Saturday, February 27, 2010

The GREs: Grating, Repugnant, and Enervating

The GREs can be scary to anyone looking to go back to grad school. Let's face it: with the economy being so bad, it really gives you a boost to have a grad degree, so here's to everyone who is going back to school and has to take the GREs-- which is a major motivational roadblock to applying to colleges, if you ask me.

It took me forever to actually buck up and take the GREs. I had the book (borrowed from the library-- because clearly I had no desire to keep it around as a momentum after I was done with it, or to spend any extra money on a test I was loath to take). I had the time-- although I did find quite a number of excuses to explain why I wasn't studying for the GREs ("I'll study as soon as I get done making these crepes..."). I still lacked the motivation though.

My initial goal was to take them in November 2009. I read up on the grad schools I wanted to apply for, I read up on the GREs themselves and tips for taking them. I studied the kinds of questions that they would ask me, re-familiarized myself with the math and glanced over the five lists of vocab words that they said were crucial to the GREs (with fun list names like "Hit Parade Group 1" to entice me to study...?). So I wrote up flash cards and stored them away for a couple of months. I let all the math I'd relearned start leaking back out of my brain. And then all the sudden it was January, and all the sudden, I realized I was screwed. I hadn't even signed up. I had kept putting off signing up for the the GREs because I said I wasn't quite ready yet and I'd just wait until I felt a little more confident before I made the commitment of $120 (yes, that's the actual cost of the GRE as of January 2010-- and yes, you have permission to cry about it).

I realized that I was in trouble. I needed to take the GREs immediately if I wanted to get into grad school in Fall 2010. [Side note: Master of Library Science programs have later dates than most grad school programs, so if you put it off as long as I did, you'll probably be in worse shape than I was.]

So I just signed up. I had already read most of the book. I signed up for a GRE date in late January-- two weeks exactly from the date I signed up.

First things first: Taking the GREs:

The most important thing to note: the GRE is a computer-adaptive test. This means that if you answer a question wrong, then it gives you an easier question. If you get it correct, the questions get harder. However! It also means that it pinpoints your general score early on in the test. So remember, spend the most time on the first half of the questions, and the least time on the ones at the end. By the end of the test, they are only tweaking your score very minutely.

Before you take the test: The test is about four hours long, so EAT SOMETHING, MAKE SURE YOU PEE, and know that you can't take anything into the test center with you (you get a locker, and all your stuff has to stay in there). You get one 10-minute break, and that's it. I hope you don't have a small bladder.

The Layout of the test:

  • 45-minutes to write an argument essay. They give you two options for the topic-- read them each carefully. Pick the argument that you can most easily defend, and make sure that includes examples.
  • No break. You don't get a break between essays.
  • 30-minutes to write a critique of someone else's argument. You get no topic options on this one. It is crucial to remember while writing this that you are NOT trying to defend a position here or argue why you do or don't agree-- rather, you are trying to find holes in the person's argument. Do they use statistics or facts to back up their argument? Figure out what they are overlooking. That's your critique.
TEN MINUTE BREAK: Now you get to pee again, and they might allow you to access your locker for food and water. You definitely can't look at your cell phone though, or study any materials, so don't even think about it. And stretch. Stretching's good.

VERBAL AND QUANTITATIVE: You will get three sections here-- one math, one verbal, and one either math or verbal that acts as a test section. Yes, it will suck to take two of the same section, but don't get lackadaisical when you get to the repeat section! You won't know which section counts and which doesn't, and you also won't know which section you'll get a repeat of. I was lucky enough to receive two verbal instead of two math... whew! Both verbal sections seemed similar, so you can't guess which one is the test section. Beware!
  • The verbal section consists of 30 questions in 30 minutes.
  • The quantitative section consists of 28 questions in 45 minutes.
  • Pace yourself. And remember: the first questions are the most important, so take your time on those!
How to study for the GREs:
  1. Read the book-- understand the layout of the GRE so that you know how to manipulate it. Know what kind of math and verbal questions you are going to be asked. I used Princeton Review's book and it worked pretty well. Don't however, do the test questions in the back of the book -- if you're taking the GRE on the computer, study on the computer (I'll give you the best website to study later in the post.
  2. JUST SIGN UP ALREADY. Even if you feel unprepared now, it'll give you a deadline and something to work up to. Otherwise, you'll never want to do it. TRUST ME.
  3. Go to and get yourself an account. This website is a god-send. I promise. It gives you an endless supply of practice questions in verbal and quantitative (math) sections, and keeps stats about your accuracy of each kind of question (sentence completion, analogies, antonyms, fractions, percentages, etc). This way, you can see where you need the most work. Then you can also set your practice sessions so that you only get those kinds of questions. You can also review all the questions you've taken, and it gives detailed explanations for the correct answer. They also give you a timer so you can see how long it takes you, and in the stats section, it shows you your average time for answering questions. You can do as many questions in a set as you want, so even if you only have five minutes to spare, this website makes it SO easy to study on the fly.
  4. Studying vocab is tedious and boring, but it's the best way to improve your verbal score. The Princeton Review gives an overwhelming number of words to learn. I've always been a proponent of flash cards, but this was just too much for me, and so I never got around to using them. Therefore, I came up with a solution! I spend a lot of time with my iPod, especially in the car. So I downloaded vocab podcasts on iTunes which are meant to strengthen your vocab. The one I liked best was called the Vocabulist by Prestige Learning -- you can also get it online at their website. It works by using mnemonics, pairing the vocab word to a weird saying or mental image which helps you remember the word more easily. There are also plenty of other vocab podcasts out there, but I found this one to be the most useful. Listening to even a half-hour of vocab a day really helps, and it's a lot less effort than sitting down with flashcards.
  5. Read a book that you enjoy. Reading helps vocab, so don't underestimate pleasure reading to help you improve your GRE score. Comic books and nudey magazines probably don't count though, even if you do "just read them for the articles".
  6. When you feel pretty confident with how you're doing (and after you've signed up to take the test), go to the ETS website (they administer the GRE), and download their Powerprep software that simulates the actual GRE. It is the same program that they use at the test center, and you can get used to how the computer adaptive test works and also how the layout of the program works. It is a full-length (writing, quantitative, AND verbal), it is timed, and has the same rules that will be given to you at your testing site. At the end, it gives you a score on the verbal and quantitative parts so you can gauge how well you'll do on the test.
Doesn't all this useful information want to make you take the GREs? No. Probably not. But I hope it helps, and makes it a little less stressful to think about.

1 comment:

  1. i just got done reading all of your blog posts and i love how much it seems a passion for you to help others gain knowledge. i think that you would make a really good teacher and role model for kids, the kind of teacher we need more of in our schools.