0.1 GRE X-Ray
0.3 General GRE Strategies
Still have questions about the test? We have answers. . . .
When should I take the GRE?
Different graduate programs have different deadlines, so be sure to check with the programs you’re interested in to find out their specific requirements. If you’re still in college, be sure to factor in your class assignments when deciding to take the test; you don’t want to be taking the GRE the day before finals.
Also, try to time your study and preparation to culminate about a week before you take the test. This gives you enough time to go over any last minute weak spots, but it also gives you time to relax before test day.
How do I register?
You have three options for registering:
  1. Visit and follow the online instructions. You’ll need a credit card to register online.
  2. Call 1-800-GRE-CALL. You’ll need a credit card for this option too.
  3. Complete a paper registration form, available at most colleges and universities.
When you register to take the test, you’ll also have the opportunity to designate score recipients, or the graduate programs that you’d like to receive your GRE section scores.
When is it offered?
The GRE is offered year-round at various times throughout the day. Depending on demand, some locations may have more dates than others. Go to the GRE’s website for specific dates:
Where can I take it?
You may take the GRE at any of the approximately 3,500 GRE testing centers worldwide, including colleges, universities, and corporate conference centers. You and your fellow test takers will each have a computer on which to work. To find the location nearest you, visit
How is the GRE scored?
The Math and Verbal sections are scored in 10-point increments from 200 to 800. The test makers use a complicated algorithm to translate the number of questions you answer correctly into your official GRE score. This official score will also include a percentile ranking, which allows admission officers to compare your scores to those of other test takers. The Essay section is scored in half-point increments from 0 to 6. You’ll receive a single score on this section, an average of the subscores of your two essays, rounded up to the nearest half point. In total, you’ll receive three scores, one score for each of the three sections.
What’s a “good score”?
Simply put, a good score is one that gets you into the graduate program of your choice. Since some programs have score cutoffs, you need to check with each individual program to see what it considers “good.” Note too that some programs might not mind if you don’t do so hot on a particular section of the test. For example, an English program probably wouldn’t be concerned if you only got an average score of 500 on the Math section, because this type of program will be most interested in your Verbal score. Be safe, though, and do some research.
When will I get my score?
You—and the graduate programs you designated back when you registered for the GRE—should receive your official score report within three weeks of taking the test. You’ll get your unofficial Verbal and Math scores immediately after taking the test, before you leave the testing center.
Is there a wrong-answer penalty?
Yes. Every question you answer incorrectly lowers your score. If you answer a question incorrectly, the GRE software will begin giving you easier questions. But while these easier questions might seem like a gift from the test makers, they’re actually not. Easier questions translate into a lower score percentile, even if you get all the easy questions correct. Your goal as a test taker is to correctly answer the questions, especially those you get at the start of each section. These questions, which constitute about a third of the section, have the biggest overall effect on your GRE score, because the software makes the largest jumps in its assessment of your abilities during this early phase of the section and tends to merely fine-tune its assessment later on. So it pays to be especially careful on the first few questions to bump yourself into higher scoring territory as soon as possible.
Who grades my essays?
The Educational Testing Service (ETS), the company that develops and administers the GRE, hires college and university faculty to score the essays. Each essay is read and scored by two graders. If their scores match, that’s the score you’ll get. If their scores differ by a point, your score will be the average of those two scores. If the essay-graders differ by more than one point in their assessments, a third grader is brought in. Now, it may seem strange that someone who hasn’t even graduated from elementary school would be brought in to judge your writing ability. . . . No, not that kind of third grader! An additional grader above and beyond the original two will read your essay to settle the score.
Your scores on the two essays will then also be averaged; this average, rounded to the nearest half point, will be the single score you receive on the Essay section.
Will graduate schools see my essays?
Yes. Your essays—and not just the scores—will be included in the score reports sent to your designated graduate schools. Many schools have begun using the GRE Essays not only as factors in their decisions about admissions but also for funding, such as scholarships and grants.
How long are my scores valid?
GRE scores are valid for five years from the date you take the exam. This also means that if you take the exam more than once, graduate schools will see all of the scores you’ve received in the last five years.
What if I bomb the GRE? Can I take it again?
If you study the material in this book, you won’t have to worry about bombing the exam. However, if you really don’t get the score you want, you may retake the GRE. That said, you’re only allowed to take it once in a single month and only five times in a twelve-month period. Graduate programs differ in how they treat multiple GRE scores. Some programs only look at the most recent scores, some only look at the highest scores, and some take all of your scores into consideration.
How do I cancel my scores?
You have the opportunity to cancel your scores before you leave the testing center. Think very, very carefully before deciding to cancel your scores. Neither you nor any graduate program will ever know how you did on a canceled test, but ETS will notify graduate schools that you once took a test and canceled the results, which means you might have some explaining to do on your applications.
Bottom line: Only cancel your scores if something goes horribly awry on test day.
GRE Minutiae
This section answers common questions often asked by those new to the GRE.
How long does the test take?
The whole test takes a little less than three hours: 75 minutes for the Essay section, 45 minutes for the Math section, and 30 minutes for the Verbal section. You’ll also have to sit through a tutorial, and you’ll probably also have to take an unscored pretest or research section. In all, you should allow around four hours for the test.
What should I bring to the test center?
You must bring a photo ID to the test center. Bring a pen or pencil and any vouchers or receipts from ETS as well. If you get cold easily, bring a sweater. You might also want to take a snack and some water with you, in addition to any good-luck charms. Hey, whatever works, right?
Do I need to know much about computers?
No. All you need is a basic understanding of how a computer mouse and keyboard work. The programs you’ll use and screens you’ll see on test day are very basic. Essentially, you click on the screen to enter your choices. After you click the bubble of your choice, you’ll have to click the “next” button whereupon the program will give you even another chance to confirm your answer choice before the next question will appear. Rest assured that nothing about the programs or screens will distract you from your true purpose on test day: getting a good score.
Can I go back and change my answers within a section?
Unfortunately, no. Once you click on an answer, that question disappears forever. Same deal with the sections. You cannot go back and change or check your answers.
Will I get a tutorial before the test starts?
You’ll get a tutorial before the test starts. But we suggest that you download and peruse all the sample software that ETS gives you when you register for the GRE. You should also get online and take our full-length practice test at this PDF/testprep/gre/. Make sure you budget your time so that you have plenty of practice on the computer before test day!
During the test, you’ll be given a set of general instructions at the start of every section. The GRE gives you a few minutes to read over the instructions; the section time starts after you leave the directions. You’ll receive question-specific directions every time you begin a new group of questions within a section. We explain these directions throughout the book, so you can skip them and save time on test day.
How will I write the essays?
You’ll use a rudimentary word-processing program to compose your two essays. The program does not include a grammar- or spell-checker, but you can cut, paste, undo, redo, delete, and backspace. Note: The GRE won’t let you use keyboard shortcuts, so you’ll have to use the cursor and mouse to make changes.
Can I choose my essay topic or write about whatever I want? Can I write the essay beforehand?
Only if you want to get a 0. Your essays must address the topics designed by the test makers. Writing about whatever you want or going off topic will result in no or a low score.
ETS makes potential Issue and Argument topics available online. Check them out at Making the topics available sounds counterintuitive, since ETS doesn’t want test takers to memorize prewritten essays. But ETS also wants test takers to write the best essays possible on test day—hence the online topic pool.
May I use scratch paper?
Although you may not bring in your own scratch paper, the testing center will provide you with several pieces of 8½ × 11 paper. If you need more, the proctor will provide it for you, a few pages at a time. You won’t be able to take the paper with you when you leave the test, and you’ll have to hand in the used paper to get fresh sheets.
May I use a timer?
The official rule is that silent watches are allowed. Desktop clocks or any timer that makes a noise are not allowed. The testing software includes a timer right in the upper left-hand corner of the screen, which you can hide from view up until five minutes remaining in the section. From that point on, the timer remains on the screen and counts down by seconds until time is up. So you can bring a silent timepiece if you prefer, or use the one provided on the screen.
Do I need to know trigonometry or calculus?
The GRE tests basic math and only basic math. Advanced topics such as trig and calculus are not tested. Our Math 101 chapter explains every single topic, concept, term, and formula you’ll need on test day. If it’s not in our book, it’s not on the test.
Do I need to memorize vocabulary words?
Having a great vocabulary will lead to more points on the exam, and memorizing words helps you increase your vocabulary. Our book includes a tear-out chart with 400 of the most commonly tested GRE words. This book also provides strategies to help you conquer the Verbal section.
How do I get a good score on the GRE?
You’ve come to the right place. Read on . . .
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