GRE Subject Tests

What Are The GRE Subject Tests?

In addition to the general GRE tests, some schools require applicants to complete the GRE Subject Tests.  These standardized tests measure strengths in particular subject areas.

There are seven different GRE Subject Tests available.  These are:

  • GRE Biochemistry, Cell and Molecular Biology Test
  • GRE Biology Test
  • GRE Chemistry Test
  • GRE Literature in English Test
  • GRE Mathematics Test
  • GRE Physics Test
  • GRE Psychology Test

GRE Subject Tests are paper-format tests and testing time for the subject tests is 2 hours and 50 minutes. There is a subject test fee and they are administered by ETS.

The tests are developed by a Committee of Examiners, composed of undergraduate and graduate professors from a variety of institutions in the U.S. and Canada.  While much of the material covered in the GRE Subject Tests reflects undergraduate studies in these areas, the tests are designed only to test those areas of the subject that are most important to success in graduate studies of that field.

Like the GRE general test, the GRE Subject Tests are all multiple choice tests, generally offering five choices of answers per question.

Who Should Take the GRE Subject Tests?

Completion of the GRE Subject Tests can be used to differentiate your application from those of other applicants as they demonstrate a high level of knowledge and skills in a particular subject area. While some schools expressly ask that candidates take these subject tests, they can be particularly useful for foreign educated applicants applying to GRE programs in the U.S. or Canada.

The Subject Tests are designed to be completed only by students who either have an undergraduate degree in the subject or possess a comprehensive background in the area.

GRE Subject Tests – Content Overview

The content of each Subject Test is extensive. For instance, the GRE Biochemistry, Cell and Molecular Biology Test is composed of 170 multiple-choice questions. The test is also composed of three major parts: biochemistry, which represents 36 percent of the test; cell biology, which represents 28% of the test; and molecular biology and genetics, which represents 36% of the test. This is one of the Subject Tests in which besides a total score, applicants are given a subscore for each of the subfield areas. The purpose of the subscores is to highlight strengths and weaknesses in the subfields.

For the GRE Biology Test, the Subject test contains 94 multiple choice question, covering three main areas of equal weight: cellular and molecular biology, organismal biology and ecology and evolution. Again, applicants are given a total score and a subscore for each subfield area.

Conversely, the GRE Chemistry Test contains 130 multiple choice questions, covering four areas. These are: analytical chemistry, which comprises 15% of the test; inorganic chemistry, which comprises 25% of the test, organic chemistry, which constitutes 30%; and physical chemistry, which constitutes 30%.

The GRE Literature in English Test takes a slightly different approach than the other subjects. It contains 230 multiple choice questions on poetry, drama, biography, the essay, the short story, the novel, criticism, literary theory, and the history of the language. Many of the questions are based on either short works presented in their entirety or on sections of text from longer works. In addition, the questions are classified generally into factual questions, which focus on identification and assignment skills, or critical questions, which tests the ability to ascertain meaning or form and structure.

The GRE Math Subject Test is one of the shorter GRE Subject Tests as it contains 66 multiple choice questions. Fifty percent of the covered material of this test focuses on Calculus. The remaining 50% is split evenly between elementary algebra, linear algebra and abstract algebra (25%) and other topics such as introductory real analysis and geometry, probability, complex variables, etc.

The GRE Physics Subject Test contains 100 multiple choice questions and contains a variety of subtopics. These include classical mechanics (20%), electromagnetism (18%), optics and wave phenomena (9%), thermodynamics and statistical mechanics (10%), quantum mechanics (12%), atomic physics (10%), special relativity (6%), laboratory methods (6%), and specialized topics (9%).

Finally, the GRE Psychology Subject test contains approximately 205 multiple-choice questions. This subject test results in a total score and two subscores (experimental psychology and social psychology), although there are three content categories.

The three content categories are:

  • Experimental or natural science oriented (40%), which contributes to both the experimental psychology subscore and the total score;
  • Social or social science oriented (43%), which contributes to both the social psychology subscore and the total score; and
  • General category (17%), which contributes only to the total score.


In sum, the GRE Subject Tests are an excellent way to demonstrate a candidate’s superior knowledge in a particular subject and, if not required for admission, are very useful for distinguishing one application from the pack.

What Study Guides Can Help Me Prepare?

See our reviews of the best GRE books and, if you are interested in additional resources, browse reviews of all available GRE books, including books for the GRE Subject Tests.

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