MPA Admissions: GRE

The Graduate Record Exam (GRE) is the standardized test that many Master of Public Administration schools require for admission. The goal of the test is to determine if an applicant is prepared to complete graduate-level work. GRE scores are meant to supplement an applicant’s undergraduate record, faculty recommendations, work experience and graduate school application. The value placed on an applicant’s GRE score varies widely between graduate schools, ranging from being a mere formality to a critical admission factor.


The GRE is created and administered by the Educational Testing Service (ETS), the largest private educational testing and assessment organization in the world. The ETS is a non-profit company established in 1947 and headquartered in Princeton, New Jersey. ETS refers to the most current version of the GRE as the GRE revised General Test. This version of the test, which was released in August 2011, features a user-friendly interface and revised scale for scoring.


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The GRE is designed to assess the most common thought processes needed in graduate school and business school. It covers the following general areas:

  • Analytic Writing. Measures the ability to express complex thoughts using standard written English. Also tests your ability to support ideas with examples, analyze claims and sustain a coherent discussion in writing. This section of the test is always given first.
  • Verbal Reasoning. Measures reading comprehension and the ability to analyze and draw conclusions from written discourse. Tests your ability to understand multiple levels of meaning, distinguish major points from minor ones, and to summarize text. This section may be either before or after the Quantitative Reasoning section.
  • Quantitative Reasoning. Recognizing the increasing importance of data interpretation, this section measures your understanding of quantitative information and your ability to interpret and analyze it. Includes problem solving using mathematical models and the application of basic mathematical skills. Also tests more advanced mathematical areas including geometry, algebra and statistics.


Each section of the GRE is scored separately. Analytic Writing is scored on a 0 to 6 scale in half-point increments. For tests taken after August 2011, both the Verbal Reasoning and Quantitative Reasoning sections are scored on a 130 to 170 scale in one-point increments.

Test Format 

The GRE revised General Test is available in both computer-based (CBT) and paper-based (PBT) test formats. The CBT format is available year-round by appointment at most ETS test locations around the world (a location finder is available on the ETS website). The PBT format is offered up to three times per year in locations where CBT is not available. You can register for the GRE online or by mail, phone or fax. The standard fee is $175.


The ETS website has free and low-cost test prep materials for the GRE revised General Test. Because the test’s content was revised in August 2011, ETS does not recommend using preparation materials from earlier versions of the test. For each of the three test sections, ETS provides general advice and tips, sample questions, answer rationales and scoring guides. If you need to review basic math skills, a 100-page math refresher is available for download. You can also download free Powerprep II software that provides two full-length practice tests. The timed tests simulate the computer-based test environment. A practice book that resembles the paper-based test format is also available free of charge. As practice for the Analytic Writing section of the GRE, ETS provides a web-based tool called ScoreItNow! The tool includes an automated scoring system that provides immediate essay scoring. You can also review sample essays and receive diagnostic feedback on your writing skills. The $13 fee allows you to write two essays and receive an e-rater score for each.