What the GRE Test Is and How to Prepare

The Graduate Record Examination (GRE) is a graduate school entry exam that has an impact on admissions decisions.
Experts urge aspiring graduate students who avoid preparing for tests to avoid cramming for the Graduate Record Exam, GRE because earning a good score on this graduate school entrance exam without significant preparation is tough.

“A lot of our students, particularly those still in undergrad, will say, ‘Oh, generally I’ll study for a test over the weekend and… be all set,'” says Dennis Yim, Kaplan’s director of live online courses. “This isn’t an exam like that… The most important thing for pupils to understand is that it’s not simply about the subject; memorising hundreds of vocabulary items and going over math topics they haven’t seen since high school isn’t enough. You must be able to put that to use and solve problems in the present.”

Students who plan to take the GRE, according to Yim, should take timed practice exams and examine their results so that they are confident enough to ace the exam when it matters. He responds, “You have to be at ease.” “When we get dramatic, we call it ‘crisis prevention,’ and what it boils down to is a student’s capacity to perform at their highest level when the pressure is on and the time restrictions are real.”

What Is the GRE General Test?

The GRE General Test is a standardised test meant to assess overall intellectual preparedness for graduate school and administered by the Educational Testing Service, sometimes known as ETS. Some graduate programmes require applicants to take the GRE General Test as well as a GRE Subject Test, which tests technical knowledge in a specific area such as physics, psychology, or mathematics.

The GRE general examination, according to Andrew Selepak, programme coordinator for the master’s in social media at the University of Florida, is comparable to the SAT college entrance exam in that it examines math, reading, and writing skills.

GRE Subject Tests

Subject tests on the GRE are content-based exams that examine a person’s knowledge of a certain field of studies, such as biology or psychology. Each is intended for students who have majored in or studied the exam subject intensively. A grad school applicant might take a math subject test to demonstrate quantitative skills to grad schools in subjects like computer science or economics, where numerical competence is required.

Subject tests can assist grad school students “stand out from other applicants” by proving their “knowledge and skill level” within a particular academic topic, according to the ETS website’s “GRE Subject Tests” section. A subject test is provided in the following six fields:

  • Biology.
  • Chemistry.
  • Literature in English.
  • Mathematics.
  • Physics.
  • Psychology.

For each discipline test, ETS provides free digital practice books. Before taking a GRE subject test, a person should understand and study the content listed below.

Biology. It concentrates on three parts of biology: cellular and molecular biology, evolution and ecology, and organismal biology, each of which accounts for around a third of the exam questions.
Chemistry. This exam involves knowledge of all four major categories of chemistry as well as the relationships between them. Analytical chemistry, inorganic chemistry, organic chemistry, and physical chemistry are the four focus areas, with the latter two receiving more attention.

English-language literature. The exam requires you to demonstrate your literary analysis skills. Recognizing and accurately identifying literary works, contextualising a piece of literature based on its historical or cultural background, and knowing the history and theory of literary criticism are also required to pass this test.

Mathematics. About half of the exam is dedicated to calculus, while the remaining quarter is dedicated to algebra and number theory. The subsequent questions cover a variety of subjects that are normally covered in an undergraduate math course.

Physics. Optics and wave phenomena; thermodynamics and statistical mechanics; classical mechanics; electromagnetic; quantum mechanics; atomic physics; special relativity; and laboratory methods are common topics in this exam. Questions on specialist physics areas such as nuclear and particle physics are also included, however, the particular topics covered vary per exam.

Psychology. This exam comprises questions on biological, cognitive, social, developmental, clinical, and measurement and technique themes, as well as questions on six areas of psychology.

How Does the GRE General Test Compare to a GRE Subject Test?

According to Yim, the general test assesses critical thinking abilities that can be applied across disciplines, but the subject test is used to gauge how well a person knows a certain academic subject.

“Expect to employ more strategy than content in the overall test,” he advises, “whereas… when it comes to subject tests, a lot more content-based knowledge is necessary.”

“Unlike the GRE general test, which is taken virtually every day of the year,” Mary Richter, an instructor with the Manhattan Prep test prep organisation, wrote in an email, “subject tests are administered only a few times per year.” She advises against studying for both a general and a subject test at the same time.

“For the normal GRE, we often advise students to study for two to four months,” she explains. “Allow yourself some breathing room if you need to take a topic test, and then prepare for the subject test. When deciding when to take each exam, keep application deadlines in mind.”

One significant distinction between the general test and the subject tests, according to Richter, is that subject tests are frequently “self-paced,” meaning that test-takers have the freedom to decide how much time to set aside for each segment.

According to Alberto Acereda, executive director of ETS’s GRE and college programmes, studying for a specialised test is similar to studying for a broad test. “Similar to the General Test, students should familiarise themselves with the test material and format in order to know what to expect on test day,” Acereda noted in an email.

At-Home Version of the GRE General Test

ETS introduced an at-home version of the GRE general test in response to the coronavirus pandemic and numerous social distancing measures. The at-home GRE is “here to stay,” according to the ETS website, and appointments are “available around the clock, seven days a week.”

Acereda claims that one advantage of the at-home GRE is that it allowed participants to take the exam “in the comfort of their own homes” during the COVID-19 pandemic. “This version of the GRE test has allowed students to continue their educational journeys without interruption by allowing them to complete their application requirements during a time when in-person testing for the GRE and other higher education assessments was not as easily available,” he says.

In an email, Acereda added, “The GRE General Test taken at home is identical in content, structure, on-screen experience, scoring, and pricing to the GRE General Test taken at a test centre.” “The at-home test is administered on a test-personal taker’s computer and is overseen by a human proctor via ProctorU. All of the exam functions that are available in a test centre, such as previewing, reviewing, skipping questions, and changing answers, are also available while testing from home.”

The at-home version of the GRE general test and the test centre version are very similar, according to Yim. “That means it’s most likely worth it to keep yourself on schedule if you’ve been studying for the GRE and were planned to take it soon,” he stated in an email.

It’s critical to have things on hand for the GRE at home, according to Yim. “That involves getting a whiteboard or translucent sheets, as well as a couple of fresh markers, ahead of time.”

To reduce the chance of connectivity issues, Tyler Johnson, a GRE instructor with Manhattan Prep, recommends that at-home GRE test takers use a connected internet connection rather than wireless. They should also take the test in the most private and quiet environment possible.

“Keeping it private is key because ETS emphasises making sure you’re the only person in the room to minimise cheating,” he adds. “If you have roommates, a child, or someone who might inadvertently stroll into the room, you simply want to make sure they’re aware of it.”
Testing specialists advise at-home test takers to avoid scheduling the exam when there is likely to be excessive external noise and to ask family members and neighbours to refrain from being noisy during the test administration.

At-home test takers should go through the ETS equipment and environment checklist to ensure that they are set up to take the GRE at home, according to Pierre Huguet, CEO and co-founder of the H&C Education admissions consulting organisation. “Before registering for the at-home exam, students should read the fine print and make sure they have the proper equipment,” Huguet noted in an email.

Pros and Cons of Taking the GRE at Home vs. in a Test Center

According to Johnson, test takers who reside in rural areas far from test centres may prefer the at-home version of the test because it eliminates the need for a long journey. Someone who lives in a noisy setting, on the other hand, would wish to take the test at a test centre, where the environment is quieter, he recommends.

Experts advise test takers to take the exam in the setting where they believe they will perform best.

Amanda Medders is a writer. Some GRE test-takers get a significant adrenaline boost when they come into a test centre, according to Paldao, founder and director of Tri-Ed Tutoring. This helps them perform better than they could otherwise. This behaviour is “exactly like an athlete who performs,” Paldao noted in an email.

However, some people worry when they walk into a test centre, which causes them to perform worse on the test than they would in a more familiar setting. Taking the test from home, according to Paldao, may be the best way for them to avoid anxiety.

In an email, Arash Fayz, founder and executive director of LA Tutors 123, stated, “The GRE at Home exam differs in that you will be alone in your room completing the test, rather than accompanied by other test-takers.” “This can be beneficial if you are easily distracted because you won’t have to worry about other test-takers creating noise or getting in your way. You should, however, be aware of the possibility of diversions or technical troubles at home.”

What Types of Grad Programs Accept GRE Scores?

Many graduate schools, including master’s, PhD, and professional degree programmes in a variety of areas spanning from liberal arts to technical domains, accept GRE results.

In recent years, business schools have increasingly accepted GRE scores in lieu of the GMAT, the conventional business school entry exam. A small but growing number of law schools in the United States accept the GRE as an alternative to the LSAT, the traditional law school entry exam.

GRE Test Scores

After successfully completing the GRE general test, a candidate can anticipate to obtain three scores, including verbal reasoning, quantitative reasoning, and analytical writing. The verbal and numerical scores range from 130 to 170, and they are always whole numbers. Writing scores range from zero to six, and they are assigned in half-point increments.

GRE subject test scores range from 200 to 990. On the biology and psychology subject tests, students receive not only an overall score but also a number of subscores ranging from 20 to 99, which show their understanding of specific issues within the academic discipline.

Graduate school applicants should base their objective GRE score on the competition of the programmes to which they are applying, as well as the highest score they believe they can attain, according to experts.

To have a positive impact on a prospective graduate student’s admissions chances at his or her desired schools, a GRE score must be greater than the usual, according to Yim. “If you get that score, you’re an ordinary student, so the score doesn’t really assist.”

How Much Does It Cost to Take the GRE?

The cost of the GRE general test is $205 in most countries of the world, but it is $213 in India, $226 in Nigeria, $230 in Australia, $231.30 in China, and $255 in Turkey.

GRE Subject Tests cost $150 all over the world.

How Often Are GRE Tests Offered?

GRE general test appointments are available all year in physical test sites around the world, but seats are filled on a first-come, first-served basis. The at-home version of the test may be a realistic option for students in areas without test centres. According to ETS, at-home testing is now prohibited in mainland China and Iran.

GRE general test registration is available online, by mail, or by phone, but GRE subject test registration is only available online or by mail.

Subject examinations for the GRE are given in September, October, and April.

When Should You Take the GRE?

According to GRE test-prep specialists, grad school applicants should schedule the exam a few months before their application deadlines to provide time to retake the test if their score falls short of their expectations.

What Is the Computer-Adaptive GRE General Test Like?

“The GRE general test is section-level adaptive,” notes Acereda, “which basically means that the computer selects the second component of the test based on a test taker’s performance in the first section.” Every question from each portion of the test counts equally toward the test taker’s ultimate score, which is determined by the total number of correct answers as well as the difficulty of the questions.”

According to Acereda, a common mistake made by GRE test takers is devoting too much time to difficult problems.

“Do not waste time on issues that you find exceedingly tough,” Acereda says, “since no question has greater weight than any other.” “Mark any questions that you believe will take a long time and come back to them after you’ve studied and answered the questions in the part that will take less time.”

How Much Do GRE Scores Matter?

“This varies from school to school, and even from candidate to the applicant,” says Erin Skelly, a former graduate school admissions counsellor at IvyWise admissions counselling and test prep. “Some institutions have a minimum score requirement, thus the results are quite essential. The scores, on the other hand, maybe less relevant if the remainder of your application is strong.”

According to Priyam Shah, a master’s teacher at IvyWise, GRE scores are a major factor that grad school admissions officers consider, but they are not always the decisive decision. “The GRE is part of the application package, and while scoring well on it will surely boost your chances,” Shah said, “other components of the application (college grades, extracurricular activities, references, etc.) also carry weight.”

GRE scores are frequently used by graduate institutions to discriminate between applicants. GRE results, according to Selepak of the University of Florida, provide him with a metric that allows him to draw apples-to-apples comparisons between individuals who would otherwise be impossible to grade fairly due to their radically varied undergraduate histories.

Selepak advises grad school applicants to look into whether the graduate schools they are interested in have GRE score minimums and average GRE scores in order to choose institutions where they have a realistic possibility of being accepted.

GRE section scores are generally more important to graduate programme admissions officials than overall GRE scores, according to Ian Curtis, co-founder and former director of academic development at H&C Education.

“A low math score, for example, won’t necessarily hurt your chances of acceptance to great humanities and social sciences programmes,” Curtis wrote in an email, adding that he once assisted a student who was accepted into a prestigious history Ph.D. programme despite having a math score in the 40th percentile.

“The benefits of his multiple publications and significant teaching experience clearly exceeded his weak arithmetic ability,” Curtis argues.

How Much Time Should You Budget for GRE Test Prep?

Students should set aside two to three months for serious GRE study, or stretch their exam prep over three to four months, according to Shah.

However, according to Skelly, the amount of time required for GRE exam preparation varies depending on the student. “Those still in undergrad will generally require less preparation because they are still in an academic mentality,” she noted in an email. “Those who have been out of school for some time, or who do not typically perform well on standardised exams, will likely require more time to study.” “The best plan of action is to take a practise exam and utilise the results to figure out how much prep you’ll need.”

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