How well do you know the GRE? Have you really looked into this exam and sorted out the misinformation from the facts? Here are 5 GRE myths and misconceptions you should be aware of as you prep for the GRE.
Myth # 1: To pass GRE Verbal, you need to memorize every word in the English language.
To be fair, there was some truth to this myth before August 2011. On the older version of the GRE, before the newly-revised GRE was released, vocabulary was tested out of context. Back then, you had to simply know a lot of really tricky vocabulary words in order to pass the Verbal section. Not so anymore!
The new GRE focuses on the skill of understanding vocabulary in-context. All of the important vocabulary appears in the context of long sentences, paragraphs, or full-length passages. The skill of inferring word meanings from context is now more important than memorizing a word’s dictionary definition. Memorizing a list of common GRE vocabulary words will still help you to some degree. But the list doesn’t have to be too long, and the advanced, highly uncommon words of the pre-2011 GRE are now less likely to appear on the test.
Myth #2: GRE Quant is dominated by complex, multi-step problems requiring a calculator.
A lot of people assume that you should use a calculator on GRE Quant, just because you can. On most GRE Quant problems, this simply isn’t true. A surprising number of GRE math problems can be solved in just a step or two, using estimation and mental math. Even more complex problems can usually be solved with mental math and light use of scratch paper. Only a handful of unusually advanced math problems on the test will actually require a calculator. And in fact, using a calculator on simpler Quant questions can hurt you. The more often you reach for the calculator, the more chances you have to accidentally key in the wrong number, arriving at an answer that’s way off.
Myth # 3: You need to be a great writer to get a top score on GRE AWA.
One of the biggest complaints I hear from students is that it’s just not possible for them to write a top scoring essay. Some GRE test-takers who feel this way are worried that they simply aren’t “good” writers. Other test-takers do feel that they are good writers, but worry that only a truly genius writer could create a perfect-scoring essay within the GRE’s 30 minute time limit.
The good news is that the GRE AWA isn’t asking for brilliant writing. It’s simply asking for competent writing that satisfies all of the basic AWA Essay requirements. As long as your writing is reasonably competent, and as long as you address the essay question fully, you’ll be fine.
Myth # 4: It takes a really long time to prepare for the GRE.
As the best-known graduate school entrance exam, the GRE has almost mythical status among grad school hopefuls. Professors and advisers start talking to students about their GRE as early as their junior or even sophomore year in college, and grad programs prominently display their GRE stats on their websites.
Because of this, it’s easy to imagine that passing the GRE is a long-term, Herculean endeavor. In fact, passing the GRE takes relatively little time in the grand scheme of things. Many successful grad school applicants finish their GRE prep in 3 months or less. To get a good grip on what your study schedule should look like, check out a tried and true GRE Study Guide.
Myth # 5: You need a top score in each section of the GRE to get into a good grad school.
This is one of the most common myths I hear. A lot of test-takers worry that a low score in one-section of the GRE will be a deal-breaker for any grad school. Not so—grad programs will have separate score requirements for Verbal, Quant and AWA. This is why the GRE doesn’t offer a whole-test score. Your score report only shows the individual Verbal, Quant, and AWA scores, knowing schools like to pick and choose their requirements section-by-section.
Grad programs can have very different requirements for each section, depending on the nature of the degree. A master’s or doctorate in mathematics or engineering, for example, will have very high Quant score requirements. But Verbal requirements for such programs will be comparatively low, and your AWA score may not even matter to the program. Similarly, a grad degree in something like philosophy or English literature will have low math standards but stringent requirements for Verbal and AWA. And of course, some grad programs simply place little or no importance on GRE scores in any section. Never assume a less-than-perfect GRE score will keep you out of grad school.
David Recine is a test prep expert at Magoosh. He has a Bachelor of Social Work from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire and a Masters in Teaching English to Speakers of other Languages from the University of Wisconsin-River Falls. He has been teaching K-12, University, and adult education classes since 2007 and has worked with students from every continent.
• Get Your Game On: Prepping For Your Grad School Application, a free guide
• Making Friends with the GRE: How To Overcome Test Anxiety and Perform at Your Best
• Where to Find Good GRE Practice Questions