Tag Archives: General GRE

How important is the GRE on graduate applications?

“How important are GRE scores?” may be one of the most frequently asked questions by graduate applicants. When applying for your undergraduate degree, ACT/SAT scores carried a lot of weight along with GPA. The answer is a little more complicated for graduate school.

Where graduate applicants most often get led astray is when they assume one of the following:

1. That a very high GRE score will automatically get you into top programs

2. That a mediocre GRE score will automatically keep you out of top programs

Neither of these are true and both lead applicants to believe: I need to spend all the time and money needed to get the highest GRE score possible. 

studyingWith this attitude, best case scenario you will do just that and spent a lot of time and money on the GRE and your scores will show it. Worst case scenario, you accomplish all this at the expense of your writing sample and personal statements.

In general, most graduate programs deal with fewer applicants and admit fewer students than an undergraduate program and place more emphasis on the “personal” aspects of the application.

The more time, effort, and money the school will have to put into their accepted students, the more consideration the personal aspects of the application will receive (i.e. writing sample, recommendations, and personal statements).

When a funded PhD program accepts a student, they are not only allowing them to attend their program, but are also agreeing to offer them money to do so and to direct their research and course of study over the next 5-7 years. The school is making an investment in their PhD students in hopes that the work of these students will benefit their program. An admissions committee will want answers to the questions: is this student a good fit for our program? Does this student have the skills and professional goals necessary to success in our program? GRE scores don’t reflect this kind of potential in a student. This doesn’t mean they won’t cut the applicant demographic with the lowest percentile of GRE scores. However, it does mean that for PhD programs, the personal aspects of the application will be more important than the GRE scores.

All this being said, every admissions committee is going to place different emphasis on GRE scores based on how accurately they believe the GRE predict intellectual potential. Not even a 170 on the verbal GRE or a 6.0 on the Analytical Writing can compensate for a mediocre writing sample or a lackluster personal statement. If you take one piece of advice away from this: try to do your best on the GRE, but keep a reasonable goal in mind, and if you don’t reach it, don’t throw your applications in the trash just yet.

How to Prepare for the General GRE

The best recommendation I can give for taking the GRE is to buy the Princeton Review’s study book and read their strategies as well as take as many practice tests as possible. I used both the Kaplan and the Princeton study books and felt the Princeton helped me more, but that may just be the way I learn. The GRE is a test that prays upon test “over thinkers.” The best thing you can do if this describes you is to prepare by taking practice tests. These will help you go into the test with more confidence and trust your instincts when in doubt.

Analytical Writing


– 30 minute “Analyze an Issue” essay
– 30 minute “Analyze an Argument” essay

– Scale of 1 to 6, in half-point increments
– 5.0 is in the 93rd percentile, while 4.5 drops to the 78th percentile

– Plan before you write, logical organization is everything
– Go with your gut answer to the question and don’t take time to contemplate the question too deeply
– Make sure your examples clearly illustrate your point, now is not the time to get too theoretical
– Consider a counter example that is easily dismantled and refute it
– These prompts are meant to be highly debatable, the “best” answer is the one that you can articulate clearly with supportive examples the fastest

Verbal Section

– Two 30-minute sections
– 20 questions per section
– Mean score of ~100,000 examinees: 3.61

– Types of questions:
reading comprehension – read a passage and answer the analytical questions
sentence equivalence – picking two words that both give the sentence the same meaning
text completion – fill in the blank with the word that makes contextual sense

– Scale up to 170
– 163 is in the 91st percentile
– Mean score of ~100,000 examinees: 150.75

– Memorize the definitions of as many GRE words as possible
– Don’t over think and convince yourself of an answer that is theoretically possible, but not “provable” based on context
– Take as many practice tests as you can

Quantitative Reasoning Section

– Two 30-minute sections
– 20 questions per section

– Types of questions:
Comparisons – pick whether one of two sums is greater, smaller, equivalent, or not enough info to tell
Problem solving – answer a standard math problem (i.e. solve an algebra problem for a variable)
Data interpretation – analyze the implications of a graphic, table, etc.

– Scale up to 170
– 165 is in the 91st percentile
– Mean score of ~100,000 examinees: 151.91

– Review common equations such as the area of a circle and geometric principles
– The multiple choice answers are purposefully given to trick you if you make a common mistake, so when make sure your answer makes sense in terms of the problem
– If a problem takes you more than 2 minutes, pick your gut answer and come back to it only if you have extra time