An Overview of the GRE
The Graduate Record Examination General Test, or GRE General Test, is a standardized-test created by the Educational Testing Service (ETS), the firm behind the previous versions of the SAT. As a central component of the graduate school application process, this test is taken by students who have either completed or are close to completing their undergraduate degrees. It is required by nearly every graduate program in the United States as part of their application processes, and it is also often accepted by business and law schools in place of either the GMAT or LSAT. Students interested in pursuing advanced degrees should therefore expect to prepare for and take this test, which is often thought of as the “big brother” of the SAT: a 3-hour and 45-minute challenge that tests your algebra, geometry, data analysis, vocabulary, and advanced reading comprehension skills. Unlike the SAT, however, the GRE is typically administered via computer, so Inspirica’s approach to the test includes a mix of content, structure, and strategy, preparing you for the variety of complex tasks you will face on test day.
The GRE is comprised of five scored test sections and one unscored section across three categories. These sections each test a different aspect of the test-taker’s readiness for a graduate program:
- One Analytical Writing Section: This is an essay section in which students have 60 minutes to answer two questions designed to challenge their analytical reasoning abilities. On the first question-type, which the test calls Analyze an Issue, students are asked to take a position on an issue presented to them in text. On the second question-type, which the test calls Analyze an Argument, students are asked to evaluate the components of a short, argumentative essay.
- Two Verbal Reasoning Sections: These sections are designed to test a student’s ability to quickly read and comprehend graduate-level texts, to analyze and draw conclusions from those texts, and to understand logical relationships between component sentences of those texts. Each section is 30 minutes long and includes several question types, including text completion, sentence equivalence, and reading comprehension.
- Two Quantitative Reasoning Sections: These sections are designed to test a student’s competencies in math, and can include basic arithmetic, algebra, geometry, and data analysis questions. Most of the topics in these sections were covered in high school, and there is no higher-level math typical of college courses found here. Questions include both the numeric-entry and multiple-choice question types that will be familiar to most students, as well as the unique Quantitative Comparison format, which requires students to determine the relationship between two quantities or sets of equations.
- One of two unscored section-types is usually included with each test:
- Unscored Section: An unidentified section that is identical in format to one of the above sections but does not count towards a student’s the final score is usually included among the sections. It may appear in any order after the Analytical Writing section, and is used by ETS to test future questions and benchmark the current test against past offerings. Because this test section will be indistinguishable from the other sections, students must complete it assuming that it is real,
- Research Section: An identified section that does not count towards the final test score and that features questions and question-types dissimilar to the rest of the test. This section, should it appear, will always appear after all other sections.
The GRE is nearly always administered digitally, with test-takers viewing one question at a time on a computer screen and either choosing a multiple-choice answer or inputting a number using the mouse and keyboard. Questions can be marked for review within a section, allowing students to skip and return to them before time runs out. This computer-delivered version of the test is section-level adaptive, meaning that the computer selects the second Verbal and Quantitative sections based on the student’s performance in the first. The better one does in the first section, the more difficult the second section and the higher the final section scores are likely to be. Finally, although students are not allowed to bring personal calculators with them into the testing center, they will be provided with a basic calculator on-screen during the test along with the scratch paper necessary to do work by hand.
At the end of a computer-delivered testing session, students are given the option of validating the test-session and viewing their scores or cancelling the without the scores. There is no option for seeing the scores prior to making this selection. Once validated, students are presented with an unofficial versions of both their Verbal Reasoning and Quantitative Reasoning scores, which are broken down as follows:
- a Verbal Reasoning score on a 130–170 score scale and in 1-point increments
- a Quantitative Reasoning score on a 130–170 score scale and in 1-point increments
- an Analytical Writing score on a 0–6 score scale and in half-point increments
On computer-delivered tests, the Verbal and Quantitative sections are section-level adaptive, which means that the version of the second section each student receives depends on their performance in the first. By calculating the number of questions correctly answered in both sections and using a statistical process known as equating, the system is able to calculate two scaled scores that take into account the adaptive nature of the testing software. The results in both sections are non-linear scoring curves and scales that require multiple official PDFs to explain. For example, although the mean score in both sections is in the very low 150’s, the 90th percentile is in around 161 for the Verbal Reasoning section but around 166 for the Quantitative Reasoning section. When combined with target scores from the graduate programs to which you intend to apply, the in’s and out’s of these scales become an essential part of any preparation process.
The Analytical Writing score does not appear among the scores on the unofficial report presented to students on test day. Because scoring in this section involves the input of both a human and machine grader, this score will not be available until several weeks after the test day. Essays are graded holistically on a six point scale, first by the human grade and then by the e-rater. If the two scores are equal or within one point of one another, then the final score is calculated by averaging the two; if the two disagree by more than a point, then the e-rater score is rejected, a second human score is obtained, and the two human scores are averaged to produce the final, official score.
Registration and Test Dates
The GRE is offered year-round at more than 1,000 private testing centers around the world, and reservations for a specific center at a specific date and time must be made in advance. While you may take the GRE once every 21 days, you may not take it more than five times in a single 12-month period. Because students may tests several times, and because there is no penalty for doing so, it is nearly always a good idea to test more than once. For complete details on the registration process, see the official GRE site.
Requests for accommodations for students with disabilities or health-related needs must be made prior to scheduling a test date and using the procedures detailed on the ETS site. Once accommodations have been approved, ETS will provide instructions for completing the registration by email.
Paper-delivered tests are only available to students in areas of the world where the computer-delivered test is unavailable, and registration for these can be completed online or by postal mail.
Inspirica’s approach to tutoring the GRE begins by identifying the needs of each individual student and finding the perfect tutor match for them. The GRE covers a wide range of topics, which often poses a challenge for undergraduates who spent their time in college specializing in a field of interest. Given this, many students who come to us have not studied math or English grammar since high school yet still need to perform well in those topics on the test. As a result, most of our GRE programs are somewhat lopsided, focusing much more on one section of the test while still working to fill in any gaps in knowledge in the other.
Programs typically meet once a week for a total of ten to twelve weeks, with the first official test taking place during the second month of preparation. Sessions are usually review a mix of strategies, structure, timing, and question-types, and homework is completed between sessions. Because these programs involve older students, they tend to be much more self-directed, with students doing considerable amounts of review and preparation between sessions on their own. Our tutors therefore take on the roles of coach and mentor throughout these programs, guiding the self-directed student in their work towards what are usually very specific goals.