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The GRE Literature in English Test is a standardized test administered by the Educational Testing Service. It is intended to evaluate applicants seeking admission to a graduate program in English Studies. The test surveys a wide range of topics related to literature in English, but the focus is on works long accepted as part of the canon.

Graduate Record Examination
(Literature in English Subject Test)
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TypePaper-based standardized test[1]
Developer / administratorEducational Testing Service
Knowledge / skills testedUndergraduate level English:
  • Literary analysis
  • Literary history
  • Literary criticism[2]
PurposeAdmissions in graduate programs (e.g. M.A. and Ph.D.) in English (mostly in universities in the United States).
Year started(?) ((?))
Duration2 hours and 50 minutes[3]
Score / grade range200 to 990, in 10-point increments[4]
Score / grade validity5 years[5]
Offered3 times a year, in September, October and April.[6]
Countries / regionsWorldwide
Annual number of test takers~2,500-3,500 yearly
Prerequisites / eligibility criteriaNo official prerequisite. Intended for English bachelor degree graduates or undergraduate students about to graduate. Fluency in English assumed.
FeeUS$ 150[7]
(Limited offers of "Fee Reduction Program" for U.S. citizens or resident aliens who demonstrate financial need, and for national programs in the USA that work with underrepresented groups.[8])
Scores / grades used byEnglish departments offering graduate programs (mostly in universities in the United States).

Scores are scaled and then reported as a number between 200 and 800; however, in recent versions of the test, the maximum and minimum reported scores have been 760 (corresponding to the 99 percentile) and 320 (1 percentile) respectively. The mean score for all test takers from July, 2009, to July, 2012, was 549 with a standard deviation of 99.[9]

Content specificationEdit

The test contains 230 questions, grouped in four broad categories. Since many students who apply to graduate programs in English do so during the first half of their fourth year, the scope of most questions is largely that of the first three years of a standard American undergraduate English curriculum. A sampling of test item content is given below:

Literary analysis (40-55%)Edit

  • Conventions and genres
  • Allusions and references
  • Meaning and tone
  • Grammar and rhetoric
  • Literary techniques

Identification (15-20%)Edit

This section tests the ability of examinees to perform recognition of date, author or work by style and/or content. The literary-historical scope of the test is as follows:

  • Continental, classical and comparative literature through 1925 (5-10%)
  • British literature through 1660 (including John Milton) (25-30%)
  • British literature from 1660 to 1925 (25-30%)
  • American literature through 1925 (15-25%)
  • Literature in English after 1925 (20-30%)

Cultural and historical contexts (20-25%)Edit

  • Literary history
  • Cultural history
  • Identification of details in a work

Literary criticism (10-15%)Edit

Identification and analysis of the characteristics and methods of various critical and theoretical approaches.

See alsoEdit