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What is Included on the Literature GRE&Reg;?

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  • Written By: Abrielle Lynch
  • Edited By: Amanda L. Wardle
  • Last Modified Date: 02 November 2016
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The literature graduate record examination (GRE®) tests a candidate's understanding and knowledge of literature and literary subjects. Though individual test questions and subjects vary, each includes about 230 questions. The test is comprised of four major topics, including literary analysis, cultural and historical contexts, identification, and history and theory of literary criticism. Individuals may be assessed on their knowledge of poetry, drama, biography, essays, short stories, and other related topics.

The most substantial section of the literature GRE® focuses on literary analysis. This portion centers on the candidate's understanding of and ability to interpret both prose and poetry texts. Questions included in the literary analysis section may address such related issues as technique, meaning and tone, rhetorical strategy, allusion, and grammatical structure. The total score for the literary analysis questions comprises between 40 and 55 percent of the total score for the literature GRE®.

Around 20 to 25 percent of the total score of the literature GRE® addresses cultural and historical context. Such questions may require the candidate to identify an author or literary work from a passage of text or short biographical sketch. Some of the questions in this portion may also ask test takers to provide details of a piece of literature, such as a character, plot, or setting aspects.

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The literature GRE® also involves questions related to identification. Candidates may be asked to identify a literary date, an author, or a work of literature through recognition of content or style. Identification questions make up approximately 15 to 20 percent of the total test score.

The final 10 to 15 percent of questions on the test relate to history and theory of criticism. Such questions may review critical approaches to literature. They may also require that test takers examine various theoretical issues as they relate to literary technique. Questions in this arena should not be underestimated as an integral part of the literature GRE® despite their smaller number.

A great majority of the material tested in the literature GRE® is either American or British literature. Test questions may address modern literature, but may also test candidates' knowledge of historical texts dating back to 1660. World literature after 1925 may be tested. Rarely, continental, classical, and comparative literature through 1925 will be included on the test, generally in smaller examples or selected parts of larger examples.

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