Archive for the 'Preparation' Category

GRE Subject Tests: To Take, or Not To Take

Wait. There are subject tests, too?!

Wait. There are subject tests, too?!

Remember when you took the SAT for the first time? You were so anxious because it was the SAT AND IT WAS THE BIGGEST TEST YOU WERE EVER GOING TO TAKE! And just as you got up to the front of the line to check-in, they asked you if you were taking an SAT II. A WHAT?!

And, indeed, it turned out that on top of the SAT reasoning tests there were other subject tests that were “optional.” Perhaps if you’re a strange Martian who is immune to the horrors of standardized testing, you were excited for another chance to show what you know, but more likely, your heart sank with the realization that “subject tests” meant that more future Saturdays would begin with your stomach in knots at 8 AM in a cold testing center.

You may have thought applying to graduate school would be more straightforward, but if you’re taking the GRE, you’re likely to find yourself at the same crossroads. Yes, luckily for you, if you’re applying to graduate school in the field of Biology, Biochemistry, Chemistry, Literature (in English), Mathematics, Physics, or Psychology, you have the option to take a GRE Subject Test to support your graduate school application. The tests are administered in April, September, and October and scored on a scale of 200-990 in ten point increments. The Biochemistry, Cell and Molecular Biology; Biology; and Psychology Tests all have subsections scored on a scale of 20-99 in one point increments. The question is, do you need to give up $150 and a weekend? Continue reading “GRE Subject Tests: To Take, or Not To Take” »

GRE Vocab and the Seven Deadly Sins: Part V – Sloth

An early sixteenth century Dutch depiction of the seven deadly sins, by a follower of Heironymus Bosch.

In this, our latest post in the series GRE Vocab and the Seven Deadly Sins, we now turn to the sin of sloth and its corresponding heavenly virtue, diligence. You have probably heard of the animals known as sloths, most famously the Amazonian three-toed sloth, which moves so slowly that algae grows on its back. These creatures were actually named after the sin of sloth, which is most commonly construed as the sin of laziness; because sloths move so slowly, they were thought to be the very embodiment of this sin (even if moving is actually hard work if you’re a sloth). The word “sloth” itself derives from the Old English slowth, from which the word slow is also derived. A person guilty of the sin of sloth can be described as slothful. In Latin, however, this sin has changed names throughout its history, reflecting the changing interpretation of this sin in Catholic theology.

Originally, the sin of sloth was known as acedia and was defined as a kind of depression-like apathy that manifested itself as extreme inaction. It sometimes plagued ascetic monks and nuns, especially those who had taken vows of silence. Acedia was seen as a sin because it was believed to be a rejection of god’s gift of life and a failure to appreciate the goodness of life. In this sense, it might be appropriate to mention the word melancholy as being related to the sin of sloth. Over time, acedia was replaced by socordia, which focused more on physical and spiritual laziness, and the failure to make use of one’s god-given talents and abilities. Either way, the sin of sloth is unique among the seven deadly sins because it is the only sin defined by a lack of good actions rather than by the committing of bad actions: you can (and will) commit the sin of sloth by doing nothing at all.

You may be familiar with the animal species known as sloths, such as this rather contented looking three-toed one.

There are many excellent potential GRE vocab words in the English language that have to do with the sin of sloth, such as indolent, lackadaisical, languid, lethargic, supine, torpid, lassitude, oscitancy, sluggard, apathy, melancholy. The word indolent, for instance, means having or showing a disposition to avoid exertion, and derives from the Latin prefix in- and the verb dolere, which means to be painful. Someone indolent, or given to indolence, would act as if even thinking about hard work were extremely painful, and would thus be very slothful..

The word lackadaisical has a rather interesting etymology; it derives from the word “lackaday,” which is a corruption of the obsolete English phrase “alack the day,” an expression of regret, sorrow, dismay, or disapproval. Alack itself is derived from the English word alas, which comes from the Latin lassus, meaning weary. Today, lackadaisical means without interest, vigor, or determination – someone lackadaisical would act as if they were too tired or weary to put much effort into anything. Another word which derives from lassus is lassitude, which means weariness of body or mind, resulting in a lack of energy. It can also refer to a condition of indolent indifference, though, and thus laziness.

A figure from the church of St. Moritz in Rottenberg.

Similarly, languid, means lacking in vigor or vitality, and a related verb, languish, means to weaken, lose vigor and vitality, or undergo neglect. Interestingly, languid and languish derive from the Latin verb languere, to be faint or weak, which is related to the Latin adjective laxus, which means loose or relaxed. Languor is a similarly derived noun meaning lack of energy or vitality; sluggishness. Languor and languish came to English from French in the late 1200s, but languid was a later addition that came straight from Latin in the 1590s.

Lethargic is the adjective form of the noun lethargy, which is the quality of being drowsy, dull, or unenergetic. Lethargy comes from the Latin noun with the same meaning lethargia, which in turns derives from the Greek words lethe and algia. You may recall that Lethe was one of the five rivers which flowed through the underworld in classical mythology. Souls that drank the waters of the Lethe were granted complete forgetfulness of their past lives, which makes sense, since the Anicent Greek word lethe itself means forgetfulness or oblivion. Algia comes from the Greek word algos, which means pain. Lethargy was thus an unpleasant or painful drowsiness or lack of energy that dulled the mind and resulted in inaction through forgetfulness.

A detail from Breugel’s 1566 painting, Harvesters.

The adjective supine commonly refers to someone or something lying on its back while prone refers to something or someone lying on its front with its back in the air. Indeed, the word supine entered the English language in the 1490s directly from Latin, deriving from the adjective supinum, which means lying on the back or facing up. However, supine can also mean exhibiting inactivity or passivity. Someone supine, or lazy, would thus often be supine, or lying on his or her back all the time.

Torpid derives from the Latin torpere, which means to numb or stiffen (perhaps like a corpse exhibiting rigor mortis). It entered English directly from Latin in the early 1600s, and came to mean inactive, sluggish, or lethargic; presumably something numb and stiff would be inactive, so the evolution in meaning makes some sense. More interesting, perhaps, is the evolution of its etymological cousin, the word torpedo. Originally, in the 1520s, natural philosophers used the Latin root to invent the word torpedo as a name for electric rays and eels, because if you grabbed one, it would shock you and leave your hand stiff and numb. During the late 18th century, and especially during the French revolution that began in 1789 and the subsequent Napoleonic wars, a new maritime weapon was invented: floating mines called “torpedoes” after the electric fishes. Over time, these weapons developed into the underwater projectile explosives that we know as torpedoes today.

The dragon Fafner from Wagner’s opera Siegfried, as imagined by Arthur Rackham.

Oscitancy, or oscitance, refers to yawning, and derives from the synonymous Latin verb oscitare, which derives from the Latin os (mouth) and citare (to move or put in motion). Oscitancy and oscitance have also come to be associated with laziness and inattentiveness, since someone who yawns a lot might be prone to laziness. The adjective form would be oscitant, as in, “The knight caught a glimpse of the dragon’s long, gleaming fangs as it closed its oscitant maw.”

Sluggard is an old English word that dates back to the 1300s, when it was spelled slogarde. Before that it probably had a Scandinavian origin, as comparisons with the Norwegian word sluggje, which means a heavy or slow person, suggest. Similarly, in modern English a sluggard is a person who is habitually inactive or lazy. Sluggard is also related to the word sluggish, which means indisposed to action or exertion or lacking energy. Both sluggard and sluggish are related to the root word slug, which describes a snail-like gastropod with no shell that moves just as slowly as its shelled counterpart.

Come on, seriously?

Apathy is the absence or suppression of feeling, emotion, or excitement, and someone experiencing apathy can be called apathetic. Apathy derives from Ancient Greek, and is composed of the prefix a-, meaning without, and pathos, meaning feeling, specifically passion and suffering. Apathy thus literally refers to a lack of feeling. The English word pathos refers to the quality of art or expression that evokes a feeling of pity or compassion. The Greek pathos, when combined with prefixes and suffixes, has many different derivatives: antipathy, which means aversion or dislike; sympathy, which is harmony or agreement in feeling, especially sorrow; pathetic, which means causing or evoking pity or feelings; empathy, the act of understanding and then vicariously  experiencing another’s emotions or feelings; pathogen, a disease-causing agent (literally from the Greek pathos and gen, meaning something that causes suffering); pathology, the study of diseases. A psychopath is a person who displays amoral and antisocial behavior, lack of ability to love or establish meaningful personal relationships, and extreme egocentricity (from Greek psyche, soul, and path, pain, literally suffering soul).

The Iron Foundry by Adolph Menzel.

Enough of all this sloth – what we need is some diligence! According to the Catholic church, diligence is the heavenly virtue meant to combat the sin of sloth, since it entails steady, productive use of one’s time. Its Latin name is industria, from which we get the English words industry and industrious, which means hard-working. The word diligence is derived from the Latin verb diligere, which is in turn derived from the prefix dis-, which means apart, and the verb legere, which means “to choose” or “to read,” so that diligere means “to choose apart” or to prefer something. This evolved into our contemporary meaning by the following logic: if you prefer something, you like it a lot; if you like it a lot, you will take great care with it; if you are careful with something, then maybe you will put steady effort into looking after it; steady effort or work then became the accepted definition and the original meaning was forgotten.

The Gleaners, by Jean Francois Millet.

Two potential GRE words that have to do with the virtue of diligence include assiduous and sedulous. Assiduous comes from the Latin verb assidere, which means “to sit down,” which was the root of the Latin word assiduus, which has the meaning of constantly working, the logic being that you were sitting down to work. After entering English direct from Latin in the 1530s, it came to mean constant in application or effort, working diligently at a task, persevering, industrious, and attentive. Sedulous also entered the English language in the 1530s direct from the Latin word sedolo, which means honest or without deception. In English, it means diligent in application or attention, persevering, and assiduous, perhaps for the same reasons we talk about “an honest day’s work.”

That’s enough for today. Next time, we move on to the sin of envy. Remember, if you want extra help getting ready for the GRE, you can study with experts like me through Test Masters. Until next time, happy studying!

How NOT to Study GRE Vocabulary: Malapropisms

mask01Like many blogs, It’s Not GREek! regularly receives many spam comments such as this gem:

“There is a great deal of playing that goes into place for sewer driving. If you fail to take some action, any strain on your sewer line may lead to tantamount problems. You’ll be able to tell when the auger contacts the material causing the clog.”

Like many other spam comments, this one is rife with errors (although I have seen far worse). In particular, I would like to draw your attention to the use of the word “tantamount” in the following sentence:

“If you fail to take some action, any strain on your sewer line may lead to tantamount problems.”

While less common than the “generic praise and flattery” strategy (i.e. – “This post is so helpful! Thank you so much!!!”), the “vocabulary showoff”strategy remains popular with spammers, presumably because they believe that posts featuring sequipedalians will be perceived as educated, legitimate comments, no matter how nonsensical or unrelated to the blog post at hand. Unfortunately, these polysyllables are often used incorrectly.

According to dictionary.com, the word “tantamount” can be defined as “equivalent, as in value, force, effect, or signification.” Clearly, this is not how the word is used here. The author of the above comment clearly thought that the word “tantamount” was an intensifier of some sort rather than an expression of equivalence. In the above sentence, we can infer that “tantamount problems” was supposed to be a fancier way of saying very big/bad/important problems.

One possible explanation for this confusion would be that the author mistook the word “tantamount” for the word “paramount,” which according to dictionary.com means “chief in importance or impact; supreme; preeminent.” This kind of error is known as a malapropism.

401px-Richard_Brinsley_Sheridan_1751_-_1816In 1775, Richard Brinsley Sheridan was newly married, living it up in the fashionable English resort of Bath, and short on cash. As something of a well-connected dandy and wit, he decided that the way to save himself from financial embarrassment was…to write a play. Thus, his comedy The Rivals and his most famous character, Mrs. Malaprop, were born. In the play, Mrs. Malaprop fulfills the stock roll of the dull, fun-killing chaperone for a young, beautiful, head-strong heiress. What makes her stand out from a sea of similar characters in English literature is her gag: she has a bad habit of confusing similar sounding words, often to exquisite comic effect. For instance consider the following line from the play:

“Sure, if I reprehend any thing in this world it is the use of my oracular tongue, and a nice derangement of epitaphs!”

Probably, she meant to say something like this:

“If I apprehend anything in this world, it is the use of my vernacular tongue, and a nice arrangement of epithets.”

A critical caricature by James Gillray of Sheridan as a bottle of old sherry.

A critical caricature by James Gillray of Sheridan as a bottle of old sherry.

Hilarious. Anyway, after a disastrous premier Sheridan made a few tweaks to the play and it went on to become so popular that this kind of error has been forever hence known as a “malapropism.” Mrs. Malaprop’s name is after all derived from the French “mal à propos” meaning poorly placed or, in a more general sense, inappropriate. Thus, Mrs. Malaprop is literally “Mrs. Inappropriate.”

Beware of these kinds of errors when studying vocabulary or when writing essays. Just because you’ve heard a word before doesn’t mean you actually know it. Always make sure to look up the definitions of even familiar sounding words, because the word you are familiar with may only sound like the one you happen to be studying at the moment.

As a final note, “paramount,” while more accurate than tantamount, is still somewhat problematic in the context of the original sentence:

“If you fail to take some action, any strain on your sewer line may lead to paramount problems.”

“Paramount,” you see, tends to have a positive connotation, since its meanings include not only “chief in importance or impact” but also “supreme,” “preeminent,” or even “above others in rank or authority; superior in power or jurisdiction.” Thus, it would be unidiomatic to describe “problems” as “paramount,” since problems are by definition bad. Finding the solution to a problem might be paramount, but the problem itself is never really described that way. Consider the following correct example sentence:

“When preparing for the GRE, studying vocabulary is paramount, because failing to do so is tantamount to kissing a good verbal score goodbye.”

And that, my friends, is the bottom line. Happy studying!

GRE Graph Analysis Word Problem

For which of the following years was the ratio of the median sale price of a new home minus the median sale price of an existing home to per capita income least?

(A) 1960

(B) 1965

(C) 1970

(D) 1975

(E) 1980

The question asks for which year “the ratio of the median sale price of a new home minus the median sale price of an existing home to per capita income was least.” In other words, what is the smallest difference between the ratio of median sale price of a new home to per capita income and the ratio of median sale price of an existing home to per capita income.

TIP: Don’t allow yourself to be confused by complex phrasing, this question is all about being able to read the chart.

In the context of this question, the “ratio of the median sale price” simply refers to the lines of the graph; each line is a representation of the ratio of the median sale price (to per capita income), one for existing homes and the other for new homes. If all those words are confusing you, then just get rid of them:

For which of the following years was the ratio of the median sale price of a new home minus the median sale price of an existing home to per capita income least? Or,

For which of the following years was the price of a new home minus the price of an existing home least?

See how much more simple that question looks! Now all you have to do is determine the different ranges of the different options, by subtracting the … wait! No you don’t. Just look at the lines, there is no need to actually involve any math here. Since the difference between the two lines is represented by the space or gap between them, we can simply look and see for which year the gap was smallest. The smallest gap occurs in the year 1970. Therefore, the correct answer is (C).

Find more example problems here!

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GRE Verbal Reasoning Text Completion Example Problem

What is ArtHere is an example of a simple Verbal Reasoning question you might see on the GRE.

It is (i)_____ that so many artists today don’t understand the importance of sincerity in art; even the most beautiful painting, sculpture, or song will fail to transform from object to art if it lacks genuine veracity. Instead of the artist, perhaps we should blame our (ii) _____ culture, where people often mistake being shallow for being authentic.

Explanation:  One key passage to determining the answer is the phrase “will fail to transform from object to art”; this tone indicates a negative perspective about “artists today.”  Of the three answer choices, only “heinous” has a negative connotation. Thus the answer to Blank (i) is B. heinous. The key phrase to answering Blank (ii) is “if it lacks genuine veracity.” This phrase indicates that the correct answer choice will be one that means something or someone that lacks genuine veracity, or truth. Of the three answer choices, only “superficial” means concerned only with understanding the obvious or apparent. Thus the answer to Blank (ii) is E. superficial.

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

Impecunious means lacking money or poor. This word is synonymous with penniless.

Heinous means grossly wicked or reprehensible; abominable.

Edifying means to instruct; particularly in such a way as to encourage intellectual, moral, or spiritual improvement.

Precocious means manifesting or characterized by unusually early development or maturity, especially in mental aptitude.

Superficial means concerned with or comprehending only what is apparent or obvious; shallow.

Educable means capable of being educated or taught.

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GRE Verbal Reasoning Text Completion Example Problem

Electoral College 2016

This is a graphic of what the Electoral College will look like in 2016.

Here is an example of a simple Verbal Reasoning question you might see on the GRE.

Many concerned citizens believe the Electoral College and the Presidential electoral process is _____; they are concerned the system does not meet or respect the representative needs of America’s contemporary electorate.

(a). redundant

(b). antiquated

(c). draconian

(d). plebeian

(e). contemptible

Explanation: The key word and phrase in this passage is “contemporary electorate.” Its usage suggests the answer choice should have something to do with the age of the system. Of the available answer choices, only “antiquated” references the age of the system. Thus the answer is (b) antiquated.

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

Something is redundant if it is needlessly superfluous or repetitive. It is redundant to repeat the definition of redundant, because that would be redundant; not only would that be redundant, it would be very redundant.

Antiquated can refer to something’s age through its characterization of that thing as an antique; however, antiquated should be better understood as the characterization of something as obsolete or outdated (not simply old).   

Draconian means exceedingly, or unduly, harsh or severe.

Someone or something is plebeian if they are common or characterized by being common, vulgar, or coarse. It may also more specifically refer to the common people of ancient Rome.

Contemptible means deserving of contempt; to be contemptible is to be deserving of disdain, to be despised, or even scorned. Contempt also has a special meaning in a legal context, which refers to being openly disrespectful or disobedient to a court or legislative body.

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GRE Verbal Reasoning Text Completion Example Problem

Independent VotersHere is an example of a simple Verbal Reasoning question you might see on the GRE.

The independent voters of the United States have proven at times to have ­­_____ political allegiances; but that is not enough of a reason to say independents are not resolute in their own convictions.

  1. mercurial
  2. intransigent
  3. irrepressible
  4. pernicious
  5. tenacious

Explanation: The key word in this passage is “resolute.” Resolute, as you should know, means firm or unwavering; its usage in this context, “independents are not resolute,” suggests the answer choice should be a word that contrasts with resolute. Of the available answer choices, the only word that contrasts with resolute is “Mercurial.” Thus the answer is (1) mercurial.

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

Mercurial might be used in reference to Roman Mythology (the God Mercury), chemistry (the element Mercury), or Astronomy (the planet Mercury); however, it is most often used to describe a person with a volatile temperament or someone who has those characteristics associated with the Roman God Mercury, who was swift, shrewd, and sometimes a thief.

A person is intransigent if they refuse to change or modify their opinion, particularly if their opinion is extreme. A person may be characterized as intransigent if they are consistently unwilling to compromise.

Irrepressible means difficult or impossible to control or restrain. As in, my enthusiasm for vocabulary is irrepressible!  XD

Pernicious means tending to cause death or serious injury. As in, my enthusiasm for vocabulary is in no way pernicious.

Tenacious means to firmly or persistently hold to something, like a particular viewpoint or opinion, or to hold together, or to cling to or onto something. Additionally, tenacious can refer to a tendency to retain; as in your tenacious memory gives you an advantage when remembering the definition to various vocabulary words.

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GRE Math – Fun with Averages!

grumpy catStudying for the GRE can be tough. In the mean time, let’s make sure your math score is above average by reviewing averages! Consider the following problem:

The average (arithmetic mean) of six numbers is 14. After one of the numbers is removed, the average (arithmetic mean) of the remaining numbers is 16. What number has been removed?

To solve this problem, all you need to remember is the definition of an average:

average = (sum of terms)/(number of terms)

Multiplying both sides by the number of terms, we get:

average(number of terms) = sum of terms

First, let’s figure out the sum of the terms when the average was 14:

14(6) = 84

Next, let’s do the same for the situation in which the average is 16:

16(5) = 80

The difference between the two sums must be the number that was taken out:

84 – 80 = 4

Thus, the answer is 4. That’s all there is to it! Now, try the following problem and post the answer in the comments below:

The average (arithmetic mean) of four numbers is 23. After one of the numbers is removed, the average (arithmetic mean) of the remaining numbers is 15. What number has been removed?

Good luck, and happy studying!