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What Is the GRE, and How Can It Help Me?

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The Graduate Record Examination (GRE) is a standardized test that evaluates reading and verbal skills, quantitative reasoning, and analytical writing. Thousands of graduate and business schools use it to make their admission and fellowship decisions, and many programs require GRE scores with every application. Here’s some more information about the GRE, how it can help you, and how you can improve your score.

The GRE General Test

When people discuss the GRE, they’re usually talking about the GRE General Test. The test’s questions are designed to measure the kinds of thinking and analysis people need to do in graduate school. Colleges and universities in several countries use the GRE to help rate applicants.

The test lasts for 3 hours and 45 minutes, and it contains three sections: Verbal, Quantitative, and Analytical Writing. The Verbal section tests vocabulary and verbal reasoning; the Quantitative section examines arithmetic, algebra, geometry, and the ability to analyze data; and the Analytical Writing section requires short essays. Verbal and Quantitative scores range from 130 to 170, and they’re always whole numbers. Analytical Writing scores can be from 0 to 6, and they come in half-point increments.

The Verbal and Quantitative sections of the GRE are computer-adaptive. This means that the difficulty of the second part of each section is determined by how well you do on the first part. If you get lots of questions right, the difficulty level will go up, and you will be able to get a higher score. If you don’t do as well at first, you’ll get easier questions, but your overall score will be lower. The Analytical Writing section asks for two essays, and it evaluates your ability to write a clear argument and support your views with good reasoning and sound examples.

Before students take the test, they will need to register online and pay a fee. People can visit a testing center or take the GRE from home, and exams in both locations are usually computerized. Test scores stay valid for five years, and you can take the exam as many times as you want, up to a maximum of five times per year.

GRE Subject Tests

GRE Subject Tests assess your mastery of a particular field, and they focus more on measuring your memory of what you learned in college than on your analytical or deductive skills. These tests are designed for students who have majored in the subject or studied it extensively. Their scoring systems vary depending on the topic. Subject Tests are available in:

  • Chemistry: This exam measures knowledge of analytical chemistry, inorganic chemistry, organic chemistry, and physical chemistry. More questions are about organic and physical chemistry than the other two topics. After April 2023, this test will be no longer be offered.
  • Mathematics: About half of this test is about calculus, and the rest concentrates on algebra, geometry, number theory, and other commonly taught mathematical topics. The questions are similar to the ones on the Quantitative section of the GRE General Test, but they’re more difficult.
  • Physics: This exam usually has questions about optics, waves, thermodynamics, statistical mechanics, electromagnetism, classical mechanics, atomic physics, quantum mechanics, and laboratory methods. The specific topics covered change with each exam, so people with an understanding of many physics topics usually do best.
  • Psychology: This test includes questions about sense perception, the anatomy of the brain, cognitive psychology, social psychology, developmental psychology, and clinical psychology.

The Benefits of Taking the GRE

In many fields, a good GRE score is essential for gaining admission to the graduate school you want to attend. As such, many people applying for master’s degrees, doctorates, or other programs take this test.

Even if the school doesn’t require it, taking a GRE General or Subject Test can help you stand out from other applicants. A great score could also help you qualify for a scholarship or overcome a low or average GPA. It proves to admissions officers that you’ve worked hard and learned facts and analytical skills in college. If you don’t get the score you want, you can study more and then retake the test.

Different schools and programs have varying standards when it comes to the GRE. For example, a journalism school could look for high Verbal and Analytical Writing scores and ignore low Quantitative scores. Strong scores across subject areas demonstrate that you are a well-rounded applicant capable of effective communication with robust analytical skills. Along with graduate schools, law schools and business schools often accept the GRE.

How To Improve Your Score

You should take the test as soon as possible so that you can meet admission deadlines for the universities you prefer, even if you want to take the GRE more than once. An admissions consultant can help you prepare for the exam and showcase your scores to the right graduate programs.

It’s also important to note that the GRE General Test focuses on different topics and requires different skills than the Subject Tests, so you should study for them separately. More prestigious universities tend to have applicants with higher average scores, so you will likely need a great score to be competitive at those schools. Many institutions offer scholarships to people with high GRE scores, as well. When you receive your test results, you will be able to see how your score compares to others who took the test at the same time. For example, someone in the 90th percentile has earned a score higher than 90% of fellow test-takers.

To learn more about taking the GRE and applying to graduate school, business school, or law school, schedule a free consultation with Spark Admissions. Our counselors have decades of academic advising experience and are delighted to help students obtain a quality education at the best-fit university for them.

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