup.com

Allows users to find a GRE Meetup close by.

StudyPal.co

After signing up, create a profile and search for others in your area studying for the same test as you, include the GRE.

OpenStudy.com

Centralized source for asking questions on various academic subjects and receiving prompt answers.

General GRE Resources

Need more resources? These general links focus on the GRE and can help boost a student’s studying power.

The GRE Psychology Subject Test

The GRE Psychology Subject Test focuses strongly on the key components of psychology that should have been learned throughout the undergraduate education. The idea is to test a person’s knowledge of psychology and closely related topics in order to determine how prepared that student might be to enter the psychology degree program in graduate school.

The vast majority of graduate school programs require scores from the GRE in order to be considered for admission. Those who want to enter a psychology degree program or one that is closely related to it, such as the degree in social work, might be asked to take the Psychology Subject Test as well.

Though this is not required by all psychology graduate programs, some do expect it. Even if a school does not expect the Psychology Test, students might find that taking the test provides a boost to their application and might help them rise above the very competitive pool of applicants.

Is the Psychology Test taken along with the GRE?

The psychology test and the GRE are two separate tests, and thus are taken at separate times. Students do not have to take the GRE in order to take the subject test, and vice versa. However, taking the GRE is typically required by graduate school programs, while the psychology test is often optional.

The GRE is offered on a monthly basis, while the psychology test, as with other subject tests, is offered three times during the year. Students typically register about a month ahead of the testing date. The test results are good for five years from the date of testing.

The GRE Psychology Subject Test In-Depth

Understanding exactly what to expect from the subject test can help students feel more at-ease about taking it. Fortunately, there is plenty of information out there, garnered not only from the Educational Testing Service and other sources, but also from students who have taken the test in the past and are willing to share their experiences and tips for success.

  • The test usually consists of 205 questions. These are all multiple-choice with five possible options, and there is no essay portion, like students have come to expect from the GRE.
  • The correct answer to the question is sometimes clear and straightforward. In other cases, there is no “right” answer, but rather, a “best” answer. The best answer is scored as the correct answer to the question.
  • Several questions on the test might pertain to a particular graph, description, or experiment. The graph or other materials are included with the stimulus materials for the test.
  • There are no “gotcha” questions on the test – they are all based on the common core of knowledge in psychology, and focus on information that should have been learned at the undergraduate level. To put it another way, don’t expect graduate-level questions in the Psychology Subject Test.
  • The test results in a total score, which is the combination of all questions taken, as well as two subscores.
  • Scores are reported on a scale of 200-990 in ten-point increments, with subscores reported on a scale of 20-99 in one-point increments.
    • Subscores for the Psychology Test include those in experimental or natural sciences and those in social or social science.
    • Experimental or natural sciences make up about 40 percent of the questions, while social or social science make up about 43 percent.
    • The other 17 percent of the questions focus on general psychology, and contribute to the total score only, with no bearing on the subscores.
    • Experimental or natural sciences might include: learning, memory, language, sensation and perception, behavioral neuroscience, physiological psychology and thinking.
    • Social or social science questions might include: lifespan development, social psychology, personality, and other points in both clinical and abnormal psychology.
    • General psychology questions include: applied psychology, psychometrics, the history of psychology, statistics and research design.
  • The division of test questions between general psychology and the two subsections are not clear; questions of all three types are distributed throughout the test.
  • The raw score for the psych test is converted into a scaled score. The raw score is calculated by one point for each correct answer, minus one-fourth of a point for each incorrect answer.
  • Questions left unanswered are not figured into the raw score. The scaled criteria is determined by the test edition, the number of test questions included in the assessment, and much more.

Sample Psychology Exam Questions

Ready to try a few sample questions? These are quite similar to the questions students encounter on the Psychology Subject Exam. Keep in mind that the test is timed, so it is a good idea to answer these questions as quickly as possible and keep time during the process, in order to get a good approximation of how long each question might take.

1 Sigmund Freud launched a professional career as a:
  • Psychiatrist
  • Ethnographer
  • Philosopher
  • Psychoanalyst
  • Neurologist
2 Alex has very strong beliefs about his political leanings. Soon those beliefs will be harshly challenged by someone who has very valid points. Which of these theories is most likely to help Alex resist the challenges to his beliefs?
  • Balance theory
  • Social judgment theory
  • Self-actualization theory
  • Inoculation theory
  • Adaptation-level theory
3 A young child might not be able to separate their own perspective from another person’s point of view, and might actually confuse the two. Jean Piaget’s developmental theory explains this as the child’s:
  • Pervasive egocentrism
  • Limited capacity for short-term memory
  • Concrete-operational thinking
  • Immature ego development
  • Tendency to over-regularize
4 Sherry tends to believe she has something wrong with her, and often issues dramatic complaints about medical conditions that are never diagnosed or proven. What disorder is this?
  • Mood disorder
  • Adjustment disorder
  • Anxiety disorder
  • Somatoform disorder
  • Factitious disorder
Answer Key
1. e
2. D
3. a
4. e

4 Ways to Increase Your GRE Psychology Subject Scores

There are several ways to increase your scores on the exam. Some of these correspond with increasing the score on the GRE, such as hiring a private tutor or turning to the many exam-prep books available through bookstores. However, there are some resources that are tailored to the Psychology Subject Exam itself.

Brush up on the DSM-5

This is the fifth and most up-to-date edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. This will be the go-to book for psychology majors, and as such, all the classifications, terminology and criteria found in that book will be used in the Psychology Exam. Reading through it, or at least hitting on the key points of the DSM-5, will help prepare students to take the rigorous examination.

Take practice tests

There are numerous practice tests, from those that are freely available online to those that are found in books or guides. Take as many practice tests as possible, and watch the time to ensure that it can be completed within the proper period. When an answer is incorrect, do in-depth research to figure out what the correct answer might be.

Talk to someone who knows

Someone who has already taken the test can give you a real-world idea of what it is like, including the difficulty and range of the questions, how the questions fit into the timeframe given to complete the test, which section might be more difficult than others, and additional points that will help a student pinpoint where they might need more study.

Drill on psychology terminology and definitions

Many of the questions can be answered through simply understanding the terminology and clinical definitions of certain disorders or problems. Flashcards that allow students to quickly study certain terms can be a helpful way to brush up on those that are unfamiliar or haven’t been studied in a while.

From the Expert:
Tips and Study Advice for the Psych Portion of the GRE

Expert

When facing a daunting task like the GRE or the Psychology Subject Exam, it pays to hear the details from someone who has been there, done that, and has the final grade to show for it. To help students understand what they will face when they take the test, we spoke to Daryl Cioffi, a psychotherapist and life coach who is also a doctoral student, about her experiences with the exam.

How easy was it to sign up for the test? Any problems or surprises along the way?

It was very easy to sign up, especially online! Be sure to have all of your information and planner down to put the date in your calendar.

What study methods helped you the most when preparing for the test?

I was lucky enough to have a group of fellow psych- studies to work with! It was great for the studying process as well as much needed group therapy. Be sure to schedule time out just as you would for class, work or homework to study.

What study methods fell flat, or were there any you abandoned early on for their ineffectiveness?

I tried to lock myself away and study alone, which did not work great for me. Psychology is great and when you’re passionate about it, a fun conversation topic and often if you can work by learning out loud it is a great process that can let you connect with others and help you learn the material as well!

What advice would you give to someone trying to figure out how to best study for the exam?

Try different study approaches. Work to your strengths and figure out your weaknesses and work with them as well. Take breaks and integrate what you learn in to your daily life or share with willing friends. Lastly, try to simplify! If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough0

Is there anything you might like to share about the psych exam?

Take your time and work with what you’ve learned! At the end of the day this will be one letter in the essay of your professional life. Your career will find a way with or without this exam!

Videos

Sometimes a test-taker can get a better grasp on what to expect if they can see it with their own eyes. These videos can provide a solid look at the GRE and Psychology Subject Exam, and perhaps give a better idea of what to expect from the experience.

GRE Psychology Subject Study Schedule

As with any other major endeavor, breaking this exam down into small bites is much easier than rushing to get it all done the night before. A consistent pattern of study will eventually lead to not only a good review of skills and knowledge, but much more confidence – and that confidence just might make the difference between a few nervous mistakes and making a high score on these very important tests.

Week Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday
1

Practice Test

General psychology study

Social science overview

Experimental and natural sciences overview

Explore resources for study

Practice test

2

Study points on memory

Study points on thinking

Focus on language and terminology

Study points on learning, including conditioning

Study points on sensation and perception

Practice test

3

Focus on behavioral neuroscience

Review experimental and natural sciences

Practice test

Focus on lifespan development

Focus on clinical and abnormal diagnoses

Practice test

4

Study points on personality

Focus on social aspects, including perception and emotion

Review social sciences study points

Practice test

General psychology study, including history

Review of DSM-5

5

Study points on methodology

Study points on measurement in research

Review general psychology study

Review language and terminology

Review DSM-5

Practice test

6

Study points on social science

Focus on memory

Focus on thinking

Focus on learning

Focus on sensation and perception

Practice test

7

Focus on behavioral neuroscience

Focus on personality

Focus on social aspects

Focus on measurement and methodology

Review language and terminology

Practice test

8

Examine incorrect answers on practice tests

General psychology overview

Social sciences overview

Experimental and natural science overview

General overview of testing requirements

Practice test

While this schedule doesn’t include Sundays, any day will work for the “off” day, and it can even be rotated in order to accommodate a particular schedule. The main idea is to have a consistent, regular schedule that breaks the study down into easy segments, the better to enhance memory and retention of the material.

Getting Ready to Take the Test

1. Sign up

Registration for the subject tests can be done either online or by mail. If special arrangements need to be made, such as a request for disability accommodation, students must register via mail. Make the need for accommodations known as soon as possible in order to ensure a smooth testing day for everyone.

Students should register for a test as soon as they know they will want to take it on a particular date; deadlines for registration are typically about a month before the test date, but there might be some exceptions, so always check the GRE website to be certain. If a test must be rescheduled, the request should be made at least four days before the start of the original testing date, and is accompanied by a rescheduling fee of $50. Failure to reschedule at least four days before the testing date will result in the loss of the registration fee.

2. Pay for the Test

The typical cost of the Psychology Subject Test is $150. Students might be able to get a fee reduction on the basis of financial need, or if they are taking the test through national programs in the United States that serve underrepresented groups. Students who receive a fee reduction should expect to pay 50 percent of the final fee.

3. Decide When to Take the Test

Students should take the test in time to have their scores reported before the admissions deadlines at the graduate school of their choice. For instance, if the deadline for admissions happens to be in May, the test offered in April will not provide enough time to get scores to the school before their deadline. Therefore, students will need to take the test in September or October in order to meet the May deadline for that particular school. Check with all the schools where applications are active to ensure that a chosen test date will be suitable to get the scores to them in plenty of time.

4. Find out Where the Test is Taken in Your Area

The subject tests for the GRE are offered at paper-delivered test centers across the globe. They are offered up to three times per year, in September, October and April. In the United States, hundreds of test centers are located across the country; if a testing center is more than 125 miles away from a student’s location, the GRE program might consider accommodating by opening a test center a bit closer. Always choose the test center that is closest and most convenient.

After the Test

1. Get the Final Test Scores

Test scores are valid for five years after the date of testing. Scores are available to view online within about a month after taking the test, and the paper copy of test scores is available in about six weeks.

2. Send Test Scores to Potential Grad Schools

Students can opt to send only the most recent score, which would work out well for those who intend to take the test only once. However, many take the test numerous times in order to try for a higher score. In that case, students can opt to send all the test scores they have earned, or they can select the highest score and send only that one. Students can make their choices known during registration. Test scores can be sent to four graduate schools free of charge; anything more than that requires a $27 fee per recipient.

3. What to Do if the Score is Too Low

If a student is not happy with the score, it is possible to take the test again in the hopes of getting a higher grade. Students can take the test every time it is offered. Disputing a score is possible; it requires requesting a score review through the Educational Testing Service, and must be requested within three months of the test date. However, keep in mind that the final score after the dispute will be the permanent one, whether it is lower or higher than the original score.

GRE Psychology Subject Exam Resources

When looking for psychology test resources, definitive help can be found right on the GRE website. The Psychology Test Practice Book, a study guide of about 60 pages, is a great place to begin. In addition to reading through every page of the book and taking the sample tests included within it, students can also find practical help through these resources:

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