Understanding the GRE Psychology Subject Test

Do you need to take the GRE Psychology Subject Test or not? Learn what you'll need to do.

psychology students taking test

Once you've earned your bachelor's degree in psychology, it's time to take your next step toward a career in clinical psychology.

Since you'll need to get at least a master's degree in order to practice as a clinical psychologist in the U.S., you'll want to think about taking the Graduate Records Examination (GRE) Psychology Subject Test in order to get into an accredited graduate psychology school program. About half of the available doctoral programs in psychology require you to take the Psychology GRE in order to pursue your degree, while a third of master's level programs require you to submit your GRE scores in order to apply.

The GRE Psychology Subject Test is a paper exam given in person at specific locations and on specific dates, and consists of 215 multiple choice questions for which students are allowed approximately three hours to complete. In the last decade, the GRE has been revamped and partially changed in order to present more of a conceptual approach rather than rote, multiple-choice questions based in facts and data that can be memorized.

The GRE Psychology Committee has found that this new approach to information more closely replicates the kind of thinking a psychologist in the field will need to cultivate, and that assessing a student on a hypothetical study gives insight into how this "potential psychologist" will utilize and process research data and information in general.

Who Creates the GRE?

The GRE Psychology Subject test is prepared by a is a select group of six faculty members from different educational institutions who all have a broad background in psychology—as well as a specialization in a particular field. These members, appointed by the GRE Program of the Educational Testing Service, compose questions for the test, and the group meets annually to select the questions that will actually appear on the Psychology GRE. The questions are divided into the following areas (though on the actual exam they are mixed throughout and not administered as specific sections):

  • 40 percent covers sensation and perception, physiological psychology and comparative psychology
  • 43 percent covers social psychology, personality, development and abnormal behaviors
  • 17 percent covers research methods, history and applied psychology

How Is the GRE Used?

When you apply to a graduate psychology school degree program, you are evaluated by several factors. These factors consist of your grade point average (GPA), your GRE General Test score, your GRE Psychology Subject Test score, and your letters of recommendation. You may also be evaluated on your research experience, the prestige of the school you attended and if there is a good fit between you and the institution to which you are applying.

All GRE Subject Tests are scored on a scale from 200 to 990, but it's how you score relative to everyone else who takes the same test that really matters. In recent years,* the mean score on the GRE Psychology Subject Test has been 600, with 1 percent on the highest end scoring 800 and the 1 percent at the lowest end of the spectrum scoring 340.

The GRE Psychology Subject Test is offered three times a year—in October, November and April—at numerous testing centers in the US and around the world. If you take the GRE Psychology Subject Test in the U.S., U.S. Territories or Puerto Rico, it is recommended that you register at least five weeks in advance; otherwise the recommended pre-registration time is seven weeks for all other locations. You can register for the Psychology Subject Test either online at www.ets.org or by mail. The cost to take the GRE Psychology Subject Test is $160 for U.S., U.S. Territories and Puerto Rican students, or $190 outside of these geographic locations.