The Graduate Record Exam and You

As you likely already noticed, the wonderful world of academia is full of testing and standardized examinations. While we may bemoan the high-pressure stakes of rigorous testing, entrance exams for various types of institutions provide a good measure of a candidate’s ability. If you are a junior or senior who plans on attending graduate school, the Graduate Record Exam (GRE) is probably on your radar, if you haven’t taken it already. The GRE is the exam that students take in order to be granted entry into graduate school. Ideally, the GRE should be taken by the end of your junior year so you can apply to schools in the Fall semester of your senior year. While the prospect of one test deciding your future is fairly daunting, it may be consoling to know that, like any test, the GRE can be mastered through sufficient preparation and steady focus.

The GRE is divided up into three categories that assess your analytical writing, verbal and quantitative reasoning skills. This is similar to the SAT or ACT exam that you took in high school. The exam is essentially a broad assessment of everything that you have been taught in your high school and college career. The analytical writing portion typically asks you to read a passage, summarize it and critique an argument contained therein. This is where you’ll need to brush up on your reasoning skills. Make sure you can critically assess a passage and coherently formulate an argument in response to a claim contained in the passage. Typically, the analytical writing section contains two essays with about 75 minutes to complete both.

The Verbal section of the GRE assesses your ability to identify grammatical errors, analogies, antonyms and general reading comprehension skills. More broadly, the Verbal section tests your ability to recognize relationships between words and concepts. You’ll have about 30 minutes to complete around 30 questions. The questions will often entail a passage with blanks, and you have to fill in the blanks with the appropriate word or phrase. It’s essentially designed so that you know and understand the meaning of what you’re reading. A practice I find helpful to bolster my reading comprehension skills is to read with a pen in hand. That way, you can jot down any insight into the meaning of the text as you go. This will also enable you to underline important terms or phrases that you’ll need to remember.

Lastly, you will be tested on your Quantitative skills. Don’t worry, unless you have to take a GRE Subject Test, this section will only cover high school-level math. Thus, to prepare for this section, I recommend brushing up on your basic arithmetic, geometry and algebra. You’ll have about 45 minutes to complete this section, so practicing with a timer is very helpful. Common questions in this section are determining whether quantity A or quantity B is larger. A good word of advice for this section, and for all of the sections, is to not let yourself be intimidated. A lot of the questions you’ll encounter will be similar to ones you’ve encountered on other standardized tests. Just because it’s for graduate school doesn’t mean the material is going to look foreign.

That being said, adequate preparation is your ticket to success on the GRE. I recommend spending at least four weeks preparing, ideally even more. There are a whole host of practice GRE exams out there that you can take. I recommend taking two: one before studying, and one after you’ve prepared in order to measure your progress. But before you do this, find the graduate programs you’re interested in and look up their GRE score requirements. That way, you’ll have a goal in mind to work towards. You’ll also want to recreate the conditions of the real GRE during the practice exams. This way you’ll get an accurate measure of your performance while under pressure. There are numerous resources at your disposal for studying, including test prep books, online programs and prep courses. I recommend getting a book as well as using an online program. YouTube also has a lot of GRE practice tips videos, so be sure to check those out.

While preparing, be sure to focus on the way you go about each problem, rather than just the results. The goal of studying is not to figure out all of the right answers, but to develop good problem-solving strategies. Pay attention to how you go about a problem during practice so that you can critique yourself and hone your problem-solving skills.

If you take the time to prepare for the GRE, graduate school will be yours. If you want additional preparation help, or general graduate school guidance, the Career Center here on campus can help. Schedule an appointment with a career counselor today so they can aid you in your graduate school needs.

Until Next Time,


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