The GRE, what is it good for anyway?

  • Posted by a hidden member.
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    Sep 08, 2008 5:40 PM GMT
    Hey all, this may not be specifically a gay topic, but I appreciate your opinions on here so I'll make it gay, anyone out there who has taken the GRE and can give me some pointers? or share their experience with learning it, taking it, getting into grad school?

    I've got 3 weeks til I take it in Biochemistry and I just started studying today! *shakes*


    Thanks
  • MSUBioNerd

    Posts: 1813

    Sep 08, 2008 8:05 PM GMT
    OK, I took the Biochem subject GRE. Main advice: Don't take it. Take the pure Biology one. Essentially, 75% of the people who take the Biochem subject GRE are masters students in India and China. The curve is extremely harsh.

    Given that it's too late to change your registration, things to do:

    1) Absolutely and completely memorize the major biochemical pathways. This means glycolysis, oxidative phosphorylation, the bridge reactions, the urea cycle, the Z scheme of photosynthesis. Know all the intermediates, in order, and what enzymes catalyze each step. Know where in the TCA cycle carbon is added, carbon is removed, energy is required, and energy is generated. I spent the first 20 minutes of my test drawing out each of these cycles; it was worth it to be able to go back and refer to them when the inevitable questions about them came up.

    2) Take one of the two practice tests they gave you now. That's your baseline score. Go back through the questions you missed; anything that seemed vaguely familiar is something you should review. If it's something you've never heard of before, don't prioritize it, as you probably won't have time to learn it now. Take the other one a week before the real thing.

    Day of the test:

    Go through the exam quickly and only answer the questions you're sure of. This will be a fairly small percentage of the questions, but it can help jog you on the others.

    Go back and start trying to rule out answers. The test is structured so that on average, guessing is a bad idea if you can't eliminate any answer, neutral if you can eliminate one, and beneficial if you can eliminate 2 or more. I spent a huge amount of the exam saying "I know it's not C. I'm pretty sure it's not E. Let's go with....B"

    After the test:

    Accept that your scores will be lower percentiles than you're used to.

    Realize that there is no real comparison between the Biochem GRE and the pure Bio GRE. Faculty members will not be able to directly equate scores. Most schools I applied to in genetics and biology programs told me that they don't even look at GRE Biochem scores from American undergrads. Some said it was because I was the only applicant who had taken it; others said it was because the international curve makes it essentially meaningless.

    Good luck.
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    Sep 08, 2008 8:26 PM GMT
    oceanboy11 saidHey all, this may not be specifically a gay topic, but I appreciate your opinions on here so I'll make it gay, anyone out there who has taken the GRE and can give me some pointers? or share their experience with learning it, taking it, getting into grad school?

    I've got 3 weeks til I take it in Biochemistry and I just started studying today! *shakes*


    Thanks


    I had to write it before I could be accepted into a Masters program in Psychology. I did well in it but did not get accepted to the program (limited space). Fortunately I got accepted in the MBA program after writing my GMAT so things worked out well in the end.

    The GRE was one part, then right after it was the Psychology specific part which was hellish. At least they did not penalize me for wrong answers unlike the GMAT for MBA.

    As for pointers, I would recommend what I did for the GMAT. Try and simulate as much as possible the actual test by isolating yourself and writing the GRE including time limits, using a test book that I believe is available in book stores. It helps to know what you are up against in terms of time management.
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    Sep 08, 2008 8:56 PM GMT
    I took the GRE several years ago and I still remember it as one of the most annoying things I did in graduate school. I took the engineering GRE but didn't take any subject tests. As an international student whose first languaje is not English, I found the verbal part to be insane, but thats just me.

    I agree with the previous post regarding the ultra high curve set by the Indian and Chinese students, including the verbal (go figure). At least in Engineering most school dont even look at that.

    With only three weeks left I would recommend taking several real-time practice exams. The GRE is all about timing yourself.

    Good luck man
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    Sep 08, 2008 9:40 PM GMT
    I feel you man. No advice. I just bought the study guide for the Psychology test, and I feel very unprepared. It makes me want to go find another undergrad program that isn't so focused on liberal arts.
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    Sep 08, 2008 9:48 PM GMT
    I guess it's too late for this, unless you retake it, but those preparatory classes significantly improve the scores of many people.
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    Sep 08, 2008 11:03 PM GMT
    oceanboy11 saidHey all, this may not be specifically a gay topic, but I appreciate your opinions on here so I'll make it gay, anyone out there who has taken the GRE and can give me some pointers? or share their experience with learning it, taking it, getting into grad school?

    I've got 3 weeks til I take it in Biochemistry and I just started studying today! *shakes*


    Thanks


    I waited until two weeks prior to taking the GRE to study believing I could cram and do fine. Well, that was an incorrect assumption. Hopefully your brain is more calibrated for standardized tests than mine is and you won't encounter too much trouble.

    I would recommend Kaplan for a good guide book. Also, flash cards for vocab, repetition in math, and writing out mock essay responses.

    But remember, admissions into grad school is more about the application as a whole and not one particular element. I did OK on my GREs and was admitted into a number of grad schools. Good luck.
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    Sep 09, 2008 1:13 AM GMT
    The most valuable thing I did to prepare was take multiple practice tests. I did not take a course. I just bought a book of about ten sample GRE tests and took them all, timing myself exactly. On the first couple tests, I didn't even finish the math section and failed it, did very badly on the analytical section, and okay on the verbal. (I was an English major.) After several practice tests, I had learned about how long I had for each question, and how to categorize questions quickly so I knew what they were asking me to do. When I finally took the actual exam, I got a good score on the math, and very good scores on the analytical and verbal. I didn't "cram." I just took a lot of practice tests over a period of about a month.

    MSUBioNerd's advice about the strategy for taking the test, focusing first on the questions you definitely know the answers to, is excellent.

    Also, it is true that my GRE scores were part of my application file for grad school, but they weren't the most important part of it. When I talked to the chair of the admissions committee years later, she told me that it was my essay that clinched my application.

    By the way, I have heard they have stopped using the analytical section. Well, if so, that's one less headache for you right there. Good luck.
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    Sep 09, 2008 2:22 AM GMT
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    I am really surprised how many people have answered this thread, I was not expecting many, and on top of that, how detailed and well thought out the responses are.

    Thank you, after reading your threads (yes they had a big impact), as well as consulting with some collegues from my research lab who also took the GRE in the past, I have decided to take the pure Chemistry subject test in November and the English/Math at end of this month.

    I'm not too nervous, but I'm keeping my fingers crossed to get into UCSD.

    I appreciate all you guys out there, kudos to RJ.


    AnDre

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    Sep 09, 2008 2:55 AM GMT
    OK I recently (a year ago) had these questions and everyone gave very vague answeres so here's a really long post trying to be as detailed as possible, so that you hopefully experience less frustration than I did during that period of my life.

    Here's my fairly recent (year-ish ago) experience with GRE.

    For the physics GRE I found that I was not able to improve my score after preparation. I actually prepared for 2 months or more for the physics GRE with marginal improvement (woo a whole 10 points!). I regret wasting those two months, because I really spent a lot of time preparing, skipping out on social events and the like for 2 months straight. Luckily, my initial score was fairly decent, and a very high score was not a requirement for the programs I was applying to (they were in a different field, I only took this test because I had some 'making up' to do for some blemishes on my record), but still, there was definatly a lot of room for improvement, which did not come about after 2 months of rigorous preparation.

    General GRE was a slightly different story. I found that my math score didn't need improvement (physics background > highschool math), but my verbal score needed a good 50+ points of improvement minimum (physics background < advanced vocab) to be competative for the schools I was looking at. I did the whole "word of the day" for a couple of months, and studied "common" word lists the week before the test. I took a practice test the night before the exam and it showed absolutely no improvement. But somehow my verbal score jumped a whole 70 points during the exam, so I'm not sure if that was a fluke.

    All in all, this probably isn't good advice but it doesn't seem like preparing for either test helped me any, and the improvement on my verbal GRE was likely a fluke since it didn't show up the night before. If I had to do it all over again, given my results, I'd have just used my preparation time doing more productive things, like watching paint dry.

    Dislaimer: Your results may vary icon_smile.gif

    As far as how important GRE scores are, for me they were very important because the first 2 years of college I did absolutely nothing so GPA wise I was not as competative as other applicants. But I wouldn't say it was the most important. Things that were more important than the GRE for my application, in order of importance, are:

    1. Letters of recommendation/research experiences. I got two amazing letters from professors I worked with, and a third letter that was only average (I'm guessing here by how much the professors liked my work and our discussions about recommending me.) I think the variety of research projects I worked on (5 different projects in a whole variety of fields) and the letters of recommendation that came from that were probably what got schools to let me interview with them.

    2. Interviews. After getting my foot in the door from #1, I was able to use interviews to make good impressions. Key here is to ask questions about the research you are discussing with the interviewer. Try to ask specific questions but using a general vocabluary, so that you can let them interpret what is actually a stupid question as a good, relevant question. If you use terms that are too specific and ask questions that are crap they'll think you don't understand what they're talking about. If instead you ask questions that are specific but crap, but use a general vocabulary that is open to many interpretations to ask them, they will interpret the vocabluary on their own, and think you are asking a relevant question and have a good grasp of what you're discussing, even if you don't. Then you can nod and pretend that this is exactly what you meant to ask.

    3. Doing really well in classes my junior and senior years. This is really important in general, and was important to me especially to make up for previous shortcommings and prove to these schools that I wasn't entirely stupid, only somewhat stupid.

    4. Personal essay explaining why I was a good fit for graduate work, for their program, and how my background would benefit their research etc. Also, make sure to BRIEFLY mention any shortcommings, but not make excuses for them. In my case, I had done less than stellar in my first 2 years of college, and I made sure to mention that. I said something along the lines, "Although my college career hasn't been without it's difficulties, as reflected in my first 2 years of college, I believe I have shown that I have the ability and drive to do graduate work, as reflected in my research experiences, GRE scores, and junior and senior years." Note that I mention the shortcomming, don't excuse it, and go on to say why they should still accept me even though I do have this shortcomming. This is something that was recommended to me by a professor in the admissions committee of my undergrad school, and it worked very well.

    5. GRE scores. Basically, they are used in conjuction with GPA as an overall cutoff on whether or not the school will look at your application thoroughly. If you have low GPA you need a rather high GRE score. However, if you have a strong GPA, you don't need an overly good score to be considered. And if you are considered, 1-4 will be much more important. That's not to downplay the importance of GRE, but you will notice that schools have a range of GREs and GPAs they accept. If you are on the low end of their GPA range, you need to be on the high end of their GRE range, and vice versa. That should secure you an interview and thorough look at your application. After that, 1-4 are what will really matter.

    As a sidenote, my background is someone with a low overall GPA (3.3) low freshman and sophemore GPA (2.5? ish in 1000 and 2000 level classes) and high junior and senior GPA (3.98 ish in 3000 and 4000 level classes), with a general GRE score in the low 1400s for Q and V (and a 6/6 on the Analytical Writing section), and a fairly large amount of research experience.

    Now you might notice that most PhD programs have a supposed GPA cutoff of 3.5, which I lacked. However, even though I lack this I was able to secure a position in a very good and highly rated program in my field (comprable to the rankings of UCSD in biochemistry) and my top choice school (so it may be possible that I could have gotten in even higher using the mentioned methods if those schools appealed to me enough to apply) by compensating the shortcomming with other good things. And I also secured interviews from most of the schools I applied to as well, (most of which were highly rated programs), even though they all had GPA cutoffs much higher than mine.

    Moral of the story is, GRE is important for acceptance, but a bad score can be made up for by other good things, as mentioned above.

    Also, one final thing, let them know you're gay, or any other minority statuses. Seriously, I think this helped me get in too. I didn't say "Oh by the way, I'm gay", and I didn't even mention it in my essay, but I did put in my resume that I was a member of Pride Alliance (gay group) in my school in some schools, and not in others, and all the schools that knew I was gay accepted me, whereas some of the ones that didn't know, did not accept me (although a good number of those did as well, so it's not like it was the most important factor, but it did have significant impact I'm sure).

    Hopefully this lets you know what you need to have a competative application, and I hope my story and experiences have helped you. GRE shouldn't cause you to despair if you have an otherwise strong application, but if you don't, then I suggest you invest more into a high score.
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    Sep 09, 2008 3:14 AM GMT
    I agree that the practice tests are probably the best way to prepare. You already know the material - translating it into the format of the test takes a little practice.

    In previous lives, I have reviewed more than a few grad school applications. I hesitate to give specific advice, because the emphasis at one institution may be quite different than at another. Nevertheless: Good GRE scores will get your folder to the top of a very big stack. The middle of the stack is where the committee has to start weighing the different bits of data against one another. By the way, the number of applicants with decent verbal scores is shockingly low, so a good showing there will help you stand out as much as doing well in the discipline test.

    GPA is one of the last things I looked at. One can accumulate a great GPA by never taking challenging courses. A lot of excellent applicants start off with kind of average lower-division grades but finish strong in upper-division classes. Essays can be a mixed bag. The pollyana stuff (I have a deep commitment to saving the environment, etc.) does not impress. If you can throw in a couple of paragraphs about a specific topic that you've worked on for undergrad research, it's much better. Didn't get into an research lab as an undergrad? Go to the library and do a little paper study on a current topic. Targeting this directly toward a research group which you want to join is usually a good idea.

    The admissions committee wants to see well-rounded individuals and, let's face it, the proper ratios of race and gender. The faculty member who is actually going to pony up the dollars to pay for your assistantship wants to see someone who knows their way around a lab, or at least some clear evidence that you are going to competently churn out the data on which his or her tenure depends. If a faculty member with grant money actively supports a candidate, it has as much weight as the admissions committee. If you have one or more clear choices for research groups to join, it doesn't hurt to make contact with them outside the admissions process. If you don't have a clear choice, that's not necessarily bad - many larger schools let first-year students rotate through different labs. But someone who's already made a favorable impression on the prof may have an advantage over someone who just sends in an application.

    Whoah... babbling. TMI, I'm sure.
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    Sep 09, 2008 4:14 AM GMT
    oceanboy11 saidicon_surprised.gif
    I am really surprised how many people have answered this thread, I was not expecting many, and on top of that, how detailed and well thought out the responses are.

    Thank you, after reading your threads (yes they had a big impact), as well as consulting with some collegues from my research lab who also took the GRE in the past, I have decided to take the pure Chemistry subject test in November and the English/Math at end of this month.

    I'm not too nervous, but I'm keeping my fingers crossed to get into UCSD.

    I appreciate all you guys out there, kudos to RJ.


    AnDre



    UCSD is a great school. I attended it. icon_smile.gif
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    Sep 09, 2008 4:46 AM GMT
    Lots of sleep. For the four day's prior, make sure you get at least 8+ hour. That way you go into the test with some clarity and a healthy dose of relaxation.

    Remember, most tests go over what you already know (the GRE's for me were exactly that, even though my MA and PhD programs didn't require them). Take some time to center on that knowing before take you open the book.

    Best of luck
    [my fingers are crossed]
  • Posted by a hidden member.
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    Sep 09, 2008 4:59 AM GMT
    The Physics GRE was the fastest 2 hours and 50 minutes of my life ... I couldn't believe it. As others have said (and it might be a moot point since you already responded, but I'll say it in case others are reading this post for information, and to reinforce other opinions), taking the practice tests REALLY does help. It helps you get your timing down (so, for instance, I knew what I was dealing with for the lack of time for 100 multiple choice physics questions), and lets you get used to the test itself.

    Regardless, Good Luck!
  • jrs1

    Posts: 4388

    May 14, 2009 9:13 AM GMT


    (for anyone) you can most certainly start with this website for preparation:

    [it's free]

    www.number2.com/