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How to prepare for GRE online exams for higher studies in the USA

Dr. Deepu Philip, Associate Professor at IIT Kanpur

GREOptions for higher studies in the United States of America, which is one of the most advanced countries of the world are many and vast. However, for obtaining admission in any top US universities for Masters’ degree; one would need to face a set of standardized tests, namely, GRE and TOEFL.

Both these exams are now offered in online format, which the applicants can take and the testing service agency will send the scores to universities chosen by the candidate. The major aspects of these exams are its nature, rigor, and online format. Now we will go over the mechanisms associated with one such online exam, the Graduate Records Examination (GRE).

Online exam, especially GRE, differ a lot from in-class tests; beginning from the testing conditions of the very materials available for each exam. It has three parts, viz., analytical writing, verbal reasoning as well as quantitative reasoning. The Analytical Writing section measures the student’s ability to sustain a well-focused, coherent discussion, by articulating complex ideas clearly and effectively. It also expects one to support his/her ideas with relevant examples, examine claims, and accompany such claims with appropriate evidence. There is one question in this section, with two 30-minute tasks: “Analyze an Issue” and “Analyze an Argument”.

The tasks in the analytical writing are designed to relate and measure a broad range of subjects -from the fine arts and humanities to the social and physical sciences – but no task requires specific content knowledge. The analytical writing score is reported on a 0-6 score scale, in half-point increments. Also, there is a 10-minute break following the second analytical writing section.

The Verbal Reasoning section measures the candidate’s ability to analyze and draw conclusions from discourse, understand and clearly grasp various levels of meaning, select all important points and understand the meaning of sentences and entire texts. The questions are usually of three types, viz., reading comprehension, text completion, and sentence equivalence. There are two 35-minute parts in this section, each containing 25 questions. The verbal reasoning score is usually reported on a 130-170 score scale, in 1 point increments.

The Quantitative Reasoning section is designed to measure the student’s ability to interpret and analyze quantitative information and use his or her mathematical skills such as arithmetic, algebra, geometry, probability and statistics to solve problems. There are two 40-mintues quantitative reasoning parts in this section, each containing 25 questions. The quantitative reasoning score is reported on a 130-170 score, in 1-point increments. Also, now the students are allowed to use a basic hand-held calculator on the quantitative reasoning sections. The calculator will be provided to the candidate at the test site; one may not use his/her own calculator.

The questions in the Verbal Reasoning and Quantitative Reasoning have a variety of formats. Some require the candidate to select a single answer choice; others require the selection of one or more answer choices, and yet others require the student to enter a numeric answer. The present format also offers a very friendly, technically advanced test that is well-designed to provide graduate and business schools with even more useful results. The candidate not only have the freedom to edit or change answers, skip and return to questions with the freedom to move back and forth, but he also has the ability to follow more or less his/her own test-taking strategies.

The total time allowed in the computer based revised GRE is approximately three hours and 30 minutes, and has six sections with a 10-minute break after the third section. The instructions are given at the beginning of each section along with the time allowed for that section. Always the ‘Analytical Writing’ section is the first and the other remaining sections can appear in any order after that. An unidentified section that does not count towards the score may be included and may appear any time during the test. An identified research section that is not scored too might be included, and it will always be at the end of the test.

For the Analytical Writing measure, it is important to budget the time. Within the 30-minute time limit for each task, the candidate will need to allow sufficient time to think about the topic, plan a response and compose his/her essay. It is always better to save a few minutes at the end of each timed task to check for obvious errors. Though occasional typographical, spelling or grammatical errors may not affect your score, severe or persistent errors will inversely affect your writing’s overall effectiveness and may pull down your score.

The Verbal Reasoning and Quantitative Reasoning raw scores are determined by the number of questions the candidate answered correctly. Nothing is subtracted from a score if the candidate answered a question incorrectly. Therefore, to maximize the score from the Verbal Reasoning and Quantitative Reasoning sections, it is best to answer every question. However, the format of the test and scoring pattern can change dynamically, and hence it is better to check the current test aspects, a couple days before taking the test.

Making use of the free materials available at, students can practice taking the test. Download the ‘POWERPEP-II’ software to experience a simulated test-taking experience and become familiar with the test directions, Q-types, on-screen calculator, testing software, and test design.

The name the candidate used to register must exactly match the name on the ID document that the candidate has to present at the test center. One should visit the GRE page on Facebook and interact with other GRE test takers so as to exchange each one’s ideas. Pack water and a snack to have them during the break. On the test day, wear comfortable clothes so as to adapt yourself to any room temperature.

Dr. Deepu Philip, Associate Professor at IIT Kanpur