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GRE Subject Tests: Overview and Content Material for all 8 Exams

Content Material for the Literature in English GRE and Mathematics GRE


Literature in English:

  • Approximately 230 questions.
  • Questions may be based on poetry, drama, biography, the essay, the short story, the novel, criticism, literary theory, and the history of the language.
  • Some questions may be based on short works reprinted in their entirety and some may be on excerpts from longer works.
  • Questions may test your knowledge on literature from the British Isles, the United States, and other parts of the world (written in English).
  • Some questions may be based on major works, such as the Bible, translated from other languages.
  • Questions may test your knowledge about factual or critical information.
  • Questions may also focus on information about authors, works, genres, and movements.
  • Factual Questions may include:
    • The identification of characteristics of literary or critical movements.
    • Assigning a literary work to the correct period that it was written in.
    • Identify a writer or a work illustrated in a critical comment.
    • Determine the period or author of a given work based on it’s style and content (given a short excerpt).
  • Critical Questions requires you to analyze a passage of style or poetry that is given and answer questions about:
    • Meaning
    • Form and Structure
    • Literary Techniques
    • Various Aspects of Language
  • 40-55% of the questions are based on Literary Analysis, 15-20% on Identification, 20-25% on Cultural and Historical Contexts, and 10-15% on History and Theory of Literary Criticism.
  • Literary Analysis questions include:
    • Interpret Passages of Prose and Poetry
    • Recognition of:
      • Conventions and Genres
      • Allusions and References
      • Meaning and Tone
      • Grammatical Structures and Rhetorical Strategies
      • Literary Techniques
  • Identification questions ask you to recall:
    • Dates
    • Authors
    • Work by Style and/or Content
  • Cultural and Historical Contexts include questions on:
    • Literary, Cultural, and Intellectual History
    • Identifying Authors or Works through a Critical Statement or Biographical Information.
    • Identifying details of a Character, Plot, or Setting of a Work.
  • History and Theory of Literary Criticism include questions on:
    • Identifying and Analyzing the Characteristics and Methods of various Critical and Theoretical approaches.
  • Literature from these Periods are of importance:
    • Continental, Classical, and Comparative Literature through 1925 - 5-10%
    • British Literature to 1660 (including Milton) - 25-30%
    • British Literature 1660-1925 - 25-35%
    • American Literature through 1925 - 15-25%
    • American, British, and World Literatures after 1925 - 20-30%


  • Approximately 66 questions.
  • Questions are based on material learned during the undergraduate years.
  • Approximately 50% of the questions are based on Calculus, 25% on Algebra, and 25% on Additional Topics.
  • Algebra topics include:
    • Elementary Algebra
    • Linear Algebra
    • Abstract Algebra and Number Theory
  • Calculus topics and Additional topics vary but are based on material learned during your undergraduate years.
  • See GRE Study Guides or the main GRE website for more information on sub-topics.
  • The test assesses your knowledge of fundamental concepts and your ability to apply them to different situations.
  • Because the Mathematics GRE test was rescaled in October 2001, scores obtained after October 2001 cannot be compared to scores obtained before October 2001.

To study for a GRE Subject test, purchase a study guide and utilize it for several months before the exam. Take the practice exams that come with your study guide. You can acquire a practice exam on the GRE website as well. Additionally, it is recommended that you go over your notes and textbooks from relevant courses taken during your undergraduate years. Remember, you are not expected to know every topic. Learn and remember as much as you can. If you do not have time to study all the topics, skip those questions when taking the exam. Visit the main GRE website for more information on GRE Subject Exams.

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