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What is the GRE all about?
Ramcharan Vijayaraghavan
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August 03, 2006

To get straight to the point, this article intends to answer the question: What are the GRE and GMAT exams all about? To begin with, however, let's look at the US education system and find out how the GRE helps in the process of getting there.

The system

The US education system consists of 12 years of schooling, four years of undergraduate study (such as a BA or BS) and two years of graduate study. Most colleges or universities expect you to have four years of undergraduate study, three years of undergraduate and a year's Masters.

Admission cycles

Most US colleges and universities offer admissions twice a year. The first is in September, known as the Fall semester. The second is in February -- the Spring semester. You have a choice of joining a college in either semester.


Individuals applying to graduate schools in order to pursue a Masters in Arts (MA) or Science (MS) take the GRE (Graduate Record Examination). The test helps schools by providing them with common measures for comparing the qualifications of applicants.

There are two types of tests

. The General Test measures verbal and quantitative ability, and analytical writing skills. Data shows that scores on the GRE General Test consistently predict graduate school students' grades and performance.

. The Subject Test measures the achievement in a particular subject area or extensive background in that discipline. These tests are in the following areas: Biochemistry, Cell and Molecular Biology, Biology, Chemistry, Computer Science, Literature (English), Physics and Psychology.

Our emphasis will be on the General Test, as that will be the eligibility criteria for most programs you intend to pursue.

Why GRE?

In addition to being an admission criterion, schools often use GRE scores to determine eligibility for merit-based grants and fellowships, as well as teaching and research assistantships programs. The large state schools establish cut-off points for GRE scores to limit the application pool, while others use GRE scores to directly determine how much financial support you receive. Investing time and effort in preparing for the GRE today can help you get into the grad school of your choice and can greatly increase your chances of getting financial aid.

The GRE is conducted by the Education Testing Services group (ETS). For now, the test can be taken all the year round. From coming year, however, there will be fixed dates. The fees for the test are US$140 (Rs 7,000).

The exam in detail

The GRE consists of three main sections: Verbal, Quantitative and Analytical Writing. The Verbal and Quantitative Scores are out of a scale of 200-800 each. The Analytical Writing section is of a maximum of six points. The most important thing is the test is Computer Adaptive, which means the next question that appears onscreen depends on whether the previous question has been answered correctly or not.

The Analytical Writing section tests your critical thinking and writing skills. It assesses your ability to articulate and support complex ideas, analyse an argument, and sustain a focused and coherent discussion. It does not assess specific content knowledge.

The Verbal section measures your ability to analyse and evaluate written material and synthesize information obtained from it, to analyse relationships among component parts of sentences, to recognize relationships between words and concepts, and to reason with words in solving problems. There is a balance of passages across different subject matter areas: humanities, social sciences, and natural sciences.

The Quantitative section measures your basic mathematical skills, your understanding of elementary mathematical concepts, and your ability to reason quantitatively and solve problems in a quantitative setting. There is a balance of questions requiring arithmetic, algebra, geometry and data analysis.









* For the Issue task, two essay topics will be presented and you will choose one. The Argument task does not present a choice of topics; instead one topic will be presented.

** An unidentified verbal or quantitative pre-test section may be included and may appear in any order after the analytical writing section. It is not counted as part of your score.

*** An identified research section that is not scored may be included and will always be at the end of the test.

Please note

There may be an experimental section -- which could be Quantitative or English -- that is actually not evaluated. As you will not be aware of what the experimental section is, you will have to attempt both sections with equal seriousness. You will get scores for the Verbal and Quantitative sections immediately, but the Analytical Writing scores will reach you in one to two weeks.

Also remember that, during the GRE, you could mention the names of some colleges where you want the scores to be sent. Keep four to five relevant colleges or university names at hand. Now that you know what the GRE looks like, we will soon look at how to crack the test.

-- The author is programme head for GRE & GMAT, Career Launcher India Ltd, which offers career-oriented training for CAT, IIT-JEE, BBA, BCA, GRE, National Law School, NIFT and hotel management. Career Launcher is present in over 65 cities across India and West Asia.

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