Students around the University of Richmond's campus are getting in gear for the Graduate Record Examinations, a general assessment test and standard requirement for many graduate schools.
There are two kinds of GREs. First is the general test, "a glorified SAT" according to senior biology major Sarah Nicolson, which comprises verbal, quantitative and analytical reasoning.
Then there's the GRE Subject Test, during which students can take a more specialized exam choosing from the fields of biochemistry, biology, chemistry, computer science, English literature, mathematics, physics and psychology. Although the general test is required by many graduate schools, subject tests are not. The subject tests are only offered during the months of October, November and April, but the general test is offered year-round at computer testing centers throughout the country.
"Taking the [general] test on the computer was definitely the hardest part about it," said Amy Hart, a senior biology major who took the test in August. "You have to learn how to do it on their system and be computer adaptive."
The first question on the general test is approximately a medium level of difficulty. The difficulty of the questions is then contingent upon the student's answers. If the student answers correctly, the following question is harder. If the student answers incorrectly, the next question is easier. The questions proceed throughout the test in the same way.
Although he has not yet taken the GRE, senior Andrew Loftus anticipates the computer aspect of the test as being a potential hindrance in his success.
"I think I'll care less about my answers if it's on a computer," he said. "You can just click your answer and move on."
Regardless of the tediousness of the test, which can take up to three and a half hours, the GRE is a must for many seniors. GRE scores are accessible for five years following the test.
"I just hear of so many people who go straight from undergraduate to graduate school," Nicolson said. "If I didn't go, I would have a really hard time coming back to school."
Senior Chris Schwartz agreed that especially for certain interests that require higher education, there's not much of a choice.
"Science people just know what it is they want to do," he said.
Preparing for the GRE can require thorough review, as some of the material, such as math, does not exceed a high school level. Because the subject matter has been taught in the past, several students thought that the best way to review is to buy a book and study on your own rather than take preparation courses.
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"[The classes] are not really necessary because we've seen the material so many times," Hart said. Hart bought a Kaplan review book and studied daily for two weeks prior to the test.
Other student tips include starting early, using vocabulary flashcards and taking practice tests on the computer.
"I wish I had started earlier," senior psychology major Lindsay Victoria said. "If you have the motivation and time, I would recommend adding studying to your daily routine and getting a momentum going." Victoria took the test in July and prepared by taking a practice test every night for two weeks before the test.
For students who have difficulty teaching themselves, review courses are offered through programs such as Kaplan and Princeton Review. Classroom courses provide interactive learning and range from about $1,000 to $1,500.
"The Kaplan tutoring helped to reiterate the tricks of standardized testing and made me feel more confident," said Jenna Sorge, senior psychology major. "[But] it didn't pay off even though the tutor constantly said I would do a good job."
GRE scores are not the only consideration for a graduate school application. Especially for science programs, the research a student has conducted, undergraduate grades and letters of recommendation seem to factor more heavily than GRE scores into the admission process.
"It's just another way to weed out the competition," Loftus said. "At least for what I'm going for, I'm more worried about the research I've done and teacher recommendations."
In November, the Educational Testing Service, the company that administers the GRE, is altering the format of the general test. According to the ETS Web site, two new question types are being added and may be found in the verbal reasoning and quantitative reasoning sections.
"I'm definitely going to take the GRE before it changes in November," Nicolson said. "But if I could offer any advice to juniors thinking about the GRE in a year, take the test in the summer. It's really tough to do it during the school year"
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