Approach to Studying for the English Literature Graduates Records Exam

GRE Literature in English Subject Test


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Wow. A new test has finally been posted in 2010. As of last year ETS had a ten year old test posted online. While the latest practice test is the best tool for preparation, I hope you find some of the advice on this page helpful.

Check out bottom of page for recent correspondence. Love to hear about the experience at my e-mail address at the bottom of the page.

Below I've compiled notes of Official ETS tests, tests from other sources, books and resources I found useful in studying for the GRE Literature in English Subject Exam. Also on this site a (very meager) practice quiz.

Quiz with a few literature questions

Just a few questions in the quiz section. Happy to add more if you find it useful. >>GRE quiz<<

How many official ETS tests are available?


I am aware of five tests:

1. GR0764, 2010 current download from was posted online in 2010 Practice Book and still available for download in 2015.

2. GR9964 1999, download from was posted online through 2009. Though the colors and the look of the test has changed over the years, this 10 year old test has been the same one posted for years. This is the same test I received in the mail when registering and the same test in "Practicing to Take the Literature in English Test" Educational Testing Services (ETS). In August there was still a valid link at found by searching GR9964 on Google. I don't see ETS posting the document now, but if one were to search on GR9964, who knows what could be found in the wide world.

3. GR9564 1994-95* 1 of 2 in 3rd edition "Practicing to Take the Literature in English Test" (1996 ed)

4. GR9064 1989 1 of 2 in 3rd edition "Practicing to Take the Literature in English Test" (1996 ed). Only test 1 of 1 in 2nd edition "Practicing to Take the Literature in English Test" (1993 ed.)

"Practicing to Take the Literature in English Test" is an official publication of Educational Testing Services (ETS).

*If you Google: "GR9564" you may find online postings of the old practice book. Alternately you can find GR9564 on
some links off of, but searching the Internet Archive for ets and leads to many broken links, especially in ftp areas and pdf documents.

It does not appear the earlier versions of tests were available for download from ETS and so do not appear to be archived.

5. There also seems to be an additional, older test available:

"Practicing to take the GRE literature in English test ; an official full-length edition of the GRE literature in English
test administered in April 1983.
Princeton, N.J. : Published by Educational Testing Service for the Graduate Record Examinations Board, 1983."

I have not come across this 1982/1983 test for sale. It has not come up in or ebay. It has come up in online searching of libraries. I was able to get a copy from a University through an interlibrary loan from the local public library. So, if you are determined, it seems there are at least these four official tests available. Allow plenty of time for gathering materials though.

What about other GRE Literature Tests?

To stay grounded, find some measure of your progress. The only reliable measure I found were the three official ETS exams. Even the older ones, while they do no cover new material that will be on the test, will give you a good idea of your percentile ranking against those who actually sat for the test. If you do use REA Best Test for a measure of performance, be careful. I did not find that REA Best Test compared well with ETS. REA Best were harder and less relevant. I didn't see much improvement on REA, but I improved dramatically on ETS, going from aroud 35 percentile to 76 in practice and 74 on the live test.

I liked the Princeton Review test, especially with the explainations in the back, but I've only come across one version. The test seems to be recycled with each "update." Hard to find anything to compare the single test against to measure improvement. It's a great study aid, but beware of using it to assess performance on the official exam. Some, including me, have found it harder than the ETS versions.


My Experience

I scored in about the 38 percentile on the online GRE practice test GR9964 downloaded from the gre site. The only literature course I had completed in college was Introduction to Literature, and it was over twenty years ago. I studied hard for months to bring my score up. In July scored 58 percentile on another practice test in GRE Practicing to Take the Literature in English Test 3rd Edition by ETS. In November I scored 76% on the second test in the same book. My score on the December ETS exam was 74%. Older test won't capture newer material, but with that in mind, ETS practice test seemed to be a good indicator for me.

Book List -- Study Resouces I Used

Pictured below is my booklist, excluding free sources available on the Internet. Pictures are linked to Amazon online bookstore. Purchases through the links below will help maintain this site.

Click on Images or "Masterplots" text to order from Amazon.
Masterplots: 1,801 Plot Stories and Critical Evaluations of the World's Finest Literature (12 Volume Set)
I also refreshed my mind on the Iliad and the Odyssey. I picked up an audio tape version of the Illiad from a friend. I already had an unabridged tape set of the Odyssey. Listening to the Homer on audio helped me with the feel for the meter and provided a nice break from the books.

A few resources I found helpful
in preparing for the test:

Live Journal/litgre

Vade Mecum: A GRE for Literature Study Tool

New site I wish was there while I was studying.

Hapax Legomena

GRE Literature Review

English Literature gre, A Guide Prepared by Skylar H. Burris

BA in 4 Weeks, There is some good advice on approaching the subject exams.

ETS GRE main site at

ETS FTP address for all GRE documents was but does not seem to be available anymore.

Site for plot summaries

Norton Anthologies of Literature

Not a substitute for the hard copy texts, but great excerpts and quizes.

Great Timelines Site

Best source for used study material was

And here is a cool resource I came across after the test:

Grammar Check checks for grammar and spelling mistakes, and gives instant feedback and... is free.

Thank you Carole Fegan for suggesting: The site says, " is the original and largest literature study guide search engine on the web.


During my daily commute I listened to lecture. Great overview of English Literature is "Introduction to English Literature." Get the longer (12 hour) version.

Masterplots was a "must have" for me. A full multi-volume set can be expensive. I located a cheap 1963 version on e-Bay. The short plot summaries and character lists were very helpful. Most would recommend reading Masterplots at the library. I paid about $25 for my 15 volume set from e-Bay, including shipping.

I have a variety of Nortons Anthologies--Classical, Middle Ages, American, two volumes of English.

For excerpts of older stuff there is Project Gutenberg. Reading passages of full text novels helped me get the feel for an author's style. Electronic Text Center at the University of Virginia Library is also a great resource.

The three ETS practice tests, "Cracking the GRE" and old REA book with six tests.

The Complete Idiot's Guide to American Literature was an easy read.

On the back shelf, behind the more useful books were...Bullfinch's Myths, and Jack Rudman's book, and a bunch of ETS material that duplicates infomation in other versions. Thanks God for e-bay and No way I could've accumulated half the books (Masterplots aside) at retail.

A few general purpose resources I found helpful:

The "Way Back Machine" at is great for following broken links for information that has moved or is not longer posted.

Wikipedia, "the free encyclopedia that anyone can edit."

Quiz Buddy from was a handy tool. One technique I used for absorbing information was loading terms into a quizing program. I used Quiz Buddy because it has an application for my Palm Pilot. It was great for learning timeline related material such as the dates for reigning monarchs. Quiz Buddy was *not* the easiest application to learn, but I found it very useful. Great way to run pop quizes throughout the day.

Online quizes include

The Tongue Untied, A Guide to Grammar Punctuation and Style.
Especially helpful was the Interactive Verb Quiz 1.

Also watching some DVD versions of Shakespeare. Probably a waste of time for sole purpose of GRE Lit, but won't hurt. May help. It beats staring at a blank tv screen, which is about what I'm ready for at the end of the day.

Which Norton Anthologies are most helpful?

I found the these four volumes of Nortons essential:

English Literature as two volumes
American Literature as two volumes

I also opted for Middle Ages and Classical volumes because 1) I wanted to go more in-depth 2) I was interested in the subjects and 3) because I found cheap used copies, mostly at

I did not read them cover to cover. I did read most of the overview of time periods and schools of writers. I also read samples from major authors. If an author was mentioned in Princeton Review or some of the websites I've come across I would use the Norton's to help identify the author's work.

Save watching the movies and reading the novels for after the test, though. You'll cover lot more from plot summaries and anthologies. When you've finished the test, then you can reward yourself with a good book or by watching BBC Shakespeare DVDs.

Back to Quiz Main page

If you made it this far, I would love to hear if this page was helpful.


"The only copies of the ETS publication I have found ("GRE: Practicing to take the Literature in English Test") cost upwards of $200. I cannot seem to find it for sale on the ETS website, so I have no way of knowing if this is in fact the staggeringly high retail price, or if there are just so few copies that this is what people can charge for them. Is this book worth $200??? (Nor can I find it at a library.)

If you have the time, I would be very grateful for any advice--thanks so much! John"


Hi John,

Thanks for the inquiry. $200 sounds like a lot of money for the books. I would guess that the price will fluctuate during the year with the higher prices demanded just prior to the testing dates, though looks like ETS may no longer be publishing the book.
When I was preparing for the test, I found the availability
went up and down and that I had to act quickly.

Is it worth $200? Hard to say. It wouldn't have been worth that much to me. I took the GRE subject exam for undergraduate course credit. I suppose the books would be worth for someone is looking for admission into a highly competitive graduate program,.

A 1990 version is currently available on for $8 to $35.
Also has a version for about $10. I haven't used ecampus so can't recommend them, but the price looks good.

The best deal for me was ordering one of the rarer books from a university library. I don't think I spent more that $20 per book.

A few of the tests can be found on the Internet, though, except for the ETS site, I don't know that the site are authorized to post the material.

Latest practice test is available from ETS is GR9964

One could search for a critical term, such as "GR9564"
and look for pdf files.

Hope this helps.

Good luck with your test preparation.

I'm glad you found the information at helpful.


I liked the Princeton Review test, especially with the explainations in the back, but I've only come across one version. The test seems to be recycled with each "update." Hard to find anything to compare the single test against to measure improvement. It's a great study aid, but beware of using it to assess performance on the official exam. Some, including me, have found it harder than the ETS versions.

Thank you, those who have taken the time to update me or point out corrections.
It's been years since I took the GRE subject exam and have not kept as current as a few years ago.

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