GRE Exam Prep Resource Guide

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What is the GRE?

Certain professions require a bachelor’s degree and that is sufficient to work in that field for years. However, some professions either automatically require an advanced degree to start working in the field or require you to earn one to advance. This means going to graduate school may become a necessity if you work in one of these fields. Part of the graduate school application process requires potential students to take an exam that measures their problem solving, basic math skills and quantitative reasoning, verbal reasoning and comprehension, and analytical writing ability. This exam, called the Graduate Record Exam or GRE, tests these areas and gives a school and idea of the ability level of potential students. Not all school programs require it, but schools of the highest caliber offering in-person and online MBA programs almost always require GRE scores from prospective students. The GRE general test includes several subject tests that cover these topics, such as the quantitative reasoning section and analytical writing portion. Taking the GRE test is similar to the Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT), but it is also different in several ways.

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Why Take the GRE?

After a person has attained a bachelor’s degree, the next educational step is a graduate level business degree. In many careers, in order to advance, additional education beyond a four-year degree is necessary. Depending on the type of graduate degree they are looking to attain, candidates might be required to take either the graduate record examination (GRE test) or the GMAT. Many graduate programs require these for entry into the program, just as the SAT or ACT were required for admission into many undergraduate programs. For the most part, students who are majoring in non-business programs take the GRE, while business majors take the GMAT. But there is a trend toward business majors taking the GRE as business schools loosen their testing requirements to get into an online MBA program.

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How Important is the GRE for Business School Admission?

Most business schools have requirements for admission. An application, resume, letters of recommendation, transcripts, and GRE scores are examples of the information you might need to provide. Scores are a large part of the MBA application process. Students will not be accepted into the program they choose without supplying the GRE test results. GRE scores previously were not accepted for business schools, but now that the scores can be converted to GMAT scores, more business schools are accepting these scores as a substitution for GMAT scores.

Important Questions and Answers

You can register to take the GRE on the ETS website. If you plan to take the computer-based exam, it is offered practically every day except for Sundays and holidays. If you want to complete the old-school paper test, it’s offered twice a year, in February and November. Locations for the exam are worldwide and many universities host the exams. If students are in the US, a US territory, or Puerto Rico, the cost for the exam is $160. For students testing in other parts of the world, it is $190. Because of the availability of exam centers and opportunities, students can take the exam when they feel they have prepared thoroughly. The exam can be taken every 21 days and up to five times in a 12-month time frame.

What Does it Measure?

The GRE measures your ability to communicate; your writing skills; and your ability to reason, understand an issue, and craft a solution. It does this through three exam sections: verbal reasoning, quantitative reasoning, and a written essay. Each section is assigned a maximum score and students try to score as many points as possible. Schools want to make sure their students have the mental ability and skills required to be successful in their programs. Because ultimately, how a student performs on a job could be a reflection on the school’s program, so they aim to produce the best students possible to keep their reputation for being a school of excellence intact.

What are the Sections on the GRE?

Analytical Writing

The Analytical writing assessment consists of two essays: the issue and the argument. The purpose of this section is to gauge a student’s ability to take information, decipher its meaning, and determine if it’s valid; and if it’s not how to correct it. For the Issue section, the test taker is presented with two topics and he must write an essay presenting his or her view on the subject. The test taker should include examples and reasoning to help back up their opinion on the issue. They will have 30 minutes to complete this essay.

For the Argument portion of the exam, a student must analyze the logic of a statement of position and suggest how the position statement is flawed and could be improved. Test takers should use examples and reasoning to back up their suggestions. They have 30 minutes to complete this task.

Both essays are graded on a scale from 0 to 6 with .5 increments. For most schools, a score of at least a four is acceptable. The writing section is not included in the score, but it is a very important section and preparation for this section should not be overlooked.

Verbal Reasoning

This section offers three different types of questions: sentence equivalence, text completion, and reading comprehension. The sentence equivalence subsection tests a student’s vocabulary skills. The student is given a sentence and he must choose the two words that could finish the sentence. The two words must be synonyms of each other, and there is no partial credit.

Text completion consists of sentences with one to three blanks and the test taker has to fill in those blanks with the appropriate word or words.

Here’s an example question, taken from a study guide to the GRE:

There are some people who think that only the poor and less educated people use slang, but this idea is _________.

  • accurate
  • popular
  • erroneous
  • widespread
  • ineffectual

The student would have to choose the correct response, which in this case is C.

Reading comprehension is self-explanatory. Students will be provided with a paragraph to read and then must answer a series of questions regarding what they just read. The verbal section is broken into two sections, and students have a half hour to complete each section. There are a total of 40 questions.

Quantitative Reasoning

The purpose of this section is to test a candidate’s ability to both compute math calculations and problem solve. The ability to compare and contrast is also measured. The quantitative reasoning section of the GRE consists of 40 questions broken into two parts. Test takers have 35 minutes per section to complete as many questions correctly as possible. All the questions are multiple-choice and there two types of questions. Quantitative comparisons consist of a question and two possible outcomes the test taker must choose between. This portion is less about calculations and more about reasoning, so don’t try to calculate the answer, try to compare the options provided and pick the most appropriate response.

Numeric entry is a series of math problems that must be solved. You can use a calculator.

Problem-solving is the third section. Test takers are presented with an issue and then have to solve the problem and choose the correct answer from the options. There is either one correct response or there could be multiple responses, depending on the problem. Test takers must select all the correct responses.

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Extra Section (Unscored/Research)

The GRE always contains an extra, unscored exam section. This may be of any type of question except the essay. The nature of these questions will not be indicated in any way, so there’s no point in planning to skip the unscored section. The test creators use this section to perform research on the difficulty of the current and past tests as well as to test new questions they are considering adding to future versions of the test. Simply prepare as planned for the test and treat every section as if it is a scored section and you should do fine. This section does not exist to trip you up, only to inform the test makers of how their product is performing.

How the GRE is Scored

Each section is scored separately and then the sections are combined for a comprehensive score, with the exception of the essay portion, which is scored on its own. The scoring is proprietary and GRE/ETS doesn’t release a lot of information on the scoring algorithm. It is also difficult to calculate a score because a question’s worth is based on its difficulty in comparison to other questions asked and answered because of the Section Adaptive Testing patterns. What we do know is that there is no pass/fail mechanism. There also is no penalty for guessing an answer. Actually, it’s encouraged. You’ll receive section scores (as detailed above), a comprehensive score, and percentile scores. Each school values each section and score differently, so there’s no definitive way of knowing what an “acceptable” score actually is unless a particular school offers that information, but aiming for at least a cumulative score of between 305 and 325 is ideal because it’s within the requirements of most schools. The essay portion has scores that range from 0 to 6; a four is an acceptable score to try and achieve, though many schools want to see higher GRE general test results. You’ll receive your score 10-15 days after the exam date.

How Long is Your Score Valid?

Scores are valid for five years. That means, in 2020, exams taken prior to July 2015 would no longer be valid. Test scores for exams taken after July 2015 would be valid. If your test scores are expired, you will have to take the exam again. This is required because the exam is updated periodically in order to make sure the most current data is being tested. Using test scores from an old exam would not reflect the updated requirements for schools.

What Scores Will Business Schools See?

Business degree masters programs will only see the scores that you send to them. ETS has an option called ScoreSelect which allows test takers to pick only the best scores from any exam taken through their system. So, if you took the GRE four times but only want the highest score used as part of an application, then only the highest score will be used. Or, if you want to select the exam where your overall score might not be the highest, but scores of one section meet the requirements for your chosen program, you can select that test.

Are Your Scores Good Enough?

The average GRE score is 303, 150 on the Verbal and 153 on the Quantitative. Each program has its own minimum requirements; for example, West Virginia University currently requires a minimum score of 308, with a 160 minimum on the Verbal, and at least a 5 on the written section. Meanwhile, the University of Pittsburgh also requires a minimum GRE score of 308, but the Verbal and Quantitative scores both should be a minimum of 154 and a 4 is required on the written section. Regarding percentile scores, WVU’s required scores would be in the 43rd percentile for Verbal and the 50th percentile for the Quantitative section. The only way to know if your score is good enough is to compare your score with the requirements for your graduate program. This is where online practice tests are really useful. Taking practice tests shows you your weaknesses, so if you need a 160 on the verbal reasoning section but only scored a 140 on practice tests, you’ll know you need to focus on the verbal portion of exam for the actual test.

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GRE to GMAT Score Conversion

Although it used to be that people who wanted to pursue graduate degrees in business took the Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT) and everyone else took the GRE, in recent years an increasing number of potential business graduate students have started taking the GRE. In response to this, ETS, the organization that conducts GRE testing, has created a tool that converts GRE scores to GMAT scores. It’s not an exact conversion, but the exams are similar enough that a program which usually requests a GMAT can use the GRE to gauge an applicant’s worthiness for the desired program. If you’ve taken the GRE and you’re wondering how that score would equate to the GMAT, you can use the conversion tool here.

Tips for Studying for the GRE

The GRE isn’t a test you want to take lightly. Most people can’t wake up on test day and ace the exam without doing any studying or GRE prep. So, if you want to ensure you get your money’s worth, i.e., get a score high enough to get into the program of your choice, you’ll want to do some preparation.

There are several ways you can prepare for the exam. First, you can take local test prep classes. They are often held at community colleges or universities. The class is usually six weeks and will cover all sections of the GRE. It a good way to get a refresher on concepts you might have forgotten or never learned during your undergraduate degree. Another option is buying a test prep kit from companies such as Kaplan or Princeton Review. The kit will walk you through the process of studying for the GRE, stating with taking practice tests to gauge the areas where you need to really focus your studying. As you work through the notebook, you’ll get the proper review and by the time you get to the final one or two practice tests, you should be prepared for the actual exam.

GRE prep for the exam generally takes six weeks to two months. It is better to study a small portion each night for two months than cram for the exam the week before. Some people can study in that fashion, but it is advised that GRE prep and studying be spread out over several weeks and the last week be left for review.

Here are a few tips for studying for the GRE exam:

  • Study for a few hours a night instead of intense studying the week or two before the exam.
  • Get yourself into a studying routine.
  • If you’re taking the exam in the morning, study in the morning. If you’re taking the exam in the afternoon or evening, try to study at the same time. If studying at those times aren’t an option, you should at least try to take the practice tests at the same time of day you signed up for the exam.
  • Choose your target score for the GRE. If you know the minimum score you need to get into the program of your choice, you can make that your target score. If you just want to get a great score for the sake of getting a great score, choose a target.

Tips for Taking the GRE Exam

It could be easy to over- or under-prepare to take the GRE, so here are some suggestions for how you can complete your GRE prep and make test day go as smoothly as possible.

  • Study a little at a time. Don’t cram.
  • Get plenty of sleep the night before the exam.
  • Eat something before you sit down and take the GRE test.
  • Choose an exam time that matches your most awake period. If you’re a morning person, take the exam in the morning; if you’re more alert and at your peak in the afternoon, schedule the exam for the afternoon.
  • Pre-pack everything you need for the exam day. This will prevent you from running around on test day and possibly forgetting something important.
  • Arrive at the testing site early.
  • When taking the test, don’t worry about skipping questions. If you don’t know the answer almost immediately, skip it and go to the next question.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can I take the GRE at home?

Yes. There is actually an option to take the GRE at home, though certain rules will apply. This includes keeping your ears visible so that proctors can be sure you are not wearing a listening device and also not drinking any liquids or eating any foods. You can, however, drink water out of a clear plastic bottle, so you won’t be denied all refreshment during the test. The test you take will be the same as the one you would take at a testing center; it is a computer adaptive test taken on a computer, after all. However, if you choose to take the test at home, you will need your own computer or laptop, and you will need a video device so that a proctor can watch your progress and ensure that you don’t cheat.

How many times can I take the GRE?

While the goal when studying for the GRE or GMAT is to pass on the first attempt, this isn’t always possible. Maybe you started studying late or maybe life got in the way of your carefully planned study schedule. Whatever the reason, you can take the test again if you do not achieve your best score the first time. In fact, you can take the test as many as five times in a year. You’ll have to spread your test taking times out by at least 21 days each time you choose to retake it, and it will cost money every time you do so, but if you are determined to earn a better score, you will have the chance to do so.

How quickly will I receive back my GRE scores?

You’ll get your test scores back within around 15 days after you take the test. They may come as soon as within 10 days, but it’s best to plan for a longer wait rather than be disappointed you don’t have them yet. When they are ready, you will receive a direct email from ETS, so be patient but keep your eyes open for that email.