Author Topic: GRE Advice  (Read 7890 times)

El Gringo

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GRE Advice
« on: October 28, 2014, 06:48:58 AM »
Who has taken a GRE prep course and do you recommend it? I'd really like to avoid paying the fees for a prep course - there's lot of free material out there, whether it be books, apps, or websites, but I'm REALLY struggling at being disciplined in making consistent time to study on my own.

MWM1220

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Re: GRE Advice
« Reply #1 on: October 28, 2014, 06:52:26 AM »
There is no one size fits all answer to your question because it really depends on the program you're looking to get in to. I was looking to go to a couple of particular programs that were in the city I lived in, so I wasn't looking for "the best program in the country." And I also had a great undergrad record to fall back on. So I just decided to take it with very little prep (I bought a book and took the practice tests, and then I read the sections that I didn't score as well on) and I did fine. But plenty of things go in to this - are you "good" at standardized tests? how recently have you taken a math class? written a paper? how prestigious is the admissions process at your ideal program? etc...

The GRE is very similar to the SAT, and it's mostly about ability to think critically and figure out what exactly is being asked, but you have to have a strong base knowledge of random vocabulary (you can also buy just the flash cards and this helps) and math equations (there is a list in most study books of formulas you're expected to memorize).

Let me know if you have more specific questions!

El Gringo

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Re: GRE Advice
« Reply #2 on: October 28, 2014, 07:00:08 AM »
Thanks. I haven't figured out what my ideal program is yet, but I'd like to get the GRE out of the way so then I can just focus on schools. I've got a strong undergrad record (3.86 GPA, honors program, etc), though I've been out of school for 5 years. I've been taking some higher-level math classes (calc I and II, linear algebra, statistics), but these seem irrelevant to the math on the GRE. I haven't taken a full practice test - just a short diagnostic test. I'm fairly confident in my standardized test taking - I scored fairly well on my SATs (somewhere in the 1400s, I think?), but in the short test that I took for the GRE, I found that I was frustratingly gullible to their attempts to trick the test taker.

I suppose I should take a full practice test and see how I do.

Thegoblinchief

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Re: GRE Advice
« Reply #3 on: October 28, 2014, 07:07:51 AM »
The GRE is such bullshit, but unfortunately it's important bullshit when it comes to admittance but especially getting funding.

I would take at least a few full practice tests to accustom yourself, but buying a prep book is probably well worth it.

Not sure if they've changed this, but getting the first half of a section completely right matters far more to your score than the later questions, so TAKE YOUR TIME. Unlike old paper tests, you can't go back and change answers in the digital test, so resist the urge to fly through.

nessness

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Re: GRE Advice
« Reply #4 on: October 28, 2014, 07:22:09 AM »

Not sure if they've changed this, but getting the first half of a section completely right matters far more to your score than the later questions, so TAKE YOUR TIME. Unlike old paper tests, you can't go back and change answers in the digital test, so resist the urge to fly through.

This is no longer true; they changed it a couple years ago.

I used to teach Kaplan GRE classes and they are good classes, but they are expensive and don't teach you anything you can't learn from the books with sufficient discipline.

cranilation

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Re: GRE Advice
« Reply #5 on: October 28, 2014, 07:22:35 AM »
I believe I heard that the most effective way to study for the GRE is memorization, and massive amounts of practice tests.  It's all about maximizing your ability to crank through those questions in the time allotted. "Learning" isn't nearly as important as remembering and regurgitating.

Dibbels81

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Re: GRE Advice
« Reply #6 on: October 28, 2014, 07:28:10 AM »
No way would I spend the big bucks taking an expensive prep course.  I took the GRE a couple of couple years ago, and I bought the book "Cracking the GRE" for $15 (though the library would probably have it).  I enjoyed the book and did reasonably well on the test, and I was admitted into a good graduate program.  Some of my classmates spent the 1K required to take the prep course, most of them saying that it wasn't worth it.  No kidding.

El Gringo

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Re: GRE Advice
« Reply #7 on: October 28, 2014, 07:37:10 AM »
Ok. I figured that the prep course wasn't worth the money. I'm just frustrated that a month or two after deciding to start studying, I haven't gotten far. (In addition to working full time, I've also been taking some math classes - currently I'm taking linear algebra). The obvious (but not easy) answer is to crack down on myself and be more disciplined in making time to study. Some of my time though has been spent trying to figure out the best way to study - an online website/app like Magoosh? the  four of four textbook-sized Kaplan books I have? taking multiple hour practice tests online?

Tetsuya Hondo

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Re: GRE Advice
« Reply #8 on: October 28, 2014, 07:47:16 AM »
I took a practice GRE (granted that this was completely cold) at my university and scored somewhere below most breeds of dog and slightly above most cheeses. A counselor type person winced when she saw my results and explained that I might have trouble getting into graduate school. She also explained that it's unlikely to boost the score a lot with any type of preparation.

I ordered GRE prep software from ETS, the maker of the GRE. It was great because it allowed me to take practice exams (which were actual old exams) and then diagnose my biggest weaknesses. I also crammed vocabulary words for the verbal section using a used GRE vocab book. After a couple of months, I took the exam for reals and my scores went up dramatically. I ended up going to one of the top PhD programs in my field. I'm glad I didn't listen to the counselor.

Long story short, if the ETS still makes software or has online prep (this was over a decade ago), I would use that. A course would have been at least 10 times more expensive and I doubt the result would have been better. Although, you'll need the discipline to actually sit down and drill yourself on your own... which I see is a problem that you've been having. So maybe you can form a study group to help keep you motivated and on track. Also, set reasonable, measurable goals and targets for yourself for practice. And, get on a regular schedule (e.g., 6 - 6:30 is GRE prep time each night) with it.
« Last Edit: October 28, 2014, 07:55:41 AM by Tetsuya Hondo »

CowboyAndIndian

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Re: GRE Advice
« Reply #9 on: October 28, 2014, 07:49:44 AM »

I created a vocabulary game for GRE (there is one more for SAT) to help in improving your vocabulary.

http://vocabking.com/GRE.html

Moderators: Please remove if not appropriate.

MayDay

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Re: GRE Advice
« Reply #10 on: October 28, 2014, 07:51:37 AM »
I bought one practice test, reviewed the math examples, and did a decent bit (by which I mean maybe two hours, lol) of vocab practice. I was applying to engineering programs so I knew they only cared about the math section. I scored a perfect on the math, mediocre on the vocab stuff and slightly above average on the essay.   I knew I would have hadto invest way more time to significantly improve my vocab score and it didn't seem worth it.  Apparently my assumptions were right since I got into the #1 and 2 schools in my major. And then promptly dropped out after a year because grad school sucks man.

So on the other hand, maybe don't take advice from me.

El Gringo

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Re: GRE Advice
« Reply #11 on: October 28, 2014, 07:59:20 AM »
Tetsuya - it looks like the software from ETS is now free: https://www.ets.org/gre/revised_general/prepare/

daymare

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Re: GRE Advice
« Reply #12 on: October 28, 2014, 08:06:45 AM »
So, my (maybe asshole) opinion, is that if you can't motivate yourself enough to self-study (ie, buy the books and practice CDs, don't sign up for an expensive prep course), then you have no business going to grad school.

It really depends on what program you're applying to -- for me, I applied to mostly econ and finance PhD programs.  In that situation, you basically need to get an 800 on the quant section (or 790, basically really close) to get into the best schools, and that's basically just a minimum barrier that means nothing.  So, it says nothing about your quant skills (if you put in some time, try to be careful & dilligent went taking the test, it should be pretty easy) to get the perfect score, but if you can't get it, that's a big negative signal to programs, and the top ones won't bother to look at you when there are so many people that meet that bar.

I took the GRE a while back (so before they changed it) -- I would really recommend buying the practice CDs where your test-taking will simulate the actual GRE environment.  Just sign up enough in advance to give yourself a few months to study (especially since you work and don't have a ton of extra time presumably).  I found reading the test prep books really helpful, because they give you techniques and tips ... things you probably don't know or wouldn't think to use on a test, that are to your advantage to utilize with the GREs.  (Basically, they go against the thinking person's method of solving problems ... but are wicked efficient for the GRE.)

Good luck!

Tetsuya Hondo

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Re: GRE Advice
« Reply #13 on: October 28, 2014, 08:30:09 AM »
Tetsuya - it looks like the software from ETS is now free: https://www.ets.org/gre/revised_general/prepare/

Well, you certainly can't beat the price. Sounds like that's a good place to start.

I suggest that you begin by taking one of the practice tests in it. If the software is similar to what I used many moons ago, then it will tell you the areas where you need the most improvement. Then, you can focus on those.

And as dinarik pointed out, you're going to need to work on that self-study and motivation thing prior to grad school. ;) Now's a good time to get your head screwed on straight.

Chranstronaut

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Re: GRE Advice
« Reply #14 on: October 28, 2014, 08:46:18 AM »
In high school, I took prep courses for the SAT and ACT because I "needed to do really well".  It was a complete waste of time, and I vowed to never do that again.  The practice tests they gave us in the class were the most helpful part, but we didn't have a lot of time to practice in class because we spent so much time learning that guessing between two answers is statistically better than between four.  We were supposed to take the tests at home and guess what-- that's the same thing as studying at home with the practice books.

If you have taken any standardized tests in the past (I'm sure you have since you made it through HS and Undergrad) and you can use a keyboard and mouse (looks to be that way) there's not much you're going to get out of a class.  Studying vocab on your own, practicing essay writing (time yourself and type it!) and running through the booklet questions is going to be WAY more helpful than someone teaching you how to guess at multiple choice answers.  Everything dinarik said is still true: they give you little tips on how to answer questions quickly, but the lessons in the books are the same as what they lecture on, and it's faster to just read about it.

I took the new GRE in 2011.  I recommend:

--The Princeton Review and ETS software (or whatever book, Baron's is good too apparently)
--StudyBlue or other online flashcards (get free phone app, too)
--Writing a lot of practice essays (more than just one or two) and having another college educated friend read them over and give you feedback.

I spent most of my time making digital flashcards for vocab and doing the English based multiple choice.  I WISH I had spent more time practicing writing the essays and actually getting feedback on them.  The more you write, the better your score (usually).  I'm quite good at math, but some of their geometry based questions were a bit tricky or poorly worded, so it doesn't hurt to practice the sections you are good at as well as your weaker sections.  I had a few questions on my test almost identical to the prep book in both math and English.

One caveat: My mom went back to school and had no experience typing essays or taking multiple choice tests for about 20 years.  She was TERRIFIED of the GRE and decided to take a prep course.  She didn't really like it, but it gave her enough peace of mind to know that she was on the right track studying alone.  But SHE STILL HAD TO STUDY ALONE in order to get enough practice in to learn the techniques and build her skills back up.  Keep that in mind.

TL;DR Took SAT/ACT prep classes and they were a waste of time and money.  If you can read and type, just get a good study book with a CD and take the proper time to invest in your future.  Study often and when you are killing time on your phone.  Read dinarik's comment.

DrF

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Re: GRE Advice
« Reply #15 on: October 28, 2014, 09:02:50 AM »
First question is - Why do you want to go to grad school?

If it is to make more money, then you should likely look elsewhere. Most hardworking, intelligent people can work their way to a fairly significant salary in the 5-6 years it takes to get a PhD. If you want to be a college professor or run a lab, then it may be an option for you. Realize though that once you get your PhD you are immediately "overqualified" for a variety of positions and sadly in most fields there are VERY few jobs at the top. I think the statistic is that only 20% of all postdoctoral fellows (people who already have their PhD and are doing their "residency") will become professors. Also, the average age that a professor receives their first big grant to support their research is above 40 years old. Most mustachians hope to be FI and retired by then.

Second question - Can you get into an elite program?

Again, unless you are going for a technical or business degree (engineering, finance), the program definitely matters. Even then it does matter to a degree. A subpar academic pedigree can hurt you if you want to be an academic, so unless you are the type of individual that can achieve on an international level at your local school (you will be competing with the top students from China, India, Europe, etc.) you need to get into an elite program. Most local schools don't have the funding/resources or faculty to support grad students to the level necessary to be competitive.

Choosing to go to grad school should not be what you do because you haven't gotten a job yet or you are still figuring out what you want to do with your career. Have clear goals and realize that even if you work really hard your data might end up like shit.

As to the GRE, I took it twice - scored OK the first time with minimal studying, but didn't hit my target score. So, I got a math study book and studied 1 hr every day for a month because I felt it was easier to buff up on my basic math skills. When I took the test over my math went up 10 points but my verbal went up 40. Just a different test with different vocabulary. It also helped that I was more familiar with the test itself.

Good luck!

Pooperman

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Re: GRE Advice
« Reply #16 on: October 28, 2014, 09:06:07 AM »
Took the GRE a couple of years ago (2012). I just looked at some test questions, did a little bit of practice for the questions (like I did 20 of each kind basically). I went in after doing that, did really well on the multiple choice bits. Bombed the writing (always sucked at those sections). Ended up with nearly a perfect in the math section, which is all I really cared about. I was applying to engineering school. I can write if I need to, but I'm bad at writing cold (without the time to rearrange sections to make it coherent). Really, if you're good at multiple choice exams, it's not that bad. The math is easier than the SAT, the verbal is more difficult, but not much. I believe my scores for the (new) GRE were: 168 (quant), 162 (verbal), 2.5 (writing).

El Gringo

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Re: GRE Advice
« Reply #17 on: October 28, 2014, 11:01:57 AM »
Thanks everyone. I suppose I should modify my statement. Motivation isn't the problem. My issue is that I've got too much on my plate right now. It's more a matter of cutting down on other commitments to make time to consistently study.

DrFunk - the reason I'm looking to go to grad school is because I work in a field that requires you to eventually get one (international development) and in a city in which everyone is highly (over?) educated. I haven't taken the decision lightly.  My field doesn't pay well, and I hate the idea of going massively into debt. Though I think I'd really enjoy grad school, I'd also really enjoy not having to go to grad school. I've talked to a lot of people in my field, sought a lot of advice, tried to come up with alternatives, but all advice is unanimous: I need to get a graduate degree at some point. I've put off going to grad school for several years because I didn't want to just go for the sake of going. There are some slightly alternative suggestions, such as going to school outside of the US, where tuition is lower and programs are generally one year instead of two. I'm looking into that. In that case, of course, I wouldn't need to take the GRE. But I've also decided to plow ahead with the GRE and apply to US schools to see what kind of funding and opportunities arise. This is absolutely not a decision I'm taking likely.

mlipps

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Re: GRE Advice
« Reply #18 on: October 28, 2014, 11:07:01 AM »
What are you trying to study? I used Khan academy to prep for the math section of the GMAT & it was awesome. I scored a 710 with very little other studying so I think it worked pretty well!!

El Gringo

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Re: GRE Advice
« Reply #19 on: October 28, 2014, 11:19:49 AM »
What are you trying to study? I used Khan academy to prep for the math section of the GMAT & it was awesome. I scored a 710 with very little other studying so I think it worked pretty well!!

All of it! I suppose I should take a practice test though to narrow down what I need to focus on. I had checked out Khan Academy and was bummed to see that they didn't have a GRE-specific section (they have pretty much every other standardized test!) How different is the math section of the GRE to the math section of the GMAT?

mozar

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Re: GRE Advice
« Reply #20 on: October 28, 2014, 05:38:17 PM »
What score do you need to get to get into the program you want? I took the gmat and I opted for the expensive in person course. Having to go to class held me accountable for doing my homework. If you don't need a high score then most books would be fine.

acorn

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Re: GRE Advice
« Reply #21 on: October 28, 2014, 05:56:45 PM »
I took it in 2009, and back then I bought a prep book (Barron's) and self-studied. My undergrad degree was in engineering so I thought the math was pretty easy. I spent more time studying the verbal, which involved me typing up every single word and definition on the gre word-list into a massive word document and carrying that with me everywhere. I'd read it on the bus/metro, over breakfast/lunch, waiting in lines, etc etc. Turned out pretty well.

GreenPen

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Re: GRE Advice
« Reply #22 on: October 28, 2014, 07:09:58 PM »
I have taught GRE classes for a national company for a couple of years. I also took the GRE twice, raising my score from the 75th percentile to 99th percentile. So I am very familiar with the test, and I can say unequivocally that you should not take a prep class (even the ones that I teach).

Don't get me wrong: I am completely confident that my courses--and other courses out there--benefit students. The problem is that students could raise their score just as much by studying on their own. These classes aren't mustachian.

I could probably talk about the GRE for way too long, but I'll just list off a few thoughts:

1. Most courses/books are written for an average test-taker. That means the focus is on helping a student in the 40th percentile get into the 60th percentile. If that's you, then any of the books out there should be great. But if you are shooting for a very high score, you will quickly grow out of the books put out by the two largest test companies. I recommend Barron's if you are shooting for a higher-end score. Do every problem in the book.

2. The practice tests put out by ETS (the testmaker) are a valuable resource. They will be your most accurate benchmarks along the way. Because of this, you should plan to take these at strategic points (i.e., don't take them all at the beginning). I recommend taking the first ETS test after a week or two of studying.

3. There is a HUGE learning curve on the GRE (especially the Quantitative). Studying makes a world of a difference. But that said, most books don't offer enough practice. You may need to purchase multiple books.

4. The math on the GRE really only goes up to a 10th grade level, but the GRE still has VERY tricky problems. Fortunately, there is only a finite number of ways that ETS can make tricky problems using 10th grade math. That means your goal should be to see EVERY trick that ETS can throw at you before test day. You should know how to solve EVERY quantitative problem in Barron's (or some other book) before your test. Even if you are good at math, you need to do a lot of practice in order to learn how the "moves" that the testmakers use to make 10th grade math very difficult.

Just to illustrate this: many of my students (especially math/econ/physics majors) are much better than I am at math. I'm embarrassed to admit that I have never even taken calculus. But I can absolutely crush the GRE quantitative -- I scored an 800/800 on the old scale. And when I teach, I have a couple dozen problems up my sleeve that trip up almost all of my math/econ/physics students. That's because GRE math is a beast of its own. But once you figure out the 50-or-so ways to make 10th grade math difficult, you know how to solve every GRE math problem. And that's a beautiful thing! Long story short: even if you are good at math, getting extra practice on the Quantitative will really pay off.

5. Vocabulary is incredibly important on the Verbal, but the amount of time you study vocabulary depends on how much total time you have on your hands (so if you begin studying only a few weeks before your test date, I wouldn't spend much time at all with vocab). Start with any of the focused lists (300-500 words) that the major test companies publish. Any of these lists will work.

6. However, the GRE Vocabulary is the one part of the test that you will continue to use throughout your graduate school career. So if you have a longer period of time to study, you have multiple reasons to improve your vocabulary. Barron's has a 3500(ish) word list that I worked through before my test. It took about 6 months, but I'm grateful that I improved my vocabulary.

7. Don't have any ego battles on the Reading Comprehension. We all think we know how to read, so this is an easy section to neglect (or not trust the book when it tells you your answers are wrong). Whatever resource you are working with, pay attention to WHY certain answers are incorrect.

Crabricorn

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Re: GRE Advice
« Reply #23 on: October 28, 2014, 09:04:50 PM »
I took a prep course at the university I attended. It was a couple of days and several hours each day, and it was very affordable. I'm a former college professor and the community college down the road offers GRE prep classes at less than $200. I would always tell me students who were grad school bound to go over there and take the prep course. I also did a ton of memorization - there are plenty of word lists out there. Now you can get apps for your smartphone with words to memorize.

It can be pretty cheap to prepare. I personally would not spend the money on a Kaplan course, but that's me :-)

tzukulika

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Re: GRE Advice
« Reply #24 on: October 29, 2014, 09:38:09 PM »
I can add my observation here and a suggestion/reminder.
I took GRE a numbers years ago - maybe 18-19 years ago.
I did not had proper documentation i.e. my status as a resident was not clear, though I was not illegally here. For that reason I had to have my country of birth passport with me. Sure, it was very well spelled there that I need it, however I did forget that home. I paid the test and the lady saw I did not have the passport, but she let me take the test. Bastards will not even want to tell me the score ! That was 3 hours I will never get back :) and some money  (non trivial when on minimal wage salary).
Anyway I had to take it again and it meet whatever the school required.
DO NOT FORGET your papers for the EXAM !!!
Good  luck !