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Preparing Part 3: Learning About the GRE

My books and I are having a little honeymoon phase right now. They’re so crisply new and shiny and just sitting there on my table that sometimes I get the urge to pick them up and flip through their untrammeled recycled pages.

But really now I guess it’s probably time I should actually look at the pages, haha. I’ve been tackling the Barron’s Frequently Used Word List, and have most of them down. I probably have 1/3 of the words on flashcards that I made up to take with me wherever I go (TIP: If you’re like me, you’ll save a lot of 3×5″ index card stock by cutting them in half. I have medium-sized hands and it works fine for me.). However, I’m seriously considering buying an already-made flashcard pack by either Princeton Review or Barron’s. The Princeton Review flash card set has only vocabulary, which I prefer because I’m not sure I would use Barron’s math flashcards too much. But then again, I’m a total fan of Barron’s word list so I don’t know. We’ll see how that goes.

Next week I’ll have to start studying the analogy sections from both.

Although serious studying won’t start yet, I think it’s important for me to get familiar with the exam first. There are a lot of things different about the GRE I didn’t even realize, and although I won’t mention what PR said about the test verbatim, here’s the gist of it:


Test format:

  1. Verbal section (30 minutes, 30 qs)
  2. Quantitative (45 minutes, 28 qs)
  3. Analytical writing (75 minutes, 2 topics)

… Plus an unidentified experimental section, either verbal or quantitative, and maybe another optional research section. Both PR and Barron’s say that these sections are unmarked, so you have no way of knowing whether or not these scores count. So they say to try your best, even if the test seems a little screwy! (I’ll take that advice.)

Scores: Scores for verbal and quantitative sections are based on scale of 200-800 (that means if I mess up super badly, I can’t get lower than a 200!). The analytical writing score, however, is based on a 0-6 ratio.

Grading, and the dreaded Computer-Adaptive Test!: Okay. So apparently this is where my confusion hits. What’s the difference between a computer-based test and a paper-and-pencil test like the SAT/ACT? Your test-taking performance counts. The way that the GRE works is that when you sit down to answer a problem, you click a choice (which isn’t marked a, b, or c; that’s another difference). If that choice is correct, they assume you are smarter than the average test-taker, bump up your score, and give you a harder question. Your score goes up as you answer those increasingly difficult questions.

If you choose a wrong answer, however, you’ll get a lower score and will consequently be given an easier question. If you get the next answer right, your score will be bumped up and you’ll receive a harder question. And so on and so forth. So basically, the computer “hones” in on your score by tailoring the test to your performance. Whoa.

That’s a lot to think about. I think I’ll stop here for today, but I must make one point clear–a point that probably every book wants to make clear:

  • TAKE YOUR TIME DURING THE TEST, ESPECIALLY DURING THE FIRST QUESTIONS. Why? Because if you get a string of answers wrong in the first portion of the test, your score will decrease drastically.

Alright, off to studying. For more information, check out the FAQ on the ETS website!

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2 Responses to Preparing Part 3: Learning About the GRE

  1. Muthukumaran January 25, 2016 at 5:35 am #

    I’m planning to do my MS in abroad. Is GRE helpful for me?

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
      Magoosh Test Prep Expert January 28, 2016 at 3:59 am #

      This is a great question!

      The GRE is dominantly used for US-based schools, but it is increasingly becoming part of the application process for schools outside the US, too. The most reliable way to figure out whether you can use it abroad, though, is going to be looking at the schools you want to attend and seeing if they list the GRE among the requirements to apply.

      I hope that helps a bit!

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