Should you take the GRE ‘cold’?

Posted by on Feb 13, 2015 2:46:00 PM

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We get a surprising number of calls from prospective students where, at some point in the conversation, we hear something along the lines of, “I’m really hoping to score much higher on my next GRE attempt—I really struggled the first time, since I didn't study for it at all. I just took it cold."


Cringe. Why do students do this? I ask myself. And so, I’ll ask the caller: "Why did you decide to take the GRE without any preparation?"

"I wanted to get the feel of a 'real' GRE," is the most typical response. Followed occasionally by, "I didn't really think I needed to prepare." Cringe.

In case you haven't noticed, I'm not a big fan of taking an official, on-your-record-for-many-years GRE "cold"--i.e., without any preparation whatsoever.

Now, in the case of our hypothetical student here, there really isn't much that can be done to erase that one botched test attempt. It’s basically “prepare thoroughly, take it again, and secure a significantly higher score.”

But while there may be nothing I could do for that student, if you're considering taking the GRE cold there is still time for me to talk you off the ledge before you jump. Please. Don't. Taking the GRE cold is akin to walking into the final of some high level foreign language exam without ever having opened one course book or attended one class, and all the while expecting a solid grade based solely on high school, college, and, dare I say it, life experience. Unless you just happen to be a native speaker of that language (and the GRE is NOT a language many people speak), you're going to bomb in a pretty spectacular, and sadly predictable, fashion.

Here are some of the reasons (and my rebuttals) for why students decide to take the test cold:

"I want to get a real testing experience."

There are many ways of getting a real GRE testing experience that don't involve shelling out the registration fee, using up one of your test attempts, and potentially—almost certainly—adding a low score to your official record. The most straightforward method is by simply taking a prep test on your own with the free POWERPREP II software. At the very least that will give you a sense of the computer interface, test content, and you innate strengths and weaknesses. In addition, if you choose to prep with a course, any prep course worth its salt will have multiple GREs available for you. You don't need to take an official test to get a real testing experience. There's too much at stake for you to just go in and wing it for the sake of an experience, especially one you’ll likely want to forget.

"I got straight As in college, I don't need to prep."

Your academic performance in college doesn't necessarily correlate to your performance on the GRE. Many a straight-A student has gotten a sub-par GRE score when taking the test without preparation. How can this be? Simply put, the GRE does not always test things that are typically taught in college classes, and where there is overlap the GRE tends to test the concept in unique ways. You don't study the specifics of the GRE in school, so why would you assume that doing well in your English/math/sociology class would mean you can ace it? The GRE doesn't measure how well you know school subjects. The GRE measures how well you know the GRE. And to know the GRE, you need to study it directly.

"How hard can it be? It's just basic Math and English."

Underestimating the GRE is the worst mistake you can make. If it were all about just reading carefully and knowing how to do some algebra and geometry, then getting a near-170 score wouldn't be nearly so elusive. This doesn't mean that the GRE is going to be the hardest test you'll ever take. In fact, many students say the tests they take in college, or eventually in grad school, are much harder. However, this also doesn't mean that you can wing it and come out unscathed. The GRE is a beast for those unprepared, and it will try to hunt you down in ways the average test taker would never expect. Come with heavy ammo, and you won't have a problem. Show up with a slingshot (or just your bare hands), and you’re in real trouble.

"I don't have time to prepare."

Here's what I think about this excuse: If you don't have time to prepare for the GRE, what makes you think you'll have time to put together solid grad school applications? And, for that matter, what makes you think you'll have time for grad school? Anything worth doing is worth making time for and, if graduate school is what you want to do, then making time for the GRE is an unmistakable priority. I can definitely understand that some students don't have the amount time required for a prep class, but that's why classes aren't the only forms of preparation out there. Books are out there, too. And practice tests. And study groups. And study plans. Make time for what's important. And if what’s important to you is grad school, know that what’s important to them, above all else in fact, is your GRE score.

"I've heard of people that have taken the GRE cold and gotten a [insert your idea of an awesome GRE score here]."

This GRE urban legend inevitably pops up every so often: "My cousin knows this guy whose girlfriend went into the GRE without opening a single book, and she got a 168 math and 166 verbal on the first try."  Now, don't get me wrong; I'm sure there are a few people out there who could, and do, pull this off. Statistically speaking, though, the odds are definitely infinitesimal. Again, if it were that easy to rock the test, getting that 99th percentile score wouldn't be quite the feat it is. It may be comforting to think that you could be one of the chosen few that can thump the GRE without a single day's prep--but why take the chance, when history so often proves otherwise?

Topics: GRE prep

How do grad schools view multiple GRE scores?

Posted by on Jan 15, 2015 12:00:00 AM

describe the imageIn a perfect world, everyone would take standardized tests only once. This would eliminate the need to worry about having a low score on your score report, and would make the need to guess at how school would interpret multiple scores (Do they average them? Do they take the highest? Do they take the lowest? Do they take the highest or lowest score from each section?) disappear.

We're not in a perfect world, though, and most students take the GRE more than once. Which begs the question: How do grad schools view multiple GRE scores?

At the current time, GRE Board policy is to retain a record of all your GRE scores from the past five years, so students who have taken or are considering taking the GRE more than one time often worry that the multiple scores will adversely impact their chances for admission. Fortunately, there is no evidence that multiple scores hurt your application chances, and at many schools, additional scores—especially if higher—increase your chances of admission*.

A review of graduate school admission policies reveals two basic approaches to how they handle multiple GRE scores**:

All scores are reviewed, and score increases are emphasized

Many schools consider your portfolio of GRE performances, but they place special emphasis on score increases. For example, the University of Michigan states:

The Admissions Committee will be given all of the applicants’ scores. We do not average them nor do we take the higher or lower scores. Improvement in scores will be taken into consideration.

This means that all scores will be viewed by the admissions board, but a noticeable score increase will be given the most attention. This is great news for students who do not score as well as they would like on their first attempt.

All scores are reviewed, and the best individual section score is taken

Other schools look at each performance and they take your best individual score from each section. Yale University, for example, is a school that takes your highest composite score:

GRE scores are but one of many criteria used to evaluate an applicant. Individual department’s practices may differ, but overall the best score from each section is used. However, you must submit ALL of your GRE scores in order to have the department consider the highest from each section.

To better understand this policy, consider the case of an applicant who takes the GRE two separate times with the following results:

First GRE results: Verbal = 620, Quantitative = 510, Writing = 4.0
Second GRE results: Verbal = 700, Quantitative = 500, Writing = 5.0

Yale, and many other schools, would use the 510 Quantitative score from the first test, and the 700 Verbal and 5.0 Writing score from the second test. This “best section performance” approach is a great benefit to applicants because it diminishes the effects of a poor performance on a single section of the GRE.

Neither of the two approaches described above is unfavorable to candidates with multiple scores. But, because different schools have different policies regarding multiple scores, you should contact each individual school and inquire about their multiple score policy. Understanding how the schools will use your scores places you in the best position to make an informed decision about whether to take the GRE again or whether your admission chances have been hurt by multiple tests you took in the past.

You should also note that some graduate programs put much more weight on a specific section of the GRE than on other sections. For example, if you were applying to an English program, the admissions committee would likely pay more attention to your verbal score and less attention to your quantitative score.

Also, keep in mind that if you do not feel as though you have performed as well on the GRE as you would like, you can always cancel your score before it becomes official (although a score cancellation notice will still appear on your permanent record).

*Data collected by the GRE Board shows that students who take the GRE more than one time typically experience a slight score gain.

**PowerScore is unaware of any GRE program that averages multiple scores, but please check with each individual school for details on their specific policies.

Topics: Grad School Admissions

GRE Word of the Day- Garrulous

Posted by on Oct 27, 2014 11:00:00 AM

Garrulous

(adj) very talkative

(pronounced "GAR-uh-luh s")

  

GRE words, GRE vocab, GRE flashcards, studying for the GRE

Example Sentence:

Fiona's garrulous nature stood in stark contrast to her twin sister quiet demeanor.  

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GRE Word of the Day- Gaseous

Posted by on Oct 24, 2014 11:00:00 AM

Gaseous

(adj) relating to a gas; not solid or liquid

(pronounced "gas-ee-uh s")

  

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Example Sentence:

Scientists determined the surface of the planet to be gaseous in nature, making it difficult for life to survive there. 

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GRE Word of the Day- Glib

Posted by on Oct 23, 2014 11:00:00 AM

Glib

(adj) done with ease, often thoughlessly or insincerely so

(pronounced "glib")

  

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Example Sentence:

Charles' glib answers about his whereabouts the night before infuriated Amber, who had spent the previous evening worrying about his well-being.  

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GRE Word of the Day- Gregarious

Posted by on Oct 22, 2014 11:00:00 AM

Gregarious

(adj) sociable

(pronounced "gri-GAIR-ee-uh s")

  

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Example Sentence:

Telea's gregarious nature made her the life of every party.

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GRE Word of the Day- Grievous

Posted by on Oct 21, 2014 11:00:00 AM

Grievous

(adj) causing great grief or anguish

(pronounced "GREE-vuh s")

  

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Example Sentence:

After receiving the grievous news of his father's sudden death, Samuel immediately traveled home to be with his mother and siblings. 

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GRE Word of the Day- Gristle

Posted by on Oct 20, 2014 11:00:00 AM

Gristle

(n) tough cartilage in meat

(pronounced "GRIS-uh l")

  

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Example Sentence:

The meat was tough and unappetizing, crisscrossed with fat and gristle

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GRE Word of the Day- incursion

Posted by on Oct 17, 2014 11:00:00 AM

incursion

(n) a hostile entrance into foreign territory; a raid

(pronounced "in-KUR-zhuhn")

  

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Example Sentences:

The guerrilla group's incursion into Mexico was met with resistance from the Mexican army.  

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GRE Word of the Day- intransigence

Posted by on Oct 16, 2014 11:00:00 AM

intransigence

(n) the condition of being stubborn and uncompromising; inflexible

(pronounced "in·TRAN·suh·gens")

  

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Example Sentences:

Janelle's intransigence made her difficult to get along with, and often caused fights between her and her friends.    

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