Tips for Preparing for the GRE

Do you have to take the GRE? Here are some things you should know about this grad school entrance exam.

What is the GRE?

Female college grad student smiling outside the admissions officeLike the SAT for undergraduate applicants, the GRE, a standardized test required for admission to many graduate schools, measures a student’s potential for achievement in advanced studies. Different programs and schools weigh a student’s GRE results differently, and some even weigh certain sections of the exam more heavily than others. For example, a school considering an applicant for a literature program would likely focus more closely on the Verbal section than the Quantitative section. As with any competitive academic exam, preparation is key.

The GRE Revised General Test – a more user-friendly exam

A 2011 overhaul of the GRE made the exam more user friendly. For example, the analogies section was eliminated, and an online calculator for the math portion of the exam was added. Now taken either on a computer or on paper, unlike most standardized tests today, the GRE exam allows test takers to skip a question and come back and change their answers.

For students who want to repeat the exam to improve their scores, there’s good news there, too.  The revised GRE allows the applicant to send only the scores they want to use to the colleges or universities of choice. This option, called ScoreSelect, allows test takers who repeat the exam to use only their best scores.

How is the GRE structured?

Here’s how the exam breaks down. It consists of three parts: Verbal Reasoning, Quantitative Reasoning and Analytical Writing.

GRE Verbal Reasoning

This portion of the exam is broken into two 30-minute segments, each with three different types of questions:

  • Reading Comprehension. This section requires test takers to read a short passage about the sciences, humanities or everyday topics and answer multiple-choice questions about their content. There are also “select-in-passage” questions that ask the reader to find a sentence that matches given characteristics.
  • Text Completion. These questions present a short passage with blanks and several choices of words to fill in the blanks. Students choose the vocabulary that best completes the sentences in a meaningful way.
  • Sentence Equivalence. These questions present a single sentence with one blank and six possible words to complete the sentence. Students choose two choices that best complete the sentence. No partial credit is given.

GRE Quantitative Reasoning

This segment is also broken into two 30-minute segments, each with four types of questions:

  • Quantitative Comparison. Two quantities are given, usually in the form of an algebraic equation or geometric shape. Students must determine whether Option A is greater than, less than or equal to Option B, or not determined. The math is basic high school level algebra and geometry.
  • Multiple Choice: Single Answer. Students choose just one of five options to solve these math problems or analyze data sets.
  • Multiple Choice: One or More Answers. Students choose all correct choices to solve the problem. The problem may or may not designate the number of correct answers available.
  • Numeric Entry. More challenging than multiple choice, test takers have to calculate an answer rather than choose from a list. They enter a numeral into a box to solve a problem or analyze a data set.

GRE Analytical Writing

This portion of the test requires two separate essays, each of which allow 30 minutes to complete:

  • Analyze an Issue. Students are presented with an issue statement that they then discuss in an essay, perhaps presenting multiple points of view, explaining the reasoning of the arguments or defending their own position on the issue at hand.
  • Analyze an Argument. Students read a short passage and write a response to the reasoning used in the argument presented. Test takers may be asked to point out weaknesses in the argument, provide an alternative solution or examine the writer’s biases.

The GRE Subject Tests

In addition to the core exam, some graduate programs require an additional subject test that measures achievement in specific areas of study. Here’s a list of the subject tests available. Be sure to check for any subject test requirements of any programs to which you plan to apply.

Preparing for the GRE

The first advice we always give is to start your preparation early enough so you are not rushed. We usually recommend to start at least 8-12 weeks prior to your scheduled exam date. A good preparation plan will include several elements:

  • a diagnostic test to see where your strengths and weaknesses lie
  • appropriate concept review material and exercises, especially where needed to strengthen your weak areas
  • completing a lot of practice problems from each section
  • at least one full practice exam to get comfortable with timing and format

Z Prep! Test Prep Services offers individualized GRE test prep services for students that provide you with the expert help of an experienced tutor, and an individualized tutoring and study plan to help you stay on track and optimize your test results. Give us a call for help preparing for your upcoming GRE exam.