Archive for the 'Revised GRE' Category

Sample GRE Multiple Choice Math Problem – FOIL or Factor?

GRE test writers are always trying to find new ways to discombobulate students.

GRE test writers are always trying to find new ways to discombobulate students.

On every GRE Math section, the test makers try to come up with a few extremely difficult problems that will leave even the cleverest students scratching their heads. The really evil part, though, is that even these problems can be solved in under a minute without a calculator – if you know what to do. This means that once you “figure out the trick,” these difficult problems become easy. So, while those test makers are busy cackling with sadistic glee, let’s see if we can’t beat them at their own game.

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What is a good score on the GRE?

One of the most common questions on this blog is, “What is a good score on the GRE?” Invariably, the answer is “it depends,” and it does. Generally speaking, whether a GRE score is good (or not) is relative to the goals of the individual test taker. Please keep this in mind as we explore the question, what is a good score on the GRE?

The ETS, the makers and administrators of the GRE, recently released a report entitled A Snapshot of the Individuals Who Took the GRE revised General Test. This report is primarily intended “to provide score users with the most relevant information” possible about the GRE test taking population (‘score users’ means admission officers, university administrators and faculty, etc.). Much of the information within this report will not be particularly useful to you as an individual test taker; however, this report does give us a great deal of insight into what constitutes a good GRE score in terms of means and averages and (more importantly) field of study. Let us take a look.

Note: This is not an exact reproduction of Table 1 as it appears in the GRE Snapshot Report. The author has edited this info-graph for space and relevance.

The table above doesn’t quite answer the question what is a good score on the GRE?, but it does tell us what is an average score on the GRE. This table shows us that the mean Verbal Reasoning score is a 150.6 and the mean Quantitative Reasoning score is a 152.2. For those of you not familiar with Standard Deviation, in this case, it simply tells us how close to the mean most students scored. This indicates that the majority of GRE test takers scored between 142.3 to 158.9 on Verbal Reasoning and between 143.4 to 160.4 on Quantitative Reasoning.

This gives us a basic understanding of what constitutes a “good” score: if you are scoring below the standard deviations you have a bad score, if you are scoring above the standard deviations you have a good score, and if you are scoring in between, then you have a relatively average score.

This information is useful in understanding how GRE scores are broadly evaluated; however, as many university admission officers will be quick to point out, every applicant is evaluated individually. For example, you would not expect a person applying to a Masters of Fine Arts program to have a better Quantitative Reasoning score than somebody pursuing a Doctorate in Engineering. This means that when you are trying to determine whether your GRE score is good or not, you should consider it within the context of your application.

Luckily, the GRE Snapshot Report contains information relevant to this endeavor. Consider the following chart:

Data taken from Tables 6 & 7 of GRE Snapshot Report.

This spreadsheet shows the average Verbal and Quantitative Reasoning scores by intended graduate major; this shows how you compare to students who plan on pursuing a degree in the same field as you. For example, say you score a 155 on the Quantitative Reasoning section. This score is several standard deviations above the aggregate mean of 152.2, and so could be considered a relatively good score, unless, of course, you intend to apply to an Engineering program, in which case it would be several deviations below the mean of 159, and a relatively bad score. The above information should give you a good grasp of what constitutes a good GRE score by field of interest.

As many of this blog’s readers are international students, it is worth noting that your international status will be taken into account when you apply for a graduate program in the United States. For example, admission officers do not expect a potential graduate student from South Korea or India to score as well on the Verbal Reasoning section of the GRE as a native English speaker. If you are an international student, refer to pages 40-45 in the GRE Snapshot Report to get an idea of how you compare to other international students.

At the beginning of this article I mentioned that whether a GRE score is good (or not) is ultimately relative to your own personal goals. If you are planning on applying to an elite university or program, then you will need a correspondingly higher score; conversely, if you are targeting a less prestigious institution or degree plan, then a good GRE score for you may be slightly lower than what is traditionally considered an exemplary score. On this note, let me remind you how important it is that you research the institutions you are planning on applying to so that you know what GRE score will be good for you.

ETS’ GRE Snapshot report attempts to break down the GRE scores of the global test taking population into more distinguishable categories. This means they examine average GRE scores by gender, race, nationality, educational objectives and fields of interest, among other categories. By and large the specific sub-categories and cross categorization of these breakdowns are of no interest to most of us; however, knowing the average GRE score for students planning on pursuing a graduate degree in your field gives you the significant advantage of having a score to compare your own to. Hopefully the information above has helped you determine whether you have a good GRE score (or not); of course, if you need more help or have additional questions, please feel free to comment below or Ask Test Masters!


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Quantitative Comparison Example Problem

The Quantitative Comparison question type on the GRE can be very challenging. Essentially, you are given some information (usually in the form of a sentence, equation, or picture) and then two quantities. You are then asked to determine:

A if the quantity in Column A is greater;

B if the quantity in Column B is greater;

C if the two quantities are equal;

D if the relationship cannot be determined from the information given.

Like most questions on the GRE Quantitative section, the concepts involved in solving this question type are not of themselves very advanced, you just have to be careful in their application. In fact, sometimes there is little or no need at all to do any “real” math; let’s take a look at the following GRE Quantitative Comparison Example Problem:

With geometry problems, it always helps to start with a formula. In this case, the problem is involving the volume of a cylinder. The formula for this is pi times the radius squared times the height.

Volume of a cylinder = πr2h

Therefore, to find the volume of a cylinder you must find both the radius of the cylinder and the height.

In this problem, two cylinders are given. Both cylinders have a different radius, and so it might be assumed that they must have a different volume. However, no information about the height is given. It is possible that the cylinder with the smaller radius has a larger height and might be the larger cylinder. Since there is no way of knowing how these cylinders compare to each other, the answer is D.

Test Masters offers the most comprehensive and successful GRE course available; every Test Masters GRE course, whether it is online or in-class, comes with a 10 point Score Increase Guarantee.

Obscure Curses & Interesting Insults – GRE Vocabulary at its Worst!

One of the problems with the continued devolution (u kno wht i mean) of the English language is that we have lost our touch for awesome and clever insults. Rather than relying upon carefully crafted vituperates, most people express themselves with simple, cheap put-downs. Instead of “quiet, you feeble-minded imbecile,” we usually settle with phrases like “he dumb,” or “you dumb,” or “hey dummy, you stupid.” A larger vocabulary will not only help you ace the GRE Verbal Reasoning and Text Completion section, but may also reverse this recent societal trend… besides, the satisfaction you receive from insulting your myriad acquaintances will be doubled by the fact that, by using your newly expanded GRE vocabulary, they probably won’t have any idea they’ve been insulted until you are walking away.

So… let’s start with a classic putdown, “You are old.” Yo momma so old

We have all heard of The Flood, “the universal deluge recorded as having occurred in the days of Noah,” but many of us are less acquainted with the history of the world prior to that torrential downpour. Antediluvian literally translates to “before the deluge”, and wild theories persist today concerning antediluvian civilizations and what they may have done to cause The Flood (this article posits that God had to send The Flood to thwart the Babylonians’ nuclear ambitions). Though the literal connotation associated with the word antediluvian has weakened over time (today, the word is more closely associated with being old-fashioned), as an interesting insult antediluvian is the perfect word to help an older foe or friend feel their age. Shall we use it in a sentence?

“That antediluvian hag next door hates my rock and roll lifestyle.”

“Which of you hate-mongering antediluvians wrote ‘You’re too old to dress like that!’ on my door?”

(Or, more seriously) “Partisan Congressional politics exemplify the antediluvian nature of America’s two-party system.”


In addition to being a fun word to tease your older brother or sister with, antediluvian serves as a useful vocabulary lesson for students preparing to take the GRE. The lesson behind this word can actually be found in front of it, in its prefix ante-. “Ante-” means before in time or position to, previous to, and in front of. Other GRE words with “ante-” include antebellum, antecedent, and antepenultimate. Notice that each one of these words refers, in some way, to coming before something else; so, in the future, if you see the prefix “ante-” but don’t recognize the base or root word to which it is attached, you should at least be able to make an educated guess.


This concludes the first entry of what will be a series of outrageous and (hopefully) creative insults. Check back soon to see our next installment!

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ETS Says Students Should NOT Trust Their First Instincts on the GRE

ETS logoAs you should all know, the GRE was revised in August 2011. Among the many changes introduced by the ETS was a “mark and review” feature. This feature allows students to bookmark questions and return to them before moving onto a new section of the exam. According to the ETS, the past year’s testing data shows that this new feature has helped students excel on the GRE in a surprisingly significant way.

After reviewing a survey comprised of about 8,000 instances in which students returned to bookmarked questions and changed their answers, the ETS found that students who changed their answers on bookmarked questions increased their GRE scores more than 70% percent of the time.

This information has led the ETS to release a press statement saying, “The results of this study disprove the fallacy that the first instinct is always correct when answering multiple-choice questions.”

This is a bold, yet fairly safe, statement on part of the ETS. What does it really mean?

It seems a bit disingenuous to assume that this information proves that we shouldn’t trust our instincts when it comes to standardized tests. Really, the results of this survey could be taken to indicate that test takers should trust their instincts more than ever; after all, your instincts must be at least tangentially responsible for causing you to mark a question down for review in the first place. Specifically, they name your “First Instinct” as the boogeyman behind bad scores, which really just seems to be a codeword for students who pause only to answer a question, not solve it. The bookmark feature is the Computerized Adaptive Test (CAT) equivalent of drawing a star next to questions you were uncertain about on a paper-and-pencil exam in high school and undergrad. The fact of the matter is that uncertain students have been changing their multiple choice answers and receiving better scores as a result, most of the time, for generations.

Does this mean that a student’s instinct is always right? Of course not. However, just because your instincts can be wrong doesn’t mean you should totally disregard them. One of the purposes of preparing for an exam like the GRE is to hone your instincts and thus minimize the number of mistakes you are likely to make on test day. With proper preparation, including practice and a familiarity of the exam, our advice remains when in doubt you should rely on your first instinct.

Revisiting questions has always been a frequent staple of standardized test-taking, and that tradition continues today with the redesign of the GRE. In the article linked above, a Senior Researcher for ETS is quoted as saying, “It is important that students know that the research supports response changing when there is a good reason for doing so.” This sort of conspicuous couching essentially phrases the statement to mean if you have a good reason to change your answer, you should probably change your answer.  This is not ground-breaking or paradigm-shifting information, and you should not let it influence how you approach the exam.

This is not to say that the success of the New GRE’s bookmark feature is not astounding; however, the headline should not be about the success of the feature, rather it should be about the fact that the GRE now has this feature (which was probably the point of ETS’ Press Release all along). Our take on this article is trust your instincts, but be willing to change your answer if “there is a good reason for doing so,” with the semi-exasperated (because people should really know this already) side note that it is neat that the GRE now allows you to do so.

If you have any questions about the GRE, we encourage you to comment or ask!

Test Masters offers the most comprehensive and successful GRE course available; every Test Masters GRE course, whether it is online or in-class, comes with a 10 point Score Increase Guarantee.

GRE Text Completion

GRE vocab

GRE Text Completion is no mystery, you just have to know your GRE vocabulary!

Here is an example of a simple Text Completion question you might see on the GRE.

  1. Despite the best efforts of our nation’s most thorough reporters, the candidates’ economic reform policies remain _____; it is not enough to comment on the country’s financial straits, clearly explain to the public exactly how you intend to fix them.

A. Perspicuous

B. Loquacious

C. Diffusive

D. Opaque

E. Gratulatory

Explanation: The key phrase in this passage is “clearly explain.” The biggest reason someone would be desirous of having something “clearly explained” would be if that subject or topic is unclear. This phrase suggests the candidates have not yet “clearly explained” their positions. The answer choice in this example would then be the word that best suggests the candidates economic policies are not “clearly explained.” Of the available answer choices, only “opaque” refers to something that is not clear. Thus the answer is (d) .

You can never have enough vocabulary words; here are the definitions of all the answer choices:

Something is perspicuous when it is clearly expressed and easy to understand.

People are loquacious if they are very talkative or garrulous.

To be diffusive is to physically disseminate something, as in to pour, scatter, or spread something about, to speak at length, or to make something less brilliant, to soften.

Opaque is the opposite of transparent and translucent. To be opaque is to be murky and unintelligible.

Gratulatory is a great word because it is a less common way of saying congratulatory; the biggest difference between the two words is that gratulatory is more closely associated with the emotions of being thankful or grateful.

There are many difficult questions on the GRE, but vocabulary-type questions should never be one of them. The Text Completion question type is simply a matter of memorizing your GRE vocabulary. If you continue to have difficulty with these question types there are certain strategies you can employ to aid you in answering them on test day. One of the best strategies for GRE Text Completion questions is memorizing common word roots.

Want to know more about other study strategies for GRE Text Completion questions? All you have to do is ask. Want more example problems? Find them here.

Test Masters offers the most comprehensive and successful GRE course available; every Test Masters GRE course, whether it is online or in-class, comes with a 10 point Score Increase Guarantee.



GRE Example Problem – Order of Operations

GRE Math isn't so scary; just try this GRE example problem.

GRE Math isn’t so scary; just try this GRE example problem.

Learn more about what you need to know to do well on GRE Math by taking some time to complete this GRE Math example problem.

If L = (a – b) – c and R = a – (b – c), then L – R = ?

This example problem is an exercise in basic mathematical principles, particularly the Order of Operations and your understanding of the Commutative, Associative, and Distributive Laws of mathematics. Let’s do a brief review:

The Commutative Law essentially states that, when you add or multiply, you can swap the order of numbers and get the same answer. So, for example:

Addition:             X + Y = Y + X

Multiplication:  A x B = B x A

The Associative Law states pretty much the same as the Commutative Law with the additional declaration that when you are multiplying and adding groups of numbers, the grouping of those numbers is irrelevant. So, for example:

Addition:             (X + Y) + Z = (Z + Y) + X

Multiplication:  (A x B) x C = (C x B) x A

The Distributive Law says you get the same answer when you multiply a number by a group of numbers added together or multiply each number separately and then add them together. So, for example:

A x (B + C) = AB + AC

This might be easier to understand with actual numbers:

3 x (4 +5) = 3(4) + 3(5)

3 x 9 = 12 + 15

27 = 27

The Order of Operations determines the order in which certain mathematical operations act. The actual order of operations is Parentheses, Exponents, Multiplication and Division, and Addition and Subtraction. A particularly useful mnemonic device to remembering this (rather than memorizing the acronym PEMDAS) is “Please Excuse My Dear Aunt Sally.”

Okay, now duly armed, let’s return to the question above:

L – R = [(a – b) – c] – [a – (b – c)]

Notice that each equation has been bracketed off from the other. This is not because you cannot add or subtract these equations; it is only to signify and help you recognize that you are, in fact, beginning with and looking at the two different variables, L and R. Mainly, in this problem, brackets will help you keep track of which numbers are positive and negative.

In order to solve this problem, the first thing you should do is distribute the negative in front of the equation R represents, a – (b – c). The reason for this is that this equation includes two subtractions; so, when you subtract R from L, you will inevitably subtract a negative. Subtracting a negative turns that negative into a positive number. Observe:

L – R = [(a – b) – c] – [a – (b – c)]

L – R = [(a – b) – c] – [a – b + c]

L – R = [(a – b) – c] – a + b – c

After having successfully distributed the negative, the Commutative and Associative Laws, and the Order of Operations, tells us that we are free to solve this problem with no more hang ups:

L – R = a – b – c – a + b – c

You can reorganize for coherency:

L – R = a – a + b – b – c – c

L – R = 0 + 0 – c – c

L – R = -c – c

L – R = -2c

Thus, the answer is -2c.

Find more GRE example problems here. Have a question about GRE Math or graduate school admissions? Ask the experts at Test Masters!


GRE Verbal – Fill in the Blank

Did you know that Test Masters’ GRE course provides students with a(n) ______ method to solving those ______ fill-in-the-blank questions?

(a)   celebratory … facile

(b)   economical … sassy

(c)   melodramatic … scandalous

(d)   derogatory … petulant

(e)   effective … bothersome

If you answered (e), then you either know what you are about or have already taken the Test Masters GRE course. Test Masters is an industry leader in professional exam preparation; every Test Masters GRE course, whether online or in-class, comes with a ten point Score Increase Guarantee.

Check out the video below, which is an excerpt from the Test Masters GRE online course, for a little more instruction on how to go about correctly answering those tricky GRE vocabulary questions.

See more excerpts from Test Masters online course on the Test Masters YouTube channel.

Remember, if you want to do well on GRE Verbal, study your GRE Vocabulary!