Cracking the GRE Premium (2015)
Part I Orientation
2 General Strategy
Chapter 1 Introduction
What is the GRE? Who makes the test? What’s a good score? The answer to these questions and many others lie within this chapter. In the next few pages, we’ll give you the lowdown on the things you need to know about the GRE.
CRACKING THE GRE
For a lot of people, taking a standardized test such as the GRE usually engenders a number of emotions—none of them positive. But here’s the good news: The Princeton Review is going to make this whole ordeal a lot easier for you. We’ll give you the information you will need to do well on the GRE, including our time-tested strategies and techniques.
A few years back, the GRE was rather significantly revised. This “new” version of the test supposedly allows graduate schools to get a better sense of an applicant’s ability to work in a post-graduate setting—a goal that is unrealistic indeed, considering that the people who take the GRE are applying to programs as diverse as physics and anthropology.
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However, it’s safe to say that neither GRE—new or old—is a realistic measure of how well you’ll do in grad school, or even how intelligent you are. In fact, the GRE provides a valid assessment of only one thing:
The GRE assesses how well you take the GRE.
Got it? Even so, you still want to do well on the GRE, because you still want grad schools to take you seriously when they consider your application. With this in mind, you should cultivate several very important skills when you’re preparing for the test, and each of them is attainable with the right guidance (which we’ll give you), a strong work ethic (which you must provide), and a healthy dose of optimism. Who knows? Maybe after working through this book and learning how to crack the test, you’ll actually look forward to taking the GRE.
So what exactly is this test you’ve heard so much about?
WHAT IS THE GRE?
The Graduate Record Examination (GRE) is a 3-hour, 40-minute exam that’s used to rank applicants for graduate schools. The scored portion of the new GRE consists of the following sections:
· One 30-minute Analysis of an Issue essay
· One 30-minute Analysis of an Argument essay
· Two 30-minute Verbal Reasoning sections
· Two 35-minute Quantitative Reasoning sections
The Verbal Reasoning sections test your skills on three different types of questions:
· Text Completion
· Sentence Equivalence
· Reading Comprehension
The Quantitative Reasoning sections measure your prowess in four areas:
· Arithmetic and Number Properties
· Data Analysis
WHY DO SCHOOLS REQUIRE IT?
Even though you will pay ETS $185 to take the GRE, it is important to note that you are not their primary customer. Their primary customers are the admissions offices at graduate programs across the United States. ETS provides admissions professionals with two important services. The first is a number, your GRE score. Everyone who takes the test gets a number.
Applicants could come from all over the world and will certainly have an enormous range in academic and professional experience. How does one compare a senior in college with a 32-year-old professional who has been out of college working in a different industry for the past 10 years? A GRE score is the only part of the application that allows for an apples-to-apples comparison among all applicants.
The second service that ETS provides is mailing lists. That’s right; they will sell your name. You can opt out, but when you sit down to take the test, ETS will ask you a whole bunch of questions about your educational experience, family background, race, and gender, as well as other biographical data. All of this information goes into their database. In fact, ETS is one of the most important sources of potential applicants that many graduate programs have.
Another reason for the GRE is that it ensures that most applicants to graduate school are qualified. It helps to weed out the people who might be considering grad school, but who can’t get their act together enough to fill out applications. It is difficult for admissions committees to make a decision between a candidate with a 3.0 and a 3.2 GPA from drastically different schools and in two different majors. A GRE score, on the other hand, provides a quick and easy way for busy admissions offices to whittle a large applicant pool down to size. When you ask a program how important the GRE score is to the application, they may say, “it depends” or “not very” and that may be true as long as your score is in the top half. If your score is in the bottom half, however, it may mean that your application never gets seen.
So the GRE may have little relevance to any particular field of study you might be pursuing, but as long as it helps graduate programs uncover potential candidates, and as long as it is the only tool available to compare a diverse candidate pool, the GRE is here to stay.
WHO IS ETS?
Like most standardized tests in this country, the GRE is created and administered by Educational Testing Service (ETS), a big, tax-exempt, private company located in New Jersey. ETS publishes the GRE under the sponsorship of the Graduate Record Examinations Board, which is an organization affiliated with the Association of Graduate Schools and the Council of Graduate Schools in the United States.
ETS is also the organization that brings you the SAT, the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL), the National Teacher Examination (NTE), and licensing and certification exams in dozens of fields, including hair styling, plumbing, and golf.
What to Take to
the Test Center:
1. Your registration ticket
2. A photo ID and one
other form of ID
3. A snack
The GRE is administered at Prometric testing centers. This company specializes in administering tests on computer. They administer citizenship exams, professional health certifications, dental exams, accounting exams, and hundreds of other exams on computer. As professional proctors, they are a particularly humorless lot. When you arrive at the center, they will check your ID, give you a clipboard with a form to fill out, and hand you a locker key. Despite the fact that they already have your information, you will be asked to fill out a long form on paper. This form includes an entire paragraph that you have to copy over—in cursive (they specify this)—that states that you are who you say you are and that you are taking the test for admissions purposes. This process will take you about 10 minutes, and you can complete it while you wait for them to call you into the testing room. The locker is for all of your personal belongings, including books, bags, phones, bulky sweaters, and even watches. You are not allowed to take anything with you into the testing room.
When they call you into the testing room, they will first take a photo of you and, in some cases, fingerprint you before you go in. They will give you six sheets of scratch paper, stapled together to form a booklet, and two sharpened pencils with erasers. Then they lead you into the room where someone will start your test for you. The room itself will hold three or four rows of standard corporate cubicles, each with a monitor and keyboard. There will be other people in the room taking tests other than the GRE. Because people will be entering and exiting the room at different times, you will be provided with optional headphones.
Test Day Tips
· Dress in layers, so that you’ll be comfortable regardless of whether the room is cool or warm.
· Don’t bother to take a calculator; you’re not allowed to use your own—just the one on the screen.
· Be sure to have breakfast, or lunch, depending on when your test is scheduled (but don’t eat anything weird). Take it easy on the liquids and the caffeine.
· Do a few GRE practice problems beforehand to warm up your brain. Don’t try to tackle difficult new questions, but go through a few questions that you’ve done before to help you review the problem-solving strategies for each section of the GRE. This will also help you put on your “game-face” and get you into test mode.
· Make sure to take photo identification to the test center. Acceptable forms of identification include your driver’s license, photo-bearing employee ID cards, and valid passports.
· If you registered by mail, you must also take the authorization voucher sent to you by ETS.
· Stretch, drink some water, go to the bathroom, and do whatever you need to do in order to be prepared to sit for this four-hour test.
While your test structure may vary, you should expect to see something like this when you sit down to take the exam:
The first section of the test collects all of your biographical information. If you fill this out, you will start getting mail from programs that have bought your name from ETS. In general, this is not a bad thing. If you don’t want them to sell your name, or you don’t want to spend the time answering their questions, you can click on a box that tells ETS not to share your information.
Once all of that is done, you will begin your first scored section, the essays. Your two essays will be back to back. You have 30 minutes for each essay. Immediately after your second essay, you will get your first multiple-choice section. It may be math or verbal. You will have a 1-minute break between sections. Here is the structure of the test:
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Here are some things to keep in mind:
· You will see five multiple-choice sections, but only four will count. The fifth is an “experimental” section. It can come at any time after the essays. At the end of the exam, you will know, based on the number of math or verbal sections, if the experimental section was math or verbal, but you will not know which section will not count toward your score.
· Math sections are 35 minutes. There are 20 math questions in each section. If your experimental section is math, your test will be five minutes longer than someone whose experimental section is verbal.
· Verbal sections are 30 minutes. There are 20 verbal questions in each section.
· The 10-minute break always comes after the third section. You have a 1-minute break between each of the other sections.
· You may or may not get a research section. If you do, it will come last; it does not count toward your score, and it is optional.
· You must accept your scores and, if you choose, send your scores to selected programs prior to seeing your scores.
· If you choose not to accept your scores, neither you nor any program will ever see them.
· You may choose to send your scores to up to four graduate programs on the day of the test. This service is included in your testing fee.
The Experimental Section
When most companies want to test a new product, they provide free samples, test it on animals, or pay for some user testing. Not ETS. ETS uses you as a guinea pig to test out new questions that they will later inflict on other test takers. You pay them to do their research and development, and you do it when you are at your most stressed. Thanks, ETS!
At the end of the test, you may also have an unscored research section. At the beginning of this section, you will be told that it is an unscored research section, and that it will be used only to help develop and test questions for the GRE. If you want to skip it, you have the option of skipping it. You may be offered some sort of prize to induce you to take it, but by that point in the test you will probably be exhausted. If you’re offered a research section, just go ahead and decline, get your scores, and go home.
The 10 Minute Break
You are given 1 minute between sections except after section three, when you get a 10-minute break. Go to the bathroom, splash water on your face, wave your arms around. You want to re-oxygenate your brain. The goal, as much as it is possible, is to hit your brain’s reset button. When you sit back down for section four, you want it to be as if you are just sitting down at that computer for the first time that day. Your GRE test day is going to be a long and intense day, so be sure to take full advatage of break time.
Practice Like You Play
When you are tackling
practice tests during your
test preparation, be sure
to mimic the real GRE and
give yourself these timed
breaks just like the real
Accepting Your Scores
Before you see your scores, you will be given the opportunity to cancel your scores. There are very few reasons to do so. First, if you cancel your scores, you will never see your scores and you will have to go through the whole experience again, including paying an additional $185 to take the test again. Second, GRE scores are curved. Most people believe that they are doing worse while taking the test than they actually are. Third, you can make use of the GRE ScoreSelectSM service.
ScoreSelectSM allows you to select which scores get sent to which schools. Options for sending scores depend on whether you are sending scores on the day of your test or after your test day. On test day, you have the following options for sending scores:
· Most recent. This option sends the results of the test your just took.
· All. This option sends all your scores from the last five years.
If you send your scores to schools after test day, you have even more options. After test day, your options are:
· Most recent. This option sends the scores from the test you took most recently.
· All. As above, this option sends all your GRE scores from the last five years.
· Any. Send just the scores you want to send. You can send one score or multiple scores. For example, if you have taken the GRE three times and your second score is your best, you can send just that score.
When you use ScoreSelectSM after your test day, the score report that is sent to schools shows only the scores that you choose to send. The report does not indicate how many times you have taken the GRE nor does it indicate which that you have sent, for example, the second of three scores on record.
ScoreSelectSM is another reason to think twice before cancelling your scores. Provided that you send your scores after your test date, your schools will never know that you didn’t do as well as you would have liked or even that you took the test more than once if you don’t want them to know.
Sending Additional Score Reports
On the day of your test, you can send your scores to up to four schools using the ScoreSelectSM test day options. These score reports are included as part of the $185 fee that you pay to take the GRE. If you wish to send reports to additional schools, you’ll need to request that these additional reports be sent after your test day. Each additional report costs $25. The fastest way to send additional score reports is to order them online using your My GRE® account that you create when you register to take the test.
WHAT DOES A GRE SCORE LOOK LIKE?
Every GRE score has two components: a scaled score and a percentile rank. GRE scores fall on a 130–170 point scale. However, your percentile rank is more important than your scaled score. Your percentile rank indicates how your GRE scores compare to those of other test takers. For example, a scaled score of 150 on the GRE translates to roughly the 43rd percentile, meaning that you scored better than 43 out of every 100 test takers—and worse than the other 57 percent of test takers. A score of 152 is about average, while scores of 163 and above are very competitive. Get the latest reported scores and percentiles at PrincetonReview.com and at www.gre.org, the official ETS website for the GRE.
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The essays are scored a little differently than are the Verbal and Quantitative sections. All essays receive a scaled score of 0–6, in half-point increments. The corresponding percentiles are as follows:
Analytical Writing Percentile
In other words, a score of 5 on the essay portion of the GRE means you performed better than 93 percent of test takers.
How Much Does the GRE Matter?
Some programs consider the GRE very important, while others view it as more of a formality. Because the GRE is used for such a wide range of graduate studies, the relative weight it is given will vary from field to field and from school to school. A master’s program in English literature will not evaluate the GRE the same way as a PhD program in physics, but it’s hard to predict what the exact differences will be. A physics department may care more about the Math score than the Verbal score, but given that nearly all of its applicants will probably have high Math scores, a strong Verbal score might make you stand out and help you gain admission.
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Do Your Research
GRE scores are used in a number of different ways. The first step in figuring out how to prepare for the GRE is figuring out how your scores will be used. The only way to do that is to contact the programs to which you plan to apply. Larger programs may have many of these questions already spelled out on their websites. Smaller programs, on the other hand, may not want to be pinned down to specific answers, and the answers may change from year to year. If you are applying to a smaller program, you will have to dig a bit deeper to get answers to some of these questions. Here are some things you should be asking:
1. What scores do I need to be accepted? The answer to this question is always “It depends.” The GRE is not the only part of the application, and the quality of the applicant pool varies from year to year. Nevertheless, you need to have a target score so you can figure out how much work you need to put in between now and test day. If the school doesn’t have or won’t quote you a cutoff score, see if you can at least find out the average scores for last year’s incoming class.
2. Will you look at all parts of my score? Some programs may care about your math score, but not your verbal score, and vice versa. Many programs don’t use the essay scores at all. If a program doesn’t care about your math or your essay score, then you know exactly where to put your prep time.
3. Are scores used for anything else? If your scores are to be used for placement or for scholarship, it would be good to know that now, while you still have time to prepare.
4. How important are my scores? In many ways, the importance of scores is a function of how competitive the program is. The scores may not matter much, but if it is a competitive program, every number will count.
5. What do you do with multiple scores? Depending upon your first scores, you may have to take the test a second time. It would be good to know, however, the importance of that first score. If a school is going to take the highest score, then you can relax a bit on test one, knowing that you can take it again if you need to.
If you plan your testing schedule well, you can send only your highest scores to the school using ScoreSelectSM. Remember, however, that you must send your scores after your test day to use the select any option for ScoreSelectSM.
In any case, remember that the GRE is only one part of an application to grad school. Admissions officers also consider many other factors, including
· Undergraduate transcripts (that is, your GPA, relevant courses, and the quality of the school you attended)
· Work experience
· Any research or work you’ve done in that academic field
· Subject GREs (for certain programs)
· Essays (Personal Statements or other essays)
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The GRE can be a significant part of your graduate school application (which is why you bought this book), but it certainly isn’t the only part.
SCHEDULING A TEST
You can schedule a test session for the GRE by calling 800-GRE-CALL or by registering online at www.gre.org. Registering online is the easiest way to register. As part of the registration process, you’ll create a My GRE® account. The account will also allow you to see your scores online and make use of the GRE Diagnostic Service, which will give you some insight into your performance. You can also register through a local testing center (the list of centers is available online). After you get the list of local testing centers from ETS, you can call the one nearest you and set up an appointment. You can also call ETS at 609-771-7670 or e-mail them directly at their website to ask any general questions you have about the GRE.
Computer Testing Facts
· You can take the GRE almost any day—morning or afternoon, weekday or weekend. Appointments are scheduled on a first-come, first-served basis. You may take the test only once every 21 days. In addition, you cannot take the test more than 5 times in a continuous rolling 12-month period. Make sure to take your test early enough to book a second test date, if needed, before your applications are due.
· There’s no real deadline for registering for the test (technically, you can register the day before). But there’s a limited number of seats available on any given day and centers do fill up, sometimes weeks in advance. It’s a good idea to register in advance, to give yourself at least a couple of weeks of lead time.
· The GRE is technically simple. Selecting an answer and moving to the next question involves three easy steps. All you need to do is point the mouse arrow at the answer and click, then click the “Next” button, and then click the “Answer Confirm” button to confirm your choice.
· Because the test is administered on a computer, it is impossible to write directly on the problems themselves (to underline text, cross out answer choices, and so on). Thus, all of your work must be done on scratch paper. Although the amount of scratch paper you may use is unlimited, requesting additional paper takes time. You should be efficient and organized in how you use it; learning to use your scratch paper effectively is one of the keys to scoring well on the GRE.
· When you’ve finished taking the test, you will be given the option to accept or cancel your scores. Of course, you have to make this decision before you learn what the scores are. If you choose to cancel your scores, they cannot be reinstated, and you will never learn what they were. No refunds are given for canceled scores, and your GRE report will reflect that you took the test on that day and canceled (though this shouldn’t be held against you). If you choose to accept your scores, they cannot be canceled afterward. We suggest that unless you are absolutely certain you did poorly, you accept your score.
· You will receive your Verbal and Math scores the instant you finish the exam (provided that you choose not to cancel your score), but your Analytical Writing scores and “official” percentile scores for all three sections won’t get to you until a few weeks later. If you registered for your test online, you’ll be able to access your official scores through your My GRE® account.
· ETS offers the GRE Diagnostic Service (grediagnostic.ets.org) as a free option for test takers to have a limited review of their tests. This service allows you to see the number of questions you missed and where they fell on the test, but you cannot review the actual questions. The diagnostic service also claims to let you know the difficulty of the questions you missed, but the scale used—a simple scale of 1 to 5—is not particularly useful.
If you require accommodated testing, please see the Appendix at the end of this book. It contains information on the forms you’ll need to fill out and procedures you’ll need to follow to apply for accommodated testing. Be sure to start that application process well in advance of when you want to take your test, as it can take many weeks to complete.
HOW TO USE THIS BOOK
This book is chock full of our tried-and-true GRE test-taking techniques, some of which, at first, might seem to go against your gut instincts. In order to take full advantage of our methods, however, you’ll have to trust them and use them consistently and faithfully.
Make sure to use the techniques on all of the practice problems you do and to thoroughly review the explanations for all of the questions—even the ones you get right. That way, the techniques will become second nature to you, and you’ll have no problem using them on test day.
Practice for Technique, Not for Result
There is a finite amount of GRE material available in the world. Once you have used it all up, that’s it. You don’t get any more. Many people will work through the books, doing problems, looking for answers. When they get a problem right, they are happy. When they get a problem wrong, they are frustrated, and then they go on to the next problem. The problem with this approach is that you can churn through lots and lots of questions without ever actually getting better at taking the GRE. The techniques you use and the way you solve a problem are what matters. The results just tell you how you did. When you are practicing, always focus on your approach. When you get good at the techniques, your score will take care of itself. If you focus on just the results, you do nothing more than reinforce the way you are taking the test right now.
In addition to the material in the book, we offer a number of other resources to aid you during your GRE preparation.
With your purchase of this book, you gain access to many helpful tools in your Premium Portal, which is the companion website that goes with this book. There you will find 4 full-length practice GRE exams, assorted videos in which Princeton Review teachers discuss graduate school admissions, GRE strategy, and much more, plus tons of useful articles, essays, and information. Go to PrincetonReview.com to register. PrincetonReview.com/gre also contains a ton of useful information on graduate programs, financial aid, and everything else related to graduate school.
The practice problems in this book are designed to simulate the questions that appear on the real GRE. Part of your preparation, however, should involve working with real GRE problems. Working with real questions from past GRE exams is the best way to practice our techniques and prepare for the test. However, the only source of real GREs is the publisher of the test, ETS, which so far has refused to let anyone (including us) license actual questions from old tests.
Therefore, we strongly recommend that you obtain POWERPREP® II software for the computer-based GRE revised General Test. You can download the POWERPREP II software directly from ETS’s website. It contains two full-length adaptive revised General Test. In addition, you can download the PDF Practice Book for the Paper-based GRE® Revised General Test. While the format of the paper-based test is different from the computer-based test, the practice questions contained in the PDF are relevant and useful.
ETS also publishes The Official Guide to the GRE® revised General Test. This book (approximately $35) can be found online or at most major book stores. Some of the practice questions in this book, however, are identical to the questions in the PDF, which is a free download.
Whatever you’re using, always practice with scratch paper. As you prepare for the GRE, work through every question you do as if the question is being presented on a computer screen. This means not writing anything on the problems themselves. No crossing off answers, no circling, no underlining. Copy everything to scratch paper and do your work there. You shouldn’t give yourself a crutch in your preparation that you won’t have on the actual test.
MAKING A SCHEDULE
The GRE, like other standardized tests, is not a test for which you can cram. While you may have fond memories from your college days of spending the night before the midterm with a pot of coffee and a 500-page economics textbook, that strategy won’t be as effective on the GRE. Why? Because, by and large, the GRE is a test of patterns, not of facts. This book does its best to reveal those patterns to you, but without sufficient time to practice and absorb the information in this book, your GRE score is not likely to improve. Thus, you should allow an adequate amount of time to fully prepare for the GRE.
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You should allow yourself somewhere between 4 and 12 weeks to prepare for the GRE. Obviously we can’t know exactly where you are in terms of your starting score, your target score, and the amount of time you can devote to studying, but in our experience, 4 weeks is about the minimum amount of time you’d want to spend, while 12 weeks is about the maximum. There are a number of reasons for these suggested preparation times. Attempting to prepare in fewer than 4 weeks typically does not allow sufficient time to master the techniques presented in this book. As you’ll see, some of our approaches are counterintuitive and take some getting used to. Without adequate practice time, you may not have full confidence in the techniques. Additionally, vocabulary is part of the Verbal section of the GRE and it’s difficult to substantially increase your vocabulary in a short period of time. Finally, as mentioned before, the GRE contains a number of patterns, and the more time you spend studying the test, the better you will be at recognizing these patterns.
On the other hand, spending an inordinate amount of time preparing for the GRE can have its downside as well. The first concern is a purely practical one: There is a finite amount of GRE practice material available. Budgeting six months of preparation time is unproductive because you’ll run out of materials in less than half that time. Finally, spreading the material out over a long period of time may result in your forgetting some of the lessons from the beginning of your studies. It’s better to work assiduously and consistently over a shorter time period than to dilute your efforts over a long time frame.
STAY UP TO DATE
We at The Princeton Review will continue to learn all about the new GRE as it evolves. As you prepare for your GRE, make sure you periodically check both our website at PrincetonReview.com and the GRE website at www.gre.org for the latest updates and information about the test.
WANT EVEN MORE PREP?
The Princeton Review offers an assortment of test preparation options: Classroom and online courses plus private and small group tutoring. We also have a bunch of other helpful GRE preparation books, including Math Workout for the GRE, Verbal Workout for the GRE, 1,007 GRE Practice Questions, and Crash Course for the GRE. When it comes to test preparation for the GRE, we’ve got you covered.
Now that we have that introduction out of the way, let’s dive in and talk strategy.
· The GRE is a 3-hour, 40-minute exam used by graduate schools to rank applicants.
· The GRE tests your mathematical, verbal, and writing abilities.
· The importance of your GRE score varies from program to program. Schools also consider your undergraduate record, your personal essays, and your relevant experience.
· GRE tests can be scheduled online at www.gre.org.