GRE Information and Study Tips

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Most graduate programs require taking the GRE (Graduate Record Exam)

Every year, more than 700,000 people take the Graduate Record Exam, commonly known as the GRE. While the test is similar in many ways to its college-entrance cousin, the SAT, there are some important differences.

Unlike the SAT, the GRE is most commonly taken as a computer-adaptive test

This means there’s no need for a No. 2 pencil and those all-too-familiar bubble sheets. On the computer-based test, the difficulty of the questions is based on the accuracy of your answers to previous questions. The better you perform on the first sets of 20 verbal and quantitative reasoning questions, the harder the next sets of 20 questions will be.
The GRE is broken down into three primary components: verbal reasoning, quantitative reasoning, and analytical writing

For the verbal reasoning section, test takers have two 30-minute periods to answer two sets of 20 questions

Test-takers answer two sets of 20 quantitative reasoning questions, with 35 minutes to answer each set. The analytical writing section consists of two essays, for which test takers get 30 minutes to write each. The verbal and quantitative reasoning sections are graded on a 130- to 170-point scale in 1-point increments, and the analytical writing section is scored on a 0-6 scale in half-point increments.

Having a good SAT/ACT score and GPA don’t ensure that tackling the GRE will be a simple task

The GRE doesn’t necessarily test on a student’s knowledge or aptitude. Rather, it tests students on how well they can take the GRE. Therefore, there are specific things that students need to focus on in order to do well on the test.
Below are six surefire studying tips for the GRE:

1. Go back to high school

Having trouble differentiating your X-axis from your Y? Have too many late nights in college wiped away the important teachings of Pythagoras? You’re not alone. Many GRE test takers are many years removed from the basic tenets of high school math, which play an important part in the quantitative section of the test. If you’re rusty, it’s important to revisit the concepts of algebra and geometry that you learned in high school.

“Algebra and geometry are assumed background knowledge in college courses, and you will be hard-pressed to find a class to take at that level [that] will prepare you directly for questions of this type,” says Eric Reiman, a GRE tutor with Creative Tutors. “If you’re preparing for the GRE alone, a text like Algebra for Dummies or Geometry for Dummies could be a great help, and both come with example problems to work.”

2. Sleep with your dictionary

While the GRE’s quantitative section is not much more advanced than the math found in the SAT—and familiarity with concepts learned in high school should be enough to post a decent score—the verbal section went to college and graduated with honors in English. Test takers who slept through their English classes or turned to SparkNotes may be in trouble.

During your time in school, be sure to read as much as possible to expand your vocabulary so that you can decipher unfamiliar words, testing experts say. You can assimilate far more diverse vocabulary over four years of college than you could ever hope to by cramming for a few weeks or months prior to the GRE.
“As a successor to the SAT, the GRE uses adult words that aren’t found on the SAT,” says Reiman. “It is extremely important for success on the qualitative sections of the GRE to be well read.”

3. Take a GRE prep course (if you can afford it)

According to Andrew Mitchell, director of pre-business programs at Kaplan Test Prep, the GRE is designed specifically to differ from areas of study in college and is supposed to be a measure of a college graduates’ critical thinking skills, not necessarily what they learned in school.

No matter how much cramming you might’ve done in college or how stellar your grades were, thinking critically might not come naturally. The tutoring classes tend to pay off, but are a sizable investment. Kaplan’s instructor-led classes cost more than $1,000 for about eight on-site sessions. Twenty-five hours of private GRE tutoring with Kaplan can cost roughly $3,000.

“It’s worth investing some time and money in preparing for the GRE,” says Mitchell. “Critical thinking is something that’s hard to change overnight because it’s such a lifelong skill. We try to help people unlock their critical thinking skills by getting more familiar with the test and more familiar with proven methods.” Another option for building critical thinking that’s a little easier on the checkbook is using the free resources on the Educational Testing Services (ETS) website. Sample questions and essay responses, advice, and scoring guides are available online from the folks who created the GRE.

4. Take a practice test

While your vocabulary may be impeccable, your writing skills polished, and your quantitative abilities sharpened to a razor’s edge, none of that matters if you’re unaccustomed to the test’s unconventional format.

“To walk into this test unprepared, to sit down [and take it] having never done it before is suicide,” notes Neill Seltzer, national GRE content director for the Princeton Review. Educational Testing Service, the Princeton Review, and Kaplan all have free computer adaptive tests online that help simulate what is a foreign experience to many.

“It’s different from the SAT, and that really threw me off the first time,” says Amy Trongnetrpunya, who earned a perfect score on the quantitative section of the GRE after scoring poorly on her first try. “The computer-adaptive practice exam really helped.”

5. Don’t like your score? Take it again

Schools have access to any GRE scores for tests you’ve taken in the last five years, but experts claim that many universities only care about the best one. While this isn’t true for all schools and all programs, many universities pull the highest scores from the GRE ticket they receive from ETS. The admissions officials (and sometimes work-study students) who receive the tickets are the first line of defense, and oftentimes, they record only the top score when they’re compiling your file before sending it up the admissions food chain. “Even though ETS will report every score, the person reading that file and making the admissions decision may only see the highest math and highest verbal,” says Seltzer.

6. Take a tough English course

Even if you aren’t an English major and don’t plan on writing the next great American novel, honing your writing skills is integral to overall success on the GRE. The two essays in the analytical section take up roughly one third of the time test takers are allotted. Some testing experts argue that near the end of college you should take a high-level English or writing course. While enduring a high-level writing course might put a small dent in the GPA (and ego) of non-English majors, it is an immense help when it’s time to crank out two timed essays on the pressure-packed GRE.

“I would emphasize taking a few rigorous English and writing college courses, in addition to test prep, to best prepare yourself for the caliber of questions you’ll find on the GRE,” says Alexis Avila, founder and president of Prepped & Polished, a Boston area-based college counseling and tutoring firm.


Being a Tennessee Tech Graduate Student: Amanda Ellis

What’s it like to be a graduate student at Tennessee Tech?  We’re exploring that from the student perspective.  We hope you enjoy this and the forthcoming series of posts on “Being a Tennessee Tech Graduate Student.”

Tell us a little about yourself… Who are you?


My name is Amanda Rae Ellis, and I am a full-time employee at TTU’s iCube and a full-time student in the Exceptional Learning Ph.D. program. I’m a virtual reality producer, writer, gamer, singer, reader, and overall nerd.

What was your process for deciding to apply for graduate school? Talk about any anxiety, issues you had, etc.

I believe there was a plan in place since my junior year of college to get me into graduate school, driven by my mentor Dr. Julie Baker. She planted the original “why don’t you get a graduate degree” seed in my head, and after I graduated and left campus, she was the one to help me get a job back here. When I did start working for Tech, I was worried about starting classes, that it would cut into my free time since I would still be working full time. After a couple of semesters, I applied to the program. I realized I could improve my current job by continuing my education in a related field, so that is what is motivating me to graduate!

To how many schools did you apply?

Tech was the only school I applied to.

How was the GRE? Did you use preparatory services?

Since I hadn’t had math in quite a long while, I was nervous about passing it. I studied with a friend taking it at the same time, which helped because it made me feel like we were in it together. We marked problematic questions and asked another friend to talk us through the problems. It was a team effort, highly supported by friends, and after the exam we both had passing grades to get into our programs. It was a huge relief.

Tell us about the program you selected. Why did you select your program?  What are your career aspirations?

I selected the Ph.D. in Exceptional Learning with a concentration in literacy because I want to use this opportunity to research virtual reality as a new way of communicating, especially as it can be applied to the classroom. At iCube, we’re making simulations mainly for education, and as someone who is involved in most of those projects, I wanted to make sure we were making something usable and effective. In the future, I would love to continue working at iCube as a “virtual reality producer” while potentially teaching a class at Tech for pre-service teachers on how to utilize videogames in the classroom.

What bits of advice would you give to someone thinking about graduate school?

Do it! It’s a little overwhelming at first, but it’s expected. Everyone is overwhelmed, no one really knows 100% what they’re doing at the beginning, but you have peers further along in the program to help you through it and, hopefully, amazing advisors like those in the College of Education. Your mentors want to see you succeed, so don’t let the fear of failing stop you from trying. Every semester you get through gives you an overwhelming sense of accomplishment, and I can only imagine graduating will be one of the highlights of our lives.

What are your classes like? How hard are they really?

My first few classes were potentially a little more difficult than what the average doctorate student experiences because I did not start the program with a Master’s degree. Research, literature reviews, and conflicting opinions were relatively new to me. After a couple of courses I felt more comfortable with the first two, but I still struggle with the third, almost in a good way. It’s exciting to be challenged on what you think, but it’s also slightly terrifying if you’re not used to it. I found it difficult to speak in class sometimes because I was second guessing myself in what I thought and didn’t want to be questioned about what I shared. After a while you realize the freedom in having an opinion and still be respected by your peers, because literally everyone has conflicting thoughts. No two people will believe the exact same thing, meaning that everyone is always “right” and always “wrong” in a way. The faster you figure that out, the easier the courses will be.

One hears a lot about Tennessee Tech’s caring and supportive community. What’s your experience?

I hope every other college on campus has the same support I receive in the College of Education. I would have dropped out a thousand times already (and I’m just now finishing up my first year) if it wasn’t for the encouraging, “you can do it” feedback I received every time I felt overwhelmed. They make sure I have everything I need, make sure I’m signing up for what I need to take, and spend, literally, hours helping me with a problem if I need it. My iCube office is also supportive of my educational pursuits, encouraging me to keep going through the program for my own personal benefit and the future implications it could mean for the office having someone with my background work on our virtual reality projects. I would say I have more caring people in my life than I ever had before joining the program, or at least more actively and outwardly caring people. That’s something they don’t tell you you’ll get, but I don’t see how anyone would make it through grad school if it wasn’t true.



Tennessee Tech Graduate Studies Blog

Welcome to the Tennessee Tech Graduate Studies Blog.  Along with other Tennessee Tech University Blogs, we provide content and information for the Tennessee Tech community.  This blog focuses on graduate students and will include video, photos and other content such as short and long posts about and from our students. We’ll handle topics like: What’s a typical day like? What are some research and teaching opportunities? How is a graduate education funded?  What does one do for fun in Cookeville, TN and the Upper Cumberland region?  So whether you’re a current, past or future graduate student, this blog is for you.

Learn more about graduate education at Tennessee Tech.