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GRE Test Prep FAQs

You have questions. We have answers. Below are common questions we hear from students  just starting GRE preparation.

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Let's start with the basic question, "What is the GRE?" The GRE exam is the standardized test required for admission by graduate schools, including most business schools and some law schools. If you have questions on how to sign up for the GRE, or about the exam itself, read About the GRE.

Another common question: "Is the GRE difficult?" The answer depends completely on your individual knowledge. We recommend that you start your GRE preparation by taking a free practice test at ets.org, to set your baseline, and from there decide whether you need support for your GRE preparation.

The answers to frequently asked questions about GRE preparation are below. You may have questions about our GRE class or curriculum; feel free to Contact Us.

Frequently Asked Questions about the GRE
Q. Why do schools use the GRE? And how important is my GRE score anyway?

A. Admissions committees regard your GRE score as a very important component of your application. Graduate school admissions officers track the correlation between the GMAT scores of admitted students and the students' academic performance. Schools have found that high GRE scores can predict higher grades during the first semester (although holding no correlation to research productivity or successful completion of the program). Your GRE score is seen as an indication of how you will perform academically, and in fact, a high GRE score can help compensate for a relatively low undergraduate GPA in the eyes of the selection committee.

However, while a low GRE score may bar your way to a certain academic program, do not make the mistake of believing that a high GRE score is an automatic ticket to admission. Carefully prepare your entire graduate school application.

Q. What is a good GRE score?

A. You should aim for the GRE score (Quantitative and Verbal) that is above the average GRE scores of the school's last entering class. The GRE verbal reasoning and quantitative sections are each scored on a scale of 130 to 170. A total GRE score of 330 or above is considered a very high score by graduate school programs, and may open the door to scholarship money. A GRE verbal score of 163 or above will put you in the very top percentiles, and a GRE quantitative score of 164 or above in the top GRE math percentiles.

That said, the admissions committee will mainly consider the section of the exam most related to the field of study – a GRE verbal score of 163 will not compensate for a low GRE math score in the eyes of the admissions committees for the computer science, engineering, math, or physics departments, nor will the classics, creative writing, English, government, history, or philosophy department committees be impressed by your high math score if it's not paired with a high GRE verbal score. And some departments, such as education or pharmaceutical sciences, require competitive scores in both sections.

Research your target school's data in advance. If your target school does not publish GRE data, you can find data generalized by field of interest on ets.org; then aim for the top of the GRE curve.

Q. How long should I study for the GRE exam before taking it?
A. People typically prepare for the test for one month to three months, according to ETS, the makers of the GRE. We strongly recommend that you plan to take the GRE test at least five months before the admissions deadlines for your target graduate programs. Focus on the GRE test first, and then tackle the other components of the application. You will be more effective if you do not attempt to write admissions essays and study for the exam at the same time.
Q. When should I sign up for the GRE? Should I register for the exam before I take the class?

A. While we understand the desire to motivate yourself by giving yourself a deadline, we recommend that you don't pick an arbitrary date. Sign up for the GRE exam when you expect to be fully prepared and are ready to perform at your best. That said, don't procrastinate. When you are ready (for example, you have halfway completed the GRE course and one practice exam), register on www.ets.org. Some testing center locations are busier than others, but you should be able to book your preferred place if you register a few weeks ahead. Remember that afternoon slots are more popular, and therefore more quickly booked, and slots become less available as application dates draw closer.

Q. What is the best book for GMAT preparation?

A. We recommend The Official Guide to the GRE® revised General Test as the best book for GRE preparation, and we use this book as the main reference book for our GRE course. The book offers you hundreds of real GRE test questions, as well as GRE practice tests. Our GRE course provides additional materials showing the most efficient approaches to answering the test's problems.

Q. How long does it take to prepare for the GRE Quantitative section if my math skills are weak?

A. Give yourself at least three months. During the first month, you should concentration on building your foundational math knowledge and practicing the simple mechanics of solving math problems. The GRE exam covers a wide range of math topics, including geometry, and knowing the best method to solve a math problem will increase your test-taking speed.

The GRE exam tests your comfort level with solving a multiplicity of math problems. Because of that, the GRE adds multiple answer multiple choice questions, and some user-input questions (in which you type in the answers). To learn what the GRE is testing, and efficient problem-solving methods across a range of math topics, you may need two additional months to gain real proficiency. Think of it not only as studying for an exam but also preparing to succeed during that first semester in school.

Q. Can I take the math bootcamp after the GRE math classes?

A. No. You should be comfortable with basic math skills in order to make progress on your GRE preparation. If your math skills are rusty, our math bootcamp will help you to get up to speed before beginning our GRE course. We do not want you to struggle unnecessarily in class and slow down your progress. Take our 10-minute self-assessment quiz to decide whether the math bootcamp will benefit your GRE preparation.

Q. Do I need to have taken calculus to do well on the GRE exam?

A. No. The GRE does not use calculus problems, or trigonometry, for that matter. However, if you are headed to business school, it is a good idea to take a calculus class prior to starting your MBA program.

Q. How many GRE practice tests should I take?

A. You should at least take the two free GRE practice tests offered by ETS. These tests offer real GRE questions from past exams, and realistically simulating the actual test so that you get familiar with the software. Take the first practice test at the beginning of your GRE studies, to gauge your areas of strengths and weaknesses, and take the last practice test close to your testing date. We recommend against taking practice tests from third-party providers, primarily because you cannot be guaranteed the question quality control of the actual exam.

Q. I'm very good at test-taking. Do I need to study for the GRE exam?

A. It's great that you don't fear tests, but yes, you need to study. Even if you are very good at verbal and quantitative skills, methodical preparation and practice give you a significant edge over someone who takes the exam "cold." Remember, your GRE score can give you an edge in graduate school admissions (and scholarship selection); the higher the GRE score, the better your chances of getting into the competitive program of your choice.

Q. GRE tests basic math skills, and I'm very good at math. Do I need to study for the GRE Quantitative section?
Q, Alternate. GRE tests basic verbal skills, and my English reading and writing skills are great. Do I need to study for the GRE Verbal section?

A. The answer to both questions is, "Yes." To achieve your highest GRE score, you need to work on your weaknesses, but also prepare to maximize your strengths.

Q. If I am still in college, does it make sense for me to take the GRE exam now?

A. You may consider getting the GRE exam out of the way before you graduate. In some respects, it is easier to prepare while you are still in college. Your GRE score is valid for five years.

Q. I work long hours. How do I get my GRE prep going?

A. Work commitments often cut into the time you set aside to prepare for the GRE exam, and it's tough to choose studying over relaxation in your free time. As a busy professional, you could be the ideal candidate for a GRE class. In addition to having committed class time, being in close contact with other professionals who share your goals can be very motivating. Researching graduate school programs, as well as visiting schools and attending classes, can also make your goals become more exciting and tangible, and help you put GRE study time on your "must-do" list.

Q. What is the best way to study for the GRE exam?

A. Everyone has different ways of studying, and you will need to find what's best for you. We can make some recommendations, however, based on experience. The most important thing during GRE preparation is commitment and consistency. As hard as it may seem, you should make GRE studies a high priority, and commit to it every day; if you attempt to study in "spare time" around other commitments, you will find that you never find that time. A GRE course may help you stay on track.

Secondly, we recommend that the time you spend on GRE preparation be devoted almost entirely to studying from the original GRE source materials. The time that you choose to spend online corresponding with other test-takers or looking for test tips or practice questions does not count as actual GRE preparation; this is a common mistake that people make. Stay focused.

Your social life may suffer, but a little suffering now is much better than the fear you'll feel if you head into the exam unprepared, the pain of having to retake the GRE exam, or the worry that you won't be admitted to grad school.

Q. My GRE score fell short of my target school's average GRE score. Should I retake the GRE?

A. The answer depends on you. In general, if you did not achieve a score within the school's 80% range for the "important" score (GRE Quantitative or GRE Verbal, depending on your field), you should plan on retaking the GRE before you apply. If you performed better on the official GRE practice tests than you did on the real exam, you might do better on your next try. If you fell far below your school's GRE score range, before retaking the exam, you would do well to assess your test-taking strategies as well as knowledge gaps. Whatever your score, if you feel that you performed below your capabilities, you may benefit from expert help. You should always analyze your performance before rushing to sign up to retake the GRE.

Also, be aware that you may take the GRE only five times in one year. Make the most of every chance.

Q. What is the best GRE test prep course?

A. The best GRE prep course is the one that helps you grasp the subject matter, taking the stress out of preparation and allowing you to perform at your best on test day. It's as simple as that. Our GRE course focuses on the content and skills that the GRE actually tests, with rigorous instruction and practice. Our students value our excellent instruction, effective study materials and test-taking strategies, and just as importantly, the coaching that helps them overcome any weaknesses. At Austin Elite Prep, we believe that the best GRE prep course values quality of learning above all else.

Please remember that achieving a good GRE score is just one part of your application. The admissions committee will also consider your GPA, statement of purpose, recommendation letters, and work in your field. Achieve the highest GRE score that you can, but then move on to prepare the rest of your application just as rigorously.

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