The Graduate Record Examination, usually referred to as the GRE, is a large and intimidating hurdle that students seeking admission to graduate programs must negotiate in their application process. It’s a standardized, computer-based megalith of a test administered at special testing centers. It’s also timed: 1 hour to compose 2 essays, 2 ¾ hours for the computer-based sections. In other words, it’s a perfect storm of stress-inducing circumstances.
The good news is that by practicing the GRE with sample questions, a lot of test-anxiety can be minimized. When you apply to take the test, you’ll be sent some sample questions in the instruction packet; you can buy workbooks packed with practice test; and you can enroll in classes designed to drill you in the GRE format. There’s a lot of practice material available online as well.
Here are a few of the online sample questions. They’ll give you an overall sense of what to expect in each of the computer-based sections of the GRE.
In this section, you’re given a reading passage and asked questions concerning its interpretation. For example, here’s the opening portion of a passage:
The pioneers of the teaching of science imagined that its introduction into education would remove the conventionality, artificiality, and backward-lookingness which were characteristic of classical studies, but they were gravely disappointed. So, too, in their time had the humanists thought that the study of the classical authors in the original would banish at once the dull pedantry and superstition of mediaeval scholasticism. The professional schoolmaster was a match for both of them, and has almost managed to make the understanding of chemical reactions as dull and as dogmatic an affair as the reading of Virgil’s Aeneid.
Here’s one of the questions asked about the passage:
The author implies that the ‘professional schoolmaster’ has
A. no interest in teaching science
B. thwarted attempts to enliven education
C. aided true learning
D. supported the humanists
E. been a pioneer in both science and humanities.
Can you select the right response? It’s B. (By the way, this example and some others can be found at http://www.majortests.com/gre/reading_comprehension_test04)
This section is similar to the previous, but you’re not interpreting. Instead, you’re asked to draw a correct conclusion from the statement. For example, if you read, “In Los Angeles, a political candidate who buys saturation radio advertising will get maximum name recognition,” could you legitimately conclude, “Radio advertising is the most important factor in political campaigns in Los Angeles”? (For the complete question and others like it, see http://www.kaptest.co.uk/gmat/critical-reasoning-practice-questions.)
Knowing the exact meanings and the nuances of English words is very important for this section. There are several varieties of questions, one of which asks you to select the two best words to fit into a sentence. Here’s an example:
“It was her view that the country’s problems had been _______ by foreign technocrats, so that to ask for such assistance again would be counterproductive.”
Which two of these words would you select?
The trick is to understand where the sentence is going in terms of meaning, and then to determine which two words mean the same. If you answer D and F, you got this questions right. (http://www.ets.org/gre/revised_general/prepare/verbal_reasoning/sentence_equivalence/)
This section may dismay you, but it doesn’t have to surprise you. You’ll be tested on basic high-school math. For example, Which of the following is a common factor of both x2 – 4x – 5 and x2 – 6x – 7?
(A) x – 5
(B) x – 7
(C) x – 1
(D) x + 5
(E) x + 1
The answer, by the way, is E. (https://www.petersons.com/graduate-schools/sample-gre-test-questions.aspx)
For most people who take it, the GRE is intense, draining, and difficult. But by taking practice exams and working on sample questions, you can prepare for it effectively and face it with confidence.