In Focus: The GRE Analytical Writing Issue Task

Posted by Jonathan Evans on

Details, Details

When you begin your computer-based GRE, the first section you will encounter is the Analytical Writing measure, specifically the Issue Essay task, for which you have 30 minutes to write a response to a prompt. While the instructions for the issue essay vary from prompt to prompt, consider the portion of the instructions common to (almost all) issue essays:

Write a response in which you discuss the extent to which you agree or disagree with the statement and explain your reasoning for the position you take. In developing and supporting your position...

After the last phrase ("In developing and supporting your position"), there are a few additional brief instructions. These instruct you to pay attention to both sides of the issue and to use pertinent and compelling examples. The examples you use are especially important.

Now consider scoring criteria for essays that earn a 6 (the top score):

Sustains insightful, in-depth analysis of complex ideas; develops and supports main points with logically compelling reasons and/or highly persuasive examples (emphasis mine); is well focused and well organized; skillfully uses sentence variety and precise vocabulary to convey meaning effectively; demonstrates superior facility with sentence structure and language usage, but may have minor errors that do not interfere with meaning.

Notice that ETS again mentions persuasive examples. This emphasis on examples is not accidental. To write a top-scoring issue essay, it is essential that you include specific, compelling examples to support your thesis and that you include details germane to the topic. While you might consider this an insuperable obstacle—after all, how could one possibly be expected to know examples for everythingcontinue reading for our discussion of how to arrive equipped with excellent, detailed examples to use on your test. 

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Topics: GRE prep, Analytical Writing

In Focus: The GRE English Subject Test

Posted by Jonathan Evans on

GRE Subject Test Overview

  • In contrast to the GRE General Test, which is required for many if not the majority of grad school programs, GRE Subject Tests are intended specifically for graduate applicants to programs in many STEM fields, in Psychology, or in English Literature.
  • In addition to the basic GRE score, many programs (especially highly competitive ones) either recommend or require a particular GRE Subject test. The tests are knowledge-based. In other words, they test broadly your achievement levels in particular subjects. The standardized scores range from 200-990, though the highest score on different administrations of the tests can vary (e.g. the highest score might sometimes be 830; at other times it might be 910). Some of these tests include subscores in different subject areas. The tests are one section each and 2 hours 50 minutes in length. 
    • The tests offered are as follows:
      • Biochemistry, Cell and Molecular Biology
      • Biology
      • Chemistry
      • Literature in English
      • Mathematics
      • Physics
      • Psychology
      • (A Computer Science subject test was formerly offered but was retired in April 2013)
  • The subject tests are paper-and-pencil Scantron based tests offered at designated test centers.
  • All the tests are administered simultaneously on three different dates (usually) every year (usually).
  • While these tests are not perfect, they offer an indication of how broad and deep your knowledge is in particular subjects relevant to graduate studies. As a former literature graduate student, I can attest to how the GRE English Subject test levels the playing field somewhat for applicants, since many students even with identical undergraduate coursework and grades may have different achievement levels in the subject they wish to pursue. Further, students who may not have the coursework background in a subject can demonstrate an aptitude in Mathematics, for instance, with a high score on the relevant GRE Subject test.

In this post, I will discuss the structure and composition of the GRE English Subject Test and offer some tips and resources for preparation.

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Topics: GRE prep, Grad School Admissions

How to Decide Between the GRE and GMAT for Business School

Posted by Jonathan Evans on



With the rapid news of changing requirements for admissions testing for law schools, business schools, and grad schools, it can be difficult to keep track of the latest developments or to feel confident when deciding which test to take. Let's revisit the status of the GRE in business school admissions and give an overview of both exams. Specifically, let's address the following questions:

  • What is the current status of the GRE in business school admissions, and how useful is it for MBA program applicants?
  • Should prospective grad school students consider applying for an MBA program as well, if an MBA would align with their professional goals? 
  • What is the structure of both exams? How do they compare to each other?
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Topics: GMAT, GRE prep, Grad School Admissions

GRE to LSAT Conversion Matrix

Posted by Jonathan Evans on


A Rough Guide

In its continued effort to attract law schools and law school applicants to consider respectively accepting or taking the GRE, ETS has created a tool to give a rough conversion (± 5 point margin of error!) between given GRE scores and LSAT scores. The margin of error says it all: it's hard to argue that the tests are commensurable when we could be dealing with 30+ percentile rank differences. However, the tool is not without its merits. 

First of all, it is based on the same data behind the national validity study the results of which ETS published last year. In a sense, when you use this tool, you have the same information at your fingertips that ETS and the law schools that rely on this data have. 

Second, even though it's imperfect, it is based on data from roughly 1,600 applicants who took both the LSAT and the GRE. Thus you can get an idea both how you might expect to do on the LSAT given your GRE scores. 

This latter point is the biggest problem with ETS's published tool. While you might be curious how a GRE score converts to a comparable LSAT score, what if you're interested in the other way around? What if you want to know how an LSAT score could convert into a comparable GRE score? 

ETS's tool is unidirectional, from GRE to LSAT, but the underlying data could work backwards as well. Therefore we studied the data behind the tool and created our own matrix conversion chart to show how GRE scores can be converted into LSAT scores, and vice versa!

Ready to check it out? Here's the link to our Score Conversion Matrix. 

Read below for instructions on how to interpret the data and a discussion of its implications. 

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Topics: GRE, lsat, Law School Admissions

GRE 101 Webinar Preview

Posted by Jonathan Evans on


You Have Questions? We Have Answers!

Whether you're thinking about applying to grad school or considering taking the GRE for business or law school admissions, you likely have questions about the GRE.

  • What's on this test?
  • What kind of test is it?
  • How should I prepare for the GRE?
  • Does it make sense to take a class? 
  • How can I prepare on my own for the GRE?
  • Can I actually improve my score?
  • How does the scoring system work?
  • What test preparation resources are available?
  • Should I take the GRE, the GMAT, or the LSAT?

Even if you're already preparing for the GRE or have already taken a GRE, getting answers to questions such as these can resolve doubts and equip you with knowledge to face this test and the admissions process with confidence. 

We are pleased to offer a free GRE 101 Webinar. Registration is free, and all who attend will receive a recording of the seminar and discount code for our courses. Continue reading for a preview of some of the topics we'll cover.

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Topics: GRE, GRE prep, Grad School Admissions, Law School Admissions, Business School Admissions

Complete Answer Explanations for First Quant Section of PowerPrep Plus 1

Posted by Jonathan Evans on

More Material, More Explanations, Just the Beginning

As we covered in depth last fall, ETS has unveiled two new official GRE practice tests. Naturally you want to work with the latest and greatest new problems and get answers to your questions. We are pleased to announce complete answer explanations for the first Quant section of this test, all available on our GRE Forums

We're working furiously to develop student-friendly solutions to these problems, solutions that illustrate the crucial test-taking skills you need to employ to succeed on the GRE. These solutions cut through unnecessary complications and superfluous steps to present the most direct approaches to get to the correct answer.

For some problems we present multiple approaches to illustrate different angles of attack. By familiarizing yourself with multiple approaches, you will find yourself more confident and stuck less. Momentum and confidence are both key to success on the GRE. 

Read below for an example explanation, from the 19th problem on the first Quant section.

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Topics: GRE prep

GRE Reading Comprehension Strategy Focus

Posted by Jonathan Evans on

The Goldilocks Passage

Several weeks ago we analyzed the contents of the new PowerPrep Plus practice tests, their composition, question types, concepts tested, etc. 

This week, I'd like to focus on the Reading Comprehension portion of GRE Verbal, specifically, what kinds of questions to expect and how to shift your approach depending on whether you are working with a short, medium, or longer passage.

  • "Short Passage" means one question per passage.
  • "Medium Passage" means two to three questions per passage.
  • "Long Passage" means four or more questions per passage.

Based on our analysis of existing GRE computer-based test practice material, you can expect exactly two short passage questions (one per section), fourteen medium passage questions, and four long passage questions based on one passage (likely on the first Verbal section).

This structure is not guaranteed! ETS could mix it up, replace a medium passage with three short passages, or include two longer passages instead of one.

However, ETS has demonstrated a longstanding affinity for medium passages. These two to three question passages are far and away the most common on the GRE. 

Let's take a look at the adaptations in your approach necessary for each situation. Then we'll test your Reading Comprehension skills with a long passage.

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Topics: GRE prep, Reading Comprehension, GRE Challenge, Verbal

Seven Points for GRE Success

Posted by Jonathan Evans on


Balance Your Preparation for the Best Results

When a builder wishes to construct a skyscraper, would she "wing it," maybe skip the architect—too expensive—or skip the foundation—no time for that? Not a chance!

Likewise, when you're preparing for the GRE, you must take a well-rounded, balanced approach.

What are the foundations for success?

There are seven core components for mastering the GRE:

  1. Practice Tests
  2. Vocabulary Memorization and Use
  3. Math Fundamentals
  4. Test-Taking Skills and Strategies
  5. Practice and Review Problems 
  6. Basic Argumentation
  7. Practice and Review Essays 

Read below for a discussion of each of these components and what you can do to implement them effectively.

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Topics: GRE prep

Behind the Scenes: the Analytical Writing Essay Graders

Posted by Jonathan Evans on


The Ballad of the Raters

Ever wonder who grades your GRE essays? Both the Issue and Argument essays receive two scores, one from a human grader ("rater") and one from ETS's computer algorithm e-rater.  In the event of more than a 0.5 point discrepancy between the scores, a third rater comes in and assigns a final grade. Who are the raters, anyways?

GRE essay raters are overwhelmingly not full-time ETS employees. Most do their work for ETS on the side, paid an hourly rate to grade a high volume of essays. Imagine a never ending queue and your job is to knock off as many as possible as quickly as possible. Hence our advice to test takers: if you want to get a top AWM score, your essay needs to "pop" or make a strong impression quickly. 

There is some news on the ETS rater-front: Inside Higher Ed reports that ETS is cutting the pay of Analytical Writing essay graders ("raters") from $20/hour to $15/hour.  According to an ETS spokesman:

"The change is being made as part of an effort to bring rater pay rates for ETS testing programs into closer alignment, and to bring ETS into line with current industry standards. While we understand the raters’ disappointment, this decision is necessary as a result of market conditions and for ETS to remain competitive."

One might be curious exactly how or with whom ETS needs to remain competitive, considering the GRE's expansion into law school and business school admissions, but let's leave the labor dispute to the adjuncts and grad students who work alongside the e-rater to grade student essays.

Read below for more on what you as a student need to know about the rating system to achieve a top score.

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Topics: GRE prep

GRE Score Correlation with 1L GPA at Law Schools

Posted by Jonathan Evans on

Results of ETS Large Scale National Validity Study 

During the ongoing expansion of the GRE into law school admissions, law schools frequently cite the predictive validity of GRE scores for law school performance. However, the statistics that back up these claims have not yet been publicly available. PowerScore has been fortunate to receive an advance copy of the ETS study, The Validity of GRE® Scores for Predicting Academic Performance at U.S. Law Schools, and while we are not authorized to disseminate this study in its entirety, we would like to share and discuss some of its key findings.

In brief:

  • The study adhered both to statistical technical standards and the ABA Section of Legal Education Standard 503, which stipulates that accredited schools require "a valid and reliable admission test to assist the school and the applicant in assessing the applicant’s capability of satisfactorily completing the school’s program of legal education." (Source) In other words, law schools must require a valid standardized test for admissions. Before the GRE, the LSAT had been the only test accepted for law school admissions.
  • The study evaluates data from 1,587 students from 21 law schools. ETS selected these schools and students from geographic regions spanning the entire United States. ETS separated these schools into three tiers based on median LSAT scores of admitted students. 
  • The authors of the study validated results within each of the 21 schools and then averaged the results together. They performed rigorous statistical analyses based on GRE scores, separate, together, and in tandem with undergraduate GPA. For comparison, the study provides equivalent data using LSAT scores. 
  • In sum, GRE scores, weighted equally, and LSAT scores were observed to be equally valid for predicting first year law student GPA. 
  • Thus, in the opinion of the authors of the ETS study, the GRE General Test is both commensurable with the LSAT for law school admissions and a valid and reliable standard for admissions decisions.

For further discussion, please read below.

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Topics: GRE prep, Law School Admissions