What is the GRE Math Subject Test?
There is some confusion here, because often when people speak of the "GRE Math Test"
they are referring to the Quantitative section of the General GRE. Here we refer to the
GRE Subject Test in Mathematics, sometimes called "The Mathematics Subject Test
(Rescaled)," an examination for students seeking admission to graduate programs in math.
The two tests could not be more different.
The GRE Math Subject Test is a separate exam, not part of the General GRE.
Those who want to take the Math Subject Test sign up for it specifically.
While the Quantitative Section of the General GRE tests mathematical aptitude,
the GRE Math Subject Test looks for knowledge learned as part of an undergraduate
education in mathematics.
Who Creates the GRE Math Subject Test?
The test is created and distributed by
Educational Testing Service
. They are also responsible for a number of other standardized tests, including the
General GRE Test, numerous other Subject Tests, and the TOEFL English-language test.
When is the Math Subject Test Available?
The test is generally offered three times a year: in October, November, and April.
Most students interested in apply for admission to graduate programs in the Fall
will want to take the October or November test, as the majority of schools have made their
fall admission decisions before the April test dates. Specific dates for the current year
are available at the
ETS registration site
Who Takes the Math Subject Test?
Anyone with a strong mathematical background and an interest in applying to graduate programs
in mathematics. Besides budding mathematicians, a good score on the test may also help potential
physicists, statisticians, and those interested in math-intensive technical or quantitative programs.
Why Take the Math Subject Test?
Many graduate programs require it for admission, especially for students interested in
studying pure mathematics. Even if the program does not, the score may help to create
a stronger application package. When a program requires the math subject test, students who
apply without providing a score are often considered much later in the admissions process
(if at all). So while a poor score may hurt your chances of admission, skipping the test
may not improve matters.
What Does the Math Subject Test Cover?
ETS is very clear about what the test covers, as can be seen
at their website. Generally speaking, half the test questions focus on your knowledge of
Calculus, one-quarter on Algebra (including Linear and Abstract), and the remainder on
various other topics such as probability and complex numbers.
How Can I Practice the Math Subject Test?
ETS makes a Practice Test available on their registration site, or you can download it directly
. Other previous tests have been made available for student use. We have access to four versions
of the test released by ETS:
While these are actual tests (since retired from service), it is important to remember that ETS
is constantly modifying the content and format of the Math Subject Test, so these may not be
a completely accurate indicator of your ability.
Also, be very careful of tests created before 2001! In that year ETS substantially increased the
difficulty of the material presented on the test. This means that, while older tests may help you
become comfortable with the ETS format, they are not a good indicator of actual test performance.
If you have a question about the age of a test, look at the Form Number: the first two digits
indicate the year of use. So of the four tests listed above, three of them were published prior to
the rescaling: in 1987, 1993, and 1997. Only one, (0568) was published after the test difficulty
increased. ETS themselves offered the 1997 test (9768) in its practice materials as late as 2007,
so it may be more relevant than the others, but students should still be wary of assuming
too much from it.
What Books Can Help Me Prepare?
Any book that reviews Calculus, Linear Algebra, and similar topics will be helpful.
The "Schaum's Outline" series is especially recommended. In addition, there are three books
specifically aimed at preparation for the Math Subject Test. They are:
GRE Practicing to Take the Mathematics Test by ETS
This is the only preparation book released by the test manufacturer, but at this time even
the most recent edition (the 3rd) is out of print and difficult to find. Even when located,
the price is often hundreds of dollars. According to those familiar with the most current
edition, the two tests included are repeats of those provided above.
Cracking the GRE Math Test by Princeton Review
At this time, the most current edition is the 4th. It contains over 400 pages of mathematics
review material and one practice test. The review material is detailed, including English-language
explanation, and numerous examples. Each of the seven chapters of review material includes a set
of sample questions, which are explained set-by-step in a separate solutions chapter. Students
generally agree the practice exam provided by Princeton Review is somewhat easier than the actual
Math Subject Test adminstered by ETS.
The Best Test Preparation for the GRE Mathematics by REA
The most current edition at this time is the 5th. While most students agree that REA's book is far
from "the Best," it still has much to recommend it. The 280-page REA review section is densely
mathematical in contrast to the Princeton Review text, but suitable for those comfortable with
heavy notation. But REA offers *six* complete exams for students to try. None of these exams
duplicate any of those found in the books above, which makes this a great resource for students
looking for more practice. There is one caveat when using REA's exams: their questions focus much
more on knowledge of concepts and formulas than those on actual ETS exams (which can be computation
heavy). If you are careful not to be led astray by this issue, there is a wealth of material here.
What Web Resources Are Available?
There are numerous pages with information on the test, but a few stand out:
The Official ETS page for the Mathematics Subject Test (Rescaled)
The Mathematics GRE Forum
The Mathematics GRE Section of the Physics GRE Site
A simple web search using terms like "GRE Math Subject Test Practice" will turn up lots of
other pages with tips and suggestions.