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GRE Preparation- The Myths and Realities of the Test

GRE Preparation

When young undergraduate students start researching how to prepare for GRE? They encounter a slew of opinions over the internet and become paranoid with overly exaggerated myths around the test. It is paramount for a serious GRE test taker to focus on the realities and avoid getting trapped by the myths. Students who are new to the test may encounter exaggerated opinions on several aspects of the test such as the preparation time, the level of mathematical understanding for tackling the quantitative section or some literally suggest you become Shakespeare in the quest to get a decent score in the verbal section. 

It is not new for students to encounter such traps before starting the preparation for any exam. But to get a good score, one must keep their focus on the realities and don’t let the myths sway the preparation strategy. So, a serious aspirant ready to do sincere work must know how to filter the information and use it to their advantage. We will delve into some popular myths that GRE aspirants are poised to encounter at some point in time in their preparation phase. 

Myth 1:

Tricks are the sole savior in the test, and one shouldn’t get into conceptual clarity in the quantitative section.


Tricks are an integral part of any test with a quantitative section, and it certainly helps students get good scores. But seeing tricks as the sole determinant and not focusing on conceptual clarity is a fatal mistake most aspirants make. By conceptual clarity, we mean the ability to comprehend the mathematical principle behind the problem so that a slight twist doesn’t check and mate you in the test. You don’t have to become an expert in mathematics but learn enough to handle a variety of questions.

Myth 2:

Attempting only those questions that a test taker is 100% sure and leaving blank the other questions. 


Taking wild guesses is never advised by anyone, but aspirants take it to the extreme and don’t take chances. This is one of the myths that inhibit students from getting good scores. Several students can score well on the test but end up with low scores because they don’t even make an intelligent guess. Making an intelligent guess involves rooting out two options out of four and then taking a chance on the remaining two. This is a balanced approach as it will not be an Eeny, meeny, miny, moe, rather a calculated risk. This helps a lot in the verbal section wherein a student has to select the right option that seems the most likely to be correct. 

Myth 3:

GRE has a composite score system


This confusion usually comes into the minds of the first time test takers as they don’t know much about the scoring system, syllabus, university-specific score requirements, sectional marks, etc. While visiting a GRE test preparation website, students see 340 scorers, and they feel that there must be a composite score system. However, that’s not the truth. When a university asks for a cutoff score of 310, it wants to see the combined score of quantitative and the verbal section. GRE has sectional scoring, and there are three scores, each for quantitative, verbal and analytical writing. People tend to confuse the GREs scoring system with GMAT as the latter gives a composite score. 

Also, check – Choosing the Right Institute for Higher Education.

Myth 4:

For the AWA section, you need to be an expert in writing. 


The world has already seen the works of Keats, Shakespeare and Wordsworth. A GRE test taker isn’t expected to be like one of them. But this is something that has continued for too long that the AWA section demands overly brilliant writing skills. One must have a good grasp of the language and know how to present things coherently, but that shouldn’t be confused with writing a PhD thesis on some English literature. One needs to practice a lot for the essays asked in the test, and indeed, practice is the only way to sharpen the writing skills. Being a good writer gives an edge to those who don’t have a knack for writing, but that doesn’t mean others can’t score well in this section. Also, the pattern is predictable, and it shouldn’t be thought of as technical writing on a specific subject matter with surgical precision. 

Myth 5:

Become a walking dictionary, and a perfect score is waiting in the verbal section.


Students always get this impression that one has to become a walking dictionary to score well in the verbal section. This is not restricted to the first time test takers; rather, this myth intensifies in further attempts if the intent behind the verbal section is not understood well. Test takers should understand that learning the maximum possible number of words certainly helps score well, but equally important is the practice of different question types. Practising helps students make intelligent guesses in the verbal section as it is impossible to remember each word. It’s the context in which a sentence is put, helps in comprehension and other sections. 

Myth 6:

If the ETS has provided an onscreen calculator for the quantitative section, you ought to use it, and maths problems will warrant the need for a calculator. 


Onscreen calculator is provided for fair purposes as some of the maths problems might warrant the need to use the calculator. But test takers have this myth that one has to use it in every problem just because a calculator is provided. Sometimes it is even presented that since a calculator is provided, the problems ought to be tough. However, this is entirely wrong, and no rule implies using a calculator in every problem out there. If students have practised well and solved quant test papers, the chances are very likely that they will not need a calculator in most of the problems. Excessive calculators by test takers result in time loss in the crucial hours. 

Myth 7:

To get a decent score on the GRE test, one needs to prepare for more than six months


Students in undergraduate are always confused about the time required to score well on the GRE test. They are under the impression that one has to prepare for six months to score well, but the reality is that a dedicated effort for two to three months would suffice to get a good score. Working in a planned manner by focussing more on weaknesses and practising areas of strength helps a lot in getting a good score in just two to three months of preparation. 

Myth 8:

Score a perfect score in all the section or the chances of a good university is doomed


This is something that even those with good scores are confused about as there is a lot of talk on the topic and fewer clarifications. The score certainly helps students get a good school, but that doesn’t mean scoring perfectly in all the sections. The sectional scores are declared as an engineering college will be more interested in the quant scores than verbal. At the same time, a course for a doctorate program in English literature will not be much interested in the quant scores. So, it solely depends on the course for which the test taker has applied. 

We have tried to clarify as many myths as we could, and it’s important to understand that there is no need to panic over a test that is so simply structured. The test is crafted in a very student-friendly manner, and students should concentrate on the test rather than speculations and myths for a decent score on the GRE test. 

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