It’s that time of the year again. College is coming to an end and the biggest question on the minds of graduating students is…What’s next? If you are among the many students who are thinking of pursuing a Master’s degree abroad, then you’ve come to the right place! Here, we bring to you an article on everything you need to know about the GRE, one of the main exams that any student has to take to get admission into a graduate program abroad. We also have a few tips from Sakshi Agarwal, an engineering student at BITS Pilani, who got an almost perfect score of 332/340 on the general test.

Keep reading to learn more!

So what exactly is the GRE?

The Graduate Record Examinations (GRE) is a standardized test that is required for admission into graduate programs in the US and Canada. It is administered and owned by the Educational Testing Service (ETS) and was started by the Carnegie Foundation for the advancement of Teaching in 1936. It consists of 2 separate tests- the general test and the subject test. The scores obtained on the test are valid for up to 5 years. This means that students can take the test early on instead of waiting for their last year of undergraduate studies.

Now let’s delve into the exam structure. In this article, we will be focusing more on the general test.

What is the exam structure?

The first step to preparing for any exam is to understand the exam structure. Doing so will greatly help one take the exam more efficiently and score more marks.

Here’s what Sakshi had to say about it :

“The exam is divided into 3 sections: Analytical, Verbal, and Quant. Two essay questions are asked in the Analytical section (1 issue task, 1 argument task), and the given time is 30 mins for each essay. For Verbal and Quant, there are 2 sections of 20 questions each. For each verbal section, the time allotted is 30 minutes and for quant, the time allotted is 35 minutes. There is generally an extra section which could be either quant or verbal and is not used for scoring.”

Let’s look into each section in more detail:

  1. The Verbal section:

There are 2 verbal sections, each comprising 20  1 mark questions to be completed in 30 minutes. The sections comprise 6 text completion questions, 10 critical reading questions, and 4 sentence equivalents and are rated on a scale of 130-170.

  1. The Analytical Writing section:

This section consists of 2 essays- an “ issue task” and an “argument task”.

The issue task:

Students are allotted 30 minutes to complete an essay on a given topic selected from a list of topics that are available on the official website.

The argument task:

In this subsection, students are given an argument which they have to critique in a time slot of 30 minutes. The argument is selected from a list of topics that are available on the ETS website. The students are expected to write about the flaws in the logic behind the argument and how to improve upon it. Their personal opinions on the subject do not matter. 

  1. Quantitative Section

If you are intimidated by the title, don’t be!

This section is designed to assess basic mathematical knowledge and reasoning skills. There are 2 sections, each consisting of 20 one mark questions, with a time slot of 35 minutes each. Each section can be broken down into 8 quantitative comparisons, 9 problem-solving items, and 3 data interpretation questions.

  1. The experimental section

It can be either verbal or quantitative. It does not count towards the individual’s final score, but since it is similar to the other sections in the exam and students usually do not know which section it is, each section must be given equal importance. 

Now we come to the most important part of the whole process…

How to prepare?

As with every exam, there is no hard and fast rule to prepare. Different materials and study methods work for different students. But a little advice from a person who has already gone through it can go a long way.

Here’s a peek into Sakshi’s preparation process 

“I used the Magoosh Vocabulary app to remember words. I took free trials at some of the learning platforms to get the idea of how to prepare and then curtailed a method specific to me. Initially, I spent most of the time only on words and to practice essay writing every 2 days. After 20 days of this, I started focusing on the verbal and different types of questions. I would mark the kind of questions I had difficulty in and the kind of mistakes I make. After some iterations of these focus sessions, I started giving mock tests. I tried to keep the setting as real as the exam day (by sitting on a table, writing on a whiteboard). After each mock test, I would spend some time analyzing and further honing the sections I have a problem with. ETS textbooks should be gone through once. Any vocabulary builder app is important as GRE generally uses the same words, we just need to remember them all. If you have difficulty making a schedule for yourself, then I would recommend buying/renting the Magoosh plan. Out of all the resources I have checked, this seems the best. ETS asks essay questions from the pool of issue and argument tasks it has made public. Make sure to read through all the issue task topics. Many are similar, so you should have some points for each kind of question they can give on issue tasks.”

How long does it take to prepare?

This is another question that students frequently ask. The answer to it varies from person to person. 

When asked about her timeline, here’s what Sakshi told us:

“I started to think about GRE quite early, so I had a flexible timeline. From the day I started to understand the exam to the day I gave the exam, there was a difference of 2.5 months. Initial month, I just spent getting to familiarize myself with the exam. I did a few questions and started to learn words. Next 15 days, I started writing essays, reading out books (GRE specific), checking out how to do questions, methods, etc. Next 15 days, I started practicing verbal questions thoroughly. So as it does not get boring, I would do quant questions in between. In the last 15 days, I only did mock tests and any other practice questions were in response to problems I faced in mock tests.”

How many times a year can one take the GRE?

Unlike most Indian entrance exams, students can take the GRE more than once a year. This gives students a chance to improve their performance and increase their score.

“You can take the test once every 21 days, up to five times within any continuous rolling 12-month period (365 days). This applies even if you canceled your scores on a test taken previously”

Made it this far? Here are a few extra tips from Sakshi for all the future GRE test takers out there!

  1. This is a fun process. You might not feel that at the start, but by the end, you will appreciate it. So don’t take tension, just enjoy it.
  2.  Verbal in GRE is unlike the English tests we have in school/college. It is very logical. Each question will have only one answer and there would be a good reason why others aren’t answered. So whenever you are confused in any question, mark that. And even if you guessed right, make sure to understand the logic behind all the answers.
  3.  Focus on vocabulary. You might try reading some classic books or US magazines too. Once, you are clear with vocabulary, the verbal section would be a lot easier and would be fun. An incomplete vocab is generally the source of frustration.
  4.  Write! The only way to improve essay writing is to write. Not only does it reduce spelling errors and improve grammar, but it also increases word count with practice. As a general trend, longer essays score better (but not at the expense of redundancy, or poor grammar)

Taking the GRE can be daunting. Contrary to what we often think, one does not have to be exceptionally brilliant to ace this test. With the right materials, some guidance, and a lot of work, anyone can ace it! Sakshi Agarwal’s journey teaches us exactly this. Her motivation and focused work were the two qualities that ultimately helped her obtain such a high score on the GRE. At Scholarship Track, we aim to help students find the right resources and guidance to succeed in achieving their goals. We hope this article was useful for all the future GRE aspirants out there! Good luck with your preparations!

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