So You Want to Take the GRE...

So, you want to go to graduate school...

Well, if you don’t know this already, you probably should: you’re going to have to take this really awesome exam called the GRE (Graduate Record Examination). If you didn’t catch it, that part about it being “awesome”, is sarcasm.

The GRE is an exam used by thousands of graduate and business schools to aid in student acception. The test measures three areas: written analysis, verbal reasoning, and quantitative reasoning. What this means is, if you’re an English major (or similar), you’re already screwed going into the quantitative reasoning section because chances are, you haven’t taken a math class in three years. And on the other side, if you’re anything but an English (or alike) major, chances are you’re starting to sweat just thinking about the words-written analysis, and verbal reasoning. 

If you can’t tell, I’m a little bitter about the GRE. I took the exam just two weeks ago, and it was by far the worst experience of my life up to this point. But regardless of the tears cried and the blood shed, I survived and now I am here to give some much needed advice to anyone else thinking about applying for grad school. So take it from me…


You need to start studying six months ago. 

This really isn’t a joke. If you’re thinking about applying next fall, start studying now. Or at least familiarize yourself with what will be expected on the exam. I started studying about a month before I took the GRE, and within the first two days of reading the six books I got, I felt absolutely hopeless. Studying for the GRE isn’t like studying for your intro courses as an undergrad where you have a study guide and just have to memorize some definitions. This exam requires you to think harder and more critically than you have ever done before. If studying for the GRE doesn’t intimidate you for grad school, then nothing will and you’re probably an alien.


The exam is timed.

You have roughly 30-35 minutes to complete each section. Between each section you get a 60-second break to rethink your life decisions before moving onto the next section. After the third section, there is a 10 minute break. You will answer two prompts, and work through two sections of the quantitative reasoning and verbal reasoning throughout the exam. Worried you wont know how much time you have left to complete a section? Don’t worry, for your convenience and torture there is a terrifying clock in the corner of the computer screen taunting and teasing you the entire time. 

Another tip for when you’re studying: time yourself. You’ll want to practice how long it takes you to complete problems and sections so that when you go into the test you have a better idea of how long you should spend on each question. 


You’re going to be there for 5 hours.

This is not a joke. I repeat: THIS IS NOT A JOKE. I was in the testing center sitting in a cubicle with nothing but a computer and my sad piece of scratch paper for 5 hours taking this test. Nothing can prepare you for this kind of experience. You think the ACT was bad in high school? Well this is roughly 10,000x worse and you don’t even get snacks. So, make sure you get a good night sleep to rest your eyes, which will be bloodshot by the end, and make sure you’ve eaten a good meal before the test. In my case, I was so nervous that the thought of food made me feel sick, but I’m sure for other people it would suck a lot to be starving during this 5 hour exam. 


Oh yeah, it costs $205 to take it. 

I forgot to mention the small detail that it is not free to take this exam. In fact, you’re going to have to fork up over $200 to sit in a small space for 5 hours and be tested on things hard enough to make you want to quit. Just when you think the university has robbed you of enough of your money, it’ll sneak right back up on you with this test. Make sure you’re prepared for this kind of heartbreak before registering.


You can’t take it just anywhere.

I got really lucky when I registered to take the GRE. I thought that since it was an online exam you could take it from anywhere at your university. Turns out, that’s very wrong. You have to enter your zip code and from there you can find a center that offers it near you. Lucky for me, UW offers it in their testing center, but the closest areas to me besides UW were in Colorado. I was also lucky in that there were still available times and dates for me to take the GRE at UW. If I had registered any later, chances are the spots would’ve been filled and I would’ve had to travel somewhere else to take the exam. So keep this in mind when registering, and again, do it early! 


You can retake it. 

If you’re in a state of panic at this point and you’re ready to give up on life, don’t do so just yet. There is hope. You can retake the exam. In fact, you can take the exam as many times as you’d like and only send your best scores to the graduate programs you’re applying for. The bad thing is you’ll have to keep paying hundreds of dollars to take it. 

Don’t panic. Seriously.

I know I have said a lot of terrifying things so far about the GRE and don’t get me wrong, these are all very true things, but don’t let any of this stop you from trying. About a week before I was scheduled to take the exam, I sent a panic email to the graduate program director at UW looking for any excuse to quit. But what she told me was very reassuring and looking back it was very true. Though the GRE is a very important part of your grad school application, it is not the only part. Program board members will look at many other aspects of your application along with your test score. Your GPA, extracurricular activities, resume, and recommendations all play an equally important part of your acceptance. So even if you don’t do so hot on the exam, don’t panic. Realize what other awesome qualities you have and take a breath. This is just one exam, not a life or death situation. No matter how much it feels that way.

Now that I am two weeks post exam day, I can honestly say that I’m glad I did it. Not many people in the world can say they’ve taken the GRE and applied to grad school, let alone have graduated with any degree at all! Just yesterday I finished up my application to graduate school, and I am pretty dang proud of myself for just doing that. So, whatever the outcome may be in a few weeks, I can at least look back with pride at the work I put into taking the steps to furthering my education. Even if it did suck a lot.

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