Cheat Sheet

GRE For Dummies

From GRE For Dummies, Premier 7th Edition, with CD by Ron Woldoff [with Joe Kraynak]

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 the graduate school of your choice, and reach your career goals.

What to Expect When You Take the GRE

The GRE is a computerized test taken at a local GRE testing center. Other test-takers may be working at the same time, but you’ll be in a booth, immersed in your own test. At up to four hours, the GRE is a marathon, challenging your stamina as well as your skills. The following table outlines the sections on the GRE, including the number of questions and time limits of each.

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 Up to 4 hours

The essays are always first, but the other sections can be in any order.

What to Bring and Leave at Home on GRE Test Day

The GRE proctors are very strict about what items you can (and can’t) take into the testing center. Make sure you come prepared on test day by bringing ALL these things:

  • ETS authorization voucher: Testing centers make mistakes: I’ve seen it happen. Bring your verification that you’re signed up for the test on this day, at this location.

  • Comfortable clothes: Testing centers tend to crank the A/C. The last thing you want is to be distracted by shivering through the math. 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 figure out where you’re going to park.

  • 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 will be spent checking back in when you return from the restroom. You’re not going to have time to go grab something. Bring some water and a snack to store in your locker or access area, 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 will always tell you where you can leave your food and water.

The following items are what not to bring to the testing center. Your bringing them isn’t the issue — your counting on their use is. You can bring what you want, but you’ll be asked to leave everything in your locker before taking the GRE.

  • Books and study notes: The GRE isn’t an open-book test, so why bring your books? Leave them in your car or at home. One of my students 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.

  • Calculator: If your cellphone has a built-in calculator, which most do, then you can’t avoid bringing one with you unless you leave your cellphone behind. Regardless, your cellphone will remain with your wallet and other stuff in the locker while you’re taking the GRE. If you bring a separate calculator, it too will be in the locker. The GRE provides a computerized calculator for the Quantitative Reasoning sections, so you don’t need to bring one anyway.

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

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 answer choices. The questions that require two or more answer choices are easy to spot because the answers have small check boxes (rather than ovals or words to select) and the directions will 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. For each question, a wrong answer counts the same as no answer, so you may as well pick something on the chance you’ll get it right. You can always go back to the question with your remaining time in the section.

Tackling the GRE Analytical Writing Section

Use these tips as you work through the Analytical Writing section of the GRE. When you write the Analyze an Issue essay for the test, remember to

  • Answer the question in your notes, providing your own perspective and jotting down examples that support your position.

  • In the introductory paragraph, answer the question specifically, paraphrasing the question and making your opinion known.

  • Write about three paragraphs, discussing your perspective and using the supporting reasons and examples from your notes (and anticipating and addressing counterarguments).

  • Compose a final paragraph that summarizes, not merely repeats, the points of your essay.

As you write the Analyze an Argument essay, remember to

  • Identify the assumptions within the argument and discuss how reasonable they are to the total argument.

  • Provide outside counterexamples or supporting information to strengthen or weaken the argument.

  • Avoid giving your opinion on the topic; the point here is to discuss how well argued the essay is as written.

Success on the GRE Quantitative Reasoning Section

Success on the GRE’s Quantitative Reasoning section has a great deal to do with applying logic and common sense. Here are some tips for how to do your best on this section of the test:

Before you start:

  • The computerized GRE provides a calculator, so use it for complex math, not basic arithmetic you should know.

  • Memorize the equations before test day. The GRE doesn’t provide them.

You’ll encounter some geometry on the GRE, so memorize the following equations:

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