Sunday, September 28, 2008


First off, you must read SoYouWanna learn the basics of the GRE? before you continue reading this SYW. It'll tell you what the test looks like, how to register, and whether you should even take the test in the first place. But this SYW assumes that you are already positive that you're gonna take the GRE, that you know the basic structure, and that you just want some sparkling advice about how to get the highest score possible. Well, that's what we're here for, so listen up.

In case you have forgotten what to expect on the GRE, here's a recap. There are three sections:

* Verbal section (30 questions, 30 minutes)
* Quantitative section (28 questions, 45 minutes)
* Analytical section (35 questions, 60 minutes)

The verbal section tests your vocabulary and reading skills, the quantitative section tests your ability to do math, and the analytical section tests your ability to solve logic problems.

There is one surefire way to improve your GRE score: know exactly what's on the test. No, we don't want you to hack into the Educational Testing Service's databank (yet), but we do want you to become so familiar with the types of questions asked, so you won't have to waste any of your precious time reading directions or figuring out how to tackle the questions.

How do you do this? BY TAKING MANY PRACTICE TESTS. Get yourself some practice tests off the GRE web site or buy some software and start getting cozy with the test. Don't worry about the tricks yet . . . just get comfortable with the test as a whole. Take at least 2 full tests before worrying about Step 2.

CAT tricks
Verbal tricks
Mathematics tricks
Analytical tricks

What fun is it to take a test if you can't give yourself a bit of an edge? The sad fact is that very few people even bother trying to crack the GRE, but it's very crack-able (assuming you are not already a crackhead). So below, we provide some great tips for doing well on each section, as well as some general tips for taking the computer-adapted test (CAT).

CAT tricks

As you are well aware, you'll be taking the GRE on a computer. This computer version is called the CAT, and here are some tips for killing the kitty:

* The 10 first questions of each section are the most important ones. Why? Because as you know, the GRE adapts itself to your answers, so if you get the first question wrong, your next question will be easier. The test proceeds as such, pinpointing your score. But if you get the first ten questions wrong, you'll have to answer a whole bunch of questions correctly to dig yourself out of the hole. Did we just lose you? Then think of it this way: the tougher questions are worth more points, so you get a better score by answering the hard questions correctly. But the only way to get to the hard questions is to get the first few questions right. Yes, it's a bit confusing, but all that matters is that you should devote about half of your time to the first 10 questions.
* There is no penalty for guessing. That's right. None. Not even an Indian burn or a pile driver. So NEVER leave a question blank. Flip a coin, spin a bottle, ask a Ouija board, pray for divine intervention, but you must guess. Besides, you can't skip questions either, so you might as well take a guess. Below, we'll give you some tips for effective guessing on each section.

Verbal tricks

The verbal section is one of the toughest sections to handle, because it's so based on whether you know the definitions of words or not. But there are little tricks that can help you out.

* First and foremost, PRACTICE these questions over and over. You can get your hands on practice GREs at bookstores, so buy the book and PRACTICE. Sometimes the same words (or variants of them) pop up on multiple tests.
* Study vocabulary words that commonly appear on the GRE. Many preparation booklets have lists of these words, but you can also buy GRE study cards here and here.
* For the ANALOGIES:

The most important thing to do with analogy questions is to turn the relationship between the two words into a sentence. Write that sentence down on your scratch paper so you don't forget it.

Some of the most common relationships to look for are: part to whole, cause to effect, person to occupation, word to definition, and synonyms.

* For the ANTONYMS:

Antonyms can be tough because you have no context to work from; either you know the word or you don't. If you get a word you don't know, first try to pick the word apart. If part of the word looks familiar (for instance, it starts with "bio"), then use that information to try to guess at an answer ("bio" means "life," so the right answer will have something to do with "lack of life").

Second, try to get a sense of the mood of the word. Even if you don't know what the word means, you can often tell if it's "good" or "bad." So if you have a gut feeling that the word, whatever it means, is a "good" thing, then it's opposite should sound "bad."


Before you look at the possible answers, try to fill in the sentence with your own word. It'll make it easier to go through the answers.

Use the context of the sentence. If the sentence implies that you're looking for a "good" word, then your answer should be a "good" word. The context can tell you tons about the sentence. For instance, you should look for buzzwords like "nevertheless," "although," and "moreover," which can give you clues.

If the sentence has two blanks, then make sure that BOTH words fit nicely.


Read the passage as carefully as you can, no matter how boring it is. They make it boring on purpose, to get you off your rhythm.

Read ALL of the choices before you pick an answer.

The best way to prepare for the reading comprehension section is pure PRACTICE.

Mathematics tricks

In order to ace the math section, you merely have to brush up on very specific math skills: algebra, fractions, percentages, geometry, and data analysis (reading graphs). We're not going to re-teach you algebra, so you gotta bone up on that stuff on your own. A study book would REALLY come in hand for re-familiarizing yourself with these concepts.

* Use the process of elimination. Often times, you don't need to do any work when you can merely eliminate the wrong answers. For instance, what if you're presented with the question "What is 326 multiplied by 458?"

A) 149,303
B) 149,305
C) 149,308
D) 149,311
E) 149,313

You don't even need to bother doing the math. An even number multiplied by an even number ALWAYS has an even result. 326 and 458 are both even, and the only even choice is C) 149,308. So answer C and move on. Don't even bother doing the work.

* Use your scratch paper. The drawings on the computer screen will be all out of proportion, and doing math these kinds of math problems in your head is impossible (unless you're Rain Man or Good Will Hunting). So make use of the scratch paper you're given, and feel free to recopy diagrams or charts.

Analytical tricks

The biggest problem people have with the analytical questions is not that they're hard, but that they take too much TIME. There's an easy way to fix that:

* PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE. The only way to improve your speed on the analytical problems is to get used to the kinds of questions they ask.
* When you read the rules to a logic problem, immediately write ALL of the rules down on your scratch paper BEFORE you try to answer any questions. Find the connections between the rules and map it all out, drawing pictures if necessary. It speeds things up enormously.
* Abbreviate things. If they give you the names of colors, people, rivers, whatever, just use the first letter.
* Never assume anything unless you're explicitly told it's so. The analytical section is basically testing if you jump to unfounded assumptions or not. Prove that you're a "not" and follow exactly what the rules tell you to do.

In case you didn't notice, we are huge advocates of practice. Studies conducted by the Educational Testing Services show that the biggest predictor of improvement in GRE scores is practice. So go to it. Here are a few study aids that'll help:

* Start out by practicing without timing yourself. Take all the time you need. After a couple tests, then start practicing with a stopwatch and see which section offers you the most trouble. If you're getting equal scores on the analytical and verbal sections but you keep going overtime on the analytical section, then you know where you need to put in some extra work.
* Invest in a GRE study book. In addition to containing strategies, sample questions with explanations of the answers, and practice exams, another benefit is that many of these books come with a CD so you can practice taking the computer-based GRE. Hooray for Y2K! There are lots of books out there, so finding one won't be a problem, and most books cost about $20-$30, so you'll save lots of money compared to a course. Although it might be beneficial to go to actual bookstore (yes, they still exist) and browse through your choices, you can also pop on over to's Test Prep Central.

The three most popular books are Kaplan's GRE: 1999-2000 Edition, Peterson's GRE Success 2000, and Barron's How To Prepare For The GRE Test. These books feature sample questions and strategies, as well as study plans and a concise and readable presentation of the most important information. However, each book is different and carries different features (for example, the Barron's book has an extensive vocabulary section with high-frequency words and the definition of each one), so be sure to comparison shop for your needs.

Crap. More school. Well, them's the breaks if you wanna up your score. The thing to keep in mind about test preparation courses is that they cannot guarantee you a high score. You still have to do huge amounts of work. But what a preparation course can do is guide you as to how your time can be best spent. The two most popular preparation schools are:

* The Kaplan Test Prep Center. You can get private tutoring or find a class in your area just by typing in your zip code and selecting the test you'll be taking. Prices tend to be steep though, so you should be willing to shell out some major bucks. For example, the tutoring services will run you $3,000 for 30 hours (quick math practice: $100/hr), and the class will cost you $900. Other less expensive options include online courses.
* The Princeton Review Center offers essentially the same service as Kaplan, although they focus more on the small classes (maximum of 8 students) rather than tutoring. The price of the class is about the same (though both centers are constantly offering deals to drive each other into the ground).

In addition to the Kaplan and Princeton Review web sites described above, here are some other web links for GRE strategies:

* GRE - Take a free GRE sample test, download GRE prep software, online books and use online tutoring. GREs are in the new mandatory Computer-Adaptive Test format.
* - A free online GRE preparation course. Includes tutorials, practice questions, tips, FAQ's and links.

Will you study diligently for months or will you crack open the study guide three days before the test? Will you waltz into the test center and sail through the exam or will you end up with your fist crashing through the computer screen? (Not recommended.) This SYW will put you on the right track to achieving a higher score, but the work ultimately rests on your shoulders.

When you go to take the test, you can't freeze up. Just take a deep breath and realize that you are way more prepared than the 98% of all GRE-takers that never even bothering practicing. You've already got the home court advantage! You're prepared, and you know it.

So without further ado, go forth, diligent student, and study . . . after you finish that ……………….


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