Overview of the GRE
Information compiled by the GradSchools.com team - last updated August 2010
The Graduate Record Examinations (GRE) General Test is a multiple-choice admission test for applicants to graduate schools. The GRE is a computer-adaptive test (CAT), consisting of three core scored sections, and possibly a few variable sections:
- Two essays to be written on the computer: Analysis of an Argument and Analysis of an Issue (introduced in October 2002)
- One 45-minute, 28-question Math section: Problem Solving and Quantitative Comparison
- One 30-minute,30-question Verbal section: Sentence Completions, Antonyms, Analogies, and Reading Comprehension
There may also be a marketing survey or one or two experimental Verbal or Quantitative sections.
What a CAT is and how it works
A CAT is a computer-adaptive test, which means that software calculates your score based on: the number of questions you answer correctly, the difficulty of the questions you answer, and the number of questions you complete. When you take the GRE CAT, you will begin each section with a medium-level question and a score of 500. If you answer the question correctly, the computer will raise your score and give you a harder question. If you answer the question incorrectly, your score will decrease and you will be given an easier question. The process repeats for each question in the section to arrive at your final score for that section.
The Analytical Writing section is scored on a scale of 0 to 6. Each of the multiple-choice sections is scored on a scale of 200 to 800. The average scores for the GRE are about 470 for Verbal and 570 for Quantitative. Many students want to know how important their GRE scores will be in determining their entrance into the school of their choice. It really depends on the school. Some schools view them as a necessary but minor part of the process while other schools place a much heavier emphasis on the scores. The best way to determine this is by studying their admissions requirements and speaking to a representative of the program to which you intend to apply. Either way, it is important to keep in mind that your scores are a major factor in determining eligibility for financial aid.
Preparing for the GRE
Prepare? Perhaps you are thinking that having gone through a barrage of standardized tests in your past and having completed a college education there should be no need to prepare. The answer is yes and no. First, it always is helpful to know and have practiced the format of a test before walking in the door so that you can spend less time deciphering directions and more time answering questions. Second, there are likely to be some questions (particularly in the math section) that look rather alien unless you have prepared. Most of us learned our basic Algebra and Geometry by the end of high school, yet much of that information may have trickled out of our brains as we crammed in other information. Brush up. As one test taker put it, "If you know Calculus but forgot fractions - you are in trouble!"
One good source to prepare for the GRE is www.gre.org. They have a variety of programs available either FREE or for a small sum that will not only allow you to practice the types of multiple-choice questions you will experience on the GRE, but also provide opportunities to write and submit essays for scoring and feedback so that you can pinpoint the areas you need to work on to improve your scores.
If you are looking for more advanced help, you can access a number of on-line test prep services. They offer varying levels of test preparation including regular classes, online classes, or private tutoring, to help you to improve your test taking skills and prepare you for everything you will face on the GRE. And there are plenty of other resources available on the topic; most bookstores have several books available with both tips for test takers and practice exams in hardcopy, supplemental CD, or website. Do not get overwhelmed, but do take the time to prepare yourself so that you know what to expect going into the test.
In all of your preparations it is important to remember to allow yourself enough time before your application deadlines to schedule a date to take the GRE, study, take the test, and still leave enough time (up to four weeks) for the scores to the school. While it would be unreasonable to expect testing to be fun, at least, if you have taken time to prepare, you should feel satisfied that you have worked hard and will do well on your test. Good luck!
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