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GRE Overview

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What is the GRE?


‘GRE’ stands for Graduate Record Examination. It is a test administered by ETS (Educational Testing Services), the same company that administers the SATs. The exam is used to assess students’ aptitude for graduate programs in the sciences, social sciences and humanities, and is required for admission to many graduate programs. In the U.S., the test is generally administered using Computer-Adaptive Testing (CAT), as opposed to a paper-and-pencil test. There are many features of CAT that are different from paper-and-pencil testing, but the test is calibrated so that test-takers should receive approximately the same score using CAT as they would taking the paper-and-pencil test.

Overview of the GRE


The GRE is composed of three sections: Analytical Writing (AW), Verbal, and Quantitative (math). The AW section is always first, followed by one Verbal section and one Quantitative section. After this, there is an additional Verbal or Quantitative section. This means that any given test will either have two Verbal sections and one Quantitative section, or two Quantitative sections and one Verbal section. One of these sections will not count towards your score; it is included for research purposes (you will not be able to identify it, so don’t even try). For example, if your test has two Quantitative sections, only one will count. After the test is over, you may have to complete another research section. This one, at least, will be identified. And yes, you have to stay to complete it if you are asked to! 

The Analytical Writing Section


The AW section was developed a few years ago to replace the old Analytical section, which used logic games and other question types to test analytical aptitude. The advantage of the AW section, to those who are evaluating your scores, is that it tests a real skill that will be used in your graduate studies – writing. The schools that receive your scores have the option to see the actual essays that you write, although they must request them. Your essays will each receive a score of between 0 and 6 depending on the strength of your argument and the quality of your written English. The scores will be averaged together to produce your final score.

The AW section is composed of two essays. The first one is called the “Present Your Perspective on an Issue” task, for which you are given 45 minutes. You will be given two prompts and you will choose one of them to respond to. The prompts are declarative statements, such as “Happiness should be the most important factor in choosing a career,” with which you may agree or disagree in whole or in part. You will be expected to construct a well-written essay with a clear point of view, using specific and relevant examples to back up the points you make. Spelling does count, as do grammar and other aspects of writing mechanics. Your essay will receive a score of between 0 and 6 depending on the strength of your argument and the quality of your written English.

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