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GRE Overview and Facts
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Step-by-step Prep
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GRE Resources for Aspiring Master’s Students

GRE Overview and Facts

Graduate schools want to accept only the best students. They want to offer a top-notch education to those who can succeed in their program. But admissions officers can only make an educated guess on an applicant’s potential. In order to attempt to quantify the potential of applicants, there are a variety of things an admission official can review such as the applicant’s undergraduate transcripts, letters of recommendation and personal statements. Sometimes, they can even conduct applicant interviews.

For some schools, this isn’t enough. That’s why there’s a huge need for standardized entrance exams. These exams help admissions committees predict the applicant’s future performance in graduate school. One of the most popular and widely accepted is the Graduate Record Examination (GRE). In this guide, discover what the GRE is, why schools might want to see it, and why some schools forego it altogether.

Breaking Down the Test: GRE Overview and Facts

The GRE is a graduate entrance exam. It consists of two different types with the most common being the General Test. Most schools that ask for GRE test scores will require applicants take this test. In addition to the General Test, there are GRE Subject Tests which focus on a specific subject area.

Often, a school or program will require both the GRE General and GRE Subject Tests; however, some schools may make the Subject Test optional while requiring the General Test.

One of the biggest reason’s schools require the GRE is because it provides an objective measure of a prospective master’s student’s potential academic performance. Most of the other components of the student’s application are largely subjective in nature, such as the essay or letters of recommendation. For certain objective measures, such as a student’s GPA, admissions committees know that each school (and each program within a school) will have its own level of “grade inflation.”

What does the GRE – General and Subject Test – entail?

The General Test consists of three major components:

  • Verbal Reasoning
  • Quantitative Reasoning
  • Analytical Writing

Most test takers will also have a fourth component, which will be either an experimental or research set of questions. The experimental and research sections are similar in that they’re not scored and can consists of either Quantitative or Verbal Reasoning questions. However, the research section will always appear at the end of the exam while the experimental section can appear anywhere. The research and experimental questions provide the test creator with an opportunity to conduct research and try out new questions for future exams.

The Subject Test will be in one of the following areas:

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

These exams consist of anywhere from 66 to 230 questions and are all multiple choice; the only exception is the Literature in English Subject Test, which requires some written answers.

What is the GRE General Test format? 

The GRE General Test is a computerized adaptive exam where sections will become more difficult or easier depending on the test taker’s performance on earlier sections. For those who can’t access a testing center, the exam is available in a paper format.

The first section is Analytical Writing. This section consists of two separate writing tasks. The test taker will have 30 minutes to complete each task. The next five sections will usually be completely random and will consist of two Verbal Reasoning sections (30 minutes per section), two  Quantitative Reasoning sections (35 minutes per section) and either a research or experimental section with varying times and number of questions.

If there’s a research section, it will be the last section in the exam.

How and when should prospective master’s students sign up for the GRE?

The GRE General Test is available year-round. Aspiring students may take the test as often as they like, although they are limited to taking the test every 21 days and no more than five times in a 12 month period. Exact test dates will depend on the particular test center of choice, as well as available seating. However, in many areas, students will have several days available to choose from in any given week. Paper-based General Tests are only available three times per year.

Individuals can sign up for the GRE General Test online or by phone. When registering online, the user will create an Education Testing Service (ETS) account. Whether registering by phone or online, the base exam fee for U.S. testing locations is $205 and can be paid by e-check, debit card, credit card, money order or paper check or PayPal. Test takers are encouraged to register as soon as possible as availability in each testing center is on a first come, first served basis. Test takers can only register for the GRE General Test at least two business days before the test date.

What to Expect: GRE Test Day

On test day, you should arrive at least 30 minutes before test time. Arriving late can result in being unable to take the exam and forfeiting the registration fee. The only items you can bring into the testing room will be identification and related documentation. Even jewelry is prohibited, with an exception for wedding and engagement rings.

If test takers have a disability or other health reasons for bringing special equipment, food or drink into the testing room, they’ll need to follow the special accommodations procedures outline in an ETS Bulletin.

There will be a 10-minute break after the third section and then one-minute breaks for each section thereafter. Even though the exam itself will take about three hours and 45 minutes to complete, you should plan to be at the testing center up to four and a half hours ahead of time to factor in security checks, breaks and any minor delays that might take place.

What to Expect from GRE Scores

The GRE’s General and Subject Tests are scored the following ways:

General Exam SectionScore Range
Analytical Writing0-6: 0.5 point increments
Verbal Reasoning120-170: 1 point increments
Quantitative Reasoning120-170; 1 point increments

The 50th percentile score will usually hover around 150 for the Verbal and Quantitative Reasoning sections and around a 3.5 or 4 for the Analytical writing section. As for the GRE Subject Tests, they are all scored on a scale of 200 to 990 in 10 point increments.

The Verbal and Quantitative Reasoning scores of the GRE General Test will be available to test takers immediately after completing the test; however, these will be unofficial scores. Analytical Writing, Verbal and Quantitative Reasoning scores are usually available within 10 to 15 days. Paper test scores and scores from the GRE Subject Tests take about five weeks for delivery.

Grad School Admissions: GRE Requirements Overview

One of the most confusing things about the GRE is figuring out which schools or programs require them. In many cases, the GRE is optional. The following features a snapshot of various schools’ GRE policies around GRE General Test scores.

Schools that don’t need an GRE for Online Masters?

Many graduate schools, programs and departments that take a more holistic approach to the graduate admissions process do not require GRE or other entrance exam scores including

Schools with low GRE score requirements

The following schools have more flexible admissions requirements and a low GRE score isn’t automatically a deal breaker. These schools understand that standardized tests don’t always accurately reflect a student’s academic and future professional abilities. Additionally, average GRE scores will vary among departments or programs within a single school.

Step-by-Step Prep for the GRE

Whether it’s increasing their level of knowledge or learning the nuances of how sections are structured, prospective master’s students can gain a tremendous advantage by carefully prepping for a GRE exam. The following is a list of a few study tips to help you make the most of the time spent preparing for the GRE.

Establish a baselineIdentify a score goalStart with problem areasFind a study buddyRead challenging materialSimulate test day
Before getting into any heavy studying, it’s best to take at least one full-length GRE exam to establish a starting point. This will help students identify problem areas to better assess where they should spend the majority of their study time.Exam preparation will be more constructive if you have a goal to aim for. It’s best to have a goal score that’s a little higher than what’s necessary for acceptance into a graduate program of choice. This will also provide useful when tracking the progress and effectiveness of any study plan.After creating a baseline, students should identify the section in which they need the most help and start studying that section first. Most likely, the section students struggle with the most will provide the greatest amount of improvement for the least amount of studying.Do you know why many people who work out have a partner or trainer? To help keep them accountable. Having a study buddy can not only help clear up any confusion about a particular question, but it can help motivate students to practice a little more.Students should spend some of their free time reading academic or trade journals to help improve their vocabulary and writing ability.The more familiar a prospective master’s student is with the test format and testing process, the more comfortable they will be on test day. And the more comfortable they are, the more relaxed they’ll be, and the better they’ll perform.

Preparing for the GRE can be made a lot easier by utilizing preparation materials. Below is a list of some of the best ones, including a few that are free.

  1. ETS: Education Testing Services, or ETS, is the owner and administrator of the GRE. The site offers detailed information about each of the three components of the GRE General Test, including sample questions and answers.
  2. Kaplan: Kaplan is one of the major entrance exam preparation companies with a host of preparation classes and materials for a cost. However, they offer a GRE exam with video explanations for each answer for no charge.
  3. Union Test Prep: Union Test Prep provides access to three free study guides for each of the GRE’s Analytical Writing, Quantitative Reasoning and Verbal Reasoning sections.
  4. The Official Guide to the GRE General Test, 3rd Edition: Offered by ETS at a cost of $40, these materials include four actual GRE exams, two on paper and two that can be taken on a computer, just like the real thing.
  5. Princeton Review’s GRE Self-Paced: The Princeton Review is well-known for offering tutorial and study materials to prospective undergraduate and graduate students. Their Self-Paced Program is available online and allows students to prepare for the GRE on their own time table. It comes with a guarantee: anyone not happy with their GRE score can retake the program at no additional charge.

Additional GRE Resources

  1. The Grad Café – GRE/GMAT Forums: If students have concerns about GRE questions, or want some advice about their study strategy, this is a great place to ask others for advice.
  2. The GRE Prep Club: The GRE Prep Club has tons of online resources available to test takers, including an active message board and reviews of various GRE tutoring and prep services.
  3. Khan Academy. The Khan Academy is an education website that offers free videos to help students learn about certain academic or test subjects. Their math lessons are especially helpful for the Quantitative Reasoning section of the General Test.
  4. Magoosh GRE Blog: Anyone looking to learn a little bit more about the GRE exam and for some general advice, Magoosh’s blog is an excellent place to start.
  5. Manhattan Prep: Manhattan Prep offers a variety of GRE preparation services for a fee, but they allow interested test takers to take any first session of any class for free. It also offers several free GRE resources, such as study tips, a practice test and flash cards.
  6. Quizlet: Quizlet is a free online tool for making flashcards for any purpose, including preparing for the GRE.

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