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The Graduate Record Examination, or GRE, is a necessary rite-of-passage for many students attempting to gain access to a master’s degree program in psychology. The test provides a general measure of your ability to excel in graduate study, and the test results help graduate schools gauge your potential for succeeding in their programs. Many psychology students only take the general test, composed of analytical writing, verbal, and quantitative sections, and call it a day. However, the GRE also offers the option of taking the Psychology subject test. Learn more about the GRE Psychology subject test, and whether you should be preparing for this exam in addition to the general test.

What is the GRE Psychology Subject Test?

The GRE Psychology Test is a standardized exam offered optionally in addition to the general test. This field-specific test is intended for students who have received bachelor’s degrees in psychology or related subjects, and aspire to enter graduate programs in psychology. The ultimate goal of the test is directed at helping students show their competency in the subject of psychology, and providing graduate admissions committees a benchmark by which to measure students’ proficiency in the subject.

The GRE Psychology Test is composed of approximately 205 multiple-choice questions which are drawn from core knowledge broadly learned in undergraduate psychology courses. The content of the test is divided into three different categories: experimental or natural science (an estimated 40% of the test), social or social science (43%), and general (17%).

Experimental test items may cover language, memory, learning, sensation and perception, and behavioral neuroscience among other related topics. Social test items may cover lifespan development, clinical and abnormal psychology, social psychology, and personality among other related topics. Lastly, the General test items may regards topics such as statistics, research design, psychometrics, applied psychology, and history of psychology.

How Do I Prepare for the GRE Psychology Test?

The GRE Psychology Test is administered three times a year in September, October, and April at specified test centers. The Educational Testing Service (ETS), the organization that manages the GRE, suggests that students download a subject practice book from their website to help them prepare for the GRE Psychology Test. It may also be helpful to review textbooks and notes from psychology courses relevant to the content areas being tested. 

Do I Have to Take the GRE Psychology Test?

Whether or not you should take the GRE Psychology subject test depends on several factors. The first, and probably most relevant, consideration to make is whether the schools you are interested in require the subject test. Many master’s programs in psychology do not require the test, while some of the doctoral programs do. Some programs, on the other hand, simply recommend that you take the test. Therefore, not taking it may not altogether disqualify you, but not having a score could be detrimental to your application. See the requirements of your preferred schools to determine if the test is required or recommended.

The second consideration to make is whether you come from a background in psychology. Other students with bachelor’s degrees in psychology have a clear advantage over you in the form of their grades in psychology courses. If you did not earn a psychology degree, taking the test could exhibit to graduate programs that you have the sufficient knowledge to perform at the graduate level in psychology. For those of you who are coming from backgrounds other than psychology, taking the test – and doing well on it - might give you the lift you need to compete with psychology majors.

Although most graduate programs in psychology do not require the GRE Psychology Test for admission, research has shown that the subject test is one of the best measures of psychology student potential. The test surpassed the analytical, verbal, and quantitative tests in regard to predicting grades and likelihood of earning a degree. In addition to demonstrating your knowledge of core psychology subjects, the test can also tell you enthusiasm for the field.

The Takeaway

The GRE Psychology Test is a standardized, optional test which can be conducted in conjunction with the general GRE test. The multiple-choice test measures experimental, social, and general knowledge learned from undergraduate psychology courses. For the most part, the test is not usually required as a part of the admissions process for graduate study in psychology. However, some programs do either require or recommend the test in their application process. Furthermore, if you come from a subject area other than psychology, taking the GRE Psychology Test can benefit you by showing your knowledge of the field that may not be visible from your coursework or transcript.

If you are interested in registering for the test, you can do so here.

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