The GRE general exam is often a determining factor when applying to the graduate school of your choice. Since you are most likely finished or nearly complete with a Bachelor's Degree at this point, you should be somewhat familiar with what the standardized admissions tests are all about. The GRE is administered by ETS, and has almost exactly the same format as the SAT, which most people will recognize as the exam they took when applying to undergraduate institutions.
In order to do well on the test, it is extremely important to know what's on the exam, and how the exam is administered.
How is the GRE scored?
There are 3 sections on the exam: analytical, quantitative, and verbal. Each section is worth a total of 800 for a grand total of 2400 points possible on the exam.
How is the GRE administered?
There are two ways to take the test: on paper, or on computer. If you want to do extremely well, take the test on computer. Naturally this is not an option for computer-phobes, but since you're reading this, I'm assuming that the computer is a comfortable environment for you. With the computer option you can pick a date and time which works best for you. If you think most clearly at 1pm, you can sign up to take the test at 1pm.
The computer-based test works this way: you begin a section of the exam given a specific amount of time to finish that section. It gives you one question that is relatively simple - call that level 500. If you answer that question incorrectly, you are given an easier question, and you are dropped into a low scoring range - call that level 350. If you answer the first question correctly, you are given a harder question, and then you are bumped up into a higher scoring range - call that level 650. At each step, you either move up or down in the scoring ranges, with each question honing in on what level of questions are the most comfortable for you. In this way, the opening questions are by far the most important, and the last few questions may only affect your overall score by a few points up or down. This is excellent for most people with test anxiety, as you aren't being scored based on the total number of questions answered correctly or incorrectly, but rather the level of the question where you end the test. It is extrememly important to answer the first few questions correctly! Spend some time on those and be confident in your answers.
Because of the way these questions are given, there is no way to go back and change an answer. Take your time and answer the questions to the best of your ability. If you don't answer all of the questions in the allotted time, you will be better off than if you rush through and miss some easy questions at the beginning.
What Questions are on Each Section of the GRE?
As stated before, there are three sections, so let's break them up:
In this part of the test, your ability to reason is tested. This looks very similar to the logic problems we did in high school math class, or an IQ test. The main difference between these logic problems and the ones you may have seen before is that you will not be given all of the information to solve the problem. For example, you have a problem with this set-up: There are 5 students: Rick, Carey, Stacey, JohnBoy, and Toadstool. Each of the students is assigned a project in: science, math, english, history, or basketweaving. There are 5 different types of projects: oral report, interactive website, written report, diarama, or billboard. No two students have the same project or topic. Stacey gets the science written report. Now you clearly can't figure out what everyone is assigned from this information. There will be about 5 questions based on this one problem, and each will give you the additional information needed to solve that question, but you will need to resolve the problem for each question - the information does not carry over. It is important here to know how to set up a table that you can use over and over for each problem to quickly solve without needing to go back and rework from the beginning - there is simply no time for it.
This is what is commonly referred to as the "math" section of the test. It is also the only section that you can truly study for. The material covered is typically what you would learn up to and including a high school trigonometry course. If this is material that you haven't seen in a while, you need to brush up. You will be asked to do some simple arithmetic in the beginning, then some algebra, a few geometry questions (remember the pythagorean theorem???) and finally some trig. Nothing is extremely difficult, but this is material that you may not have used in more than 4 years, so pull out those old math books and read over that sin2x + cos2x = 1 identity.
This is the "English" section, and in my humble opinion the most difficult area of the exam. There are two main types of question: reading comprehension and analogy.
For reading comprehension, you will read an excerpt - typically about 1/2 page long, and then answer about 5 questions based on what you read. There will be more than one right answer for each question, and you will need to pick the best one - whatever that means. This is the area of the exam that scholars claim is biased towards white males since what is the best answer could be culturally different. There is no way to study for this part of the exam, so just read as quickly as possible, perhaps put a * next to what you think are important passages, then answer the questions to the best of your ability.
In the analogy questions, once again there will be more than one right answer. There will be analogies which look like canary:house::dog:______ and these make no sense. Typically what is being tested here is vocabulary, so most of the analogies will have at least one word that you have never seen. To combat a vocabulary deficiency, look over some latin roots, or sign up for a kaplan test prep vocab daily email. You can guess at the meanings of words, and then make an informed choice even if you aren't certain.
I made it through the test.... Now what?!
The beauty of the computer based exam is that your scores are available the moment you complete the exam. With the paper, you will have to wait at least a month (but probably more) for score reporting. If you need to take the test again, you will have the opportunity to do so much sooner than with the paper.
There is one very important thing to keep in mind about the GRE score reporting: EVERY SCORE IS SENT TO YOUR PROSPECTIVE INSTITUTION!!! This means that it is not in your best interest to take a trial run on this exam, and take it again if you do poorly. You must do your best each and every time, and only take the test again if you honestly believe that you could do significantly better in the future.
UPDATE (4/24/2003): It has come to my attention that I am old. The GRE format is changing as we speak, so please check into these things.
(r) 2003.4.24@14:05 yclept says Hi, they changed the Analytical section of the GRE last October. Now it involves the writing of a couple essays. One upon the validity of a short passage stating something, and another on a choice of several topics.
(r) 2003.4.24@14:24 enkidu says re How to Ace the GRE: This node needs to be updated. First, paper testing is no longer an option. Second, the analytical section has been removed. Third, there is an essay-writing section which is already or soon to be added.