How to Study for the GRE Psychology Subject Test

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If you are planning to apply to a psychology graduate program in the U.S., there is a strong chance that you will be required to take the GRE psychology subject test in order to be admitted to an accredited program. The test can be challenging, but there are plenty of things you can do to prepare for the test and get the scores you need to get admitted to a good psychology program.

Get the information you need to know about the GRE Psychology Subject Test. Discover what the GRE Psychology test is, what the test covers, what you need to do to prepare, and when the test is offered.

What Is the GRE Psychology Subject Test?

The GRE psychology test is a standardized exam that is often used as part of the admissions process for graduate school programs in the United States and other English-speaking countries. While the test is an optional, single-subject part of the GRE, students may choose to take the exam if they are considering applying to a psychology graduate program.

Not all psychology programs require the subject test. Some programs recommend that applicants take the psychology subject test, while others make it a mandatory part of the admissions process.

Basic Structure

Before you take the test, you should first become familiar with the basic structure of the exam as well as the content covered by the test.

  • Most editions of the GRE Psychology test contain approximately 205 multiple-choice questions.
  • Each question contains five different options and the test-taker must then select the option that best answers the question.
  • You will have two hours and 50 minutes to complete the test.
  • All versions of the psychology test utilize the classifications, diagnostic criteria, and terminology used in the latest version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the DSM-5.
  • The number of questions answered correctly is converted to a total scaled score. Incorrect or unanswered questions are not subtracted and do not have an impact on the score.
  • The test may contain graphs, tables, and other material that serve as the basis for a number of questions.
  • Questions on the GRE psychology test are taken from core knowledge commonly taught in undergraduate-level psychology courses.
  • In addition to receiving an overall cumulative score, test-takers are also given six sub-scores: biological, cognitive, social, developmental, clinical and measurement/methodology/other.
  • While there are separate category questions and sub-score areas, they are not set aside and labeled specifically on the test. Questions from particular areas are instead distributed throughout the test.

Topics Covered on the GRE Psychology Test

The test covers six broad categories:

  • Biological (17–21%), covering topics like sensation and perception
  • Cognitive (17–24%), covering topics like learning and memory
  • Social (12–14%), covering topics like behavior and motivation
  • Developmental (12–14%), covering topics like language
  • Clinical (15–19%), covering personality and abnormal psych
  • Measurement/Methodology/Other (15–19%), covering statistics and research designs

When Is the GRE Psychology Test Offered?

The GRE and subject tests are offered in April, September, and October for testing the United States and Puerto Rico. Check the official website to learn more about specific test dates.

Registering for the Test

You can register to take the test online or by mail. The Educational Testing Service (ETS) recommends that you register as early as possible in order to receive your free test preparation materials before the test date.

How to Prepare

In addition to reviewing notes and old tests from your undergraduate psychology courses, there are a number of different ways you can prepare for the GRE Psychology test. There are a number of different test prep books available to help students prepare for the psychology subject test. Visit your campus bookstore or an online book retailer to see what is available.

Here are some recommendations before you begin studying:

  1. Start by taking a practice test before you start your test prep. This will give you a better idea of the content of the test and how much you need to do in order to prepare.
  2. Get a prep study booklet from a publisher such as Kaplan or Princeton Review, but do not restrict yourself to studying simply what is on the study guide. Only reviewing one or two study guides will not provide sufficient preparation for most students.
  3. Find one or two good introductory psychology books and spend a considerable amount of time familiarizing yourself with the content in each book. 
  4. After spending a considerable amount of time studying, take another practice test. By doing this, you will be able to get a better idea of which areas you are still weak in and what you need to focus on for the remainder of your prep.

Also be sure to talk to your psychology professors. In addition to offering helpful study tips, they may be able to help you organize a test prep study group.

The ETS also offers a free Psychology Practice Book (in PDF format) that you can download and use to study.

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  1. ETS. GRE: Psychology Test.

By Kendra Cherry
Kendra Cherry, MS, is the author of the "Everything Psychology Book (2nd Edition)" and has written thousands of articles on diverse psychology topics. Kendra holds a Master of Science degree in education from Boise State University with a primary research interest in educational psychology and a Bachelor of Science in psychology from Idaho State University with additional coursework in substance use and case management.