October 23, 2023

Identifying Crucial Points that Differentiate GRE from TOEFL

Studying abroad in English-speaking nations will require that you take some tests as part of your eligibility check. Among them are the GRE and TOEFL tests, which are different from each other altogether.

Most people have confused the GRE being similar to TOEFL as both these tests are standardised tests pertaining to graduate admissions. They are also both offered by Educational Testing Services (ETS) and are used to test an international student’s academic and English language capacity. It is important to identify what differentiates one from the other. In this post, we’ll take you through all the key features to help you understand the difference and significance of both these tests.

Key features of GRE

There is the General GRE test and then there is the Subject GRE test. 

The General GRE test is meant to give the admissions committee a precise understanding of the applicant’s strengths. The student’s performance in the general test provides a distinct comprehension of their critical thinking skills, analytical writing skills, and verbal and quantitative reasoning skills.

The above skills are tested as they are required in today’s demanding study programs. Therefore, it is imperative to know whether the student has developed these skills over the course of their academic years.

A detailed look into how each skill and ability is measured:

  • Analytical Writing Measure (assesses both analytical writing skills and critical thinking skills)
    • Support and articulate complex ideas with specific reasons and examples
    • Assess claims and accompanying evidence

The analytical writing test is one section divided into two tasks: the ‘analyse an issue’ task and the ‘analyse an argument’ task. The students get 30 minutes for each task, which means that the analytical writing measure is conducted for an hour.

  • Verbal Reasoning Measure
    • Assess and figure conclusions from discourse; reason from data that is incomplete; comprehend the author’s assumptions and/or perspective; figure out the literal level, figurative level, and author’s intent.
    • Choose key points; differentiate major from minor or relevant points; summarise the text; identify the structure of a text.
    • Identify the meanings of entire texts, sentences, and words. Also, comprehend the relationships among concepts and words.

The verbal reasoning test has two sections entailing 20 questions per section. Each section is given 30 minutes.

  • Quantitative Reasoning Measure

(This section involves an on-screen calculator.)

  • Understand, interpret, and analyse quantitative information.
  • Solve problems via the use of mathematical models.
  • Implement standard mathematical skills and elementary mathematical concepts of geometry, arithmetic, algebra, and data analysis.

The Quantitative section has two sections with 20 questions per section. Each set of 20 questions gets 35 minutes.

There is an unscored or research section, the number of questions and time for which can vary.

The Subject GRE Test is specific to subjects including Mathematics, Physics, and Psychology. Conducted every year in September, October, and April, the Subject GRE Test is designed and developed by committees of examiners with expertise in particular disciplines. The test measures the content taught in undergraduate study programs that is relevant to the graduate study in a specific discipline. Individuals with an undergraduate major or extensive background in the field are eligible to take these computer-driven tests.

The mathematics test comprises nearly 66 multiple-choice questions. The questions are based on Calculus, Algebra, and other relevant topics.

The physics test comprises nearly 70 multiple-choice questions. It is driven by topics ranging from Electromagnetism to Classical Mechanics, Quantum Mechanics, Thermodynamics Atomic Physics, Optics and Wave Phenomena, Special Relativity, Statistical Mechanics, Special Relativity, Laboratory Methods, and other Specialised Topics.

The psychology test comprises nearly 144 multiple-choice questions drawn from the core of knowledge learnt at the undergraduate level in the stream of psychology. While attempting the test, the student has to recall factual information, analyse relationships, apply principles, assess a research design, and draw conclusions from data.

The student needs to obtain one total score on a 200–990 score scale. The score is reported in 10-point increments. 

Key Features of TOEFL

TOEFL is an English language test that falls under TOEFL iBT or TOEFL Essentials.

TOEFL iBT is a premier test of academic English communication. This test is accepted worldwide by more than 12,000 institutions. 

The TOEFL iBT test measures four academic English skills, that include reading, speaking, listening, and writing. This test is taken in a way that helps the student prepare for how communication is done in an actual classroom when studying abroad. In the process, the student gains the confidence to stand out in foreign universities.

The test is for two hours which entails the following:

  • The reading test is conducted for nearly 35 minutes and covers 20 questions. It includes reading passages and responding to questions.
  • The listening test is conducted for 36 minutes and covers 28 questions. It answers questions about brief lectures or classroom discussions.
  • The speaking test is conducted for 16 minutes and covers 4 tasks. The test presents a familiar topic and then discusses the material read and heard by the student.
  • The writing test is conducted for 29 minutes and covers 2 tasks. This section involves reading a passage, listening to a specific recording, and typing the response. The student has to state and support an opinion in an online classroom discussion.

On the other hand, the TOEFL Essentials Test is a convenient test with a quality acceptable to universities. The Essentials test is for 1.5 hours and can be taken from home.

This test measures the four English language skills: listening, reading, speaking, and writing. The format of the test is short and engaging but is designed to stay relevant to both academic situations and everyday life.

The student has to attend four sections along with an unscored personal video statement.

This 1.5 hours test includes the following:

  • The listening test spans 21 to 34 minutes, covering 30 to 45 questions that entail answering questions about talks and conversations in different settings.
  • The reading test spans 22 to 33 minutes, covering 30 to 45 questions that entails answering questions about non-academic and short academic texts.
  • The writing test spans 24 to 30 minutes, covering 14 to 18 questions with two tasks. It pertains to building sentences and writing responses to common daily situations and academic situations.
  • The speaking test spans 13 minutes, covering 3 tasks with 19 responses that involve retelling written and spoken input, and converse with the simulated interviewer.
  • The personal video statement spans 5 minutes, covering 2 questions where the student has to respond to questions asked about themselves and their opinions. This part of the entire test is not scored.

Major Differences between GRE and TOEFL Tests

GRE and TOEFL differ in terms of the context of what is measured for the students. Let’s discover the differences between the two tests.

Feature of the Test



Level of difficulty More challenging than TOEFL – demands enhanced skills in critical reading, argument analysis, and developing a constructive argument Less challenging than the GRE test.
Duration of the tests The General GRE Test lasts for 3 hours and 45 minutes.

The Subject GRE Test lasts for 2 hours and 50 minutes.

The TOEFL iBT Test lasts for 2 hours.

The TOEFL Essentials Test lasts for 1.5 hours.

Scoring format The Quantitative and Verbal Reasoning section – Between 130 to 170

The final analytical writing – Between 0 to 6 in half-point increments.

The score range for each section – 0 to 30. 

A total TOEFL score between 90 to 100 or above is suitable for admission at top universities.

Attempts allowed Can attempt up to five times in a continuous duration of 12 months. No limited number of attempts. 
Validity GRE scores are valid for five years. TOEFL scores are valid for two years.

Other TOEFL tests are categorised as:

  • The TOEFL Primary® Tests – for students aged 8+
  • The TOEFL Junior® Tests – for students aged 11+
  • The TOEFL ITP® Assessment Series – for students aged 16+

If you’ve been planning to study abroad, seek professional guidance at Expert Education to help you understand the tests you need to take.

  1. Can I get practice papers for GRE and TOEFL?

Yes, you can visit https://www.ets.org/gre.html and https://www.ets.org/toefl.html to access the free POWERPREP® Online practice tests.

  1. What are the exam costs of GRE and TOEFL tests?

The fees vary for the GRE and TOEFL tests. GRE tests cost $231.30 for students from China. Students from other countries have to pay $220. The cost for a TOEFL test is based on the student’s country of origin.

  1. How do I apply for the GRE and TOEFL Tests?

You have to register on the page https://www.ets.org/ that is specific to the GRE or TOEFL tab on the website.

  1. What are my chances of clearing these tests?

The proper training and guidance, including your current level of knowledge, will define your chances of succeeding in the GRE or TOEFL test.

  1. Is it mandatory to take TOEFL for studying any Master’s program in the US?

Yes, TOEFL is required while applying for a Master’s program in the US.

  1. Is TOEFL harder than GRE?

TOEFL is less challenging than GRE as TOEFL is an English language test whereas GRE tests various other skills in the applicant. This ranges from critical thinking to analytical skills based on subjects like Mathematics, Physics, etc.

  1. How do I pick the right test for me: GRE or TOEFL?

GRE is usually required for graduate and doctoral studies, while TOEFL is required for most study levels. You may be required to take both based on the study level you choose.