A Beginner's Guide to the GRE Test

If you’re thinking of going back to school for a graduate degree, you might have to take the GRE. Learn about what you can expect from each of the test’s sections.

If you’re thinking about applying to graduate school, there is a good chance you’ll have to take some kind of standardized test.

Most prospective law student will contend with the LSAT. Medical school applicants can expect the MCAT in their future. Those interested in business school we be required to take the GMAT.For everyone else, your school will most likely ask that you take the GRE (the Graduate Record Examinations).

The GRE is actually a lot like the SAT – more so than any of the other exams required for graduate school admissions. Preparation will probably focus most on how to take the test and what to expect, as opposed to memorizing information. Still, there are definitely some key areas that warrant studying, especially if you haven’t taken a math course in a few years or if you don’t already have a habit of using big, obscure words.

The GRE consists of three sections: Verbal Reasoning, Quantitative Reasoning, and Analytical Writing. The first two sections are multiple choice, and for the third, you will have to write an essay.

Verbal Reasoning

The lists of thousands of GRE words that you can find in books and online may seem overwhelming, but you don’t have to learn them all. This is because the vocabulary words will be tested based on multiple choice, so you can often use process of elimination to improve your chance of guessing the right answer, even if you’re not sure. Since many of the words are presented within a larger text, you can also use the context to figure out the meaning.

Quantitative Reasoning

Even if you did well in high school math, or even if you studied math in college, it is important to review the concepts that are tested on the GRE, including geometry and algebra. These questions are in “types,” and any good GRE review book will explain how to tackle each “type” of question. Once you’ve learned how to solve a “type” of quantitative reasoning problem, solving other ones just like it will be easier.

Analytical Writing

The good news? You don’t have to use “GRE words” when you write the essay. Your essay just has to make sense and use a clear, evidence-based argument.

What’s tough about this section is that you only have 30 minutes (one hour total) to write each of two essays. You can’t go back and edit or revise them later; it all has to happen within 30 minutes. This isn’t what writing is like in real life, so you probably don’t have much experience doing it. For this reason, it is essential to practice writing at least a couple of essays in this situation. The skill you are building is to spend a couple minutes of planning and then JUST WRITE.

You can register for the GRE on the Educational Testing Service (ETS) website. Avoid procrastinating on this because schools will need to receive your scores by a certain deadline, and ETS will require a processing time before sending them out.

Good luck!


About the GRE® revised General Test. (n.d.). GRE Revised General Test: About the GRE revised General Test. Retrieved July 30, 2014, from ETS

Test Prep: 6 Tips for GRE Success. (2012, April 30). US News. Retrieved July 30, 2014, from US News and World Report

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