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The complete dummy's guide to writing the GRE
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vishi Offline
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The complete dummy's guide to writing the GRE
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Whom this guide is for:

This is a guide for those people who are planning to take up the GRE, and who do not have much information about the same. It is for those people who have heard about the GRE, and have very little idea about it. It is for those who may be afraid to ask someone, or for those, who have asked, but haven’t got a good response. It includes all details a complete newbie must know, to start preparing for the GRE. It will answer most of the questions that you may have, starting from knowing what the GRE is, to how to book the GRE exam, and taking the exam, and scoring well in it.

About the GRE:

GRE is a general exam that tests one’s mathematical (quantitative) and English language proficiency. It does not have a strict ‘syllabus’ as such. The questions are generally from topics that you studied in your high school. The GRE is required by most of the schools in the USA. If you are planning on pursuing your higher education, you will most probably need to write the GRE. The GRE is mainly for people who intend to pursue their education in the sciences stream. This includes, but is not limited to engineering courses.


There are two types of GRE that are available. One is the general GRE (which this article will describe in detail) and the other is the subject GRE, which is, as the name suggests, based on a specific subject. Most universities require the prospective students / applicants to have taken either form of the GRE, i.e., the General test or the subject test. Check with the university if it has a specific requirement for the subject GRE. We will talk about the GRE General test in all future references to the term GRE in this article.


The GRE is a computer-based test and it is adaptive in nature. By this, we mean that the computer adjusts the difficulty level of the questions you are given on screen. One needs to understand this concept very well to get a good score on the GRE. The following paragraph explains the meaning of the term ‘computer adaptive test’.


Before understanding what a computer adaptive test is, let us come to how the GRE is scored. The GRE is for a total maximum of 1600 points (or marks). These points are awarded on the basis of answering the questions on the test, based on their difficulty level. You may be awarded more marks if you gave the right answer to a tough question. Similarly, you may lose few points/ marks if you answer a simple question incorrectly. One can be assured of getting a score of 400 out of the maximum 1600 on the GRE, without having answered even one question. Confused? Read on …


As I already mentioned, the GRE is a computer adaptive test. This may seem a pretty complicated term in itself, but its not something to be apprehensive / afraid of. This term means that the types of questions you get during the exam are based on how you answer the previous questions. To simplify this further, let us now divide the difficulty level of the questions on GRE into 5 types – easy, easy moderate, moderate, moderate hard, and hard. Let us now, for sake of convention, assign points of 1,2,3,4 and 5 for these difficulty levels respectively. Now, the first question given to you will be a moderate one, which has a medium difficulty rating of 3. If you answer this correctly, the computer ‘adapts’ to your intelligence level, and will throw you a question of a slightly higher difficulty level, say 4 (or may be even 5). Now, if you answer this correctly again, it will give you a question of level 4 or 5 again. As long as you answer the question correctly, it will keep up the level of difficulty to around 4-5. Once you get a wrong answer, the computer ‘adapts’ to the wrong answer and gives you a question of level 4 or 3. Now, if you get this wrong again, it will lower the question to level 2, and to 1 if you are getting a series of wrong answers. Hence, it always ‘adjusts’ the questions to be in the ‘zone’ where you find a comfortable ‘success rate’. This ‘zone’ will actually determine your GRE score in the end. We will now come to the importance of the adaptive test, and how we can take advantage of it, to get a good score.


Now that you know what a computer adaptive test is, you will need to know how to take advantage of it. Let us consider a case of a candidate taking the GRE test, and compare the outcome of the way in which questions are answered, in 2 scenarios - one good and one bad. The following example serves only as a method of understanding the concept of scoring in a computer adaptive test and it should not be considered as the real scoring mechanism / algorithm. The numbers and scores used here are only indicative, assumed and approximate.

[Image: File?id=dhjm6t8w_49c9qvdjdt_b]


The above graph shows how your answers will affect your overall score. Let us consider the case of a low score (the pink colored graph). The computer will start off with an average rating for all candidates. Let us assume this to be a score of 500. Now, if the first question is answered incorrectly, the score automatically goes down (say, to 400), and the level of difficulty for the next question is reduced. Now, as in the pink graph, if one doesn’t answer even the second question correctly, the score is again reduced to around 300, and the difficulty level is set to 1. Now, even though you answer the third question correctly, its not going to be of great help to your overall score, as the damage has already been done. Similarly, by seeing the pink graph, we realize that one needs to answer the next 5 – 6 questions correctly to undo the damage caused by answering the first two questions incorrectly. Again, answering one question incorrectly puts you in the back seat (as shown for question 10). By this time, the computer has a fair idea of your ‘zone’ and will ask more questions in that zone. Even if you answer these correctly, it won’t improve the overall score as easy questions have lesser points assigned to them.


Let us now consider the case of the blue line. Again, the computer throws a random ‘medium difficulty’ level 3 question at you, assuming an average score of 500 points. If you answer it correctly, the overall score automatically jumps to 600. Similarly, answering the next few questions correctly will take your score to around 720. Note that the impact of answering a question incorrectly at this stage will be lesser. If you look at the blue graph again, questions 7, 10 and 11 have been answered incorrectly, but answering the subsequent questions correctly has taken the score to a full 800. Surprised? Yes, it is possible that you can get 800 for a section, even though you have answered 2-3 questions incorrectly. This is where we can tap the advantages of the computer adaptive test.


From the above explanation, we can draw the following conclusions:
  • It is very important to have right answers for the first few questions
  • It is thus valid, and acceptable that one needs to spend comparatively more time and attention on the initial questions in a given section of the GRE.
  • Wrong answers at an early stage will impact the overall score
  • Wrong answers at a later stage will not have a huge impact on the overall score


GRE Sections – Verbal and Quantitative:

The GRE is divided into two major sections. One is the mathematical section and the other is the verbal section. The mathematical section is also called as the quantitative section or simply, the ‘quant’ section. This section will test your mathematical ability and quantitative skills. The verbal section, on the other hand will test one’s English language and vocabulary. The verbal section is something that most Indian students find difficult. The scoring on the verbal section is thus, comparatively lower than the quantitative section. One need not worry about this. With proper planning and preparation, one can easily score full marks in this section. Let us now look at these sections in detail.


The quantitative section: This is where you will have to do the number crunching. The questions that appear in the quantitative section are from topics that you have already studied in your high school. Topics include arithmetic, algebra and geometry. Don’t worry, you wont need to know calculus or advanced mathematics, or be a ‘number guru’ to ace this section. All you need to know is very basic math. One can score a maximum of 800 points in this section. If you are planning higher education in engineering, make a note that most universities require a good score in the quantitative section. Anything above 730 is considered good, while anything above 750 is considered ‘optimum’. Although these are not fixed scores by which one can draw the line, these definitely serve as suggestive goals that one must aim at, to ace the GRE. The duration of the quantitative section is 45 minutes.


The verbal section:
The verbal section tests the vocabulary and English proficiency of the candidate. This section is also for 800 points, and the duration is of 30 minutes. If you are aware of people writing GRE, you may have heard them talking about memorizing a lot of words, or wordlists. You don’t have to be alarmed about this in any way. There are sure shot ways of tackling this section and we will come to the finer details at a later stage.


Planning for GRE:

Waiting for your response on this article. Will start the planning article once I have your response 

06-06-2008 11:06 PM
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Very nice. Should be stickied. Hopefully you'll do second part of it too.

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06-07-2008 03:27 PM
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Firstly, nice effort.

But...
All this information is present in each and every GRE book out there. There is nothing new in this article. To make it worthwhile, I think you need to make it concise and chuck the jargon. List points rather than writing paragraphs.

Example:
vishi Wrote:The quantitative section: This is where you will have to do the number crunching. The questions that appear in the quantitative section are from topics that you have already studied in your high school. Topics include arithmetic, algebra and geometry. Don’t worry, you wont need to know calculus or advanced mathematics, or be a ‘number guru’ to ace this section. All you need to know is very basic math. One can score a maximum of 800 points in this section. If you are planning higher education in engineering, make a note that most universities require a good score in the quantitative section. Anything above 730 is considered good, while anything above 750 is considered ‘optimum’. Although these are not fixed scores by which one can draw the line, these definitely serve as suggestive goals that one must aim at, to ace the GRE. The duration of the quantitative section is 45 minutes.

The Quantitative Section
  1. Questions are mostly from topics already studied in high school.
  2. Topics:
    • Arithmetic
    • Algebra
    • Geometry
  3. Maximum score possible: 800 points.
  4. Duration of section: 45 minutes
  5. For engineering, anything above 730 is good, while anything above 750 is considered ‘optimum’.


Cheers!
06-07-2008 07:19 PM
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vishi Offline
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Hi guys, thanks for the feedback. I am in the process of writing the second part .. am a little busy now with my Visa interview date approaching...so in all probability, i will post the new section by the next weekend. Have considered the suggestions posted by you Smile

06-16-2008 12:21 PM
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Well written!
But ya, as pushkin has mentioned... it would be easier to read and comprehend if it was listed pointwise.

ATB for ur VI Smile

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<a href="http://www.edulix.com/forum/showthread.php?tid=54278">MIS Mega Sticky</a>

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(This post was last modified: 06-16-2008 01:57 PM by killerwhale.)
06-16-2008 01:57 PM
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Hey nice one dude.....! Eagerly waiting for your next post...!Smile

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06-17-2008 10:04 AM
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Hey guys got my Visa!! Will get started with the other part ASAP!

07-04-2008 11:59 AM
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Great! Edit this as well if you can! It will be an extremely valuable resource for newbies.

Cheers!
07-04-2008 09:48 PM
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can add ur personal touch to it.
which would make it unique.

the tempting siren song of fame has shipwreckd countless humans on the jagged rocks of disillusion. the yearning to fuel the eyes of the world upon u is buried deep in the hearts of creatures whose lives too often feel the dull cold drag of anonymity. no one s immune to these emotions or to their consequences.
07-05-2008 01:23 PM
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Thanks for all the comments and feedback! I am posting my next topic on the GRE: Planning for the GRE. This article will include all details between

  • a thought in many prospective students' minds to take up the GRE
to
  • confirming a date for the exam

<b id="pvf05">Planning for the GRE:

In many cases, I have come across students (including me), who are not sure on how to plan for the GRE. I am writing this article with the assumption that the prospective
student (henceforth referred to as 'student') is aiming for courses
starting in fall. Planing for GRE is a very crucial stage as bad planning can ruin your dreams of getting admitted to the courses starting next fall. With this stated, lets get started.

It is also worth noting here, that the article mentions steps that may not be in correct chronological order - I will be mentioning about steps which are in random order, and will try and get to the main point with as little ambiguity as possible.

<b id="yut00">When to take up the exam:

Once you have decided that you will take up GRE, you will now be confused about the correct time of taking the exam. This question, unfortunately has no single answer. The answer is, "it depends".
Assuming a fall admission cycle, you will have to take up the GRE exactly one year before you plan to start your first class. Earlier, the better. The following points list the various factors that will affect your exam date:
  • Are you a student? If yes, how much time can you spare, between exams and projects?
  • If you are still studying, can you accommodate the GRE sometime during your holidays? Else, you will need to skip few classes before your exam - make sure those aren't important / crucial classes.
  • Make sure no internals / exams / tests collide with your approximate GRE date.
  • Are you working? If yes, how much time can you dedicate to studies? Remember, we usually lose touch of studying once we start working - its highly important to take this factor into consideration for the preparation time needed. 
  • If you are working, you will need to take leave from work, for at-least one week before the exam - its not mandatory, but recommended. Plan this "vacation" in advance and inform your boss/manager, about the leave - not about the GRE Very Happy
  • Working people will find it hard to manage time, and to study. Studying for GRE is no small task, and will take away a lot of your time - make sure you have enough buffer time.

Once you are aware of the above "dependencies", you can narrow down the approximate month/time you will be ready to take the GRE. When you have this time-frame in mind, you need to think 3 - 4 months behind - to book your exam. This may seem a tad exaggerated but you will realise the importance of the 3 - 4 month buffer soon. From all these observations, it is safe to say that:
  • You will need to book your GRE exam by May/June - you get a good choice of dates.
  • Book a date for your exam sometime in August / September. This is ideal.
  • You may choose a date in July, if you have started your preparations early.
  • Taking up the exam in October is fine, to a certain extent-it is too close for comfort
  • If you already have a list of universities, check for the application deadlines for each university, and specifically, for the department deadlines.
  • If you don't have a list of universities, start making one
  • Plan your GRE around your TOEFL exam.
  • It is preferable that you take TOEFL either early (somewhere around June), or immediately after the GRE.

<b id="f_7u2">Other helpful hints:
Apart from the above points, there are others, which are slightly less visible, but are equally important:
  • It takes an average of 4-6 weeks for your score reports to reach you. Similarly, it takes ETS around 15-20 days to send your score reports to the universities. Make sure you have this in mind while applying, AND taking up the GRE.
  • You will be asked to enter university details immediately after your test. Make 3 sets of university lists for the GRE. One is an ambitious list, the second, a moderate list and the last, being a safe list. Based on your GRE score after the test, you can mix and match universities from these lists and send your scores to them right after your test.
  • The above list need not necessarily be your "final" list. Just make sure you have covered atleast 50% of the intended "final" list - it will save you a lot of time and money.
  • If you don't have a passport, apply for one right away. It is the best and safest ID proof you can use, on the day of your GRE.
  • Make sure you don't have any ambiguity in the way your name appears. There is bound to be a lot of confusion later on, so make absolutely sure your name is spelt correctly on your passport. Also make sure there is no confusion in the "given name" and "surname" fields. Use the same naming convention while booking for your GRE as well.
  • If you don't have a First Name / Surname, approach a notary and get your name changed to include a surname and a first name. You may also need to get the 'change of name' published on local newspapers; so be ready for that too. If you do all this now, it will save you a lot of tension and effort at a later stage, specially during the Visa process.

I guess that's all I have to write today, about planning for the GRE. If I have missed out some step, or if you guys need help, post a reply on the thread and Ill get back to you ASAP. I will concentrate on "how to prepare for the GRE" in my next post.



Till then,
Happy planning .....




07-08-2008 03:53 PM
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dheepakraj Offline
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well done effort.. keep it up.

07-08-2008 03:57 PM
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Hi,

Your article is very helpful

Regards,

Priya
(This post was last modified: 07-09-2008 05:50 PM by Priya Sankaran.)
07-09-2008 05:50 PM
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vishi Offline
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Two more things I forgot to add in the planning section:
  • Make sure that you book a date which is at the end of a month. This has several advantages. Firstly, you get a hang of what the questions will be like, for that month. You can get the question details on LOTS of blogs and social networking sites. Do some 'research' and you will find all questions from that month. Study these very well as almost 40% of the questions are repeated from the question pool for that month.
  • Most importantly, if you get a bad score and if you decide to take up the test again, you can register immediately for a second attempt during the first week of the next month. This happened to me too. My first attempt was in the last week of September. I got a very low Quant score (blame my time management skills for that!) and I decided to take it up again. I was able to book my second attempt in the first week of the next month. I didn't lose precious time here.
  • For example, if you take your test in September first week, you cant take another test in the month of September in the same year. You WILL need to wait till October to take up your next test - which means you will be wasting at-least 2-3 weeks and you will need to prepare AGAIN.

    On the other hand, if you book a test in the last week of September, say 25th, and if you decide to take it up again (God forbid that should happen to anyone!:shockSmile... you can now easily book your second test around Oct 1st week. This means you get enough time to revise, without having to prepare again. Also saves time, specially with scores taking ages to reach you, and the universities.

(This post was last modified: 07-09-2008 09:45 PM by vishi.)
07-09-2008 09:43 PM
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