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GRE & TOEFL | 5 min read

• GRE is one of deciding factors and has always been the core for postgraduate applications.
• GRE is required for both US citizens/permanent residents and international students whereas TOEFL is required for international students.
• Make sure to check the validity of each score before reporting the score - GRE is valid for 5 years and TOEFL for 2 years from the test date.

GRE (Graduate Record Examination) is a form of standardized tests that measure an applicant’s readiness and capability for graduate-level coursework. Whereas the GRE opens doors to other programs such as engineering, science, there are other programs that are used for admission; GMAT for Business, LSAT for Law program, MCAT for Medical program.

TOEFL commonly requires international students who studied their undergraduate in another language - not English. It is important to make sure the requirements of each program are met since they could have set different standards depending on programs - even in the same graduate school, for example, a certain program set the minimum TOEFL standards as a total of 90 with a 21 in speaking.

Keep in mind that preparing for the exams is more of a marathon, not a sprint. Take enough time and don’t rush it. Set the strategy on your own; focus on meeting a minimum score in TOEFL and then commit yourself to prepare for the GRE, if you are an international student. Because most programs require you to get superior to the minimum score, not a perfect score.


Getting high scores on GRE will give you a high chance of getting accepted into the programs. It could also help offset other parts of your requirements that have rather low competitiveness. GRE consists of the general test and subject test; most graduate programs require applicants to submit the general test results only.

You can take GRE tests several times but the 21-day policy might be tricky. You can take the GRE General Test once every 21 days, up to 5 times within a 12-month period (365 days). Score reports are sent to your designated score recipients - in this case, the graduate school you apply to - about 10 to 15 days after. To allow time for score delivery, you should get the GRE scores at least 4 weeks before your application deadline.

During the pandemic, you can take the tentative GRE General Test at home as well as at test centers. It is identical in content, format, and on-screen experience to a test taken at a test center except for being monitored by a human proctor online. I’ve heard that the GRE General Test at home might be a little bit more tricky to focus on the test but the choice lies in your hands. Find more details about the GRE Test at home here.

GRE consists of General Test and Subject Test. Let’s find out more about it.

ⓐ General Test
General Test has three sections - Verbal Reasoning, Quantitative Reasoning, and Analytical Writing. Each program puts more emphasis on concerning sections; Math programs require higher scores in the Quantitative reasoning section over Verbal Reasoning. On the other hand, humanities might accept lower Quantitative scores with higher Verbal Reasoning scores.

Verbal Reasoning section scoring from 130 to 170. It measures your overall ability to analyze and draw conclusions from discourse, data, and etc. 3 question types are here; Reading comprehension, Test completion, and Sentence equivalence. You should choose the correct answer to the given questions.
Tip: Since every GRE question is worth the same on the exam. So don’t spend too much time on a question and skip over it to answer easier questions.

Quantitative Reasoning scoring from 130 to 170. It measures your ability to reason with numbers in understanding basic mathematical concepts such as Arithmetic, Algebra, Geometry, and Data analysis.
Tip: Since every math question is weighed the same so you’d better skip time-consuming questions on your weak areas. Not try to solve each question but just make sure to answer every question since no penalty will be charged for wrong answers.

Analytical Writing scoring from 0 to 6, in half-point increment. It measures critical thinking and analytical writing skills. It consists of two essays - the Issue and the Argument.
Tip: Get writing prompts, elaborate on the given description. Don’t forget to provide specific examples.

ⓑ Subject Test (optional)
Subject Test measures your capability in a certain academic field and has 6 different subjects - Biology, Chemistry, Literature in English, Mathematics, Physics, and Psychology. It is generally required for prospective Ph.D. students. Tests could be taken three times a year - April, September, and October. The score ranges from 200 to 990.

Online GRE practice tests are available at Magoosh.


TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) requires international students who are not English native speakers. It evaluates proficiency with four sections - Reading, Listening, Speaking, and Writing. Each section consists of 30 points and 120 overall.

Graduate programs set different standards so make sure to check whether your prospective program requires a minimum score in a specific section, for example, 21 in speaking. The minimum requirement starts from 80 in TOEFL iBT. Scoring in a total of 90 to 100 will be accepted in most graduate programs. It might be better to focus on GRE tests or writing the SOPs after getting minimum TOEFL scores since most programs require you only to get superior to the requirements. If you wish to become a teaching assistant, you must meet the minimum score at least to be considered for.

You should have TOEFL scores at least 3 weeks before the application deadline to report. Test scores will be valid for 2 years from the test date. TOEFL doesn’t have limits to test-taking so you can try it every week. During the pandemic, TOEFL iBT at home was tentatively adopted to allow students to have options. It is identical in content, format, and on-screen experience to a test taken at a test center except for being monitored by a human proctor online. Find more details about TOEFL iBT Home Edition here.

Depending on programs, it is possible to submit IELTS, Duolingo scores other than TOEFL. But TOEFL scores are commonly accepted in most programs so make sure to have your own strategy to focus on one test.

The Steps of Applying to US Graduate Schools will be more discussed in the continued articles.

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