The GRE Nemesis – Journey to US Grad School Part 1

I know what you are thinking. Well, maybe I don’t. However, I want to start by telling you what this article is not. It is not going to guarantee you a perfect score on the GRE. It is not an all-encompassing guide to write the GRE. On the flip side, my goal is to help you think ‘right’ about the GRE exam and inspire you to develop the right attitude towards the exam. Like every other GRE article, I will throw in a few tips but they are by no means exhaustive.

What the GRE is not?
It is not necessarily a test of how intelligent you are. I have seen some ‘super’ intelligent people struggle with GRE. Secondly, it is not a test of how successful you will be in graduate school; that is fairly obvious. Lastly, a good score is not a guarantee of admission into a specific program. Other factors like your statement of purpose, undergraduate GPA, and overall profile are also considered as part of the admissions evaluation process. Having said that, it does help, A LOT!

So Why GRE?
The Graduate Record Exam (GRE) General Test is given by the Educational Testing Service (ETS) and offered in over 100 countries around the world. Over 1000 universities from Austria to Zimbabwe (A –Z) require this test for graduate studies in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Manufacturing) fields and even, business areas.  It is worth noting that the United States is probably the country that requires it the most in its institutions. So, you cannot lose in writing the GRE, you can only gain. When I wrote the GRE the first time, it was for the potential opportunities and mostly, for the fun of it.

Who should write It?
Everyone who wants to do graduate school in any of the over 1000 universities around the world in the next 5 years (period!). The GRE General Test score is valid for 5 whole years.

What is the format of the GRE?
It has 3 primary components namely the verbal (English), quantitative (Math), and analytical (Essay writing) sections. On the computer-based test, you have 1 hour to write 2 essays, 1 hour to answer 40 verbal reasoning questions, and 1 hour 10 minutes to answer 40 quantitative reasoning questions.

How to ace it? - Quantitative
You need to dedicate your whole life to it. (Pause)…. No! I am just kidding! Technically speaking, a fairly gifted high school student can score a perfect score on the “Quantitative” section of the GRE, if they had ALL DAY to solve it. That is not an exaggeration, that is just a fact. So guess what, (pause) …you do NOT have all day to solve it and that is why the GRE can be a daunting task to some.
However, especially for the quantitative section, the test is really you versus you. Anyone who has prepared for the GRE test will quickly realize that the math questions in the GRE are elementary. Like I said earlier, if you had all day, you would get it all right. So the preparation for the exam is really about figuring out why you make the mistakes you do under crunch time and developing strategies to address it. I will give you a few examples. 

Multiply or Add
In my experiences writing GRE, I realized that I made silly multiplication and addition mistakes. I would write ‘4x2 =6’ in my hasty calculations. Most of the time, you find ‘6’ sitting right there in the answer pool. Some of you can already connect to this. Aptitude tests usually have a similar effect on a number of people. So how did I address this problem? I would go over all my algebraic equations a second time every time I solved a question. I recited multiplication tables in my head to make sure I had it right. This is just one issue I had to deal with but I can assure you, there were multiple issues I had to come to terms with. 

Right Answer! Wrong Question!
The second problem with the way I answered math questions were that I answered the wrong questions. Yes, I know! That sounds ridiculous! Allow me to explain. In a typical story-problem about the age of ‘two friends,’ we are taught, it does not matter who you choose as ‘x’; so long as you know who you assumed to be ‘x,’ right? Good! The problem is, during crunch time, a number of students will calculate and find friend A’s age, which was assumed to be ‘x’ but the question would be requesting friend B’s age or friend A’s age five years earlier. Students always forget to do that one extra calculation to get the answer right. Interestingly, friend A’s age is always in the answer pool. These are very tricky questions. You learn quickly that, it is absolutely important to be sure you answered the right question and not only solved it.

Oh, I forgot about that?
There is a category of ‘quantitative’ questions that require you to choose between two options. Usually, the test taker has to choose which value is greater, equal, or not obvious given a preamble. For example, if n^4 =16 and A = n but B = 0, which of these two is greater? (Pause) …Think about it! 
Well, your first thought process is, obviously, A is greater. 2^4 is 16 and 2 is greater than 0. Done! Koko! Easy right! Well, if you did a second tier analysis, you would realize that -2^4 is also 16. Now since 2 and -2 satisfy the preamble, it is not obvious if n is greater than 0. This type of error comes in different forms but usually the common theme is, ‘Oh, I forgot about that!’ First, you want to make sure you always test all the different types of numbers except when the preamble restricts you. As a rule of thumb, l recommend testing whole numbers (0,1,2), fractions, negative fractions, and negative whole numbers.

Infinite Loop! Time Eaters!
Don’t get caught up in an infinite loop! Some questions are just time eaters! They tend to be long story-problems that have a twist in just about every sentence describing the problem. Sometimes, they do not even seem solvable prima facie. In the words of Meghan Trainor, “You need to let it go.” You can always choose a random answer and mark it for review. After you are done solving all the other questions, spending more time on such questions usually yields better results.

Always Review!
You are better off finishing the first pass with 10 minutes to spare for review than to spend more time per question to finish right on time. The strength in your ability to analyze is almost always stronger post the first tier of analysis. You need to take advantage of that!

Well, that is all I can write for now. In part 2, I will talk more about the Analytical section and ‘How to ace it.’

-Jojo France-Mensah

(Vice-President, GRASAG-USA)