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Getting into Grad School – The Graduate Records Exam (GRE)

If you have already selected the graduate school to which you plan to apply, congratulations.  Now we need to talk about getting you admitted to the graduate school of your choice.  One large hurdle you will need to prepare for is the Graduate Records Exam, known as the GRE.

You will not be alone! More than 600,000 potential graduate students take the GRE General Test in the U.S. each year.  These applicants have widely varying educational experiences and even native languages.  A graduate degree from a U.S. college or university is a sought-after opportunity, so GRE students represent more than 200 different countries annually.  The GRE is used in the admissions process to objectively evaluate graduate school candidates and compare their qualifications and readiness for graduate school.

When you apply, the school or program’s admissions team will use your GRE score, along with things like your undergraduate transcripts and letters of recommendation, to determine if you are a qualified candidate for graduate level studies at their institution.  It should go without saying that it is very important you do well on the GRE!

The current GRE General Test is a basic skills assessment which measures your overall verbal reasoning, quantitative reasoning, critical thinking and analytical writing skills.  The General Test does NOT measure skills directly related to any specific field of study.  The test is an evaluation of your readiness for graduate level course work in three specific areas:

  • Analytical Writing — Measures critical thinking and analytical writing skills, specifically the test taker’s ability to articulate complex ideas clearly and effectively
  • Verbal Reasoning — Measures reading comprehension skills and verbal and analogical reasoning skills, focusing on the test taker’s ability to analyze and evaluate written material
  • Quantitative Reasoning — Measures problem-solving ability, focusing on basic concepts of arithmetic, algebra, geometry and data analysis

You will need to register for the GRE at a testing center in your area.  You can register online at http://www.ets.org/gre/general/register/cbt/ Make sure you look carefully at testing dates and when scores will be made available, so that you register early enough to have your test data included in your application.  If you have test anxiety or are applying for a competitive graduate program with very high standards, you may want to take the test soon.  If you do not get your desired score, you can re-take the test.  The GRE testing parameters allow you to take the GRE General Test once per calendar month, and no more than five times within any 12-month period.

ETS, the company that administers and oversees the GRE, is committed to serving all students.  For that reason, they offer “services and reasonable accommodations” to students with special needs.  If you believe you may be eligible for nonstandard testing accommodations, go to the ETS website http://www.ets.org/gre/general/register/disabilities and review the eligibility requirements.  If you do qualify for this assistance, follow the special testing enrollment directions.

Plan your time so that you can prepare for the GRE well in advance of your scheduled test date.  Because this test score is so important, there is an enormous variety of commercial GRE test preparation materials available.  If you take a walk down the “college” aisle of any large bookstore, you will be able to examine and review several different books (many with accompanying software) to guide you in doing your best on the GRE.

When you register for the GRE General Test, you are also eligible to download free software from ETS.  The Powerprep® Software: Test Preparation for the GRE® General Test includes two computer-based GRE General Tests, sample analytical writing topics, scored sample essays with reader commentary, test-taking strategies, a math review, and test tutorials.

One important final note – ETS has announced the release of a NEW REVISED GRE!  The GRE General Test is changing soon (August 2011).  It will feature new types of questions and a more “testing friendly” design.  Registration for the GRE revised General Test opens March 15, 2011.  If you need your test scores before November 2011, you MUST take the current
GRE General Test!

It takes a lot of time, energy and commitment to do this the right way, but the personal and professional rewards are worth it.  Best of luck, but you won’t need luck if you follow the roadmap I have outlined!

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