So, you’ve decided to take the GRE. Congratulations! This is a big step towards getting into your top-choice graduate school. Many people who have taken the GRE compare it to the SAT and/or the ACT, and indeed, there are many similarities between them. In fact, many people wonder if your score on the SAT/ACT can be used to predict how you’ll do on the GRE —which can worry test takers whose previous scores weren’t what they’d hoped for. But while the similarities between the tests are definitely important to remember, there are also key differences to bear in mind as you begin preparing to take the GRE. Here’s a look at some of the most important similarities and differences between the GRE and the SAT/ACT.


The most obvious – and perhaps most important – similarity between the GRE and the SAT/ACT is the format. The GRE, like the SAT and ACT, is a standardized, largely multiple-choice test divided into separate sections for different skill sets. The GRE is broken into three sections—Verbal Reasoning, Quantitative Reasoning, and Analytical Writing. These are similar to the SAT’s Reading, Math, and Writing sections, although unlike the SAT, the essay-writing portion of the GRE is not optional. Unlike the ACT, the GRE does not include a science section.

Another similarity is when and where the test is taken—like the SAT/ACT, you’ll need to register in advance for a date when the test is being given, and report to your testing center the day of. The GRE is offered continuously throughout the year, and you can take the test once every 21 days if you’re interested in retaking it.

Finally, many of the same strategies for taking the test itself apply to the GRE as well as the SAT/ACT—skipping difficult questions and then going back to finish them, reviewing your answers before you’ve finished a section, and more. However, your actual test-taking experience may feel very different, because…


One clear difference between the GRE and the SAT/ACT is how the test is taken: on a computer! While the SAT is only available on paper, and a computer-based ACT is still only offered in certain districts, the GRE is taken entirely on a computer, which you will be directed to when you arrive at your testing center. One advantage when prepping for the GRE is that studying on a computer will give you a similar experience to taking the test itself.

This leads to another important difference: when you’ll learn your scores. While the experience of waiting for your SAT/ACT scores to be processed is often nerve-wracking, your GRE score is available instantly on your screen once you’ve finished, with the exception of the Analytical Writing section. Test takers have an important decision to make the day of their GRE —whether to accept their scores or not. The GRE gives test takers the option to “cancel” their test without seeing their scores after they’ve finished the test. That said, once you’ve seen your score, it cannot be cancelled. Generally though, it’s a good idea to see and accept your scores, even if you know you didn’t do as well as you hoped, to help you prep for your next test.

However, the biggest difference between the GRE and the SAT/ACT is… you! You’ve had years of education and experience since you took your SAT/ACT, and you bring all that knowledge and maturity with you to the GRE. So even if you didn’t do as well as you would have liked when you took the SAT/ACT, there’s no need to worry; with the right preparation, you can do brilliantly on your GRE and be well on your way on your grad school journey.

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