What Does GRE Stand For? The Complete Answer


Everyone talks about “taking the GRE.” But do the letters mean anything? What does GRE stand for? In this article, we’ll provide the answer, along with a brief history of the exam’s name. Finally, we’ll lay out why the name of the test probably won’t change any time soon.


What Does GRE Stand For?

GRE stands for Graduate Record Examination. This is a pretty straightforward name. There’s “Graduate,” because the test is for graduate school and “Examination” because it’s a test. The “Record” part is a little less obvious, but it makes sense when we consider that the test becomes part of your academic and admissions record. So overall, the acronym basically means, “test for your graduate school admissions records.”

However, what’s a little weird about this is that the actual full name of the test is the “GRE General Test.” With the acronym written out, then, it’s called the “Graduate Record Examination General Test.” This sounds a little redundant— “Examination” and “Test”?

The “General” part is actually to differentiate the general graduate admissions test from the more focused subject-specific tests, which are known as the GRE Subject Tests.


There are also GRE subject tests—like math!


An Extremely Brief History of the GRE and Its Name

The germ of the current GRE was the Carnegie Foundation’s “Cooperative Graduate Testing Program,” developed together with Harvard, Princeton, Yale, and Columbia. The first Graduate Record Examination assessments were administered through this program in 1937. Administration of the test was soon transferred to the ETS (Educational Testing Service). ETS still manages the administration of the GRE.

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While the test has gone through many permutations in format and structure, the GRE portion of the name has remained throughout its history.


Will the GRE Acronym Change in the Future?

The name of the GRE will probably not change in the near future. I’ll explain why here.

It’s worth noting that the SAT and the ACT—two other major standardized tests—both changed their own acronym-based names in the 90s. The SAT used to stand for “Scholastic Aptitude Test” and then “Scholastic Assessment Test.” But since 1997, it’s been known only as the SAT, with no more meaning behind the letters. Similarly, the ACT was once known as the “American College Test,” but was changed to just the ACT in 1996.

The long SAT and ACT names were dropped in favor of simple three-letter trademarks for branding improvement reasons. The College Board ran into trouble with “Scholastic Aptitude Test” because it implied that the SAT was an accurate test of natural aptitude. This claim has been heavily disputed in light of its close score correlation with race and economic status. And “Scholastic Assessment Test” is redundant.

For the ACT, “American College Test” was limiting. It did not describe the full scope of ACT, Inc.’s services and products. Many states administer the ACT or ACT, Inc tests across the state as achievement benchmark assessments—regardless of whether or not students are going to college or are even close to college-age! So the “college” part no longer accurately describes the ACT product.


College: no longer the sole use for the ACT!


Given the changes in the SAT and ACT, it’s natural to think that the GRE might follow suit. However, this is unlikely because the “Graduate Record Examination” moniker is still very much on-brand. It accurately describes the GRE product without making too many audacious claims about it.

Another reason why we probably won’t see this name change anytime soon is because the full name has already changed twice in the past decade. Before 2011, the exam was known as the “GRE General Test.” Then, when the test was revised in August 2011, the name was changed to the “GRE Revised General Test” to differentiate it from the old version of the test. But now, the revision is now far enough in the past that ETS can call the exam the “GRE General Test” again without creating too much confusion. If ETS changed the name again anytime soon, they might give us whiplash!

So, the “GRE” name (standing for “Graduate Record Examination”) is unlikely to change anytime soon. First, there’s simply no need, as there was for the SAT and ACT. Second, the official name of the exam just recently changed already!


Key Points: What GRE Stands For

The official name of the GRE is the “GRE general test.” The “GRE” stands for “Graduate Record Examination.” This is a straightforward name that communicates that it’s a test for your graduate admissions record.

The GRE part of the name has remained since 1937, when the earliest version of the test was administered.

It’s unlikely that the name will change anytime soon, simply because there’s just no need. Additionally, the full name of the test was recently changed from “GRE Revised General Test” back to “GRE General Test,” so another name change this soon could be confusing!


Keep things straightforward: like the straightforward cuteness of this kitten.


What’s Next?

Need more info on the GRE? Check out our articles on the GRE score range, the minimum GRE score, and the maximum GRE score.

Wondering what makes a good score? See our guide to GRE score percentiles and our guide to what a good GRE score is.

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Author: Ellen McCammon

Ellen is a public health graduate student and education expert. She has extensive experience mentoring students of all ages to reach their goals and in-depth knowledge on a variety of health topics.