Cheat Sheet

GRE For Dummies

Getting into the graduate school of your choice is a whole lot easier if you score well on the GRE (Graduate Record Examination). This collection of GRE test-taking tips and key information can help you score well on the test, get into graduate school, and achieve your career goals.

What to Expect When You Take the GRE

The GRE is a computerized test taken at a local testing center. Other test-takers may also be there, working on the GRE or a different exam, but you’ll be in a booth, immersed in your own test. Lasting about four hours, the GRE is a marathon, challenging your stamina as well as your skills. The following table outlines the sections of the GRE, including the number of questions and time limits of each. The essays are always first, but the other sections can be in any order.

Section Number of Questions Time Allotted
Analyze an Issue 1 essay 30 minutes
Analyze an Argument 1 essay 30 minutes
Verbal Reasoning 20 questions 30 minutes
Break 10 minutes
Quantitative Reasoning 20 questions 35 minutes
Verbal Reasoning 20 questions 30 minutes
Quantitative Reasoning 20 questions 35 minutes
Unscored Verbal or Quantitative Reasoning 20 questions 30 or 35 minutes
Possible Unscored Research Section 20 questions 30 or 35 minutes
Total Testing Time About 4 hours

What to Bring and Leave at Home on GRE Test Day

The GRE proctors are strict about the items you’re allowed to bring into the testing center. Make sure you come prepared on test day by bringing all these things:

  • ETS authorization voucher: Bring the verification that says you’ve signed up for the exam on this day, at this time, here at this location. If the testing center makes a mistake and loses your reservation, you need to show that you’ve actually reserved this time.

  • Comfortable clothes: Testing centers tend to crank up the A/C. The last thing you want is to be shivering during the exam. Wear two layers of long-sleeve clothing, and you can always remove one if you’re warm.

  • Map or directions to the testing center: The GRE is intense enough; let the drive there be easy, especially if your test is in the morning, putting your drive in the midst of rush-hour traffic. You may also want to scope out the area ahead of time and find parking.

  • Photo ID: The GRE testing centers sport some tight security. You may not be allowed to take the test unless you can verify who you are.

  • Water and a snack: Your break is 10 minutes, some of which is spent checking back in when you return from the restroom. You don’t have time to go grab something. Bring water and a snack so you can use your precious few minutes getting refreshed. Some testing centers give you access to your locker during your break, and some don’t. But the proctors always tell you where you can leave your food and water.

The GRE proctors are also strict about the items you can’t bring into the testing center. If you have any of these items with you, you’ll be asked to keep them in your locker while taking the exam:

  • Books and study notes: You’re not allowed to use books or notes, so why bring them? Leave them in your car or at home. One student almost had his scores cancelled because he took a text book out of his locker during his break. Fortunately, he didn’t open the book, so he was allowed to keep his scores, which was good, because he had scored well.

  • Cellphone and wallet: Your cellphone and wallet stay in the locker while you’re taking the GRE.

  • Calculator: If you bring a calculator, it too will stay in the locker. The GRE provides a computerized calculator for the Quantitative Reasoning sections, so you don’t need to bring one.

  • Your own scratch paper: The proctors will take away anything you bring and provide their own scratch paper for you to use.

Tips for Taking the Computerized GRE

Though www.ets.org alludes to your choice between the paper-based and the computer-based GRE, you’ll almost certainly take the computer-based one. The paper-based exam is offered only where computer infrastructure isn’t available. It’s better this way, really; the paper-based GRE has more questions (25 per section instead of 20). Just remember these tips:

  • You can go back and forth through each section. Also, within a section, each question is worth the same. If you’re stuck on a question, skip it! You can go back to it with the time remaining in the section.

  • Keep an eye on the clock. On the GRE, with 35 minutes per quantitative section and 30 minutes per verbal, it’s easy to get distracted by your work and run out of time. Just remember that in each section, at 15 minutes, you should be roughly halfway through.

  • Practice using the software. Although the GRE For Dummies software provides excellent, targeted practice, it’s still the Dummies mockup of GRE software, not the real thing. Practice GRE software is available for free from www.ets.org, and it perfectly mimics the actual software, so you want to explore that and see how it works before the day of the exam. Older versions of the GRE had practice software only for Windows, but today the software is available for Macs as well.

Answering GRE Multiple-Choice Questions

The majority of the questions on the GRE are in multiple-choice format. Most require you to select the one best answer choice, but some require you to select two or more answers. The questions that require two or more answers are easy to spot because the answer choices have small check boxes (rather than ovals or words to select) and the directions say, “Pick two answers” or “Pick all applicable answers.”

To help you select the correct answer(s), keep these tips in mind:

  • If you don’t know the answer, rule out as many obviously incorrect choices as possible and guess from the remaining choices.

  • Don’t spend too much time on any one question. Guess an answer, mark the question for review, and come back to it at the end of the section. As long as you have time left in that section, you can revisit previous questions.

  • Guessing an answer is better than leaving the question unanswered. A wrong answer counts the same as no answer, so there’s no harm in guessing. You may as well take a shot at getting it right. You can always mark the question for review and return to it with your remaining time in the section.

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