An Accounting Student's Guide to the GRE

Updated September 29, 2022

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Prospective business students pursuing a master's degree or doctorate likely need to take the GRE. Learn more about the exam below.

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The Graduate Record Examinations (GRE) is a widely accepted standardized test. It is primarily used to assess candidates applying to graduate and professional programs at accredited U.S. universities.

Test-takers can sit the GRE at more than 1,000 testing centers around the world, or take the exam at home. In 2021, more than 200,000 aspiring graduate students took the test in the United States.

Educational Testing Service (ETS) administers the GRE. Higher education officials established ETS as an independent nonprofit organization in 1947. They sought to create an objective way to evaluate academic ability, and to make higher education access more equitable.

The modern GRE consists of three sections: Analytical Writing, Verbal Reasoning, and Quantitative Reasoning. Graduate accounting programs often place the most emphasis on Quantitative Reasoning. This focus reflects accounting's concentration on math and tracking financial transactions.

Is the GRE an Accounting Test?

Most graduate schools request scores for the GRE General Test. The GRE General Test covers material directly relevant to accounting, but it is not strictly an accounting test.

Instead, the GRE General Test is intended for graduate school applicants of all majors. There is a GRE Subject Test in mathematics, but graduate accounting programs do not normally recognize it for admission purposes.

There is another common standardized exam, the Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT). The GMAT features two sections that test comparable skills: the Quantitative Section and the Integrated Reasoning Section.

The GMAT is geared more toward advanced business degrees such as MBAs. However, many MBA programs offer accounting concentrations. You may need to consider both the GRE and GMAT, depending on your learning goals and career plans.

Do Accounting Students Need to Take the GRE?

Each graduate school has its own admissions policies. Some require all applicants to submit test scores regardless of planned major. In other cases, applicants need to take only the GRE or a similar exam.

Some graduate accounting programs require GMAT scores instead of GRE scores. This often applies to MBA programs with an accounting concentration, and to master of accountancy (MAcc) programs. MAcc programs maintain a stronger focus on technical skills and enterprise finance.

In some cases, graduate schools and accounting programs make GRE scores optional. Learners whose scores indicate exceptional achievement may wish to submit their results to differentiate themselves.

Some graduate schools and programs offer GMAT/GRE waivers or ask students not to submit scores. This reflects heightened awareness of the financial commitment of higher education, as these exams have entry fees.

How Is the GRE Structured?

The GRE's structure covers three main sections:

  • Analytical Writing
  • Verbal Reasoning
  • Quantitative Reasoning

The Analytical Writing section consists of two parts, called "tasks:" Analyze an Issue and Analyze an Argument. In the Verbal Reasoning section, test-takers draw and apply insights from written information. Quantitative Reasoning covers arithmetic, algebra, data analysis, and geometry.

All GRE tests begin with the Analytical Writing section. The other sections appear in any order and test-takers must complete them in the order presented. However, they can skip questions within a section and return to them later.

Notably, GRE tests include questions and sections that do not count toward the score. However, you will not know which material does and does not count as you take the test. Assume that every question counts.

The Verbal Reasoning and Quantitative Reasoning sections both begin with questions considered average in difficulty. In both cases, this section is followed by additional questions of variable difficulty.

The following chart summarizes key structural details:

GRE Exam Structure
Section Format Time Allotment

Analytical Writing

Written answers covering two tasks:

  • Analyze an Issue
  • Analyze an Argument

30 minutes per task

Verbal Reasoning

Two sections, each with 20 questions

Question types:

  • Multiple choice (choose one answer)
  • Multiple choice (choose one or more answers)
  • Select a sentence within a passage to answer the question

30 minutes per section

Quantitative Reasoning

Two sections, each with 20 questions


Question types:

  • Multiple choice (choose one answer)
  • Multiple choice (choose one or more answers)
  • Enter a numeric answer
  • Compare quantities and decide which quantity answers the question

Many of the questions are presented as word problems

35 per section

Unscored/Research questions/sections

Different for each test

Different for each test

Source: ETS

Analytical Writing

The Analytical Writing section assesses written expression. It also evaluates grasp of how written passages generate meaning. Accounting professionals deal with far more data than words, but their roles still require sound writing and analytical skills.

Question Types

In this section, you must provide written answers to two question types: Analyze an Issue and Analyze an Argument.

The Analyze an Issue task presents a polarizing general topic. Test-takers assess the issue and its nuances before presenting their own reasoned argument.

The Analyze an Argument task tests your ability to apply logic in evaluating a reasoned argument on an issue. It is not designed as an "agree or disagree and state your reasons" type of test. Rather, it assesses your ability to produce an objective evaluation of the argument's logical validity.

Top Tips

  • Be Succinct: Evaluators assess your ability to pack a lot of meaning and subtlety into your sentences. Having a large and precise vocabulary may help you considerably, both here and in the Verbal Reasoning section.
  • Stay On Point: The line between offering necessary context or additional explanation and going off on a tangent can be a fine one. This potential pitfall is particularly visible in the Analyze an Issue task: Test-takers are sometimes tempted to develop fully formed arguments on both sides. You do not have time or space to do this.
  • Anticipate Objections: The Issue and Argument tasks both allow test-takers to defend more than one viewpoint. Strengthen your argument without extra text by anticipating and refuting possible objections. This allows you to briefly explore different perspectives while building a case for your own view.

Verbal Reasoning

The Verbal Reasoning section tests reading comprehension. It evaluates the test-taker's ability to finish incomplete texts and compare sentences.

While accounting is mainly quantitative, accountants still need well-developed verbal skills. Their professional duties sometimes require harvesting important information from written documents.

Question Types

Verbal Reasoning questions adhere to two main types: multiple choice questions, and questions that prompt you to select a sentence. These question formats combine to test your knowledge and skills in three areas:

  • Reading comprehension
  • Filling in missing elements of a textual passage
  • Selecting the best equivalent for a given text or sentence

Some of the multiple choice questions allow you to select only one answer. Others allow you to choose one or more answers. However, these questions do not necessarily have more than one correct answer.

The select-a-sentence questions identify specific characteristics of a sentence. You must then choose one sentence from a longer passage that most closely matches that description.

Top Tips

  • Read Advanced and Technical Material: Prepare by reading advanced-level texts and articles. Assess your ability to identify main ideas, arguments and supporting evidence, and conclusions. Test prep experts recommend reading material drawn from an array of subject areas.
  • Build Your Vocabulary: A broad, well-developed vocabulary is important for the Verbal Reasoning section. When reading technical material and studying for the GRE, always look up unfamiliar words. Create flashcards to help you commit new words to memory and compose original sentences using new words.
  • Pay Attention to Detail: Many Verbal Reasoning questions contain clues that can help guide you to the correct answer. Keywords such as "but," "however," "therefore," and "despite," can offer clues. Some questions also use punctuation as a strategic way of implying or generating meaning.

Quantitative Reasoning

The Quantitative Reasoning section tests mathematics skills, understanding of key mathematical theories and concepts, problem-solving, and numeracy. Accountants routinely perform complex and intricate calculations. This exam section is most relevant as an accounting test.

Question Types

Accounting test-takers see three types of questions in the GRE Quantitative Reasoning section:

  • Multiple Choice: These questions either prompt you to enter one answer, or one or more answers. Note that in the latter case, there may still be only one correct answer.
  • Numeric Entry: Answer these questions by keying in an integer, decimal, or fraction.
  • Quantitative Comparison: These questions present two quantities. Choose a textual answer that most accurately describes the relationship between those quantities.

Some of the Quantitative Reasoning queries are standalones. Others function as a series of related questions based on a data set.

Top Tips

  • Practice All Question Types: The Quantitative Reasoning section has the most question variation of any GRE section. When studying and practicing, work with all question types even if you feel confident about a particular format.
  • Use the Process of Elimination: If you are having a hard time answering a multiple choice question, look at the answer choices. Then, eliminate answers you know or believe to be incorrect and choose the best answer from the remaining options. This strategy also helps in the Verbal Reasoning section, but many test-takers say it works well for Quantitative Reasoning.
  • Start with Easier Questions: Begin each Quantitative Reasoning section by scanning all the visible questions. Work on the questions you feel most confident about first and save the more challenging questions for later. This may help you save time for the material you find more difficult.

How Is the GRE Scored?

ETS uses a complex system to score GRE tests. Questions in the Verbal Reasoning and Quantitative Reasoning sections both have answers that do not require qualitative assessment. Instead, a two-step process determines your score for these sections.

First, you will receive what ETS calls a "raw score." Your raw score is the number of questions you answered correctly.

These two sections also feature adaptive difficulty. Your score is adjusted for difficulty variations using a process ETS calls "equating." This corrects your raw score for higher or lower difficulty.

Final scores in the Verbal Reasoning and Quantitative Reasoning sections range from a minimum of 130 (no correct answers) to a maximum of 170 (all correct answers).

Trained evaluators score the Analytical Writing section using a six-point scale calibrated in half-point increments (0, 0.5, 1.0, 1.5, etc., up to 6.0). A specially developed and advanced computer program then performs an additional analysis of each essay, generating its own score.

If both the human and computerized evaluations yield similar scores, your final score is the average of the two. If they differ by a wide margin, another human evaluator will score your essay. Your final score will then be the average of the human assessments.

The GRE scoring system does not allow partial credit. However, you are not penalized for incorrect answers on the Verbal Reasoning and Quantitative Reasoning sections. You have nothing to lose by guessing at a question you cannot answer.

ETS presents each sectional score as a percentile. Your percentile score indicates the percentage of test-takers you outperformed. When your scores are ready, ETS will notify you via email. Scores are often available 10-15 days after taking the test.

GRE Exam Scoring
Section Score Range Average Score (50th Percentile)

Analytical Writing

0-6

3.5-4.0

Verbal Reasoning

130-170

150-151

Quantitative Reasoning

130-170

152-153

Unscored/Research

N/A

N/A

Source: ETS

How Can You Prepare for the GRE?

Some students enroll in prep courses, hire tutors, or both. Others have found success through self-directed study. It depends on your learning style and comfort level with the subject matter.

Candidates for graduate accounting programs are often confident in their mathematics skills. If you feel behind in writing and verbal reasoning skills, focus on raising them to average levels.

Study Methods

  • Use ETS Resources: ETS provides a helpful set of free GRE test prep resources. These official materials are useful for studying and practicing.
  • Work With a Tutor: Tutors with their own high GRE scores can offer valuable tricks, tips, and insights for raising your scores..
  • Take Practice Tests: Many insiders recommend taking at least three timed practice GRE tests before sitting the real examination. Before timing yourself, take untimed tests. Then, when you feel ready, start the timer. Aim to increase your sectional scores with each timed practice test.

Resources

  • Veritas Prep GRE Strategy Session: This resource was designed for people planning to take the GRE but unsure of how to begin preparing. It consists of a one-hour online session led by an expert GRE instructor. Test-takers will learn about successful test strategies they can draw on to inform their own studying and preparation.
  • ETS Resources for the GRE General Test: ETS offers a complete set of free and helpful resources to people preparing for the GRE for accounting. They include section-specific samples, examples, and tips along with official study materials, practice tests, and instructional videos.
  • Magoosh GRE Vocabulary Flashcards: This free tool is available online or as a downloadable mobile app. It covers precision vocabulary commonly featured in the Verbal Reasoning section. This advanced vocabulary also helps test-takers write more succinct, compelling, and successful Analytical Writing essays.

How Do You Register for the GRE?

ETS supports two registration methods. Test-takers can create an online ETS account or call to register by phone.

When you register, ETS automatically places you at the testing center nearest your home. You can change your testing center or reschedule your test date, but additional fees will apply.

No specific eligibility criteria apply. The test is open to anyone who wants to take it. However, ETS does maintain personal identification requirements to protect the integrity of the testing process.

Test-takers pay a fee to take the test. ETS publishes a schedule of fees and costs for sitting the exam and purchasing optional official test prep materials.

ETS makes special accommodations for test-takers managing disabilities, including taking the test online. The online testing option is available to anyone who prefers it.

Can You Test at Home?

Test-takers have the option of sitting the GRE at home using the organization's online testing option. You can register for at-home testing through your online ETS account. Note that your computer equipment must meet the specific standards on the at-home registration page.

Under the supervision of a human proctor, you will take the exact same exam you would at an ETS testing center. At-home testing is available on a 24/7 basis.

FAQ on What to Bring to the GRE and Expect After


What should you bring (or not bring) to the GRE?

For a testing center, you need valid identification. ID requirements vary depending on location. As of 2022, ETS requires testing center attendees to bring a medical or cloth facemask.

Your ID and mask are the only things you can bring into the testing room at an in-person testing center. No personal items are allowed. The list of disallowed items includes:

  • Watches
  • Personal electronics
  • Recording and listening devices
  • Jewelry (wedding and engagement rings are exempted)

ETS maintains a complete list of what to bring to your GRE test.

How many times can you take the GRE?

ETS lets candidates take the GRE once every 21 calendar days, up to five times per year.

How do you submit GRE scores to schools?

When your scores become available, log in to your ETS account and select up to four institutions. ETS will forward your scores at no extra charge. You may send scores to additional schools for a modest fee.

How long are your GRE scores valid?

GRE scores remain valid for five years minus one day. The five-year period begins on the date you took the test that resulted in the scores you wish to use. For example, if using the scores from a test you took on November 1, 2022, those scores would remain valid until October 31, 2027.

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Portrait of Lonnie Woods III

Lonnie Woods III

Lonnie Woods III is a student affairs administrator, professor, and professional development consultant whose work and research examine the career competencies of students interested in pursuing artistic careers or those studying arts-related majors in college. He has 10-plus years of experience working in education with professional experience spanning various institutions, including Pratt Institute, Maryland Institute College of Art, Brooklyn Academy of Music, New York University, The George Washington University, and The Whitney Museum of American Art. Woods holds a bachelor of science in fine art photography from Towson University and a master of arts in higher education and student affairs from New York University. Woods currently serves as a professor within the arts administration master's program at Teachers College, Columbia University.
Lonnie Woods III is a paid member of the Red Ventures Education Integrity Network.
Page last reviewed July 7, 2022


Featured Image: tommaso79 / iStock / Getty Images Plus

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