The GRE Guide!

Aaah, I have registered for GRE - the Graduate Record Examination on ze 9th of May! As I was floundering in the initial stages, guided only by intuition and Arjun [which isn't too much], I thought if I come up with a good strategy, some good references online, any sort of help in general to approach, tackle and manage your study plan for GRE, I would post it, just in case it would help someone down the lane.

So, what have I found out about the GRE?

First of all, you should completely understand the GRE - its scoring system, the way the test is broken up, what they intend to test, why are they doing what they are doing in a particular way. I will give a briefer as to what I have understood about the GRE here

What is GRE?
Warning: It'll be redundant data for the good majority of the people storming[ok vain hope I know ;-) but hey :-D ] in here, but just in case.
The Graduate Record Examination is a test conducted by ETS - Educational Testing Services, based in Princeton, New Jersey across the world for students/people aspiring to do their graduate studies. It tests the person's ability in verbal, math and analytical sections.

Why is it so general?
IOW, I wanna do my course in Computer Engineering specializing in distributed Image Processing, why should I be tested on Analytical Writing or for that matter, verbal ability? Why am I not being tested for my ability to weave magic using CG?

A very valid question. However, you have to realise that the GRE can be taken by any person who has had an undergraduate education for 3 or more years. This essentially includes all people who have done their Baccalaureates ranging from Commerce to Computer Science, English literature to oceanology. It is also taken by people to apply to a wide range of Masters courses, which will be further varied and specialised than their Baccalaureate. So, it only makes sense that people should be judged on their ability to reason, rather than highly specialised domain knowledge, which can be judged fairly well by their performance during their undergraduation.

What are the various sections in GRE?
There are totally 5 sections in the current GRE format [as on the one registered for May '06]. There are 2 sections each of Verbal and Quantitative Ability. Then there are 2 analytical essay writing sections.
Analytical Writing - 2 sections - An issue essay [45 minutes] and an argument essay [30 minutes]
Verbal Ability  - 1 sections - 30 questions per session, 30 minutes per session
Quantitative Ability - 1 sections - 28 questions per session, 30 minutes per session
Special unscored section - 30-45 minutes, depending on whether it's verbal or quant [Note that this could be either section 3, 4 or 5]

So, the total testing time should be between 3-4 hours.

The intricacies of the test procedure, I will probably write about after attending the test. :-D!

Can we get to know the question types in GRE?
Of course, one of the best aspects of GRE is that they are completely transparent, removing any chance of loopholes to be present as far as the question ambiguity is concerned. Also, once they let out the details, well everyone is on a level playing field aren't they, completely removing all doubts of question format leaking out and what not, something that plagues other tests [Remember All India Medical test paper leaks :-D ]

As I don't have the time/patience to completely type out the format, I will provide a link, where in the sections are detailed out properly with the general question types mentioned!

Present your perspective on an issue - aka the Issue Essay
Analyze an argument - aka the Argument Essay
Verbal Ability Section - Check out how the questions are intermingled
Quantitative Ability Section - Check out how the questions are intermingled here

Also note: The number of type of questions are pretty much followed, for e.g. There will be 6 Sentence Completion Questions [SC from now on], 9 Analogy Questions, 7 Antonym Questions, 8 Reading Comprehension Questions in the Verbal section. They rarely break this pattern!

Computer Based Testing vs. Paper Based Testing
Why is it that they have two types of tests? Which one should I take? Well, Computer Based Testing is the new way by which ETS now delivers the GRE. However, since they have not setup shop in every nook and corner of the globe from where GRE tests are taken, they also provide the test-taker the option to take the paper-test.

Which is better? I don't think I am at a position to answer that. However, I can assure you that the process for both are followed in most of the places. The only advantage of the CBT is that the scores will be known to you immediately.

I heard that the Computer Based Test is Adaptive! What does that mean?
The computer based test has an on-screen interface and questions are chosen from a database that ETS has already set. It's an ADAPTIVE test, i.e. it adapts to your response - right/wrong, and also the history that you have maintained. IOW, the test will try to hone in on your score from the broad spectrum [200-800] for a particular section.

There are some VERY important things to be considered here.
- Your initial responses HAVE to be CORRECT, as the computer would be starting from an average score [500].
- You have to raise your score from up there to your target score [depending on your institution and major]

Aside, I would also recommend you to make a target score. Depending on the college and major, you will have to put a target for yourself. The ideal case is of course if you just wanna score the highest - 1600/1600! However, for lesser mortals, like myself, the target is an 800 in Math and a decent enough 650 and above in verbal. That brings my total to about 1450.

Also few words of warning!!

Warning 1: You cannot skip questions. Makes sense as the computer has to choose the next question depending on how you have done on this question
Warning 2: You cannot come back and reanswer an already answered question! Yup, coz that has already been factored in on the choice of questions, from then on!
Warning 3: CBT does not require you to finish each section!! It allows you to attempt a total of 58 questions [30+28], however, if you fail to complete the test, then chances are your score might be lower than what you'd expect. Roughly about 20% mite be already cut, if you haven't finished the entire test!! This also makes sense as you can answer the first 20 all correct and then just not answer the remaining rite? Anyhoo, up to you!! :-D!!

So, things to remember about the Adaptive part about the GRE - Get your score up, even if you screw in the middle you can bring the score back up. However, RULE #1, DO NOT and I cannot put this more seriously, DO NOT SCREW IT UP IN THE BEGINNING! A slew of wrong entries, even through careless mistakes can seal your first tryst with the GRE with a bad tone! :-D!

How does ETS score my test?
For the verbal and quant sections, there are essentially 3 factors that they consider
- Number of correctly responded questions
- Difficulty level of these questions
- The reasoning abilities mesaured in the correctly answered questions.

Employ a complex function to calculate with these parameters, out pops the results - 2 scores, each out of 800 with an increment of 10points. :-D!!

For the analytical section, your essays are read initially by 2 readers, big guys/gals in various Universities. Both are rated out of 6 with 1/2 point increments. If the readers' evaluation comes to within a point, then they average the 2 scores and round it off to the nearest 1/2 point. If their evaluations vary by over a point, a 3rd reader evaluates the paper and the net score is averaged with the 3rd score as well.

How does the computer interface look?
Arco's site has built up a computer interface that is supposed to reflect on how the CBT interface looks. Check it out. What I have heard is that the GRE Powerprep has the exact same interface as the "official" GRE one :-D

What about the monitors at the testing centre? What is the refresh rate and resolution?
Aah, a computer literate person if you understood it, else don't even bother to read this!! I have heard that the Prometric test centres [at least in India] have 15" CRT monitors with 800*600 [or lower] resolution with the monitor running at 60Hz! [I will confirm this after taking the test in Bangalore]. I have talked to some people who have already undergone the test and they have confirmed it.

So, get used to a headache screen, especially if you are used to slick 1280*1024 TFT monitors [like I am used to these days]. :-D!! Try and take some practice tests in the same condition. You could so gruel yourself by lowering the resolution down to 640*480!! :-D!!

Resources for GRE
Over my browsing for getting practice tests [paper and CBT], resources on cracking the vocab, building your vocab with tests, I have come to use some stuff that I really thought has helped me with the process. I am just dumping them here for your perusal!!

General GRE Resources
- The ETS Home page for GRE [some interesting articles and test question samples]
- Test Content [from the Official Source - ETS]
- ETS Site's Test Taker's Download Library
- What is the GRE?
- Teach Yourself the GRE [Arco official site]
- GRE FAQ [From ETS]
- GRE General info and preparation from EngCommunity.com

CBT Based Resources
- GRE Powerprep Software
- Take a look at how the CBT actually looks

Analytical Writing Resources
- Pool of Issue Topics [This comprises of the entire set of topics from which the GRE takes it 2 issues from] - Try and at least go through it once
- Pool of Argument Topics [This comprises of the entire set of topics from which the GRE takes it arguments from] - Try and at least go through it once

Practice tests, vocab builders, math testers
- GRE Practice General Test [From the official source ;-) ]
- Practice questions [please note: not official, just as a test for yourself]
- GRE Test Preparation Practice Exercises
- ETS Guidelines to prepare for the Verbal and quant sections [Note: This is a pdf file. You will need Adobe Acrobat Reader or an equivalent to read it]
- Kaplan Test Prep and Admissions Homepage [Register here for some good resources]
- Vocabulary Blast [Recommended by a friend, personally I prefer StudyWizard tho]
- Study Wizard [will put in the link as soon as I find it]
[NOTE TO SELF: Put in the site where in a ton of vocabulary building software was gathered! Will put it as soon as I find it! Sorry :-D ]

Wordlists - I am just dumping sites from where i have grabbed the wordlists
- Sample GRE wordlist
- Word Lists for GRE
- Barron's Word List [in another site] ;-)
- Gnome Vocabulary Builder [another reason for running the Linux platform]
- General guidelines on how to build your vocab
- Vocaboly.com [Free vocabulary building software]

Paid resources
- 800Score.com 5 downloadable GRE Exams

So, all the best for your GRE prep! And God Speed! Also wish the best for my preparation, hanging about in mid-air right now :-D! Will update this as much as time permits for more resources and information! Check back on the comments for more interesting and useful links for the topic!! :-)!