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Special Article 45

Crack Graduate Record Examinations (GRE)
to Study Masters Abroad

Rruchi Shrimalli

Graduate Record Examinations (GRE) is conducted by the Educational Testing Service (ETS) as a standardized test for those who want to seek admission in Masters-level study programs abroad. Most top graduate schools in the US and other top study destinations for Indian students accept GRE scores.

Over 1,100 business schools and thousands of other graduate schools across the world accept GRE scores. In February 2015, over 1.1 lakh Indian students took GRE. The numbers had grown by almost 20% since 2014, indicating that more and more Indian were looking for study opportunities abroad.

In India, one can take only computer-based version of the test. The registration fee for the GRE exam is US$195. Those who want to get their test re-scheduled or change the examination centre have to pay $50 extra.

The GRE test is of two types:

GRE General Test measures your Verbal Reasoning, Quantitative Reasoning, and Analytical Writing skills. It has a ScoreSelect option, which means that if you do not perform well on the test day, you can retake the test and choose which scores you want to send to your targeted graduate schools or business schools.

GRE Subject Tests grill you in a particular subject. The subject scores help you stand from other applicants by emphasizing your knowledge and skills in a specific subject. Currently, you can take subject tests in:

*Biochemistry, Cell and Molecular Biology
*Literature in English
Here, we will discuss about the GRE General Test which is more popular.

Why take GRE?

Prospective students who want to take admission in Masters’, MBA, specialised Master’s programs in Business, or doctoral programs worldwide take the GRE General Test. It helps the admission committees or fellowship panels to compare the qualifications of various candidates at the same level, irrespective of their educational or cultural backgrounds.

GRE is conducted at more than 1,000 test centers across over 160 countries. In India, you can take the GRE year-round. However, appointments are made on a first-come, first-served basis. It takes about 10-15 days for the GRE authorities to send your score report to your targeted recipients after you take the test. In case you do not score well in your first attempt, you can re-take the test in the next 21 days (up to five times within the 12-month period). So, to make sure that your scores get reported in time, make sure you take your GRE about 2-3 months before your admission deadline.

GRE Examination Pattern

Computer-delivered GRE General Test has time duration of 3 hours and 45 minutes. You are only allowed one 10-minute break - after you complete your third section. After that, you only get 1-minute breaks between each subsequent section.

The first section of the exam is always the ‘Analytical Writing’ section. It has two separately timed tasks - Analyze an Issue, and Analyze an Argument. You get 30 minutes to complete each task.

This section is followed by the Verbal Reasoning section, Quantitative Reasoning section, and an unscored section (which can be of any type) in any order. The Verbal Reasoning and Quantitative Reasoning have two sections each. Each section has 20 questions. You get 30 minutes to solve each VR section, and 35 minutes to solve each QR section. The unscored section does not count towards your score but since they are mixed up well with the VR and QR section, you should try to do your best in each section.

In the end, there is always a Research section which does not count towards your score. It is included by ETS only for research purposes.

GRE is a user-friendly test. You can skip questions within a section, choose which questions to answer first, and also go back and change your answers. However, you must remember that even if a question looks similar to the one you have already attempted, the slight change in the wording may mean that it can have a different answer. So read the questions very carefully.

Verbal Reasoning

The VR section measures your ability to understand the meaning of words, sentences, and texts, and establish relationships between concepts; select important points and summarize text; and analyse and draw conclusions from a discourse, make use of incomplete data; and understand author’s intent.

It mainly contains three types of questions:

Reading Comprehension: Here the answers are of multiple-choice question type. Some of them may have only one answer, while others may have one or more correct answers. In the latter case, you score only if you select all the correct answers. Partially correct answers do not offer you any credit. The section also includes select-in-passage type questions, where the students have to choose one of the given sentences as answer to the question. The passages may be one to five paragraphs long, and can be drawn from both academic and non-academic sources.

Text Completion: These questions include a passage which is usually one to five sentences long, and has one to three blanks. You have to choose the correct options to fill in the given blanks.

Sentence Equivalence: Such questions have a single sentence and one blank. Usually, you have to select two options out of the six options given in the paper. Partially correct answers fetch no marks for you.

Quantitative Reasoning

The QR section measures your ability to apply basic concepts and mathematical models of arithmetic, algebra, geometry and data analysis to solve problems; and to understand, interpret and analyze quantitative information. The good news is that you can use the on-screen calculator to solve this section. The bad news is that it is a very basic one, and does not have advanced features.

Some of the QR questions include real-life settings while others pose purely mathematical settings. Most of the questions are word problems and use Mathematics and Statistics of Class 12 level. Generally, this section does not include complex topics like Trigonometry and Calculus.

Do remember that while coordinate systems (such as number lines and xy-planes), and graphs are generally drawn to scale, geometric figures are not necessarily drawn to school. Hence, you should attempt questions with geometric figures based on reasoning rather than your visual estimation.

The QR section includes Quantitative Comparison questions, Numeric Entry questions, and MCQs with either one answer or more than one answer. Many of these questions may be the part of the Data Interpretation set where you have to solve problems using tables, graphs, or other forms of data presentations.

Analytical Writing

The AW section measures your ability to think critically, examine claims, articulate complex ideas clearly and effectively, and sustain a well-focused discussion. It includeds two tasks:

Analyze an Issue: In this task, you have to present your opinion on an issue of general interest. You have to support your argument with reasons and examples.

Analyze an Argument: In this task, you have to evaluate the given argument according to specific instructions. Here, your logic matters more than the fact that whether you agree or disagree with the given position.

In the first task, you have to present your position on an issue and substantiate with evidences. In the second task, you have to evaluate someone else’s argument and assess the claims and evidence it presents. Do remember that the word processor you use is quite basic and does not have spell checker or grammar checker facilities. So, you have to pay attention to spelling and grammar while framing your answer.

To prepare for the Analytical Writing section, review the sample topics, essay responses and reader commentary for each task. It will help you understand how essays are evaluated, and how you can evolve strategies to gain maximum marks in the given tasks. Time management is very important for this section. You need time to reach the issue or the argument well, go through the instructions carefully, plan a response, and compose your essay. It is advisable to save a few minutes at the end to quickly go through your essay, and correct any spelling or grammar error that might bring down the overall effectiveness of your writing.

6 Best Test Taking Strategies for You

1. Note that the ETS test software has a ‘Mark and Review’ feature, which enables you to mark the questions you want to re-visit or attempt later, if you still have time after completing the section. In this way, you can directly go to the questions you have marked for review and save crucial time. The research on GRE program shows that allowing students to change their answers boosted their scores considerably.
2. Speed matters as much as accuracy. If you find that you are taking too long to answer a specific question, make a guess and mark it for review. All the questions carry equal weightage in the exam, so answer as many of them as you can.
3. The official ETS website for GRE aspirants offers a software where you can take practice tests. It can help you become familiar with the test design as well as how their testing software works.
4. There is no negative marking in the exam. Hence, if you are not sure of the correct answer, there is no harm in making an educated guess. Attempt every question.
5.You get a blank sheet of paper for rough work during the test. You can ask as many sheets as you need from the test administrator.
6. You only get one 10-minute break during the test. If you take unscheduled breaks, your section timing will not stop. Hence, it is advisable to develop your stamina to sit for that long - and remain focused on your test. Taking regular practice tests can help you with it.
On the Day of the Test…

Make sure you arrive at least 30 minutes before the test slot assigned to you. If you are late for the test, you may not be allowed to enter the center. Other things you need to remember on the test day are:

Dress comfortably, so that you can sit for long hours in any kind of environment.

Visitors or friends accompanying you will not be allowed inside the examination center.

Normally, you can just carry your ID inside the testing room. If you are disabled or have special health related needs, you may bring the equipment you require, snacks or beverages and medications you might need, and take extended breaks as allowed in the Bulletin Supplement for Test Takers with Disabilities or Health-related Needs.

You cannot change the seat assigned to the test administrator, and can only leave the room to use the restroom.

No gadgets are allowed inside the testing room, including watches, phones, PDAs and other electronic devices. The test administrators are not allowed to collect and hold them for you, so avoid taking anything with you to the center.

Only use rough paper given by the test administrator to write anything down, and don’t forget to return the rough paper to the test administrator at the end of the exam.

Immediately after the test, you have an option to cancel your scores. However, if you fail to do so, your scores become a part of your reportable history and cannot be cancelled later. You do have the ScoreSelect option now and can choose to send only your best scores to your targeted institutions. You won’t be able to see the Analytical Writing scores immediately though.

A new Kaplan survey reveals that 8 out of 10 MBA programs worldwide accept both GRE and GMAT scores. So, if you are looking forward to take admission in a business school, you can opt for GRE too.


(The author is a career counsellor based in New Delhi. e-mail rruchishrimalli@gmail.com)