Posted: November 30, 2011
Standardized tests like the SAT and GRE can have a profound bearing on the lives of test-takers, so it’s no surprise that the mere mention of those vexing three-letter acronyms can trigger a little anxiety.
During a recent informational event hosted by the University of Washington Professional & Continuing Education (UWPCE), Anne Curtis of The Princeton Review helped quell some of those fears with her insightful presentation.
As one of four guest panelists invited to speak at Navigating Grad School as a Working Professional, she provided a number of valuable tips for the aspiring graduate students in attendance.
The GRE is not an intelligence test. It doesn’t test on the kind of material you’ll be asked to study in graduate programs. It doesn’t ask you to write the kind of essays you’ll be producing in your graduate programs. Nor is it a very good predictor of how well you’ll do in graduate school.
Think back to when you first learned to tie your shoe laces, type, do yoga or any other activity. At the outset, the skills required to perform those tasks felt a lot less familiar than they probably do now. In much the same way, taking the GRE is a skill that can be sharpened over time.
Knowing how the GRE works and which elements to pay close attention to will help make your preparation much more targeted, effective and efficient.
The good news is that the GRE tests on a relatively narrow range of areas. For instance, the quantitative portion of the exam tests on arithmetic, algebra and some (but not all) elements of geometry. Calculus isn’t tested. On the verbal reasoning portion of the exam, it’s helpful to know the types and difficulty of vocabulary that come up most often. The Princeton Review compiles a handy list of the most frequently tested difficult words that appear on the GRE, called the Hit Parade.
Familiarizing yourself with the GRE’s structure and format can also help put your mind at ease on test day.
To form a strategic plan of attack, you’ll first need to get a sense of where you stand. Free practice tests are offered by ETS and The Princeton Review, among others.
Among the most common questions posed by graduate school hopefuls is, “What’s a good GRE score?” Anne Curtis offers a simple answer: a good score is one that gets you into the programs you’re interested in – no more, no less. That means you’ll need to contact the graduate program of your choice to find out the scores they want and how they use them in the admissions process. Some programs have a threshold score for acceptance while others prioritize the math or verbal section above the other.
Other good questions to ask your program of choice include: how are multiple scores handled if the test is taken more than once? Do they use the scores as part of funding decisions?
It takes about two weeks following test day to receive your score. Find out when the graduate school application is due and work backwards. Build in a buffer for preparation time and for the number of practice tests you wish to complete.
Keep in mind that the typical completion time for the GRE is three-and-a-half hours. As you gear up to take the exam, you’ll need to build up your test-taking stamina, as well as your ability to stare into a computer screen for an extended period of time.
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