GRE on Saturday - What to Expect?

So ugh, I am taking the GRE this Saturday. $140…boo.

I got one of those GRE study guide books $30…boo, and I’ve been trying out the practice tests and whatnot.

It’s HARD!

I thought I was a pretty good student, but damn if this high school level math isn’t making me feel like a dumbass. The book has a math review which I’ve gone through a couple times and I’m still totally lost. It’s been 6+ years since I learned square roots and fractions and geometry and whatnot and trying to teach all of it to myself is next to impossible.

The verbal section isn’t much easier, with all the ridiculous vocab. I can figure out pretty much any word I stumble across in a book or something through context, but seeing words like perspicacious, controvert, soporific, etc all by themselves and needing to figure out their antonyms from a list of 5 equally weird words is not easy.

I’m like 99% sure I’m gonna have to take this test at least twice. Another $140…boo.

Anyone taken it somewhat recently and have some tips, tricks, experiences to share?

When I took it I aced the math and quantitative sections but didn’t do very well on verbal (although IIRC I was still above average for engineers). I never took the SATs (from Canada) so it was my first experience with that type of standardized test. I took it before the computer test. Does the computer test vary the difficulty of upcoming questions based on your performance? Do you know how the schools use the GRE scores? I thought some use the best score but some may require you to average your scores if you take it multiple times. I wouldn’t sweat it too much and do the best you can. I’d also suggest just taking tomorrow off and relax so you go into it fresh.

The computer test is computer adaptive, so it will give you harder questions if you answer a few correctly in a row.

I wasn’t able to determine whether the grad school I am interested in puts a high emphasis on GRE scores or not (couldn’t find that info anywhere). But I figure a good score is always better than an eh score. I need to get in touch with one of my profs that knows alot about the grad school process and she what she thinks about score importance.

Yes, the computer does adjust the difficulty of the questions. It is important to get the first few questions right to get enough difficult questions throughout to get a top score. What this meant for me, strategically, was to take my time and double check my work on the first 5 quantitative.

I found that math review incredibly valuable. My score went up about 50% after completing it. If you’re going to take tomorrow off, spend tonight with the math review.

IMHO last-minute studying is more likely to help on math than verbal.

Good luck!

So long as it hasn’t changed much in, oh four years or so…

The math section seemed to me to be roughly as difficult as the math section on the SAT, while the Verbal section seems to be much more difficult. One thing to keep in mind is that a surprising number of people get 800’s on the Math (like 7 or 8%), while surprisingly few get a perfect on the verbal (like less than 0.1%).

I found the essay to be the easiest I’ve had to write for post-SAT placement tests. I heard somewhere that the essays are graded by college professors and gave mine a liberal slant (although not overtly so). I was rewarded with a high score, but I could not tell you if the slant gave me a score because of an alignment with the feelings of the readers or because it simply gave my essay a good theme to pull the thing together on. I like to think option number two.

Otherwise, as for test conditions, I entered a small waiting room, filled out a bit of paperwork, was escorted into the testing room and to my computer cubby. There was no set time that a whole bunch of people started at the same time. The test was administered completely on the computer. IIRC, I brought a digital watch so I could keep track of the times for my sections. (To me, useful only on the essay - my weakest section.)

Comparing my results from the GRE to my SAT scores, they are remarkably close, except for the essay. (Which I am happy to say I improved on for the GRE.) But I am a good test taker and scored too close to the top for there to be much improvement noted for the “classic” sections.

I took the GRE last November. In August, I had taken a sample test on the internet, and had a total freak out moment when I realized I could not answer a single math question. Not like, I made a mistake and got the wrong answer, I had absolutely no idea what any of the questions meant. I was always pretty lousy at math in high school, but having not had any math classes in eleven years, I was now totally lost.

I bought this book and spent probably about three to five hours a day studying math. Doing word problems over and over again until I understood the concepts. I memorized geometry formulas on flashcards. (I was a teacher and it was summer, and then school was held up by a teachers’ strike that lasted a couple months, so I didn’t have much else to do.) I also had the Barron’s general prep book, which had several practice exams and I still did craptacularly on the math section every time I did it, so I was pretty nervous going into the test. I just had my fingers crossed that the computer adjustment factor would improve my score.

It did. I had been getting in the 450 range on my practice tests, and on the actual thing, I got a 600. I was elated. (That’s actually quite a bit better than I did on the SATs, and I had actually been taking math at the time.) All that studying paid off - without it, I would have certainly scored under 500.

Verbal is harder to study for, AFAICT. I subscribed to a bunch of word-a-day emails and went through the Barron’s book list of commonly used words, made lists of all the words I didn’t know, and made flashcards for all of them. I don’t think one single word I memorized was actually on the exam. I got a 720, but I can only assume that’s thanks to a lifetime of reading.

I had taken the GREs before and was surprised at how poorly I was scored on the Analytical section. This time around, I read the advice in my Barron’s book really carefully, and I did much better. The readers are looking for very specific things.

ETA: I agree with JustAnotherGeek that the math section on the GRE is about equal in difficulty to the SAT, but the verbal section is harder. I don’t know why that is. I did better on the verbal GRE than I did on the SAT, but I guess the extra years of reading helped, whereas I didn’t learn anything more about geometry in the intervening time.

Dude, freaky!.. are you me? I was considering making this exact same thread!! I am taking the test on Saturday, too, and I feel exactly the same way! I completely and utterly fail at the math test. It is embarrassing–and depressing. I feel dumb for honestly the first time in my life. The main problem for me is the time limit. If I have time to think calmly and clearly about the problems, its not such a brutal massacre, but if I dont… I panic. I have yet to actually finish an entire test.

I did the whole review thing (I have the Princeton prep book) making flash cards and doing lots of practice problems, and I started taking some practice tests this week–I think I actually did worse after the review than before. No improvement at all. I was always a really good student in school (3.9 GPA) and I did decently in math classes as well–but it has been a long time since those classes and I have no natural aptitude for the math at all. The verbal section is a little better–I have a really high vocabulary level because of my obsessive reading habits. But I am really sad about the math. I want to aim pretty high for grad school because otherwise my degree will be useless (art history, yay!) but for the first time Im thinking that maybe Im just not smart enough. It is pretty depressing.

So yeah… nothing really useful to offer but good luck to you! I will be sending you good wishes! And if you want to do the same for me, I can use all the good luck I can get… :stuck_out_tongue:

I only had to take the ACT in high school, and did very well. Close to perfect on english, very high on reading, pretty good on math. But that was when the math was fresh. BECAUSE WE GOT TO USE GRAPHING CALCULATORS!!! OR ANY G-DAMN CALCULATOR AT ALL! ARGH! Ahem. 5 years later, I don’t recall much of math. I’ve only taken 2 low level statistics courses in college - because my ACT score got me out of college algebra…which seemed awesome at the time but now it sucks. Damn psych degree…

I was toying with the idea of buying another test prep book after I take this on Saturday. I picked the particular one I did because the CD that came with it said it was Mac compatible and it had 3 full-length practice tests (the book has 6, but using the CD would feel more ‘real’) but the CD doesn’t work anyway and I’ve taken at least parts of all 6 exams in the book.

The problem with the math is, I can figure out most of the basic problems like they show in the math review sections, like the very basic concept of how to solve a problem with fractions or geometry or whatever. But the actual questions are like 989859543 times more complicated. And this book at least does explain the practice test answers but they don’t go step by step with the math except for with the easy “review” problems. At this point, I am teaching myself all this math from scratch and need the step-by-step help for all types of problems, easy and difficult. I get lost somewhere between the basic “how to multiply fractions - 3/4 x 6/8” and the kinds of problems I will actually be asked which are way harder.

Tanaqui - good luck to you as well! I already know I’m gonna blow this math part, and I also know you will find me on a bar stool as soon as I get out of the test! I signed up for a noon exam so by the time I get out, it won’t be too early to start drinking…

I would suggest that if you haven’t been able to put in at least a full week of studying, that you pay the fee to reschedule for a later time. I think the reschedule fee is less than $50, which is much better than $140 to retake. I suggest this because you absolutely can improve your score on the GRE with intense, focused studying. Taking a real test to see what it’s like won’t improve your score, it will just cost you $140.

If you can score more time, start reading things like The New Yorker and The Wall Street Journal and Architectural Digest. You find a lot of GRE vocab in those types of publications. That way you’ll get the words in a context. Don’t worry too much about exact definitions, just get a good idea of what the word means. That’s usually enough to answer the questions. I think most people don’t improve on Verbal because they spend all of their study time trying to learn exact definitions of disconnected words.

For quant, start at the beginning of the review book and take it section by section. Do not move on to the next subject until you understand the current topic. GRE math builds on itself. In particular, make sure you get all of the algebra; it’s the most common quant topic by far. If you can, find a friend who’s good at math to help you work through it.

Finally, pay close attention to any tips your book gives about how to eliminate answers/ guess. Those tips can really pay off if your score is in the mid to low range.

For me, verbal was less about actually knowing the words, and more about knowing how to eliminate the obviously wrong answers and developing a “feel” for what unfamiliar words meant. The tips and tricks outlined in the workbooks helped, and I just did a bunch of practice tests before the real thing. I can’t remember my score, but I was in the 99%.

When I compared scores with my classmates at UChicago (MA program in humanities) a lot of them were lower than I’d expected. I think that our GRE scores counted up to a certain point - i.e., they have a cutoff, but as long as your score is above that line it doesn’t really matter whether you’re in the 95% or the 99%.

ETA: I’ve also heard that a lot of grad schools average out all your valid GRE scores. Which means that taking a GRE for practice is probably not a great idea.

I took the GRE four years ago. Around the same time, but shortly after, I took about a dozen GRE tests full of future potential questions as a test taker for hire for ETS. I also used to work as an SAT tutor (6-8 years ago).

Here are my recommendations:

Practice a lot. The single most important thing you can do to increase your score on a standardized test in a short amount of time is to take as many practice tests as you can. If you can, take them with less time than you would have. If you run out of tests, go buy more books. This will give you exposure to more questions in the same amount of practice time and build up quick estimation and decision-making skills

Practice on the computer. Not because the questions are different, but because the computer interface is so ill-designed. I spend about 5 minutes in the actual test on a math problem because I just couldn’t see how to solve it with the information given. I finally realized that there was a scroll bar on the side of the screen. One graph and the question were visible with it scrolled up, and an entire other graph was in the lower portion. You couldn’t see any of the other graph without moving the scroll bar, and this was the first question that required a scroll bar.

Unlike the SAT, the GRE language section is less reliant on obvious Greek and Latin root words. Of course, that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t know such things or apply them as well as you can, but there are a lot of vocab words that are just going to have really obscure etymology. Study for it, but don’t kill yourself.

If you can eliminate even one option as wrong, guess between the remaining ones.

If you’re having serious trouble with the hard math concepts, hire a tutor for a few hours. It’ll be cheaper than retaking the test. Memorizing some order of operations and equation solving might help, too. None of the math on the GRE is beyond basic algebra, so memorizing a procedure and applying it is going to work out pretty well.

Don’t take a real test as a practice test.

I kinda agree with ** Red Stilettos**, unless you’re up against an application deadline then just reschedule.

I upped my verbal by 50 and math by 100 just by working through test books over about a month’s time. I bought 2 or 3 books, and a friend gave the CD-ROMs from one of her old books (I think Kaplan). The discs were actually really helpful, much more so than I expected.

For the verbal I also had a few general-interest “Improve your vocabulary” books around the house – those were also very helpful, and pocket sized so I could tote them around and read a little when I had a few minutes.

I thought about rescheduling, but I have been studying for roughly the past 3 months. On and off of course, but pretty determinedly this past month at least. And like an earlier poster, I am a teacher so I have pretty much nothing to do during summer, so I have been putting in a lot of time lately. I suspect I will just forget a lot since I wont be able to study as much, if I put it off even more. Ugh.

I have taken the GRE twice with one as the computer administrated test. Don’t study the verbal part at all. The studying was your entire life. Studying for the math sections is worthwhile. Just concentrate on the basics of that. Just read up on tips for the essay section. Those are graded very quickly by grad students. Just follow the formula and don’t try to be brilliant because those that are scoring your essay probably aren’t.

I started studying earlier this summer but started putting in multiple hours a day this week.

Part of my problem for studying for things like these is I have an inability to really try hard unless something is on the line at that moment. Like I get easily frustrated and don’t try as hard as I could on the practice test because I’m not getting a real score that matters for anything, ya know? I’ve always been an excellent test taker - I take them seriously when I am there and the pressure really helps me. I’m one of those people who can’t write a paper much in advance of the due date - I have no motivation until it really matters that I get it done.

On the practice tests I’ve been getting 600+ (by the book’s less accurate scoring than the computer will give me) every time on the verbal section. And I finish those in about half the time allotted, so I know that especially on the reading comprehension questions I can take more time and rock those pretty well. And I think if tomorrow I can really put a few good hours of math cramming in, I will do okay on that too. My procrastination also applies with studying - cramming really helps me. I definitely did make some progress on the math today though. I need to go to the library earlier tomorrow - I went today in the afternoon and a bunch of high school kids were up there on the computers being loud and I got really distracted.

It doesn’t sound like the GRE will be your major problem with grad school…

I am well aware that grad school is very hard. I’ve had a dozen people tell me all about grad school. Multiple times. I took a one credit hour course all about grad school and careers in the field. But you also do not know me, I can explain myself here all day but no one will ever really “get it.” I do what I need to do. I make damn good grades, make the chair’s list, do my own research on the side, etc, so I don’t need anyone trying to frighten me or make me feel like I won’t cut it because of the information I gave in a few sentences about myself. That is not helpful. I just was curious about people’s experiences with the GRE.