GRE Exam Overview

Considering today’s highly skilled and competitive workforce, many undergraduate students strive to complete post-graduate studies to give them a leg up when entering the job market. In the USA and Canada, graduate schools offer advanced degrees but the selection process is notoriously strenuous in most cases. Graduate Record Examinations (GRE) are taken by students hoping to enroll in post-graduate programs like M.A or Ph.D.

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What Is GRE?

GRE is an acronym for Graduate Record Examinations. This is a paper-based or computer-based standardized test. The computerized test can be taken up to 5 times in a year to achieve the highest possible score. Computerized testing is possible all year round, unlike the paper-based testing that is only offered 3 times per year. This test is developed and facilitated by ETS, Educational Testing Service. They are the world’s biggest independent assessment and testing body. They also facilitate other standardized tests like TOEFL.

Why is GRE important?

This score is a prerequisite for many post-graduate program applications, especially within Arts, Science, and Humanities faculties. It gives a clear indication if you possess the unique skills and knowledge it takes to succeed in such a demanding endeavor. There are a select few programs that do not require this test to be taken but in most cases a high score is critical. These results are also valid for as long as five years! Thus, it can be very beneficial to take them if you plan to start graduate school in the future.

What is the format of the GRE test?

Unlike many other academic tests, this test is only divided into 3 categories.

  • Analytical Writing
  • Verbal Reasoning
  • Quantitative Reasoning

The computer and paper-based exams have different formats. The paper exam is only available to individuals in the location where there is no access to the computer based test. Therefore, most students will be taking the computer-based test. The computer-based test is also adaptive. This means that your performance in the first section of the test will determine the questions to follow.

Analytical Writing

The Analytical Writing section (AW) is a treacherous task that needs to be conquered before you can attempt the rest of the test. It consists of 2 essays, each allocated 30 minutes to complete. As the name suggests, you will be tasked with analyzing 2 things: 1 issue and 1 argument.

To analyze an issue, you will need to explain to what extent you agree or disagree with the given statement or recommendation. You will need to fervently support your answer by providing compelling reasoning.

The second sub-section of AW requires you to analyze an argument. You will be provided with a passage wherein the author will make claims for a certain course of action or a way of interpreting events. These claims will be backed by evidence. You will need to write a response to the passage. The question can be framed in one of 7 different ways, all of which are available online to practice and become familiar with.

Verbal Reasoning

After the marathon writing portion, you move on to the verbal reasoning section. This section is divided into 2 sub-sections that are also adaptive in nature. You will be given a range of passages of varying lengths. The questions that follow after the passages aim to test 3 main skills:

  • Reading Comprehension
  • Text Completion
  • Sentence Equivalence

Around half of the questions in this section will be comprehension questions. You need to show an excellent understanding of complex academic readings and the vocabulary associated with it. Topics are very diverse and the test taker needs to be able to handle complex writings that are outside their field of expertize. This means that you will need a critical and analytical eye when facing this section as much of the information might be new or unrelated.

Quantitative Reasoning

The final section of the GRE test delves into your mathematical reasoning skills. You will be tested on your basic math abilities and understanding of math concepts as well as your ability to reason quantitatively through problems. This section has 4 areas of content that is assessed:

  • Arithmetic
  • Algebra
  • Geometry
  • Data Analysis

All the questions rely on high school level math. You are also allowed to use the calculator that is provided on the computer (or given at the test center for paper tests). There are four types of questions you can expect to see including multiple-choice, numeric entry, and quantitative comparison questions.

ETS adds unscored sections to the GRE exam. Either of the reasoning sections (never analytical writing) will have one extra section that will not be marked or counted towards your final score. These are simply experimental sections that test out questions that will be used in future tests. These unscored parts are not indicated or placed in a specific order. Therefore, you should not skip any part of the test, simply thinking that it is the experimental portion.

How is the GRE test scored?

The verbal and quantitative reasoning sections are both scored the same. They will each result in a raw score; the sum of all of your correct answers in those sections. As both these sections are adaptive, the question difficulty changes as the computer recognize your skill level. Because of this adaptive nature, your raw score needs to be calibrated and adjusted to give you a final scaled score.

As for the Analytical Writing essay, scoring is a little bit more complicated. First, each essay will be scored on a scale from 0 to 6. Next, each essay will be graded again by ETS’s advanced software. If the two scores (human and computer) align, the average of the two scores is calculated and recorded. If the two do not align, a second essay graded is brought in to redo the grading done by the computer. Finally, the score for each essay is averaged and rounded off to the nearest half-point on the 6-point scale. This gives you one final score for the writing section.

Unlike most tests, your 3 scores will remain separate and not consolidated into a combined score. Both reasoning sections are scored from 130-170 and are scaled (not raw). The writing score is measured from 0-6 and can be half points too.

How do I prepare for GRE?

Before you take the GRE, you need to know the target score you need. Each post-graduate discipline has a different target that needs to be reached. You should also take a mock-test before you start preparing. This will give you a good indication of your base knowledge, and how big the gap between that and your target score is.

It is important to research how questions are asked. This test requires vast amounts of reasoning and analyzing and the question formats can be studied. Many parts of the test also rely on your vocabulary range. This will require you to brush up your language skills to be able to derive meaning from the heavily academic passages you will be given. Thus, it is a good idea to frequently dive into academic literature and more advanced reading materials to sharpen up your vocabulary.

There is no limit to the number of prep tests you can take. The more diverse your sources are the better chance you have of being prepared for different question formats.

Lastly, there are also countless prep courses and tutors available online to give you even more of an edge when exam day rolls around.


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