Literature in English GRE Subject Test: What’s tested?

The Literature in English GRE Subject Test, according to ETS, contains “approximately 230 questions on poetry, drama, biography, the essay, the short story, the novel, criticism, literary theory and the history of the language.” The test is entirely multiple-choice, and the number of questions you answer correctly is converted to a number on a 200-990 point scale. 
The majority of questions on the Literature in English GRE Subject Test deal with literature from the British Isles, the United States, and other parts of the world. There may also be questions about works translated into English from other languages. The duration of the test is 2 hours and 50 minutes. 

Types of Questions on the Literature in English GRE Subject Test

This test is made up entirely of multiple-choice questions. Questions on the Literature in English GRE Subject Test fall into two categories: factual and analytical. Factual questions may ask you to identify a piece of information about a work, such as the title, author, or time period. Analytical questions may ask you to read a passage and answer questions about its meaning, form, language, or literary techniques. 
Often, both factual and analytical questions will be based off of a literary passage, either replicated in its entirety or excerpted. 

Content Tested on the Literature in English GRE Subject Test

According to ETS, the breakdown of content tested on the Literature in English GRE Subject Test is as follows:
  • Literary Analysis (40-55%)

    Prose and poetry interpretation. You’ll be given a passage to work with and coinciding questions about form, genre conventions, rhetorical strategies, and literary devices, among other topics.

  • Identification (15-20%)

    Recognition of author, date, style, and/or work from a given passage.

  • Cultural and Historical Contexts (20-25%)

    Identification of an author or work based on biographical information or statement, knowledge of “literary, cultural, and intellectual history.”

  • History and Theory of Literary Criticism (10-15%)

    Knowledge of “various critical and theoretical approaches.”

The literary-historical scope of the exam is as follows:
CategoryPercentage of Exam
Continental, Classical, and Comparative Literature through 19255-10%
British Literature to 1660 (including Milton)25-30%
British Literature 1660-192525-35%
American Literature through 192515-25%
American, British, and World Literatures after 192520-30%

How to Prepare for the Literature in English GRE Subject Test

The best way to prepare for the Literature in English GRE Subject Test is to review your notes from college-level English courses. This is not a test in which cramming will be an effective means of preparing; rather, it is designed to test knowledge gained over a long period of time. Ideally, notes, syllabi, and textbooks from literature courses you have taken will provide you with a framework for what to review for the exam. 
Taking a practice Literature in English GRE Subject Test is also highly recommended, as it will give you experience with the types of questions you’ll see on test day. A practice exam is available from ETS

Test-Taking Tips for the Literature in English GRE Subject Test

  • Since all questions are weighted equally and no points are subtracted for incorrect answers, it’s important to answer every question on the exam. If you don’t know an answer, make an educated guess. 
  • Consider working through the test quickly and answering only the questions about which you feel confident, and then going through a second time to answer the rest of the questions. This will ensure that you don’t get bogged down part way through the test and fail to answer questions at the end. 
  • Read all directions carefully. 
  • Feel free to take notes and organize your thoughts in your test booklet, but remember to mark your answers clearly on your answer sheet; answers marked in your test booklet will not be counted towards your score.

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