GRE Subject Tests (Biochemistry, Biology, Chemistry, Computer Science, Literature, and Mathematics)

The GRE (Graduate Record Examination) subject tests are supplemental to the general GRE examination taken by many graduate school applicants nationwide. Though not usually required as part of the admissions application to graduate school, taking a GRE subject test can benefit an applicant, especially if he is pursuing a graduate degree that corresponds with one of the eight subject tests. Regardless of the applicant’s subject test score, attempting one of the tests shows dedication to the subject and to the school.

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GRE subject tests are currently offered in the following six areas:

1. Biology
2. Chemistry
3. Literature in English
4. Mathematics
5. Physics
6. Psychology

1. The GRE subject test for biology contains 190 five-choice questions. The three major content areas presented in a summary outline below are given approximately equal weight in terms of the overall examination score:

1) Cellular and molecular biology

Cellular structure and function
Genetics and molecular biology

2) Organismal biology

Animal structure, function, and organization
Animal reproduction and development

Plant structure, function, and organization, with emphasis on flowering plants
Plant reproduction, growth, and development, with emphasis on flowering plants
Diversity of life

3) Ecology and evolution

Ecology (the environment and organism interaction, behavioral ecology, population structure and function, communities, and ecosystems)
Evolution (genetic variability, evolutionary processes, evolutionary consequences, and history of life)

2. The GRE subject test for chemistry contains about 130 multiple-choice questions. A summary outline of examination content is presented below:

Analytical chemistry: 15 percent

  • Data acquisition and use of statistics
  • Solutions and standardization
  • Homogeneous and heterogeneous equilibria
  • Instrumental methods
  • Environmental applications
  • Radiochemical methods

Inorganic chemistry: 25 percent

  • General chemistry
  • Ionic substances
  • Covalent molecular substances
  • Metals and semiconductors
  • Concepts of acids and bases
  • Chemistry of the main group and transitional elements
  • Special topics

Organic chemistry: 30 percent

  • Structure, bonding, and nomenclature
  • Functional groups
  • Reaction mechanisms
  • Reactive intermediates
  • Organometallics
  • Special topics

Physical chemistry: 30 percent

  • Thermodynamics
  • Quantum chemistry and applications to spectroscopy
  • Dynamics

3. The GRE subject test for literature in English contains about 230 questions. Emphasis on categories and genres may vary. An approximate outline of topics and genres covered is as follows:

Overall topics:

  • Literary analysis: 40-55 percent
  • Identification: 15-20 percent
  • Cultural and historical contexts: 20-25 percent
  • History and theory of literary criticism: 10-15 percent


  • Continental, classical, and comparative literature through to 1925: 5-10 percent
  • British literature through to 1660 (including Milton): 25-30 percent
  • British literature from 1660 to 1925: 25-35 percent
  • American literature through to 1925: 15-25 percent
  • American, British, and world literature after 1925: 20-30 percent

4. The GRE subject test for mathematics contains 66 multiple-choice questions drawn from undergraduate mathematics classes. A summarized content outline is below:

Calculus: 50 percent

  • Differential and integral calculus
  • Coordinate geometry
  • Trigonometry
  • Differential equations

Algebra: 25 percent

  • Elementary, linear, and abstract algebra
  • Number theory

Additional topics: 25 percent

  • Introductory real analysis
  • Discrete mathematics
  • General topology
  • Complex variables
  • Probability and statistics
  • Numerical analysis

5. The GRE subject test for physics contains approximately 100 five-choice questions. A summary outline of potential examination content is as follows:

Classical mechanics: 20 percent

  • Kinematics
  • Newton’s laws
  • Work and energy
  • Oscillatory motion
  • Rotational motion about a fixed axis
  • Dynamics of systems of particles
  • Central forces and celestial mechanics
  • Three-dimensional particle dynamics
  • Lagrangian and Hamiltonian formalism
  • Non-inertial reference frames
  • Elementary topics in fluid dynamics

Electromagnetism: 18 percent

  • Electrostatics
  • Currents and DC circuits
  • Magnetic fields in free space
  • Lorentz force
  • Induction
  • Maxwell’s equations and their applications
  • Electromagnetic waves
  • AC circuits
  • Magnetic and electric fields in matter

Optic and wave phenomena: 9 percent

  • Wave properties
  • Superposition
  • Interference
  • Diffraction
  • Geometrical optics
  • Polarization
  • The Doppler Effect

Thermodynamics and statistical mechanics: 10 percent

  • The laws of thermodynamics
  • Thermodynamic processes
  • Equations of state
  • Ideal gases
  • Kinetic theory
  • Ensembles
  • Statistical concepts and calculation of thermodynamic quantities
  • Thermal expansion and heat transfer

Quantum mechanics: 12 percent

  • Fundamental concepts
  • Solutions of the Schrodinger equation
  • Spin
  • Angular momentum
  • Wave function symmetry
  • Elementary perturbation theory

Atomic physics: 10 percent

  • Properties of electrons
  • The Bohr model
  • Energy quantization
  • Atomic structure
  • Atomic spectra
  • Selection rules
  • Black-body radiation
  • X-rays
  • Atoms in electric and magnetic fields

Special relativity: 6 percent

  • Introductory concepts
  • Time dilation
  • Length contraction
  • Simultaneity
  • Energy and momentum
  • Four vectors and Lorentz transformation
  • Velocity addition

Laboratory methods: 6 percent

  • Data and error analysis
  • Electronics
  • Instrumentation
  • Radiation detection
  • Counting statistics
  • Interaction of charged particles with matter
  • Lasers and optical interferometers
  • Dimensional analysis
  • Fundamental applications of probability and statistics

Specialized topics: 9 percent

  • Nuclear and particle physics
  • Condensed matter
  • Astrophysics
  • Mathematical methods and computer applications

6. The GRE subject test for psychology consists of 205 five-choice questions. In addition to the total score, candidates will receive six sub-scores. A summarized examination content outline is presented below:

Biological: 17-21 percent

• Sensation and Perception: 5-7 percent
• Physiological/Behavioral Neuroscience: 12-14 percent

Cognitive: 17–24 percent
• Learning: 3-5 percent
• Language: 3–4 percent
• Memory: 7–9 percent
• Thinking: 4–6 percent

Social: 12-14 percent

Developmental: 12–14 percent

Clinical: 15–19 percent
• Personality: 3-5 percent
• Clinical and Abnormal: 12–14 percent

Measurement/Methodology/Other: 15–19 percent
• General: 4–6 percent
• Measurement and Methodology: 11–13 percent

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Last Updated: March 7, 2024