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How much preparation for the general GRE?

  1. Jan 24, 2014 #1
    I'm a current junior considering applying to graduate school next year (I'm tossing up between applying for certain applied physics programs and going into finance). I was wondering how much preparation people found necessary to take the general GRE.

    I'm not sure whether it would be better to take it in two months (I won't have much time to study for it, but I can dedicate ~6 hours a day to it for 1.5 weeks during break). Additionally, I could take it over the summer, but that would be difficult as there aren't testing centers in my home town apparently (so I would need to fly to another state) and for a large period of time during the summer, I'll be doing an internship and won't be able to study or sleep enough. I guess I could do it after the internship, but I'm worried that I'll be exhausted and will need to recover, and I could always do it senior year first semester, but I'm worried that I would be leaving it too late.
  2. jcsd
  3. Jan 24, 2014 #2


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    The general GRE is pretty simple although the format makes short-term study pretty unhelpful (IMO). My studying for the exam consisted only of familiarizing myself with the test format and I did fairly well. The quantitative section is essentially identical to the SAT math section and the verbal section basically just tests your vocabulary knowledge.
  4. Jan 24, 2014 #3


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    One good piece of advice I got about the GRE from my undergrad faculty advisor, was to be sure to be taking a math class (of some sort) during the quarter where you take the GRE. The reason is to be sure that you are exercising general mathematical thinking, which helps to keep your math skills sharp for the test.
  5. Jan 24, 2014 #4
    I'm not taking any math classes, though I am taking a grad applied physics course which uses similar skills (I hope!)...

    What makes short term study so unhelpful? I feel like I need to brush up on my reading but I just don't know when I'll get the chance to do so
  6. Jan 24, 2014 #5


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    In the quantitative section, for example, you likely already know most (if not all) of the relevant concepts and techniques. What the test will do is put timed constraints on using these techniques along with having you use them in possibly new ways. So what really helps is a better intuitive understanding of the material. But developing that takes time.

    For the verbal section you are mostly choosing words that best complete sentences. Unless you have great facility with memorizing chunks of the dictionary, short-term studying probably will not help much. Basically the better your vocabulary the better your score on the verbal section (to a point).

    Do it gradually. A small amount each day (maybe just 15 minutes) adds up over time.
  7. Jan 24, 2014 #6
    I found that Barron's study guides best represented the test material, and were the hardest, as opposed to kaplan and princeton.
  8. Jan 24, 2014 #7
    Thanks a lot! I do actually have a decent short-term memory with words (pick up foreign languages very quickly, but unfortunately forget them quickly too if I don't study them!) so I might actually do some vocab cards to study until them.

    Thanks everyone for your help - right now, I'm leaning towards taking the GRE in mid/late March (is this too soon?) just because it would make my summer and first semester senior year a lot freer to apply for jobs/graduate schools (depending on what I choose). Any suggestions about how to quickly study for the GRE would also be great!
  9. Jan 24, 2014 #8


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    It's not too soon. The most important thing (IMO) as far as GRE study goes is just familiarizing yourself with the test and the kinds of questions they ask. A practice test or two should do that pretty well.
  10. Jan 24, 2014 #9
    Get the ETS study guide, the English and writing is simple enough IMO but the math is full of questions you might not be used to. A para-phrased example might be:

    Jon, Jully, Jill, and Jason want to go to the movies. Jill wants to sit next to Jason. What is the # of different combinations the 4 can implement in the theatre?

    This involves the out of p choose q formula, but I can't say I'd seen something like that in basic algrebra or something along those lines in a long time, so questions like those will require some practice.

    Other questions will seem obvious, but the question writer might not be making the same assumptions about the question that you are, like you might be asked to evaluate some inequality and you evaluate based on a particular set of numbers that the question writer didn't specifically adhere to, than you'd get the question wrong even though your procedure is technically right.

    The ETS has plenty of questions that are more difficult than what's in the test, so it's really good prep.
  11. Jan 26, 2014 #10
    I took the test this past November, and the physics subject GRE in October. While I had been studying for the physics test since May, I only got serious about the general test a week or two before it. My score was Q 161/V 166/A 4.5. Here are some unorganized thoughts and advice:
    • Everyone I had talked to said that the quantitative section would be a piece of cake for a physics student. I found that wasn't true at all. The majority of GRE quant questions are oriented toward pure math. There are some applied questions at the end. Take a look at the practice questions and if the format seems unfamiliar to you, spend more time studying quant.
    • In addition to looking at ETS' study guides, the absolute best thing you can do is to use their POWERPREP software. It simulates the exact testing format you'll see when taking the real test. Doing this really helped me know what to expect and as a result I was less nervous.
    • You can find lists of "GRE words" and word quiz games online which may help somewhat with learning the vocabulary, but generally your score will be a function of all the reading you've done in life so far and seeing new words for a few weeks probably won't improve it significantly. On most of the vocab questions, even if you don't know the exact definition of a word, you can "feel" the context you've seen it in before. From this it's frequently possible to eliminate some answers and guess the right one.
    Best of luck when you do take the exam.
  12. Jan 26, 2014 #11
    I found that the quantitative section was largely straightforward and a quick look at a topics list and a handful of sample problems from each topic was all I needed.

    I didn't give the vocabulary section any thought whatsoever. I found that on the majority of the questions I had no clue what most of the words in the choices were and I have been an avid reader all my life, usually averaging a book or two a week. I walked out feeling like this section went poorly and then ended up scoring better than two of my friends who were majoring in English literature. Overall it seemed to be a crap-shoot section.

    The writing section was straightforward. Read the topic and address the question being asked, making sure to mind your grammar and spelling. Not sure how I would have practiced this.
  13. Jan 29, 2014 #12
    I bought the ETS book and have started preparing, so I'll probably take it in March. Thanks everyone for the help!
  14. Jan 29, 2014 #13
    Its because the verbal score is not a function of how many books you read unless the books you read contains the exact type of vocabulary words ETS likes to test (Twain isnt going to help as an extreme example). There are certain words ETS likes to use and this is usually fairly well represented by the those GRE vocab lists or just by looking at a lot of practice exams.
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