Tips for Surving the GRE

Posted on February 27,2014 by aliatmspp

For some of us, standardized tests are the last thing on our bucket lists. The truth is if you thought you were done with filling in bubbles with the SATs, I have some tough news for you: not only do you need to bubble-in like a champion for many national voting procedures, but equally bubble-riffic are exams like the GRE and the Examination of Professional Practice in Psychology (EPPP). However, depending on where you take it, it’s likely that your exam will be administered on computers, so you can put your #2 pencil away. As you may know, the Graduate Record Exam (GRE) is required for entrance to MSPP’s Clinical PsyD graduate program; it is an optional application material for the Master’s programs, and the PsyD programs in both School Psychology (“strongly recommended” that you take the GRE for the School Psych PsyD program) and Leadership Psychology. This post will take a closer look at the GRE and offer some tips to employ when tackling that computer screen’s challenges.

As previously mentioned, for most test takers, this exam will be computer based. Please note that there was a significant overhaul of the GRE a few years back, so for those of us who may be rusty, let me offer some conventional wisdom: from what I understand, the “newer” (as of 2012, I believe) GRE is adaptive between sections, not within sections. Knowing this takes the pressure off those first five questions that had been touted as the most important in the previously adaptive GRE. Also, you can skip questions, flag questions, and scroll through questions. This is helpful for those moments when you’re stumped and feel the need to move on but not completely abandon ship. One overarching theme I might advise is to be sure that you understand what each question is really asking. This applies to both verbal and quantitative questions. If you’re not sure about a response, it’s okay to flag it and come back to it.

There are three major components to the GRE: 1. Verbal reasoning, 2. Quantitative Reasoning, and 3. Analytical Writing. We’ll dive into them below and even offer some tips.

Verbal Reasoning
Overall tip: being a good reader will help you with these sections. Magazines (a broad assortment), news articles, books – all of these will help. Additionally, the vocabulary is elevated from your banal SAT words; if this is a weakness for you, you may want to practice reading some literary reviews.

  1. Reading Comprehension – You’ll read some passages and respond to some questions. These passages draw from a variety of subject matters, some of which may really interest you, others may make your eyelids very heavy. Either way, it would behoove you to pace yourself. For the reading comprehension section, you will be faced with the following:

A. Multiple-choice questions – These will be in the form of “select one or more correct answers” to each question. If it’s a “one or more” versus a “select one,” you will want to be sure that ALL of the responses you mark are accurate. You will not receive partial credit here.
B. Select-in-passage – There will be questions that ask you to highlight where in the passage you would find the answer (e.g. “Select the sentence that explains why a person may want to study for the GRE”).

2. Text Completion – There will be a sentence, or even a paragraph, with blanks and choices that make the most sense for the overall context. Tip: You want to read the ENTIRE passage before hitting “submit” on these; the response that may make sense in one blank may not include any word that makes sense in another blank.

Quantitative Reasoning
In general, you will want to refresh the following: algebra (including inequalities, foiling, and absolute values), number sense (integers, ratios, fractions, decimals, percentages), exponent rules, probability, mean/median/mode, and geometry (slopes, triangle and line properties may help you save some time). With word problems, be sure you’re deconstructing them to be sure you know what exactly it is that you’re supposed to be solving for.

A. Comparison Questions – Column A is greater, Column B is greater, the two quantities are equal, or the relationship cannot be determined. If you are able to remember that order, you will save a little bit of time.
B. Multiple-choice Questions – Similar to the Reading Comprehension, some of these may ask for multiple responses. If it is a question where multiple responses are possible, be sure that ALL of the selection you’ve made are correct; again, there is no partial credit here.
C. Numeric Entry Questions – It’s not all bubbles, folks. Here you enter an answer into a box provided. My advice on this one would be to embrace the flag and revisit option if you’re stuck. On the multiple-choice questions, you have a 1/5 chance of guessing the correct answer; here, you’ve got a blank box to fill in. As they say, do the math?

Analytical Writing
These are scored writing samples, and there are two of them. Overall, you should have two general goals in your writing here: 1. Structure: be sure you have a clear thesis, along with an organizational approach that flows. 2. Expression: mix up your sentence structure, throw in some of those bigger words you know (heyo, “pulchritude”), watch your grammar and punctuation, and please, stay away from colloquial language!

A. Analyze the Issue – Read the prompt. Take a side. Back it up. It’s not a bad idea to take a 5-paragraph format approach to this, with your introduction, three supporting paragraphs, and conclusion. In addition to clear organization (see above), you will also want to employ some quality examples to bolster your argument.
B. Analyze the Argument – Now you critique someone else’s argument. Look for the holes in logic; they’ll be there. Your writing should highlight the strengths and weaknesses of the argument provided. Again, organization and support of your position are some keys to your success.

Other tips: first of all, congratulations on making it this far in reading this post! Secondly, there are lots of resources out there, from Princeton Review (I am not endorsing any particular review, just offering an example) to GRE apps for your smart phone. Many of the books you buy to help you review also offer online versions or CDs with practice tests. Additionally, some colleges and universities offer GRE prep classes at a discounted rate. The benefit to these classes is that they’re scheduled, so if you have a trouble with internal motivation and sticking to your own review schedule, it could be worthwhile. I’d say to be sure you give yourself some time to familiarize yourself with some of the concepts and the layout of the test. Check out ETS’s website (listed below) because they have some free examples. And, if you do have documented accommodations, be sure to arrange for that well in advance.

Overall, try to get some good sleep, give yourself some practice, and pace yourself. You can do it!

ETS online: