My GRE Guide (or: How to 3-stock the GRE)
The following is a collection of vague insights I gathered while preparing for, and taking, the GRE. Reading this guide won’t automatically increase your score or anything, but hopefully it’ll give you some ideas on how to squeeze out those last few points, or at least understand the mentality of the test-makers. That being said, do understand that getting a perfect score is largely a matter of luck past a point.
I had originally drafted these points for the sake of a friend who asked for advice, but I realized that there was enough material here to merit sharing. So hey, here’s my first ever blog post!
- There are two essays. The first is much harder to ace than the second, at least in my opinion. Don’t feel bad if you get a prompt you struggle to write about.
- The first essay is like the SAT essays, where you have to argue a point. There isn’t technically a right answer to the prompt, but you should pick a position that lets you produce more evidence/arguments to support your position. Look at the sample 6-score answers for the prompts online for an idea of what they’re looking for. I’ll boil down some key patterns in their favorite answers.
- First of all, remember that you’re not producing literature. They can’t judge the literary merit of your writing in a consistent way, so they don’t. They essentially have a very, very long list of arguments people can make, and you are trying to tick as many boxes on that list as humanly possible while still keeping your essay coherent and reasonably well-structured. Do NOT use a 5-paragraph model, just keep writing and keep adding evidence until the timer runs out. (Do have a conclusion though.) I wrote something like 10 paragraphs all of varying shapes and sizes.
- You don’t have to always be on this master list of arguments, mind you. As long as your points are reasonable, they’ll give you credit. But I think it’s important to flood them with reasonably objective points strung together and not get too entrenched in a single argument – or worse, subjective reasoning from some moral position. And don’t waste your time with more than superficial structure – a deluge of supportive points is better than a short essay with a clear theme and focus. Just keep tying back to your big point, which is the position you took on the prompt.
- Do you frequent Reddit? If so, you can think of the second essay as them essentially asking you to write a long pedantic Reddit comment. Your goal is to pick apart the given argument as thoroughly as humanly possible. You will get a prompt that is just a truly awful argument. Don’t get lost or overwhelmed by its sheer craptitude.
- While reading the prompt, after every sentence, jot down every single thing they said or implied that was even possibly wrong or misguided. Every single thing. You should have multiple bullets per sentence. Be ruthless.
- Like with the previous essay, they maintain a master list of points people often make, and you want to tick as many of those boxes as possible. Of course, read the whole thing super carefully and make sure you know what they’re asking you to do as well, as sometimes they ask for slightly more than just picking apart the given argument.
- Now you can just go ham. Just shred that thing apart in the most thorough, evidence-based way you can. Remember, it’s not about whether they’re right or wrong, just how many holes you can find in their reasoning. That’s why I think it’s best to think of this as a Reddit comment, because this kind of point-by-point nitpicking is ubiquitous there.
- Typing speed matters for the essays. A lot. They won’t admit it, but it absolutely does. Non-touch typists and people who take the exam on paper are severely disadvantaged. I’m not saying you should spend every minute of the essay time typing – far from it – but I think it’s definitely worth practicing fast touch typing if you’re not comfortable with it because it lets you translate your thoughts to screen much more quickly and keep yourself focused. The keyboard is a bog-standard full ANSI layout so any regular American keyboard will suit you well for practice. (Note: if you are taking the GRE outside of the United States, I don’t know if the keyboard layout is standardized or not.)
- By the way, I consistently crashed and burned on the SAT essay for pretty much this reason. I write very slowly with a pencil, partially due to being left-handed, and that just doesn’t cut it for them.
- This is heavily dependent on how much SAT prep you did and whether you remember any of it. Realistically, this is by far the most time-consuming thing to prepare for, but also very necessary for a good score.
- Regardless, I highly recommend Membean’s 3-day free trial, and possibly the full thing. Even with just 3 days of intense prep, several of the words I covered appeared on the exam later. I ended up finishing most of Level 4, though apparently Level 5 words are also fair game. Starting early is key here.
Verbal (outside of vocab)
- Read the questions carefully so you know exactly what they want. Remember that they want everything to have an objective answer so “well, but what if…” will never be necessary to answer a question.
- The passages are very different from SAT passages. In the SAT, the passages are long but fairly straightforward, so your best bet is to answer as you go along. On the GRE, the passages will be shorter but much more intense. I actually recommend doing a close read of the passage first to really try and understand what it’s trying to say before answering the questions. Don’t try to skim the passage or you will misunderstand things.
- Full disclosure, I’m partly a math major, so your experience with this section may differ from mine. Regardless, I’ll try and make my advice as general as possible.
- Their on-screen calculator is flaming garbage. During the practice exams, take the time to completely master it because you will be asked to do lengthy computations on it. Make sure you know how to clear it and undo mistakes.
- Master the mean. For whatever reason there will be a lot of questions that involve averaging numbers where one of the numbers is unknown or the number of numbers is unknown. Just have a good basic grasp of the algebra behind averaging things so you can shuffle the numbers around appropriately.
- Unlike the SAT, the questions are not organized from least to most difficult, so feel free to skip questions that look hard. There are also few to no trick questions – you will be pretty much directly tested on your understanding of the underlying material. The practice exams should give you a good gauge of where you stand and what you may need to work on.
- Don’t bother bringing anything with you – pencils, a calculator, whatever. They literally won’t let you bring anything into the testing area, not even a handkerchief.
- Make sure you use the bathroom whenever you have the opportunity because you’re going to be stuck without a break for ~3 straight hours at times. It’s somewhat a balancing act since you’re not allowed to drink any water either. So you may end up thirsty if you go without water beforehand as well.
- Do the practice GRE exams and pay close attention to why you missed certain questions. Were you not reading the question super closely or being sufficiently pedantic? Is there a certain mathematical concept you’re uncomfortable with? Take notes so you know how to prepare.
- There is no penalty for answering incorrectly, so make sure you answer every single question before time runs out.
- Master the marking system and the system to jump between questions. Don’t bother marking questions you’re skipping since unanswered questions already show up as such on the screen that lets you jump between questions. Mark the questions that you answered but aren’t fully satisfied with your answer, so that if you have spare time at the end you can take a second look at them.
And that’s it. Since it’s already mid-November, I suppose this isn’t really the season, but hey, better now than never right?tags: guide - college