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About the GRE TEST and GRE EXAM


The GRE is an aptitude test. Like all aptitude tests, it must choose a medium in which to measure intellectual ability. The GRE has chosen math and English.

The question is--does it measure aptitude for graduate school? The GRE's ability to predict performance in school is as poor as the SAT's. This is to be expected since the tests are written by the same company (ETS) and are similar. The GRE's verbal section, however, is significantly harder (more big words), and, surprisingly, the GRE's math section is slightly easier. The GRE also includes a writing section that the SAT does not.

No test can measure all aspects of intelligence. Thus any admission test, no matter how well written, is inherently inadequate. Nevertheless, some form of admission testing is necessary. It would be unfair to base acceptance to graduate school solely on grades; they can be misleading. For instance, would it be fair to admit a student with an A average earned in easy classes over a student with a B average earned in difficult classes? A school's reputation is too broad a measure to use as admission criteria: many students seek out easy classes and generous instructors, in hopes of inflating their GPA. Furthermore, a system that would monitor the academic standards of every class would be cost prohibitive and stifling. So until a better system is proposed, the admission test is here to stay.


The GRE is approximately three hours long. Only two-hours-and-thirty minutes of the test count toward your score--the experimental section is not scored.

Section Number of Questions Length
Verbal about 6 Sentence Completions 30 minutes
  about 7 Analogies  
  about 8 Reading Comprehension  
  about 9 Antonyms  
Math about 14 Quantitative Comparisons 45 minutes
  about 9 Multiple Choice  
  about 5 Graphs  
Writing Present Your Perspective on an Issue 75 minutes
  Analyze an Argument  
Experimental Verbal or Math ?? minutes

The experimental section can be a verbal section or a math section. You won't know which section is experimental. You will know which type of section it is, though, since there will be an extra one of that type.

Because the "bugs" have not been worked out of the experimental section--or, to put it more directly, because you are being used as a guinea pig to work out the "bugs"--this portion of the test is often more difficult and confusing than the other parts.

Knowing that the experimental section can be disproportionately difficult, if you do poorly on a particular section you can take some solace in the hope that it may have been the experimental section. In other words, do not allow one difficult section to discourage your performance on the rest of the test.


Although time is limited on the GRE, working too quickly can damage your score. Many problems hinge on subtle points, and most require careful reading of the setup. Because undergraduate school puts such heavy reading loads on students, many will follow their academic conditioning and read the questions quickly, looking only for the gist of what the question is asking. Once they have found it, they mark their answer and move on, confident they have answered it correctly. Later, many are startled to discover that they missed questions because they either misread the problems or overlooked subtle points.

To do well in your undergraduate classes, you had to attempt to solve every, or nearly every, problem on a test. Not so with the GRE. In fact, if you try to solve every problem on the test you will probably damage your score. For the vast majority of people, the key to performing well on the GRE is not the number of questions they solve, within reason, but the percentage they solve correctly.

On the GRE, the first question will be of medium difficulty. If you answer it correctly, the next question will be a little harder. If you answer it incorrectly, the next question will be a little easier. Because the CAT "adapts" to your performance, early questions are more important than later ones. In fact, by about the fifth or sixth question the test believes that it has a general measure of your score, say, 500-600. The rest of the test is determining whether your score should be say 550 or 560. Because of the importance of the first five questions to your score, you should read and solve these questions slowly and carefully. Allot nearly one-third of the time for each section to the first five questions. Then work progressively faster as you work toward the end of the section.


The three major parts of the test are scored independently. You will receive a verbal score, a math score, and a writing score. The verbal and math scores range from 200 to 800. The writing score is on a scale from 0 to 6. In addition to the scaled score, you will be assigned a percentile ranking, which gives the percentage of students with scores below yours.


On the test, you cannot skip questions; each question must be answered before moving to the next question. However, if you can eliminate even one of the answer-choices, guessing can be advantageous. Unfortunately, you cannot return to previously answered questions.

On the test, your first question will be of medium difficulty. If you answer it correctly, the next question will be a little harder. If you again answer it correctly, the next question will be harder still, and so on. If your GRE skills are strong and you are not making any mistakes, you should reach the medium-hard or hard problems by about the fifth problem. Although this is not very precise, it can be quite helpful. Once you have passed the fifth question, you should be alert to subtleties in any seemingly simple problems.

Often students become obsessed with a particular problem and waste time trying to solve it. To get a top score, learn to cut your losses and move on. The exception to this rule is the first five questions of each section. Because of the importance of the first five questions to your score, you should read and solve these questions slowly and carefully.

If you are running out of time, randomly guess on the remaining questions. This is unlikely to harm your score. In fact, if you do not obsess about particular questions (except for the first five), you probably will have plenty of time to solve a sufficient number of questions.

Because the total number of questions answered contributes to the calculation of your score, you should answer ALL the questions--even if this means guessing randomly before time runs out.

THE "2 OUT OF 5" RULE for GRE Tests

It is significantly harder to create a good but incorrect answer-choice than it is to produce the correct answer. For this reason usually only two attractive answer-choices are offered. One correct; the other either intentionally misleading or only partially correct. The other three answer-choices are usually fluff. This makes educated guessing on the GRE immensely effective. If you can dismiss the three fluff choices, your probability of answering the question successfully will increase from 20% to 50%.


When is the GRE test given?

The test is given year-round. You can take the test during normal business hours, in the first three weeks of each month. Weekends are also available in many locations. You can register as late as the day before the test, but spaces do fill up. So it's best to register a couple of weeks before you plan to take the test.

How important is the GRE test and how is it used?

It is crucial! Although graduate schools may consider other factors, the vast majority of admission decisions are based on only two criteria: your GRE score and your GPA.

How many times should I take the GRE test?

Most people are better off preparing thoroughly for the test, taking it one time and getting their top score. You can take the test as many times you like, but many graduate schools will average your scores. You should call the schools to which you are applying to find out their policy. Then plan your strategy accordingly.

Can I cancel my score on the GRE test?

Yes. You can cancel your score immediately after the test but before you see your score. You can take the GRE only once a month.

Where can I get the registration forms for the GRE test?

Most colleges and universities have the forms. You can also get them directly from ETS by writing to:

Graduate Record Examinations
Educational Testing Service
P. O. Box 6020
Princeton, NJ 08541-6020

Or call:

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