0.1 GRE X-Ray
0.3 General GRE Strategies
The GRE is officially called a “CBT,” which stands for “computer-based test.” So while you’re allowed to write stuff down on scratch paper provided by the testing center, all the questions and answers will be on the computer. This means you’ll be clicking on the correct answers rather than filling in bubble sheets. But more important, the GRE is also a “CAT,” which stands for “computer-adaptive test.” This means that the GRE software adapts the test for each test taker, depending on his or her performance, and each test taker takes a unique test. Isn’t that special? The GRE goes out of its way to create a personalized testing experience just for you.
Here’s how it works: As each section begins, you’ll be given several questions of medium-level difficulty (the test makers determine a question’s level of difficulty through years of statistical analysis). If you answer the initial questions correctly, you’ll continue to receive harder questions until you begin making mistakes. If you answer a question incorrectly, the software will give you a slightly easier question until you get one right, at which point you’ll get slightly harder questions. Your score is determined using a complex mathematical formula that takes into account the total number of questions answered, the number of questions answered correctly, and the level of difficulty of those questions.
The GRE has three sections:
  • Analytical Writing, which we’ll call the Essay section
  • Quantitative, which we’ll call the Math section
  • Verbal, which we’ll (cleverly) call the Verbal section
The GRE scores the Math and Verbal sections on a 200–800-point scale, in 10-point increments. Essays have the following scoring system: 0 (poor) to 6 (excellent), in half-point increments.
Note that you’ll receive one score for the entire Math section, one score for the entire Verbal section, and one for the Essay section. You’ll get your Math and Verbal scores immediately, right after you finish taking the test, and you’ll get your Essay score about two weeks after you take the test.
Due to the adaptive nature of the exam, you won’t know how you’re doing on a question-by-question basis, but the computer will continue to track your answers, adjusting the questions’ level of difficulty as the section goes on. So two test takers could get the same number of questions correct but still wind up with very different scores, because the software’s mathematical algorithm awards test takers who answer tough questions correctly higher scores than those given to test takers who answer the same number of easy or medium questions correctly. The questions’ level of difficulty resets when you begin a new section. We’ll look more closely at scoring in the FAQ section of this chapter.
The GRE lasts about three hours, not including breaks, tutorials, or experimental sections. Here’s the section-by-section breakdown of the official test:
Section Structure Time
Essay 1 Issue essay 1 Argument essay 45 minutes 30 minutes
Math 28 questions 45 minutes
Verbal 30 questions 30 minutes
On test day, you’ll take one Essay, one Math, and one Verbal section. The Essay section will always come first, followed by either Math or Verbal. You might also be required to take an unidentified, unscored pretest section, which will be either another Verbal or Math section that appears at any point after the Essay section. You may also get an identified research section, also unscored. If they put you through this one, they’ll at least tell you it’s the research section, and it will always come at the end of the test. The purpose of these experimental sections is to allow the test makers to try out new questions. Since you may not know which Verbal and Math sections count toward your score, your best bet is to treat every section as if it counts.
Now let’s take a look at the GRE sections in a little more detail.
The Essay Section
The Essay section measures your ability to analyze and reason logically, to express complex ideas coherently, and to use standard English. This section has two essays:
  • “Present Your Perspective on an Issue.The test makers give you two broad statements about a general subject. You’ll then choose one with which to agree or disagree in your essay.
  • “Analyze an Argument.Here you’ll be given a short argumentative passage, then asked to write an essay in which you evaluate that argument based on its logical structure and use of reason.
The Math Section
The GRE tests your ability to understand and answer questions involving basic math, including arithmetic, algebra, geometry, and data analysis. GRE Math has three types of questions:
  • Problem Solving. You’re asked to select the correct answer to a given mathematical problem.
  • Quantitative Comparison. Here you are asked to determine the relationships between different quantities.
  • Data Interpretation. These questions require you to read and analyze data in graphical form.
The Verbal Section
The GRE tests the strength of your vocabulary, as well as your ability to recognize the relationships between words. This section also measures your ability to analyze sentence structure and to understand and analyze written information. GRE Verbal has four types of questions:
  • Sentence Completions. These questions require you to complete a sentence with the correct word or phrase.
  • Reading Comprehension. You’ll be asked questions about passages drawn from the humanities, social sciences, and natural sciences.
  • Antonyms. Here you’ll be given a word, then asked to correctly select its opposite.
  • Analogies. These questions require you to determine parallel relationships between sets of words.
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