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Last modified
11/13/02


GRE (Graduate Record Examination)

General Info
GRE General
GRE Subject
My Favorite Preparation Guides

General Info

GRE General is required by most universities if you are applying to graduate school (the exceptions are Business School which require GMAT and Law Schools which require LSAT).

GRE Subject (Economics, Engineering, History, Mathematics, Physics, etc) is usually required or highly recommended by schools. If you are applying to Physics Department GRE Physics will be required. If you are applying to Biology Department you will usually have a choice which subject test to take Biology, Math, Physics (I took Math when I was applying to Biology). Some universities would say that GRE Subject is not required, still if you can get high score it is worth to take and submit the test.

GRE scores (both General and Subject) are very important, admissions committee pays close attention to them.

Check out Free Sample Tests and Preparation Materials from ETS

Try to take tests in advance. I remember at two universities my application was considered incomplete and not given to the admission committee for consideration until I provided percentile of my GRE General score (when you take computer test you are given exact numbers right away but not the percentile) -- I don't think this is generally the case, but still don't wait until the last moment. Try to take the tests in October-November.

GRE General

GRE General consists of three sections Quantitative, Analytical and Verbal. The maximum score in each section is 800. You will have total of 4 sections during the test. One section will be presented twice (I had two Analytical sections, for example). If you have two say Verbal sections only one of them will be counted, the other one is experimental. You won't know which one is experimental (don't even try :-) thus you have to work hard on all 4 sections.

The test is computer adaptive, so the difficulty of each next question will depend on whether or not you answered correctly the previous question. Thus remember to be especially careful during the first 1/2 of each section. Also, remember to answer all the question, this is better for your final score than leaving unanswered questions

Quantitative (28 questions, 45 minutes)
This section tests you basic math skills, mostly middle to high school level. Anyone from Phystech, MIFI, etc can easily get 800 (if you get the score below 700 - shame on you!). See examples.

Analytical (35 questions, 60 minutes)
This section is not very difficult, but it is quite unusual and time consuming. I think the best way to master it is to practice. In my opinion each person has his own style of logic and its harder to adopt somebody else's structure than to develop your own. Thus, my advice is practice until you fill fluent in this type of problems and can solve them in the allocated time. Strive for the score of 800 and be proud of yourself if you get the score above 750.

Verbal (30 questions, 30 minutes)
For non-native English speakers (that is us :-) this is the most difficult section. To do well in it you need to know an incredible number of rarely used English words. Thus, preparation for this test mostly involves training your memory. Of course, you would also need to learn general patterns and structures, get acquainted with tricks to find solutions, etc. I would recommend .... for preparation. Check out GRE Vocabulary Builder and Guru's GRE Wordlist Memorizer. Strive for the score of 450, anything above 400 is good, scores 350-390 are acceptable, below 300 is really bad. "My personal relationship with Verbal has always been really tense (in 1997 I got 380, in 2000 - 370). My scored did not prevent me from getting admitted to Princeton and MIT, so don't panic if your score is not perfect. I remember a funny story that happened to me during an interview at Caltech (in Biology you have to pass an interview before being admitted). I came to the professor's office and started talking to him, we discussed my scientific interests and then he looked at my test score and said "How come you have 370 in Verbal? I was thinking you won't be able to make a few phrases, but your English is excellent."  :-) Still try to find patience in yourself and prepare for Verbal, e.g. learn those words!"

GRE Subject

The difficulty of this test depends on the subject you choose and on your personal level of knowledge. For example, at MIPT some of my group-mates could easily get 990 in Physics (which is maximum score) while others could only get 750 which is non-acceptable for the top schools (my score in 1997 was 770). When I was applying to Biology my Math score of 890 was considered really good. As a general rule score above 800 are good, above 900 are excellent. Most universities will list average scores for admitted students and these numbers are generally in the range 600-750. You should understand that these numbers include American students which generally have lower scores than foreigners. You have to win against other foreigners thus for you scores below 750 are no good at all.

My Favorite Preparation Guides
 

GRE: Practicing to take the General Test from ETS
Barron's How to Prepare for the GRE
Kaplan GRE Verbal Workbook
Cracking the GRE 2003 from Princeton Review
GRE Exam 2003 (Book and CD Rom) from Kaplan