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Preparing for the Graduate Record Examgre 

Administered by the Educational Testing Service, the Graduate Record Exam, or GRE (also called the GRE General Test), is required of most applicants to psychology and other graduate programs.  The GRE is a standardized test that is commonly administered via computer (a paper-based version is available in some geographical areas).  Some psychology graduate programs also require that applicants take the GRE Psychology Subject Test, as further described below on this page (note: UCSD’s psychology graduate program does not require the Subject Test nor considers scores on that test in its evaluation of applicants). 

Both the GRE General Test and GRE Subject Test measure knowledge that applicants presumably have acquired over their high school and university training.  Accordingly, in theory it is possible to take the exam without any advanced preparation.  However, for most individuals, time spent refreshing relevant knowledge or specifically practicing for the exam is beneficial (and we recommend that applicants consider some form of exam preparation).  Here we overview possible avenues for that preparation.

For many graduate applications that are due in late November or early December, please note that you will need to have taken the GRE by October in order for your scores to be included in your application.

Preparing for the GRE General Test

Since 2011, the GRE General Test has six sections.  There are two sections each that measure verbal reasoning and quantitative reasoning, one analytic writing section, and one additional section that is not scored.  The ordering of sections varies randomly and test-takers do not know in advance what order they will receive.  The GRE is regularly administered at test-taking centers around the United States and costs between $150-$230 depending on geographical location.   

The Educational Testing Service provides several free GRE General Test Preparation Materials.  These include computer-delivered practice tests that simulate the actual GRE test-taking experience, a practice version of the paper version of the GRE General Test, and a Math Review guide which covers the major topics that are assessed on the quantitative reasoning portions of the exam.  More extensive preparation materials are also available from ETS for purchase.  

In addition to materials from ETS, you might consider using materials (links below) prepared by test preparation services such as Kaplan, Manhattan Prep, Princeton Review, and others; Khan Academy; purchasing a book that focuses on GRE vocabulary words; as well as enrolling in a GRE preparation course.  UCSD Extended Studies also offers GRE preparation classes, with enrollment free (on a first-come, first-served basis) for UCSD undergraduate students.

Note: we do not specifically endorse any of these GRE preparation strategies; your experiences with any of these, or others, may vary.  Successful applicants to graduate programs often use any of a variety of different test preparation methods.

Preparing for the GRE Psychology Subject Test 

The GRE Psychology Subject Test features approximately 205 multiple-choice questions which cover findings of biological, cognitive, social, developmental, clinical, and measurement/methodology/other areas of psychology.  The GRE Subject Test costs $150 as of this writing. 

To assist with preparation for the Subject Test, the Educational Testing Service provides an official GRE Psychology Subject Test practice book, which includes a full-length practice test.  You might also consider purchasing a GRE Subject Test preparation book, such as those produced by Kaplan, Princeton Review, or others.

Note: although the GRE General Test is commonly required by most graduate programs, the GRE Psychology Subject Test might not be.  For example, UCSD’s psychology graduate program does not require the Subject Test nor considers scores on that test in its evaluation of applicants.  Thus, please check with the application requirements for the programs that you are applying to.  Also, as with the links provided for the GRE General Test, the placement of links here does not imply our endorsement of their use or effectiveness.

What Are Competitive GRE Test Scores?

The mean GRE scores of first-year graduate students in psychology, using the scale begun in late 2011, is 158 verbal and 149 quantitative for psychology PhD programs; it is 153 verbal and 146 quantitative for Master’s programs.  For the GRE Psychology subject test, the mean is 633 for PhD programs and 577 for Master’s programs. Analytical writing scores may also be considered.

Workshops and Downloadable Resources


  • For in-person discussion of the process of applying to graduate programs in psychology, neuroscience, and related fields, please consider attending this department’s “Paths to PhDs” workshop and other related events (for dates and times, please check the undergraduate workshops calendar). 


  • Tips for Applying to Graduate Programs in Psychology (a brief summary) [PDF]

Further Resources

How-To Videos     

Recommended Reading

APA Videos on Graduate Applications


Further Resources


1 Norcross, J. C., & Hogan, T. P. (2016).  Preparing and applying for graduate school in psychology: 12 modules. American Psychological Association [video workshop].
Graphic adapted with permission from Shannon E Thomas/ under Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International license.