Monthly Archive for November, 2010

After the GRE: Four Things to Start

I didn't die! (And neither will you)

The apocalypse has come and gone, and I am still alive and kicking.  I’ll be taking the next several days to recharge, but unfortunately no longer than that.  The GRE is only one part of the grad school admissions process.  Now comes…well, everything else.  Looking ahead, these are the next four big stops that I can see along the road to grad school.  So much to think about!  I love thinking!  I love it!

1. Program Research
Now that I have a (unofficial) GRE score, I have a better idea of where I should/can apply.  So far, all I’ve done is make a big list of all the schools that might possibly interest me; now the next step is to whittle away at the list until I get down to a reasonable list of four or five schools.  This is by far one of the scariest/exciting-est (not a word) things I’ve ever had to do in my life — I don’t think any other decision will define the rest of my life as much as this one will.  No turning back now!

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Taking the GRE: The Calm Before the Storm


According to forecasts, Hurricane GRE will be making landfall tomorrow.  My November resolutions held up fairly well.  I missed a couple practice tests, and I didn’t study my vocabulary quite as assiduously as I had hoped, but I still feel like my study strategies have prepared me pretty well — at the very least, they’ve given me confidence.

Since we’re only allowed to take the GRE once per calendar month, I picked a date near the end of November so that I can take it again in December if I have to.  Also, I decided to sign up for an afternoon test because I wanted to make sure I was fully awake and so that I could spend a few hours beforehand warming up; the downside is that I’ll probably be spending all day pacing around my house swimming in a sea of vocabulary words, trying to cup as much as I can in my hands.  The one thing that morning tests really have going for them is the fact that you don’t have time to sit around and stew beforehand.

GRE Writing Tips: 3 Pointers for the Argument Prompt

ORLY Owl knows how to question argument prompts (that's "oh, really?" for those of you not in the know)

Ah, yes.  There is a writing section on the GRE — almost forgot all about that, didn’t we?  The argument topic comes second, and you have 30 minutes to write it.  On the argument prompt, your goal is to analyze the efficacy of the argument presented, point out whatever flaws or deficiencies you can find, and suggest some alternate possibilities or improvements — basically, play lawyer.

When criticizing the solvency of an argument, here are some things you want to look for:

1. Correlation Does Not Mean Causation
This principle is the cardinal rule of statistics.  Any assertion claiming causation as a result of correlation is jumping the proverbial gun and is a big, fat no-no.

Rice Graduate Admissions: A Spotlight Interview

We wish all grad students were this cute.

We have talked to several grad school faculty members to ask their opinions about the GRE, including the new changes, the rationale for looking at the scores, and the need for taking the GRE subject tests.

Few schools have a specific cut-off score for the GRE.  Some weigh the GRE more if the GPA from the Bachelor’s degree is lower.  Several departments in colleges do require the Subject test; however, even for some, this is just a formality; for others, a respectable score is mandated.  Some require the GRE Subject test just for the PhD program; others need to see the results before admission to a Masters program is guaranteed.

The following is a brief interview with Huey Huang, a professor of physics at Rice University, concerning the relationship between the GRE and their admissions process.

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The GRE CAT is a Totally Different Animal

lolCAT wishes you good luck

This weekend, I took my first practice computer-adaptive test — man is it a different experience.

As we hopefully all know by now, the computer-adaptive test is the computerized administration of the GRE.  You must answer each question as it comes up; you do not get to skip questions or go backwards.  The computer will choose the next question for you based on the difficulty of the current question and whether you got it right or wrong.

Anyway, the CAT was different.  It wasn’t bad, mind you, just different.  There were some idiosyncrasies that threw me off, but overall, I actually think I like the CAT better than traditional paper-and-pencil tests.

By far the two best things about the CAT were 1) the 45-minute math section and 2) being able to type out the essays.  The math section contains the same number of questions (28), but for some reason the ETS gives you 15 more minutes on the CAT.  It’s a great load off the shoulders when it comes to doing calculations by hand because you don’t have to rush as much.  However — and this is totally a subjective statement — I think some of the math questions on the CAT might be more difficult than they are on the paper tests, so maybe that’s why there was some extra time.

I don’t think I even have to elaborate on why it’s such a boon to be able to type the essay — it was like spending your whole life cooking over a wood-burning fire and then having a microwave handed to you.

Why Should I Go To Graduate School?

California State University, Fresno

The Collegian, California State University at Fresno’s daily newspaper, published an article a couple days ago about why students choose to go to graduate school.

If I ever wrote an autobiography, I could probably copy and paste this piece directly (with appropriate citations, of course!) into it to describe my thoughts during my senior year. The job market, even for an electrical engineer/programmer was kind of bleak. I was constantly competing for the jobs I wanted with people who had years of experience in the field. Every time I found a job that sounded like something I really wanted, I would look down at the requirements and see “at least 5 years of experience.” Rage.

It seems like almost every person I know who has decided to go to grad school is doing it for the same reason — to find a job. Many graduates these days are finding that bachelor’s degrees aren’t enough to get the jobs they want because they’re not specific enough or because the four years in school didn’t provide them with enough real-world experience. It’s rough.

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GRE Math: Data Interpretation and Analysis Questions

While I stand by my earlier statement that the math section of the GRE isn’t significantly different from the math section of the SAT, there is one caveat to that — data interpretation. I actually think that data interpretation on the GRE is more comparable to data interpretation on the science section of the ACT. It’s a good idea to actually spend some time looking at the graph before diving into the questions. At the very least, you should examine the following:

1. The Title
What is the graph/table/chart depicting? There will often be more than one graph on the GRE, so knowing the difference between what each graph is showing is an absolute must for answering the questions.

2. Graph legends
Is there more than one set of data on your graph(s)? (Almost definitely.) Better figure out which symbols correspond to which data sets!

3. X and Y-axis labels
Sometimes you can figure out exactly what the graph is depicting by reading the title, but sometimes you can’t. It’s important to know what each axis of the graph represents. Also pay attention to units!

Let’s take a look at an example (from the ETS’s Practicing to Take the GRE General Test 10th Edition):

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GRE Study Tips: How to Stay on Task

See how happy they are? This is exactly what it will be like.

Even the most studious of us need some help keeping ourselves accountable.  So here are some tips on how to stay on task:

1. Make a schedule
Block out specific times around your school/work schedule.  Dedicate these times to GRE preparation and graduate school applications.  Stick to it! What’s the point of a schedule if you just push things aside willy-nilly?  I study best at night, so my studying times are mostly in the evening.  If you don’t like studying in the evening but work during the day, maybe you can take long lunches and practice/study during that time, then stay a little later at work to make up for lost time.  The key is to make sure that you create a schedule that works for you and maximizes productivity.

2. Come up with a study plan
Use practice tests to guide your plan of attack.  Keep taking practice tests at regular intervals to track your progress and adjust your plan accordingly.  Is math your strong point?  Spend some more time on verbal.  Is verbal a piece of cake?  Practice more math!

3. Find study buddies
I prefer to study on my own most of the time, but having a study buddy is by far the best way to keep myself accountable (that I know of).  Study buddies inherently pull each other out of the pit of procrastination — when you bring someone else into the mix, it’s no longer just about you and your schedule.  Plus, meeting at an agreed location (quiet libraries are better than noisy Starbucks, btw), is a great way to remove yourself from distractions at home and really focus on the task at hand.  Finally, it’s always great to be able to go over problems with someone else, who might see them from a different perspective.