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The Graduate Record Exam (GRE) - What to Expect

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The Graduate Record Exam (GRE) is a standardized test required for acceptance into some graduate schools. While the GRE is required for most advanced degree programs, check the requirements of the school you are applying to to make sure they require it. If you are seeking entry into medical school, business school, or law school, you do not have to take the GRE. Each of these programs requires a specific test (medical – MCAT; business – GMAT; law – LSAT).

The GRE is supposed to show how advanced your critical thinking skills are. Because it doesn’t examine any specific area of study, you can’t really study for it the way you can other tests. Even though you can’t predict exactly what will be on the test, knowing what to expect will definitely give you an advantage.

The GRE tests your verbal, quantitative, and analytical skills. Think of these as language, math, and thinking skills. A question will be presented and you’ll have to pick the one correct answer out of the five available choices (four choices in the quantitative section). You will receive a score ranging from 200 to 800 for each section. These scores will be sent to the graduate schools you designate.

  • The Verbal Section

The verbal section of the GRE requires you to either read passages and synthesize information from them, or prove that you know word definitions. You’ll have 30 minutes to complete 30 questions. There are four different types of questions you’ll encounter:

  • Reading comprehension: You’ll read several paragraphs about a topic and answer questions about it.
  • Sentence completion: You’ll be presented with a sentence with a missing word, and you pick which word best completes the sentence.
  • Analogies: You’ll be given two words that have a relationship with each other, and you’ll have to pick another pair of words that have the same type of relationship.
  • Antonyms: You’ll be given a word and you’ll have to pick the word that is the most opposite. Below are a few hints that can help you out: Study vocabulary words that commonly appear on the GRE. Check preparation materials for lists of these words.

The most important thing to do with analogy questions is to turn the relationship between the two words into a sentence. Some of the most common relationships to look for are: part to whole, cause to effect, person to occupation, word to definition, and synonyms.

Antonyms can be tough because you have no context to work from. You either know the word or you don’t. If you come across a word you don’t know, try to pick the word apart. If part of the word looks familiar, use that information to try to guess at an answer. Try to get a sense of the mood of the word. If you don’t know what the word means, you can often tell if it’s negative or positive.

Before you look for possible answers for the sentence completions, try to fill in the sentence with your own word. Use the context of the sentence to choose an answer. Look for words like nevertheless, although, and moreover for clues. If the sentence has two blanks, make sure that both words work.

For the reading comprehension section, read the passage carefully and read all of the choices before picking an answer

  • The Mathematical Section

The mathematical section tests your math skills. The questions don’t generally exceed the high school level. Math questions test your ability to reason quantitatively and solve problems. You will need to use basic algebra and geometry. You will be given 45 minutes to complete 28 questions. There are two types of math questions:

  • Five-option questions: These problems ask a question and provide five options from which to select the correct answer.
  • Quantitative comparison: You will be provided with two quantities. You have to decide which of the two is a bigger number, if the two are equal, or if you don’t have enough information to say for sure. These questions can be intimidating because of the unfamiliar structure, but they’re really not that tough.

To ace the math section, you merely have to brush up on very specific math skills: algebra, fractions, percentages, geometry, and data analysis (reading graphs). Use the process of elimination. Use the scratch paper that is provided.

  • The Analytical Section

The analytical section tests your ability to understand relationships and deduce information. Most of these questions are “brainteasers.” This is a 60-minute section with 35 questions.

The biggest problem people have with the analytical questions is not that they’re hard, but that they take too much time. When you read the rules to a logic problem, immediately write down all of the rules down on your scratch paper before answering the question. Find the connections between the rules and map it all out.

Never assume anything unless you’re explicitly told it’s so. The analytical section tests whether you jump to unfounded assumptions or not. Follow exactly what the rules tell you to do.

There are three more things you’ll have to contend with:

  • A computer tutorial
  • An experimental section This will appear to be an additional verbal, quantitative, or analytical test, but it is not scored. You will not know which test is real and which is experimental. Answer all questions to the best of your ability.
  • A research section This is an optional section – you don’t have to take it. It will not be scored. You may be offered some type of reward for completing it.

The GRE is currently administered on a computer (the computer-adapted test – CAT). Because of this, there are some things to keep in mind:

  • The CAT only shows one question at a time. You have to answer the question in front of you. You can’t skip it.
  • The questions you get depend on whether you got the previous one correct or not. If you get a question right, the next question will be a little harder. If you get a question wrong, the next question will be easier. The tougher questions are worth more points. You will get a better score by answering the hard questions correctly.
  • Once you answer a question, you can’t go back and change your answer. Try to be efficient and go with your gut.
  • You find out your GRE score right away. You no longer have to wait 5 weeks to get your scores.
  • The CAT does not penalize you for wrong answers. Guess on the questions you can’t easily answer. NEVER leave a question blank.

You can take the GRE at almost any point in the year. To register, you can call 1-800-GRE-CALL (1-800-473-2255). Call well before your chosen test date – registration is first come, first serve. There are numerous locations available to take the GRE. Use the contact number above for location information. The cost to take the GRE is currently $130. Fee waivers are possible. You will incur additional charges to take the writing test or the subject tests.


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