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Taking the GRE: Tips for Success

May 8, 2009 Jennifer Williamson, Distance Columnist | 1 Comments

The GRE, or Graduate Record Examination, is the general entry tests for most graduate schools in the U.S. If you want to earn your Master’s or PhD in almost any subject, you’ll have to pass this test first.

Most GRE tests are administered via a computer terminal, and you can see your score as soon as you’re done with your test. Each college requires different scores, but in general anything above a 550 in the Verbal and a 700 in the Quantitative sections are considered acceptable.  If you aren’t satisfied with your first score, you can take the test again after the next calendar month. Graduate schools will generally consider only the top score of two and a few might consider the top of three, but you might weaken your graduate school application with a record of low scores on more than three GRE test exams.

You can take the test again, but it’s much easier to get a good score the first time. Here are a few tips on how to do well on the GRE exam.

GRE Test Format

The GRE requires two Analytical Writing Assessment Responses or essay questions, a 30-minute Verbal Ability Section consisting of about thirty multiple-choice questions, and a Quantitative Ability section with about 28 multiple-choice sections. 

The Verbal Ability section is designed to analyze your reading comprehension skills, while the Quantitative Ability section tests your basic skills in math.  The math skills tested include algebra, geometry, data analysis and arithmetic, as well as quantitative reasoning and problem-solving.

The two essay questions both expect you to articulate complex ideas, analyze claims and evidence, and develop and support a coherent thesis with good control over written English. The first essay will ask you to present your opinion on an issue—you’ll be graded on your ability to introduce and support a coherent position.  The second will ask you to analyze an argument, and you’ll be assessed on your ability to assess and judge the soundness of someone else’s supported opinion.

Tips for High Scores

In the essay questions, think strong arguments over grammar and spelling 


The GRE essay questions grade your ability to express and support your opinions. In a perfect world, your essay would be both perfectly argued and grammatically correct. However, you’ll have limited time to write—about 45 minutes for each essay.  If you find yourself running out of time, bear in mind that your grammar and syntax will affect your grade only insofar as they affect the reader’s understanding of your position. If you misstate your thesis sentence, that’s one thing—but a misspelling or misplaced comma here or there likely won’t make a big difference.

Read the directions

Any students get low scores on tests because they don’t take time to read the directions before answering the questions.  Make sure you completely understand the question before you go about finding the answer—this is time well spent, even when you’re working under a time limit.

Spend more time on the beginning questions

The questions at the beginning of the GRE tests have a bigger effect on your score than the questions at the end.  Take your time at the beginning. Doing well on the first section of each multiple choice test is crucial.

Don’t leave questions unanswered

The GRE test doesn’t take points away for wrong answers; it simply doesn’t count those answers toward your score. It counts questions left blank in the same way. Because of this, it’s to your advantage to answer each question, even ones you aren’t sure of. If you answer questions you don’t know, you’ll have at least a chance of guessing the correct answer—a chance you won’t have if you leave the question blank.

You can’t go back

The testing software doesn’t allow you to go back to questions later, so don’t leave any questions for later to answer and don’t assume you’ll be able to go back to check your answers again. Answer your questions the best you can, then move on.

Doing well on the GRE’s can make the difference on acceptance to graduate school. Get rest the night before, take plenty of practice exams, and be sure you’re comfortable the day of the exam. With the right preparation, you should be able to earn a high score.



Best essays Over a year ago

Thanks for sharing all the important information about the formats of GRE test as i I'm also preparing for the next date of this test.

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