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Why the GRE General Test?

The Graduate Record Exam, or GRE is designed by Educational Testing Service® (ETS®). GRE assesses abilities required for success in graduate school—the ability to understand and convey ideas using language and the ability to apply basic math concepts to solve problems and analyze data. This is why many graduate programs want  respective students to take the exam. They want you to show that you can correctly analyze complex material, think logically, and clearly communicate your thoughts in written form.

Who Takes the GRE General Test?

Graduate programs want to see GRE results. If you are applying to a master’s or doctoral program, you may need to take the exam. Of course, test results are only part of the information that schools use to make admissions decisions. Factors such as grades, recommendations, and professional experience are also considered.

What Is on the Test?

The GRE General Test has three sections: Analytical Writing, Verbal, and Quantitative. The Analytical Writing portion tests your ability to understand and convey complex ideas, to analyze arguments, and to present a cohesive discussion of those ideas and arguments. It is always presented first. Next, the Verbal section tests your comprehension of the logical relationships between words, as well as your vocabulary and your ability to understand and think critically about complex written material. Finally, the Quantitative section tests your competence in arithmetic, algebra, and geometry, and your ability to apply these subjects within verbal contexts (word problems). There may also be an experimental section, presented within either the Verbal or the Quantitative section. You will not be able to tell which section is experimental, however, so it is important to work equally hard on all parts of the test. One thing you can be sure of is that the experimental section is always multiple choice, never essay.

Format of the exam

  1. AWA Essay 1: 30 min
  2. AWA Essay 2: 30 min
  3. Verbal (30 min) or Math (35 min) or Experimental
  4. Verbal (30 min) or Math (35 min) or Experimental
  5. Verbal (30 min) or Math (35 min) or Experimental
  6. Verbal (30 min) or Math (35 min) or Experimental
  7. Verbal (30 min) or Math (35 min) or Experimental

On the GRE, you will always get two scored Math sections, two scored Verbal sections, and one Experimental (unscored Math or Verbal) section, but the order varies. You can get two math or two verbal sections in a row. The Verbal and Math sections will have 20 questions each if you are taking the computer-based exam.

Are all of the questions multiple choices?

No. There are a variety of question types you’ll have to familiarize yourself with.

For Verbal: Text Completion, Sentence Equivalence, Paragraph Argument, and Reading Comprehension.

For Math: Numeric Entry, Quantitative Comparison, Multiple Answer, and some regular old Multiple Choice too.

What exactly is the experimental section?

The experimental section does not count towards your score. The folks over at ETS—those are the guys (and gals) who actually write the questions—need to “test” future questions. What better sample pool than the very students who’ve prepped to take the GRE.

But here’s the rub: to ensure that the experimental section validly measures performance, ETS has to make sure you don’t know which section is the experimental section. Only once you’ve finished the test will you know whether the experimental section was a verbal section or a math section.

In other words, if you received three math sections, then one was the experimental section. It could have been the very first section you saw, it could be the very last section. There really is no way of knowing. And remember: never assume that a section is the experimental section on it just because there is some weird geometric shape on one question. Or if you slack off, thinking, Hey, it’s just the experimental section, you will be severely penalized in case you are mistaken.

How does the computer adaptiveness of the test work?

You may have heard that the test becomes more difficult based on whether you answer a question correctly. This is actually not true—at least for the new GRE (it was true on the old version of the GRE, meaning pre-August 2011).

That doesn’t mean the new GRE is not an adaptive test. However, instead of adapting from question to question, the new GRE adapts only between sections. Everybody starts off with a medium section, and, depending on how they do, are given either an easy, medium, or hard section.

For instance, if you do well in the first math section, your second math section will be difficult. If you do not do well on the first math section, your second math section will be easy. As to what constitutes “well”, the GRE algorithm is a little vague. But if you only miss a few questions on a section, you will get a difficult section for your second section. There is also a medium-difficulty section for those who do moderately well.

By getting the easy section, you limit how high you can score. In other words, not doing well on the first verbal section precludes a perfect or near perfect verbal score. Likewise, getting to the difficult section insures that you can’t score below a certain point. So let’s say I get the difficult verbal section (meaning I did well on the first verbal section) and miss every question. I would still get above a 130 (the lowest possible score) in verbal–though nobody, save for ETS, knows what my exact score would be.

Can I skip questions?

Yes, you can skip questions and go back to them later, time permitting, within the section you are working on. Any website, or source that says otherwise, is relying on the old GRE format. The only thing you can’t do is go back (or forward) to a section you are not currently working on, but within a section, you have free reign.

The number of questions you can skip is unlimited. Of course, skipping every question would not make much sense. Skipping tough questions, on the other hand, and returning to them later makes sense for a couple of reasons. First, doing so allows you more time on easy and medium questions. Because, each question is worth the same value, you don’t want to waste three minutes on a difficult question.

Secondly, your brain is sometimes better at processing information the second time around, even if the interval is as little as a few minutes. Conversely, not “letting go” of a question tends to result in tunnel vision, which occurs when we keep reading the same sentence over and over again, becoming only more confused with each reading. This can happen to you a lot on the GRE.

Skipping can be a great strategy – something I describe at length in the math and verbal pacing sections.

How easy is it to scroll within a section?

The good news is that the scroll section is easy to use. So get rid of that feeling of dread that the GRE will somehow “forget” that you skipped a question and not let you go back to it. To see how easy it is to get comfortable with this feature, simply take the Powerprep II test, and scroll away.

Are all questions worth the same?

This is probably one of the most mind-blowing– if such a word can be applied to the GRE— aspects of the test: each question is worth the same number of points. That is right the confusingly worded question from the reading comprehension passage on subatomic particles is worth the same number of points as the one-blank Text Completion with easy vocab. in the answer choices.

Do I get penalized for wrong answers?

The SAT– a test almost every college bound students ends up taking at some point– penalizes for incorrect answers. As a result–or so my theory goes– everyone is petrified when it comes to guessing on a standardized test. So I’ll say it clearly: There is no penalty for guessing incorrectly on the GRE. I should also add the corollary: Do not leave any question unanswered, even if that means totally guessing.

Do the questions get more difficult as I progress through a section?

This principle applies to other standardized tests, notably the SAT. It does not, however, relate to the GRE. The only caveat is on the Text Completions and the Quantitative Comparison questions, in which the first question is generally the easiest and the last question the hardest. Knowing what to expect in terms of difficulty will help you make good judgments when it comes to skipping or pacing. Ultimately, focusing on doing well on every question you attempt is the best approach.

What Is in the Analytical Writing Section? he Two Analytical Writing Tasks at a Glance

  1. Your Thoughts on an Issue

Time: 30 minutes

What you must do: Think; organize your thoughts; support your thoughts with examples and

reasons; clearly express in writing your thoughts, reasons, and examples.

  1. Your Critique of an Argument

Time: 30 minutes

What you must do: Read and understand an argument; assess for completeness and accuracy

the evidence provided and the claims made in the argument; clearly express in writing your

assessment, using examples and evidence from the argument to make your points.

What Is on the Verbal Test? our Types of Verbal Questions at a Glance

  1. Antonyms are opposites. You are given a word and asked to pick the word most nearly opposite

it from the answer choices.

  1. Analogies involve relationships between pairs of words. You are given a pair of words and asked

to select the answer choice that contains a pair of words with a parallel relationship to the given


  1. Sentence Completion questions are complex and usually contain either one or two blanks. You

must construct a sentence’s probable meaning using the sentence fragments as clues and then

pick the answer that, when plugged into the sentence, conveys the correct meaning.

  1. Reading Comprehension questions follow prose passages. You must correctly answer questions

about the implications and shades of meaning in each passage.

What Is in the Quantitative Section?

■     High school arithmetic

■     High school geometry

■     High school algebra

■     High school data analysis (probability, frequency, measurement, data representation, and    interpretation)                                                                                                                                                        There are three major types of multiple-choice questions used, they are

  • Quantitative Comparison Questions
  • Discrete quantitative Questions (multiple-choice questions, multiple-answer question, and numeric entry question)
  • Data interpretation questions (mostly multiple-choice)


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