GRE® Subject Matter Test in Literature in English

Completing the GRE® Subject Matter Test in Literature in English will help the prospective graduate student showcase his or her knowledge and expertise in English Literature.

All GRE Subject Matter Tests are accepted at most colleges and universities and offer additional standardized information about the applicant. While a Subject Matter Test may not necessarily be required for admission, an exceptional score in a certain subject can serve to help the student’s summary and records be noticed in the graduate admissions process.

The GRE® Subject Matter Test in Literature in English contains approximately 230 questions and highlights authors and literary genres. The test uses literary works and movements, such as biographies, criticisms, drama, and poetry; the history of the language, literary theory, the essay, the novel, and the short story. The test will include questions relating to excerpts from lengthy literary works or from shorter works that are reprinted completely within the test. Literary works are collected from most all English language countries and may include questions regarding major books or literary works that have been translated from other languages, i.e. the Bible.

The questions on the test are randomly grouped into two divisions: critical and factual. Critical questions test the student’s perception of a given literary text. While reviewing a piece of literature, the student will display his/her understanding of the work’s features of language, form, structure, literary techniques, and meaning. Factual questions focus on the correct identification of certain characteristics, author, period, style, or critical comment or movement related to a specific literary work or commentary.

The GRE® Subject Matter Test in Literature in English is divided into four sections:

  • Literary Analysis
  • Identification,
  • Cultural and Historical Contexts
  • History and Theory of Literary Criticism

Literary Analysis (40 to 55%) is the largest section of the test and will review the student’s skill in understanding certain selections of poetry and prose. Questions will include detection of allusions and references, genres, meaning, tone, grammar, structure; also literary techniques and rhetorical strategies.

The second largest section of the test, Cultural and Historical Contexts (20 to 25%), includes questions on cultural, intellectual, and literary history along with recognizing the author or the work from an excerpt, a critical statement or biography, character details, plot, or setting in a historical situation.

Identification (15 to 20%) focuses specifically on identification of author, date or work by the content, or style of the reprinted excerpt.

The smallest section of the test, History and Theory of Literary Criticism (10 to 15%), includes detection and analysis of the methods and characteristics of numerous critical and theoretical approaches in literature.

The Historical and Literary scope of the GRE® Subject Matter Test in Literature in English questions are distributed among the English language and locales in the following manner:

  • Classical, Continental, and Comparative Literature up to 1925 (5 to 10%)
  • British Literature up to 1660, including Milton (25 to 30%)
  • British Literature during 1660 to 1925 (25 to 30%)
  • American Literature up to 1925 (15 to 25%)
  • American, British, and World Literatures after 1925 (20 to 30%)

While the test is lengthy, no student is expected to be familiar with all subject matter or be able to answer all questions correctly. Many short, multiple choice questions, along with the lengthy scope of the test, have been proven to work to the student’s advantage in allowing the student to fairly, accurately, and systematically evaluate his or her knowledge of the test material. The student may obtain a maximum score on the GRE® Subject Matter Test in Literature in English without actually answering all the questions correctly.

The GRE® Subject Matter Test is offered worldwide in October, November, and April. Registration may be completed online at: To begin the registration process, create a My GRE® Account and choose a date and a testing location, making certain that the chosen test date will be sufficiently early enough that your test scores will be received by the educational institution in time to be considered as part of your college application. Registration and payment may also be completed by mail by downloading and completing the registration form from the GRE® Bulletin online.

Regular registration for a Test in the United States, U.S. Territories, and Puerto Rico is $140 USD per Subject Test; all other locations, $160 USD. Payment may be made by credit or debit card, PayPal, E-Check, money orders, certified checks, and Western Union, or by mailing a check to ETS-GRE. Payments may be made in British pounds, Japanese yen, Euro, or Canadian dollar. Late registration can be requested online for an additional fee of $25 up to one week after the regular registration deadline. Standby or change (changing test center OR changing subject test) fee is $50 per situation. Scores may be requested by phone ($12) or you may request an additional score report ($23 per recipient).

All subject test preparation study materials are free and are sent to the registrant after registration is complete. Service Candidate Profile Listing is also free for registrants, matching your profile with fellowship sponsors.

On the day of the test, you should arrive at least 30 minutes before the test is scheduled to begin. Late arriving test takers may not be admitted to the test site nor will fees be refunded. Bring with you: your admissions ticket, 2 forms of acceptable identification, 3 or 4 sharpened number 2 pencils, and a good eraser. You will mark your answers on a machine scored answer sheet separate from the test booklet.

You may not bring mechanical pens or pencils, any food or drink, tobacco, weapons, cell phones, smart phones, PDAs, or any electronic devices. Personal items other than your identification are not allowed and no personal storage will be offered. Scarves, hats, jackets, etc., may be searched. Seating is assigned. The test will take 2 hours and 50 minutes; allow for up to 3 1/2 hours total time at the testing site. If you require any health-related special accommodations, these must be requested in advance. The procedures for this request are available on the GRE® ETS website.

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GRE Subject Tests