GRE Premier 2017 with 6 Practice Tests


Chapter 1. Introduction to the GRE

This book will explain more than just a few basic strategies. It will prepare you for practically everything that you are likely to encounter on the GRE. This may sound too good to be true, but we mean it. We are able to do this because we don’t explain test questions in isolation or focus on particular test problems. Instead, we explain the underlying principles behind all of the questions on the GRE. We give you the big picture.

Understanding the GRE

Let’s take a look at how the GRE is constructed. The GRE, or Graduate Record Examination, is a computer-based exam required by many graduate schools for admission to a wide variety of programs at the graduate level. You need to know firsthand the way this test is put together if you want to take it apart. In this section, you will learn about the purposes of the GRE and ways you can learn to be successful on it.


The GRE is designed to assess readiness for a wide variety of graduate programs. The ways in which graduate schools use GRE scores vary. Scores are often required as part of the application for entrance into a program, but they also can be used to grant fellowships or financial aid. Each section of the GRE is designed to assess general skills necessary for graduate school. Some of these skills include the ability to read complex informational text and understand high-level vocabulary words in the Verbal Reasoning section, respond to an issue in written form in the Analytical Writing section, and apply general mathematical concepts to a variety of problem types in the Quantitative Reasoning section. Graduate school admissions officers often view the GRE score as an important indicator of readiness for graduate-level studies. In addition, graduate school admissions officers are comparing hundreds or even thousands of applications, and having a quantitative factor, such as a GRE score, makes the job of comparing so many applicants much easier. Just by having this book and making a commitment to yourself to be as well prepared as possible for this exam, you’ve already taken the crucial first step toward making your graduate school application as competitive as possible. For free events geared at improving other aspects of your applications, visit


Doing well on the GRE requires breaking down the “secret code” upon which each and every test is constructed. Like all of the tests created by the Educational Testing Service (ETS), the GRE is based on psychometrics, the science of creating “standardized” tests. For a test to be standardized, it must successfully do three things. First, the test must be reliable. In other words, a test taker who takes the GRE should get approximately the same score if she takes a second GRE (assuming, of course, that she doesn’t study with Kaplan materials during the intervening period). Second—and this is closely related to our first point—it must test the same concepts on each test. Third, it must create a “bell curve” when a pool of test takers’ scores are plotted; in other words, some people will do very well on the test and some will do very poorly, but the great majority will score somewhere in the middle.

What all this boils down to is that to be a standardized test, the GRE has to be predictable. And this is what makes the GRE and other standardized tests coachable. Because ETS has to test the same concepts in each and every test, certain Reading Comprehension question types appear over and over again, as do certain math patterns. Moreover, the GRE has to create some questions that most test takers will get wrong—otherwise, it wouldn’t be able to create its bell curve. This means that hard questions will usually contain “traps”—wrong answer choices that will be more appealing than the correct answer to a large percentage of test takers. Fortunately, these traps are predictable (this is what we mean by the “secret code”), and we can teach you how to recognize and avoid them. The goal of this comprehensive program is to help you break the code.


It has been argued that the GRE isn’t a fair or effective predictor of the skills a person needs for graduate-level study. And you may be concerned that your scores on the GRE will not be a fair or accurate representation of the strong work you will do in your advanced degree program. Take heart: none of the GRE experts who work at Kaplan were born knowing how to ace the GRE. No one is. That’s because these tests do not measure innate skills; they measure acquired skills. People who are good at standardized tests are simply people who’ve already acquired these skills, whether in math class, or by reading a lot, or by studying logic in college, or—perhaps most efficiently—in one of Kaplan’s GRE courses. But they have, perhaps without realizing it, acquired the skills that spell success on tests like the GRE. And if you haven’t, you have nothing whatsoever to feel bad about. It’s time to acquire them now.


As we noted, the testmakers use some of the same problems on every GRE. We know it sounds incredible, but it’s true—only the words and numbers change. They test the same principles over and over. Here’s an example.

Quantity A


Quantity B


2x2 = 32





This is a type of math problem known as a Quantitative Comparison. Your job is to examine the relationship and pick (A) if Quantity A is bigger, (B) if Quantity B is bigger, (C) if they’re equal, or (D) if not enough information is given to solve the problem.

Most people answer (C), that the quantities are equal. They divide both sides of the centered equation by 2 and then take the square root of both sides to get x = 4. However, this is incorrect. x doesn’t have to be 4. It could be 4 or −4; that is, the quantities could be equal or Quantity B could be bigger. Both work, so the answer is (D) because the answer cannot be determined from the information given. If you just solve for 4, you’ll get this problem—and every one like it—wrong. ETS figures that if you get burned here, you’ll get burned again next time. Only next time, it won’t be 2x2 = 32; it will be y2 = 36 or s4 = 81.

The concepts tested on any particular GRE—right triangles, simple logic, word relationships, and so forth—are the underlying concepts at the heart of every GRE. ETS makes changes only after testing them exhaustively. This process is called norming, which means taking a normal test and a changed test and administering them to a random group of students. As long as the group is large enough for the purposes of statistical validity and the students get consistent scores from one test to the next, then the revised test is just as valid and consistent as any other GRE.

That may sound technical, but norming is actually a straightforward process. We do it at Kaplan all the time—for the tests that we write for our students. The tests in this book and your online Study Plan, for instance, are normed exams. While the interactive, computer-based test experience of the GRE is impossible to reproduce on paper, the paper-based test in our book is a normed exam that will produce a roughly equivalent score.

How the GRE Is Organized

The Graduate Record Examination (GRE) is administered on computer and is approximately four hours long, including breaks. The exam consists of six sections, with different amounts of time allotted for you to complete each section.

Basics of the GRE

Exam Length

4 hours, including breaks

Scoring Scale

130–170 (1-point increments) for Verbal and Quantitative; 0–6 for Analytical Writing


Multi-stage test (MST), a computer-based format that allows students to navigate forward and backward within each section of the test

Number of Test Sections

6 sections, including an experimental or research section


One 10-minute break after your third section; 1-minute breaks between all other sections

Analytical Writing

One section with two 30-minute tasks: analyze an issue and analyze an argument

Verbal Reasoning

Two 30-minute sections with approximately 20 questions each

Quantitative Reasoning

Two 35-minute sections with approximately 20 questions each; onscreen calculator available

Your test will also contain an experimental section—an additional Verbal Reasoning or Quantitative Reasoning section that ETS puts on the test so that ETS can norm the new questions it creates for use on future GREs. That means that if you could identify the experimental section, you could doodle for half an hour, guess in a random pattern, or daydream and still get exactly the same score on the GRE. However, the experimental section is disguised to look like a real section—there is no way to identify it. All you will really know on the day of the test is that one of the subject areas will have three sections instead of two. Naturally, many people try to figure out which section is experimental. But because ETS really wants you to try hard on it, it does its best to keep you guessing. If you guess wrong, you could blow the whole test, so we urge you to treat all sections as scored unless you are told otherwise.

Lastly, instead of an experimental section, your test could contain a research section. This section is unscored and will be indicated as such. If you have a research section on the test, it will be the last section. Pay careful attention to the directions at the beginning of the section.


The Analytical Writing section is scored on a scale of 0–6 in half-point increments. (See Chapter 15, “Introduction to Analytical Writing,” for details on this scoring rubric.) The Verbal Reasoning and Quantitative Reasoning sections each yield a scaled score within a range of 130 to 170 in one-point increments. You cannot score higher than 170 for either the Verbal Reasoning or the Quantitative Reasoning sections, no matter how hard you try. Similarly, it’s impossible to score lower than 130 for Verbal Reasoning or Quantitative Reasoning.

But you don’t receive only scaled scores; you also receive a percentile rank, which rates your performance relative to that of a large sample population of other GRE takers. Percentile scores tell graduate schools just what your scaled scores are worth. For instance, even if everyone got very high scaled scores, universities would still be able to differentiate candidates by their percentile scores. The following tables give a cross section of the percentile ranks* that correspond with certain scaled scores on each section of the GRE, based on test takers between August 1, 2011, and April 30, 2014. For the full percentile-to-score conversion tables, see

Verbal Reasoning

Percentile Ranking

Scaled Score



















Quantitative Reasoning

Percentile Ranking

Scaled Score



















Analytical Writing

Percentile Ranking




















Universities pay great attention to percentile rank. It’s important that you do some research into the programs you’re thinking about. Admissions officers from many top graduate school programs consider the GRE the most important factor in graduate school admissions. Some schools have cutoff scores below which they don’t even consider applicants. But be careful! If a school tells you it looks for applicants scoring an average of 150 per section, that doesn’t mean those scores are good enough for immediate acceptance. Some students will be accepted with scores below that average, and some students may be denied admission even with scores that are higher. Consider the score of 150 per section as an initial target score, but also be sure the rest of your application is strong. You owe it to yourself to find out what kinds of scores impress the schools you’re interested in and to work hard until you get those scores. Every day we see students work hard and achieve their target scores. Work hard, and you can be among them.

A final note about percentile rank: the sample population to which you are compared to determine your percentile is not the group of people who take the test on the same day as you do. ETS doesn’t want to penalize an unlucky candidate who takes the GRE on a date when everyone else happens to be a rocket scientist. Instead, it compares your performance with that of test takers from the past three years. Don’t worry about how other people do—strive for your best score. We often tell our students, “Your only competition in this classroom is yourself.”

Cancellation and Multiple-Scores Policy

Unlike many things in life, the GRE allows you a second chance. If at the end of the test, you feel that you’ve definitely not done as well as you could have, you have the option to cancel your score. Although score cancellation is available, the option to use ScoreSelect means there’s rarely a good reason to cancel scores. If you cancel, your scores will be disregarded. (You also won’t get to see them.) Canceling a score means that it won’t count; however, you will not receive any refund for your test fee.

Two legitimate reasons to cancel your score are illness and personal circumstances that may have caused you to perform unusually poorly on that particular day.

But keep in mind that test takers historically underestimate their performance, especially immediately following the test. They tend to forget about all of the things that went right and focus on everything that went wrong. So unless your performance has been terribly marred by unforeseen circumstances, don’t cancel your score. Even if you do cancel your score, it is possible to reinstate it within 60 days for a fee. (See for details.)

Also, ETS now offers test takers more choices in determining which scores to report to schools. The  ScoreSelect option allows GRE test takers to choose—after viewing their scores on Test Day—to report their scores from only the most recent test they took or from all of the GRE tests they have taken in the past five years. Additionally, if a student sends score reports after Test Day, the student can have full freedom to report scores from any testing administration(s), not just the most recent. However, test takers cannot report only Quantitative Reasoning scores or only Verbal Reasoning scores from a given test—results from any testing administration must be reported in full. For more on the ScoreSelect option, go to

Requested score reports are sent to schools 10–15 days after the exam. All GRE testing administrations will remain valid (and usable) in your ETS record for five years. If you choose to report multiple scores, most grad schools will consider the highest score you have for each section, although there are a few exceptions. Check with individual schools for their policies on multiple scores.

Lastly, know that schools receiving your scores will have access to photos taken of you at the test center, plus your Analytical Writing essays from each test administration whose scores you choose to report.

Test Registration

You should obtain a copy of the GRE Information and Registration Bulletin. This booklet contains information on scheduling, pricing, repeat testing, cancellation policies, and more. You can receive the booklet by calling the Educational Testing Service at (609) 771-7670 or (866) 473-4373 or by downloading it from

The computer-based GRE General Test is offered year-round. To register for and schedule your GRE, use one of the following options. (If you live outside the United States, Canada, Guam, the U.S. Virgin Islands, or Puerto Rico, visit for instructions on how to register.)

Registering earlier is strongly recommended because spaces often fill quickly.

Register Online

You can register online (if you are paying with a credit or debit card) at Once the registration process is complete, you can print out your voucher immediately (and can reprint it if it is lost). If you register online, you can confirm test center availability in real time.

Register by Phone

Call 1-800-GRE-CALL or 1-800-473-2255. Your confirmation number, reporting time, and test center location will be given to you when you call. Payments can be made with an American Express, Discover, JCB, MasterCard, or Visa credit or debit card.

Register by Mail

Complete the Authorization Voucher Request Form available for download at Mail the fee and signed voucher request form in the envelope provided to the address printed on the voucher.

ETS advises that you allow up to three weeks for processing before you receive your voucher in the mail. When you receive your voucher, call to schedule an appointment. Vouchers are valid for one year from the date of issue. When you register, make sure you list a first- and second-choice test center.


Before the Test

·        Choose a test date.

·        Register online at, by phone at 1-800-GRE-CALL, or by mail.

·        Receive your admission voucher in the mail or online.

·        Check out your test center.

o   Know the directions to the building and room where you’ll be tested.

·        Create a test prep calendar to ensure that you’re ready by the day of the test.

o   On a calendar, block out the weeks you have to prepare for the test.

o   Based on your strengths and weaknesses, establish a detailed plan of study and select appropriate lessons and practice. (Don’t forget to include some days off!)

·        Stick to the plan; as with any practice, little is gained if it isn’t methodical. Skills can’t be “crammed” at the last minute.

·        Reevaluate your strengths and weaknesses from time to time and revise your plan accordingly.

The Day of the Test

·        Make sure you have your GRE admission voucher and acceptable ID.

·        Leave yourself plenty of time to arrive at the test site stress-free.

·        Arrive at the test site at least 30 minutes early for the check-in procedures.

·        Don’t worry—you’re going to do great!

GRE Subject Tests

Subject Tests are designed to test the fundamental knowledge that is most important for successful graduate study in a particular subject area. To do well on a GRE Subject Test, you must have an extensive background in the particular subject area—the sort of background you would be expected to have if you had majored in the subject. Subject Tests enable admissions officers to compare students from different colleges with different standards and curricula. Not every graduate school or program requires Subject Tests, so check admissions requirements at those schools in which you’re interested.


All Subject Tests are administered in paper-based format and consist exclusively of multiple-choice questions that are designed to assess knowledge of the areas of the subject that are included in the typical undergraduate curriculum.

On Subject Tests, you’ll earn one point for each multiple-choice question that you answer correctly, but you’ll lose one-quarter of a point for each incorrectly answered question. Unanswered questions aren’t counted in the scoring. Your raw score is then converted into a scaled score, which can range from 200 to 990. The range varies from test to test.

Some Subject Tests also contain subtests, which provide more specific information about your strengths and weaknesses. The same questions that contribute to your subtest scores also contribute to your overall score. Subtest scores, which range from 20 to 99, are reported along with the overall score. For further information on scoring, you should consult the relevant Subject Test Descriptive Booklet, available from ETS. Subject Tests are offered three times a year: in October, November, and April. Note that not all of the Subject Tests are offered on every test date; consult for upcoming test dates and registration deadlines.


Currently, seven Subject Tests are offered.

Biochemistry, Cell, and Molecular Biology

This test consists of about 175 questions and is divided among three subscore areas: biochemistry, cell biology, and molecular biology and genetics.


This test consists of about 200 questions divided among three subscore areas: cellular and molecular biology, organismal biology, and ecology and evolution.


This test consists of about 130 questions. There are no subscores, and the questions cover the following topics: analytical chemistry, inorganic chemistry, organic chemistry, and physical chemistry.

Literature in English

This test consists of about 230 questions on literature in the English language. There are two basic types of questions: factual questions that test your knowledge of writers and literary or critical movements typically covered in the undergraduate curriculum, and interpretive questions that test your ability to read various types of literature critically.


This test consists of about 66 questions on the content of various undergraduate courses in mathematics. Most of the test assesses your knowledge of calculus, linear algebra, abstract algebra, and number theory.


This test consists of approximately 100 questions covering mostly material from the first three years of undergraduate physics. Topics include classical mechanics, electromagnetism, atomic physics, optics and wave phenomena, quantum mechanics, thermodynamics and statistical mechanics, special relativity, and laboratory methods. About 9 percent of the test covers advanced topics, such as nuclear and particle physics, condensed matter physics, and astrophysics.


This test consists of approximately 205 questions drawn from courses most commonly included in the undergraduate curriculum. Questions fall into three categories. The experimental or natural science–oriented category includes questions on learning, language, memory, thinking, sensation and perception, and physiological psychology/behavioral neuroscience. The social or social science–oriented category includes questions on clinical and abnormal psychology, lifetime development, social psychology, and personality. Together, these make up about 83 percent of the test, and each of the two categories provides its own subscore. The other 17 percent or so of the questions fall under the “general” category, which includes the history of psychology, tests and measurements, research design and statistics, and applied psychology.

For more information, consult ETS’s Subject Test section at