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GRE FAQs-Courtesy Nitin Madnani
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GRE FAQs-Courtesy Nitin Madnani
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Important
1. All the answers collected here are unofficial. They are derived from my
own experiences with GRE/TOEFL and the application process and those
of my acquaintances and friends.

2. You will find web addresses for most resources discussed here in the References
section at the end.

3. You may use distribute this document openly. Commercial use is prohibited.

You must preserve the name of the author in all versions.

4. The latest version of this document will always be available at http:
//www.umiacs.umd.edu/nmadnani/grefaq.pdf. Please check back regularly
at this address.

Motivation
I decided to write/assemble this FAQ because I was observing that a lot of people were posting the same questions over and over on the GRE Yahoo! Groups and other places as well. Instead of having to answer them again and again, I decided that this would be a much better way to address all of the recurring issues. This will always be a work in progress and I will keep adding new questions as they keep coming in. I am certainly not familiar with every aspect of admissions in the U.S. and will appreciate feedback if I omit something important or am mistaken about something. Feel free to email me at the above address1.

I decided to formulate this document in the question-answer format so that most
people can go directly to the questions that they have instead of having to go
through the entire document. These questions are not in any particular order.

1. What is the GRE ? What are the important things that I need
to know about GRE ?

The GRE or Graduate Record Examination [1], is a standardized aptitude
test offered by a private educational testing and measurement organization
known as ETS (Educational Testing Services) [2]. This examination
is designed to measure the candidates aptitude for graduate study. It is
the most widely used test in the United States2. There are two forms of
the GRE:
GRE General Test [3]: The general test specifically measures the
candidates verbal, quantitative and analytical writing aptitude. The
test is now most commonly offered in a computer-based format instead
of the older paper-based format. (See next question for a more
detailed description)
It is also used in other parts of the world but in this document, we are only talking about
American universities.
GRE Subject Test [4]: The subject tests are designed to test a candidates
knowledge of the subject matter in a particular discipline
extensively. Subject tests are offered in the following 8 disciplines:
Biochemistry, Biology, Chemistry, Computer Science, English
Literature, Mathematics, Physics and Psychology. Some
universities require these subject test scores in addition to the general
test when applying to the Ph.D. program. Even if the test is not
required, getting a good score in this test will definitely strengthen
your application.

2. What kind of questions do the different sections of the GRE
general test carry ?

All questions in the general test are multiple-choice questions. The detailed
descriptions are available at the GRE official site as referenced in
the last question, but for the sake of completeness, I reproduce them here
with little modification:
(a) Verbal: The verbal section measures your ability to analyze and
evaluate written material and synthesize information obtained from
it, to analyze 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.
(b) Quantitative: 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. These are content
areas usually encountered in the 9th-12th standard curricula.
© Analytical Writing: The analytical writing section tests your critical
thinking and analytical writing skills. It assesses your ability
to articulate and support complex ideas, analyze an argument, and
sustain a focused and coherent discussion. It does not assess specific
content knowledge.

3. When should I take the GRE ?
The answer to this question, as you would expect, depends on what
semester you want to apply for. Going by estimated deadlines, if you
are applying for the Fall, I would recommend that you write GRE at the
latest by October. I say this because this gives you enough time to concentrate
on the other parts of the application which are almost equally,
if not more, important than GRE scores. If you are applying for Spring,
you should have finished with the GRE by June at the latest.

4. How long does it take for ETS to report to the GRE scores to
the first 4 universities ? What about after that ?

According to ETSs official policy, score reports are mailed to you and
the 4 institutions, if you designate them on the day of the test, approximately 10-15 days after you take the test. I think we can safely assume the same duration for reporting the scores to new institutions as well, since it is completely electronic now.

5. Can I apply for admission anytime during the year ?
No. Most universities in the U.S. accept applications only two times in
a calendar year. Before we discuss that, let me give you a brief breakdown of the academic year as. The academic year is usually divided into 4 semesters - Fall, Winter, Spring and Summer. The semesters are usually 13 weeks long but this is not a hard and fast constraint. The Fall
semester starts somewhere between August and September and ends in
late December or early January. The Spring semester starts in January
and ends in May. The Summer semester starts in late May or early June
and ends just before the Fall semester begins. Not all universities have a
Winter semester but if they do, it is a very short semester squeezed between the Fall and the Spring semesters. The semesters correspond very roughly with the eponymous seasons.

Now on to the actual answer of this question. Most universities will accept
admission applications for the Fall and the Spring semesters of the
academic year. Please beware, the some universities only entertain applications for the Fall semester.

6. What are the deadlines for applying in Spring? In Fall ?
This is one of the silliest questions that I see asked around. Let me answer
this one final time: Each university has its own deadlines for applications
for the two semesters. There is no one deadline. If you want to find
deadlines for specific universities, please consider using a very well known
invention called Google. Find the website of the university, go to the
section for prospective students and you will find all the deadlines listed
there, along with almost all information that you could ever require. In
general, please consider doing a little bit of research yourself before asking others.
If you still need a very general idea of the deadlines, Fall semesters usually have an application deadline of mid December or early January, whereas Spring deadlines are usually in August or September.

7. Is there any difference between applying for the Fall semester
and the Spring semester ?

Yes, there is absolutely a difference between those two semesters. The academic year in all United States universities begins with the Fall semester.
Therefore, most assistantship and fellowship positions also begin at around
the same time. In fact, some universities (line mine, for example) do not
even entertain Spring applications unless you can demonstrate mitigating
circumstances or you are an existing student. In short, if you are applying
for the Spring semester you have the following disadvantages:
You are applying in the middle of the academic year when the number
of admits granted is definitely lower than in the Fall.
Financial aid for the Spring semester is very rare.
This is relatively unimportant but since the academic year starts in
the Fall, all the core courses are offered mostly in the Fall. This may
cause a little problem with planning your coursework.
Therefore, my advice is to apply in the Fall unless there are some exceptional circumstances and you cannot help it.

8. What will I need for my application, besides standardized test
scores ?

Every university has detailed and specific guidelines in their application
brochure about the documents that they will need you to submit with the
application. However, it is good to have a general idea of the sort of documents that are usually needed for an application to be deemed complete. Here is a list:
College Transcripts: A transcript is another name for a marksheet
provided by your college or university at the end of each semester,
that lists in detail the courses taken and the grades obtained in these
courses. You are allowed to send notarized copies of your transcripts
with the application. The admission will then be contingent upon
your providing the original transcripts when you join. Another point
is that since you will usually send out your applications before you
have graduated from your college, it is okay to provide the marksheets
only up to that semester. However, you will need to provide the rest
when you join.
Letters of Recommendation: Most universities require you to
provide three letters of recommentation. The faculty members in your department are the best people to ask for these letters. However, if you did an internship at another institution or corporation, getting a letter from your mentor or supervisor would be a big plus. Some universities will provide actual recommendation forms that you may get filled out by your references, in lieu of letters. In general, a good letter of recommendation would touch upon not only your academic achievements but also your analytical and problem-solving skills and preferable provide some anecdotal examples.
Statement of Purpose: This will possibly turn out to be the most
important document in your application. A statement of purpose
can best be described as a document for your academic past and
the future. It should clearly describe why you chose your particular
acadmic discipline, why you are interested in pursuing graduate study
in that discipline ir why you are interested in a different discipline
than the one you did your bachelors degree in. It should also clearly
outline the ideas you have about what you would like to do and what
you are interested in researching. It is very important that these
ideas and interests mesh with the interests of a group of a faculty
member at that university, which you should find out and mention
in the statement. You should also read some of the research that
the group or the faculty member has published in conferences and
journals to find out more about the kind of research that they do and
the direction that it is headed in. This will help you immensely.
Financial Support Statement: Another important document is
the financial support statement. This is usually in the shape of a
form provided with the application. In this document, you will usually
provide declare your financial assets to show that you will be able
to support the first year of your graduate education at the university.
You will probably need to provide notarized bank statements along
with this statement. However, it is entirely possible that you may
not need to submit this until you have been granted an admission
to the university. It usually depends upon the university admission
policy.

9. How do I prepare the financial support statement ? Why is it
important ?

The financial support statement is a declaration of your financial assets to
prove to the admissions committee of a university that you will be able to
support yourself during your graduate study program. However, it is not
the case that you will necessarily have to declare enough assets to cover
the entire cost of the first year. It is actually up to you what you want to
do here. There is usually a question on the application asking something
along the lines of Will you be able to attend this university if you are not
provided any financial aid ? If you answer that question in the affirmative,
you should show as many assets as possible in the financial statement
so that they will see that you can support yourself during your stay there.
However, if you say no to that question, then they know that your acceptance of the admission offer is contingent on provision of financial aid
and they will not put as much emphasis on the financial statement.
The reason the financial statement is so important is because it is essential
to procure what is commonly known as the I-20 form. The Certificate of
Visa Eligibility for Nonimmigrant F-1 Student Status is commonly known
as the I-20. This is the document issued by a university through the
internet-based Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS)
for presentation at the U.S. embassy to apply for an F-1 Student
visa; it must also be presented to an immigration official upon entry into
the U.S. In short, you will not get a visa without an I-20 and you will only
get an I-20 if you satisfy the financial constraints. Therefore, the financial
statement is critical to the application process.

10. How do I decide which universities to apply to ?
This is one of the most frequently asked questions and the answer is not as straightforward as you would like it to be. This is one of the highly subjective questions that you will be encountering as your proceed through
the application process. Before we talk about the factors that should in-
fluence your decision, let me provide a few useful sources of information
about Graduate Schools in the US:
US News Rankings: Every year, the periodical US News & World
Report comes out with their rankings of US Graduate Schools categorized
by the various disciplines. These rankings are based on
factors such as the number of graduating PhD students, the number
of permanent faculty members, and the amount obtained by the
faculty in research grants etc. It is important to note that these
rankings are not the only rankings out there. These are just relatively
more comprehensive and more trusted rankings than the other
ones. Only the general rankings are usually available for free. If you
want detailed rankings in your own discipline, they are usually just
a google-search away. If you cannot find them, email me and I will
try and get them for you3
PhDs.org: This is a very useful website based on the graduate
school statistics provided by the National Research Council. The
one really good thing about this website is that you can actually use
the interactive rankings form to generate rankings according to your
Not each discipline is ranked every year. For example, Computer Science was last ranked in 2002 and has not been ranked again since then. This comes in handy when you want to weight things
like financial aid much higher than other factors.
USEFI Centers: USEFI(United States Education Foundation in
India), also known as the Fulbright Commission, is an organization
that was started in 1950 for the purpose of promoting academic
exchanges between India and the United States. They are headquartered
in Connaught Place in New Delhi and have offices in the other
metropolitan cities as well. They have detailed guides about all US
Universities and also hold various seminars about finding fellowships
and scholarships for your graduate study in the US. I would definitely
recommend doing some serious research in their offices for coming up
with a preliminary list of the universities.
OK, now that we have resources for you to find out information about all
the universities, lets talk about what all should factor in your thinking:
Research interests: It is important to understand that the programs
of graduate study in the US that we are talking about here -
M.S and Ph.D. - entail research. You should have a clear idea of the
areas in your discipline that intrigue you and that you are interested
in exploring further. If the only reason you want to do an M.S. is to
get a more lucrative software engineering or programming, this might
not turn out to be important for you during your M.S but you will
certainly need it to get admitted. Your statement of research (also
known as the statement of purpose) should be very well focused and
plainly describe your reasons for pursuing graduate study. You might
be able to secure an admission with a weak SOP, but certainly not
financial aid.
Once you have your research interests decided, find the universities
that do good research in these areas, get lots of grants for the same
and also hire a lot of students in these labs. Use the above resources
and also try and contact other students from your college that have
gone to the US, since they may have a better idea about these things.
Test Scores: Test scores are not the sole deciding factor in your
admission, as most people think. They are certainly important as
they indicate your aptitude for graduate study, but thats all they
are - an indication. If you get too low of a score, you will certainly
have problems getting into the relatively higher-ranked universities.
Getting an extremely good score will help. However, If you are in the
relatively upper percentile range of, say 1400-1500, your exact score
does not matter. Yes, thats right. Once you are in that range, it is
all the same.
The only part TOEFL scores play is to determine your English speaking
and comprehension skills. If you test in the right range, their work
is over. If you test too low, however, universities may admit you only
on the condition that you will attend some English classes once you
get to the U.S.
Alumni: I would suggest that you strongly consider universities
where students from previous batches of your college have secured
admission and financial aid. Chances are that if they have admitted
students from the past and have been generally satisfied with their
quality, they will almost certainly admit you as well.
Geographic factors: Sometimes it is also important to consider
the location of the university that you are considering applying to.
Industries concentrated in particular states tend to hire heavily from
the universities around them. For example, Dell - which is based in
Austin, Texas, hires a lot of engineers from Texas A&M University,
University of Texas at Austin and University of Texas at Arlington.
If you are interested in automotive engineering, consider applying
close to Detroit, where the Big Three (Ford, General Motors and
Chrysler) are based. Similarly, Maxtor - a hard-drive and storage
appliance corporation based in Denver - hires engineers from University
of Colorado at Boulder.
I think that about sums up the not-so-short answer to this oft asked question.

11. How do I prepare for that infernal Verbal section of the GRE ?
Another very common question for Indian students and also another very
subjective question. Each and every one of us has a different way of learning
new things and so there cant be any one way for all of us to prepare.
I think the best thing I can do here is to outline the way that I prepared
for this section and hopefully a lot of you will get some good pointers and
direction.
(a) Its all about the roots: Blindly stuffing the meaning of words into
your brain by going through some list is the worst way to prepare
for this section. You will have to remember an unmanageably large
chunks of information. As engineers, you should realize that if you
can remember words together as groups, the storage efficiency will
be much higher. The easiest way to remember groups of words is
to via their etymology, or the way that the word originated. If you
remember the roots, you will be able to infer the meaning of even
a completely new word that you encounter for the first time. Lets
look at an example. Consider the word euthanasia. If you learn the
roots of this word, you will learn that:
eu- is a Greek root, meaning good
-thanasia is derived from the Greek Thanatos who was the god
of death.
Therefore, the complete word means good death, which is what we
know. Now, say you come across the word thanatophobic. Chances
are that you have not seen this word before. No need to panic ! Roots
will always help you out:
We know that thanato- refers to death.
Everyone knows (or should know) that -phobic means someone
afraid of something.
Therefore, this adjective refers to someone afraid of dying. Voila !
A very good book which emphasizes learning the roots of words is
Word Power Made Easy by Norman Lewis [9].
(b) Flash Cards: Another very popular and effective method is using
flash cards for writing down words and their meanings. I used flash
cards to write down not only the different meanings but also examples
of usage for particularly difficult words. I went through them
every night and every morning.
© Read, Read and Read: I know that most people begin GRE preparations
with a short window of time but if you are smart enough
to be starting a year or 2 years early, the one thing that I cannot
stress enough is the importance of reading. It may be newspapers or
periodicals, sports or automotive magazines, fiction novels. classic
literature or anything else with a relatively richer vocabulary that
you enjoy reading. Just reading will not help you prepare, however.
The point is that anytime you come across a word that you have not
seen before or do not remember, look it up right there and then in
the dictionary and enter it on a flash card along with the usage. At
the end of the day, force yourself to write a paragraph in which you
use every new word that you came across today. This turned out to
be very useful for me.
(d) Practice Makes Perfect: For certain questions like Reading Comprehension
exercises, all of the above will certainly help you but you
must keep practicing. You know what else helps with RCs? General
Reading !! If you are able to read, say, todays editorial and understand
the premise behind and also the arguments the author makes
to support or disprove that premise, you will have no problems with
these kind of questions.

12. How do I decide on the list of universities to which I have to
send the GRE scores at the end of the test ?

Do not, by any means, consider this as a casual exercise. Ideally, you
should have already decided on your list of universities before you take
the GRE and so you can choose 4 from that list. However, we know that
since GRE scores are a big factor in selecting the universities, most people
do not have such a list. The straightforward solution is to have multiple
lists. Make 3 lists of universities - one that you really want to apply to
provided you get a great GRE score, one that you will apply to if you get
average scores and the last fall back list which you use only if you screw
up the test very badly. The US News and PhDs.org rankings explained
above should be instrumental in helping you create these 3 lists. Doing it
this way means extra work but it also means that you use test fees more
efficiently by applying to the right universities.

13. I did not do as well on the GRE I had expected. Should I retake
the test or apply with my current scores ?

This is a tricky question. Assuming you can afford to retake the test
and the dates are available, there are a couple of other criteria that you
should keep in mind when making this decision:
(a) Do you have enough time ?
If the first time you took your GRE was already kind of cutting it
close (late October or so), you will have little time to do any more
substantial preparation.
(b) Will it help ?
If the reason your first test did not go so well was because of poor
time management or factors other than lack of preparation, retaking
the test might make more sense. However, you should take steps to
ensure that the same factors do not appear the second time you take
the test. So, if the cause was, say, lack of time management then you
should do more practice with actual timed tests to make sure that
you figure out how to best manage those precious minutes. If it was
silly mathematical mistakes, practicing will help there as well.

14. If I decide to take the test again, which scores will be reported ?
The official ETS policy [11] is to report all the scores that you have obtained in the past 5 years. Not the best of the bunch and certainly not
the average. Of course, the university you are applying to might have its
own policy on how to normalize scores for students who have taken the
test more than once and these policies are not known. If I had to guess, I
would say that they would consider the latest scores as the official ones.

15. I have some questions that are not answered by your FAQ.
Where do I ask them ?

I am a member of the Yahoo! groups admission 2006 GRE US and
gre-toefl-tse. They are great places to ask questions and interact
with other fellow graduate study aspirants. Of course, the right way to
ask the question is to first search the groups messages because someone
may already have asked the same question and had it answered. Please
follow this established netiquette and do not blindly post a message asking
your question.

Another very important thing about asking question is the way that a
question is worded. I will never ever answer emails like:
Hi All
hi, i am willing to take admission for the spring 2006 for my MS ,
so tell me the univs I should apply to.
That is the worst way to ask a question. The people you are asking need
information such as your academic profile, your GRE scores, your reasons
for applying in the Spring instead of the Fall, your research interests and
any other information that you are going to consider when applying to
the US. Please take time to provide such information.


Feedback
I would appreciate any feedback on this document at the email provided above.
References
[1] Graduate Record Examination, http://www.gre.org
[2] Graduate Record Examination, http://www.ets.org
[3] GRE General Test, http://www.gre.org/gendir.html#general
[4] GRE General Test, http://www.gre.org/pbstest.html#description
[5] US News & World Report, Graduate School Rankings, http://www.
usnews.com/usnews/edu/grad/rankings/rankindex brief.php.
[6] Rankings based on National Research Council data, http://www.phds.
org/rankings
[7] National Research Council, http://www.nationalacademies.org/nrc/
12
[8] The Fulbright Commission in India, http://www.fulbright-india.org/
eas/eas-general.htm
[9] Word Power Made Easy, Norman Lewis, http://www.amazon.com/exec/
obidos/tg/detail/-/067174190X/002-9851277-6608034?v=glance
[10] admission 2006 GRE US Yahoo! Group, http://groups.yahoo.com/
group/admission 2006 GRE US/
[11] GRE Cumulative Reporting Policy, http://www.gre.org/getscore.
html#cumulative
[12] gre-toefl-tse Yahoo! Group, http://groups.yahoo.com/group/
gre-toefl-tse/

Thank Nitin for providing this very valuable document!

MAY THE FORCE BE WITH YOU!!!!!
-----------------------------------
Shivakumar
MS-ME,
Kyphon Inc,
Sunnyvale, CA.
08-10-2005 11:13 PM
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Thanks so much, Shiva ! I appreciate it !

I am a linguist. A desi linguist.
http://www.desilinguist.org
08-10-2005 11:28 PM
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Great work!!!!! this is too good!!!!

Good job Nitin... nice language used... i like the undertone of sarcasm too!


Megha

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08-11-2005 12:49 AM
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Thanks Megha ! I think a touch of sarcasm is needed every now and then Smile

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http://www.desilinguist.org
08-11-2005 12:59 AM
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Couldnt agree more!!!!

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08-11-2005 01:25 AM
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@Shiva: Jus one request. Make the Questions appear in bold. Readability issues Wink
08-13-2005 12:55 PM
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done that hitch hiker... good suggestion.... see if its ok now!

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08-13-2005 01:57 PM
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megzz31 Wrote:done that hitch hiker... good suggestion.... see if its ok now!
A-OK!
08-13-2005 03:12 PM
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Hitch_Hiker Wrote:
megzz31 Wrote:done that hitch hiker... good suggestion.... see if its ok now!
A-OK!

AAAARRGH!!! Another attempt at increasing post count!!!!! 8)

08-13-2005 08:20 PM
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Just to re-iterate, this document has been going through changes and will continue to do so. You can always find the *latest* version at the URL:
http://www.umiacs.umd.edu/~nmadnani/grefaq.pdf

I apologize for reposting but the link did not come out clearly in the text conversion.

I am a linguist. A desi linguist.
http://www.desilinguist.org
08-18-2005 01:01 AM
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Time to walk into sunset Offline
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Post: #11
 
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DesiLinguist Wrote:Just to re-iterate, this document has been going through changes and will continue to do so. You can always find the *latest* version at the URL:
http://www.umiacs.umd.edu/~nmadnani/grefaq.pdf

I apologize for reposting but the link did not come out clearly in the text conversion.

Nitin What we can do is, u can keep updating it and once u feel that its completed, we can put the completed one, or u can keep letting me know each time u make updates and we can reflect them here too.

MAY THE FORCE BE WITH YOU!!!!!
-----------------------------------
Shivakumar
MS-ME,
Kyphon Inc,
Sunnyvale, CA.
08-18-2005 03:08 AM
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Post: #12
 
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Yeah that makes more sense. Everytime I make a major update I will let you know and you can replace/edit the existing. Thanks ! Smile

I am a linguist. A desi linguist.
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08-18-2005 05:05 AM
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Post: #13
Great!!
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Thanks a lot Shiva and Nitin. Amazing work!!!

Shankar
09-06-2005 05:55 PM
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Post: #14
SCORE reporting??
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hey in the ets they have written that they will mail the reports two weeks after receipt does that mean that it would take 2 weeks + time for the post to reach univs??? or in 2 weeks the reports would reach univs?how much time did it take in your case?
11-12-2005 07:37 PM
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Post: #15
Re: SCORE reporting??
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aniruddha Wrote:hey in the ets they have written that they will mail the reports two weeks after receipt does that mean that it would take 2 weeks + time for the post to reach univs??? or in 2 weeks the reports would reach univs?how much time did it take in your case?
I don't think they use the postal service. I am pretty sure that the scores are reported electronically.

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11-13-2005 07:23 AM
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