All About the GRE



By Alayna Johnson, 2018-2019 SCS Student Advising Leader:

Remember your nightmares about the ACT not so long ago? Get ready for them to come back and haunt you: it’s time for the GRE! The Graduate Record Examination, or the GRE, is a standardized test that is an admissions requirement for most graduate schools in the United States. The exam is about four hours in length and offered at more than 1,000 testing centers globally (including one right here in Champaign!). The cost of the exam is $205 and you can take it up to five times each year. In the US, it is most often administered on a computer.

Now that we’ve got the basics out of the way, let’s take a look at the three parts of the exam:

  1. Analytical writing

This section consists of two back-to-back typed essays: an "issue task" and an "argument task”. You’ll have 30 minutes to write each essay and scores range from 0.0 to 6.0 in 0.5 point increments.

You don’t have to be the next Mark Twain to score very well in this section. The GRE essay graders are looking for a very specific essay structure with well-supported arguments, not fancy prose. To prepare, look up past essays that scored well and study their structure. There’s more good news: all of the possible essay prompts are freely available on the GRE website. Check them out here and here.

  1. Verbal reasoning

This section tests reading comprehension, critical reasoning, and vocabulary usage. You’ll get 2 or 3 verbal sections throughout the exam, each consisting of 20 questions to be completed in 30 minutes. Scores range from 130 to 170 in 1 point increments.

For most of us chemists, this section will be the hardest. The good news? Graduate programs in the sciences will not take this score into consideration as much as the quantitative score. My biggest piece of advice is to dedicate yourself to learning new vocabulary words every day. Set aside half an hour every evening to learn 20 new words. On the weekends, continuously drill all of the words you learned that week. Great lists of GRE vocabulary words can be found online.

  1. Quantitative reasoning:

The quantitative reasoning section tests basic high school geometry, trigonometry, algebra, word problems, and data interpretation. You’ll get 2 or 3 quantitative sections throughout the exam, each consisting of 20 questions to be completed in 35 minutes. Scores range from 130 to 170 in 1 point increments.

This section takes it back to the basics: no precalculus, no calculus, no statistics, no differential equations, etc. It only covers elementary high school math. This means that students in STEM majors should be able to score well after a brief but thorough brush up on basic math. However, you should still practice completing questions under a time crunch as this section is important to score well on if you’re hoping to attend a top graduate program.

One more thing: there’s no rule that says you have to wait to take the GRE as an upperclassman. In fact, the GRE doesn’t cover any college material, so it’s actually best to take it early–no one wants to be stressed about high school algebra and vocabulary while they’re working on their senior thesis! The only thing to keep in mind is that your scores are only valid for five years, so you shouldn’t take it too early if you’re not planning on going to graduate school immediately.

Happy studying!