What is a GRE Subject Test?
The GRE test on Mathematics is one of the six subject tests developed by the Educational Testing Service (ETS) and designed to measure your knowledge of a particular field of study. The rest of the subjects cover Biology, Chemistry, Literature in English, Physics, and Psychology. According to the organization administering the tests, they “can help you stand out from other applicants by emphasizing your knowledge and skill level in a specific area.” Even if the subject test is not always a compulsory requirement for admission to your dream graduate program, a strong score may still contribute to a successful application.
One test taker shared his thoughts on the Maths subject test, saying that the score is not a must for most applications but neither should it be underestimated:
Don’t listen to people who say ‘the GRE is not important.’ What they mean is ‘the GRE is not definitive.’ But it’s still important: a good GRE Maths score is necessary for top schools, and it helps immensely for mid-ranked schools – you need to distinguish yourself somehow from all the other applicants.
What should I expect on a GRE Maths Subject Test?
The GRE Subject Test on Mathematics takes 2 hours and 50 minutes to complete. In that period of time, test takers are required to answer 66 multiple-choice questions. Since the majority of the test covers calculus and algebra commonly studied by all mathematics undergraduates, the ETS test prep guide advises that students review their undergraduate courses and lessons at the beginning of their preparation.
In terms of content, about 50% of the questions involve calculus – differential and integral calculus of one and of several variables – including calculus-based applications and connections with coordinate geometry, trigonometry, differential equations; and other branches of mathematics. About 25% of the questions in the test involve elementary algebra, linear algebra, abstract algebra, and number theory. The remaining questions cover other areas of mathematics currently studied by undergraduates in many institutions.
How to prepare for the GRE Maths Subject Test?
What is a good score on the GRE Maths Subject Test? When you take the test, you will get a total score on a 200–990 score scale. A good score is typically above 700, but score requirements vary among schools and applicants are advised to check the specific score guidelines for the programs they are interested in.
- Approach to prep
Cramming all of your studies in at the last minute is not recommended and may even be backfire as the exam measures the knowledge you have acquired over time.
In the GRE Mathematics exam, it is vital to focus on the fundamentals of maths, especially if some areas are rusty or if a long time has passed since you studied them. Make sure you instantly recognize calculus problems and theorems as this will save you time and move you to the next step of solving more complex questions. Bear in mind that questions are not designed to just check if you remember a certain theorem. They are also intended to assess your understanding of fundamental concepts and whether you are able to apply them. So questions involving basic algebra and trigonometry may prove quite challenging.
- Not just maths, but maths in English
If English is not your native language and you have not studied maths in English so far, you should make sure you master all the mathematical terminology in English alongside refreshing your knowledge of the subject matter.
Check out: Key Tips for GRE Geometry (Video)
- Paper format
Depending on what kind of tests you are used to from high school and undergraduate studies, make sure you get comfortable with the GRE Subject Test format. On test day, you will have a paper test book for the questions and an answer sheet to mark your work which will ensure that your answers are scored correctly. This might be a challenge if you are a digital native. How to fill in your answer sheet correctly should be part of your prep, just like mastering the subject matter in English.
- More tips
The ETS test-taking guide suggests several tips for students who are still getting familiar with the exam format:
- Pay particular attention to the phrasing of the questions and the instructions provided. You will not be able to complete the test correctly and efficiently unless you understand the instructions.
- Try answering the questions you are confident about first and then go back to those you found more difficult.
- No points will be deducted from your score for a wrong answer. The score is determined by the number of questions you answer correctly, so make sure you answer all questions for a better chance of scoring high. However, be careful not to give more than one answer to the same question, as this will be marked as incorrect.
- Taking practice tests is also an essential part of the preparation. Find a calm setting and try not to get interrupted during practice. Always time your practice tests and make sure you add in the official testing time in order to simulate the environment of the exam as closely as possible.
You can find more preparation tips, a practice test, and an answer sheet in the official GRE Mathematics Test Practice Book.
Do I have a second chance?
Retaking the test to improve your score can be part of your strategy, but you should plan carefully because there are only three test dates per year – in September, October, and April. So, it seems wiser that you commit to achieving your best score with a single test. You can see which test centers and dates are available in your country on the official ETS website.
When building your test prep strategy you should also factor in the test fee and flexibility options. As of 1 July 2018, the standard test administration fee is USD 150. Test takers can benefit from additional services such as late registration, rescheduling, changing the test center where they sit the exam, or changing the subject test against a fee of USD 25 up to USD 50. Keep in mind that rescheduling or canceling your appointed test must take place at least four days before your test date.
Check out: Comprehensive GRE Overview (Video)
Do you feel more confident in your preparation for the GRE Maths Subject Test now? As long as you do not underestimate the exam and try out several different prep strategies to see which one works for you, your chances of scoring high should be solid.