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Ashok’s Breakdown of Question Types on the GRE

Here’s another student’s write-up about their GRE experience– we’ll be updating the database as people send us their stories, so you can check back (or submit your own!) by using the “Student New GRE Experiences” link in the menu bar above.

This post features a submission from Ashok– it’s a great read and very detailed, so it’s especially helpful if you’re feeling nervous about what to expect in terms of breakdown of question types, progression from section to section, etc.


“After several months of nervous waiting I took the Revised General GRE on 22-08-11 in Chennai. I got a 580 – 680 score range in the Verbal section and 750 – 800 score range in the quantitative section of the test.

My name is Ashok and I am from Chennai, India. I decided to write the GRE last December. However I was perturbed by the intense vocabulary requirements of the old format. I have an aversion to reading the word lists. So I waited for the revised format and registered for it. In order to improving my verbal ability, I concentrated more on reading the newspaper opinion pages and other magazines. Only later did I realize that, even after the removal of antonyms and the analogies, there was still the need to know one’s vocabulary at least for the text completion type questions if not for all the verbal questions. So I also read Barron’s high frequency word list.

The first hurdle I faced during preparation for the revised GRE is preparation material. I was in dire need for some practice tests and all I got was the lone test in the Powerprep II software from ETS. For the verbal section I found the Magoosh blog very useful. I participated in one of their practice question competitions and won a premium subscription for free. I regularly practiced the questions in the verbal section of Magoosh. I also read around 300 words from the high frequency word list in the Quizlet website– they had a fun way to read them. For the Quantitative Reasoning (QR) section I have practiced the CAT (Common Admission Test for admission into MBA programs in India) questions. The CAT quantitative questions are usually considered many times more difficult than what the GRE calls for.


On the test day I arrived at my centre 45 minutes early. After the verification of proper identification and other security checks I was showed to my cabin. The place had good noise-canceling headphones and a nice large monitor which was easy on the eyes.  There was a total of seven sections in the test. There was a ten minute break between the 3rd and the 4th sections.

ANALYTICAL WRITING (Sections 1 & 2):

The analytical writing section had the usual issue essay and the analysis of an argument. But compared to the previous format the time provided for the issue essay was 15 minutes less. There was no choice of the topic on which we could choose to write. The topics were similar to the ones that are available in the topic pool in the ETS website. So no surprises here!

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Immediately after the analytical writing I got the quantitative reasoning section. I was immediately happy because the experimental section would then also be of the quantitative reasoning type! The first quantitative reasoning section was pretty easy. All of the questions were pretty straightforward. The traps laid were simple and could be easily spotted. I easily had about 15 minutes of time remaining after I completed all the questions, which I used to double-check each and every answer.

The second and the third quantitative sections were raised the difficulty bar a bit. There were quite a few questions that had some traps which required some work to identify. After completing all the questions in the second quantitative section, I had only one question for which I was not sure of my answer and the time remaining was about 10 minutes. I had worked though that marked question and found the correct answer. I was quite confident that all the answers were correct.

I was very sure that the last quantitative section, which was also the last section of the test, was the experimental section. The questions were similar in difficulty to the second math section. There was one question in this section that was related to percentiles regarding which I had no idea to solve. The rest all were workable and at the end of this section I had around 7 mins. I tried in vain to use all that remaining time to solve that one unsolved question.

Overall the math section was quite manageable. I used the calculator to great effect. I rechecked all of my manual calculations with it. I used the calculator for almost 80% of the questions. The split-up of the question types were as follows:

For each section of 20 questions:

Analytical Geometry-         3 to 4

Geometry-                       3 to 4

Which is greater A or B-    6 to 7

Numbers (including typing in the answer)-  4

Statistics-                       2

Probability-                     1


VERBAL SECTION (Sections 4 & 6):

I started on the first verbal section by confidently banking on my good performance on the previous quantitative section. And since there was a 10 minute break after the 3rd section, I had some time to relax and clear my mind before stepping into the verbal section.

According to ETS the first verbal section should be of moderate difficulty level and the difficultly of the second level will be based on our performance in the first level. But I felt that the first section itself was quite difficult. The text completion questions required a good deal of vocabulary, but I am not sure the word lists alone would have helped because the word’s usage mattered a lot. Some of the text completion questions had 3 blanks, thus making them difficult. However, I did not spend much time on these questions. I marked these questions for review and moved on to the later questions.

If the text completion was difficult because of the vocabulary, the reading comprehension questions were difficult because of the confusing nature of the passage and the questions. Most of the passages were only moderately long and had one or two questions per passage. There was only one long passage per section and this passage had 3 or 4 questions about it. But regardless of the length of the passage, all the passages were tough to read and comprehend. They mainly dealt with science, literature or occasionally philosophy. Almost none of the RC questions were straightforward data based questions. A few of them were inference based questions. I had very few questions of the type where I had to choose the sentence in the passage as the answer. I felt that all of the questions required diligent reading of the passage and picking up the cues to get the correct answers. All the answer choices were pretty close and many times I was not sure of my answer.

The sentence completion was the only section I was somewhat comfortable with. They did not demand vocabulary knowledge as much as the text completion section did. They could be answered with some thought and provided me with some much needed relief after the other questions that required heavy concentration.

In the 1st verbal section I had about 7 minutes to review the marked questions and in the 2nd verbal section I had around 3 to 4 minutes. Even though the first verbal section was difficult for me, I mitigated the section with careful analysis and application of the various learnt techniques to answer these questions. But the second verbal section was markedly difficult than the first one. I was easily able to observe this increase in difficulty because almost all of the text completion questions had 3 blanks; the words in the options were difficult and had subtle differences in their meaning. I skipped most of the text completion type questions and proceeded to the RC based questions. I can safely say that I did not find questions RC questions in any of the practice material that were as challenging as those in the exam. However, after deliberate analysis of the passage and the answer choices I answered all the RC questions. I feel obliged to say that my reading habits pretty much saved me through the RCs. The rest were answered with a combination of careful elimination and educated guesswork.

The split up of questions were similar to the Powerprep tests. They are as follows (out of 20 questions):

Text Completion – 6

Reading Comprehension – 10 to 11

Sentence Completion – 4 to 5

At the end of all the sections I was physically and mentally tired and was very apprehensive about the scored. But I was just glad that the test was over. Then I went on and submitted the scores. My powerprep test scores were 750 – 800 in quantitative and 510 – 610 in verbal. I was hoping against hope to get the same score in the actual test too. I got 750 – 800 in QR as I had expected during the test. In Verbal I got 580 – 680. And then all my tiredness flew away and was replaced by a stupid grin on my face.”


Thanks, Ashok, and congratulations!

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One Response to Ashok’s Breakdown of Question Types on the GRE

  1. Aparna September 11, 2011 at 6:40 am #

    Thank you for the detailed explanations. I am apprehensive about the verbal section of the tests and your experience has given me a clue as to how to go about preparing for it. RD here I come. Thank you!

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