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Taking the GRE

Erin Hardin, 128 YinD

Taking the GRE?  Here is a GREat guide to help you out!

We all know being in the Peace Corps is an unforgettable experience. It’s also great for your resume no matter what next step you take. If you plan to pursue further formal education – perhaps a Master’s degree – you may need to take the Graduate Records Exam (affectionately referred to as GRE). And you may need to take the GRE during your PC service to include GRE scores with your graduate school applications. As a current PCV in Thailand, you can follow these GREat guidelines to prepare for and take the GRE.

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Step #1: Familiarize yourself with the test

The GRE takes about four hours and consists of three main sections:

Analytical Writing:  There are two writing prompts: “analyze an issue” and “analyze an argument”. You’re given 30 minutes to write each essay. Your writing is judged (using 0-6 scale) on your ability to organize and articulate your thoughts clearly.  

Verbal Reasoning:  After speaking elementary-level English as a Peace Corps Volunteer, you’ll need to up your vocab game to answer college-level vocabulary questions. The multiple-choice questions (focused on text completion, sentence equivalence, and reading comprehension) are graded on a 130-170 point scale.

Quantitative Reasoning:  Break out those “useless” high school math skills, folks!  This section includes all kinds of math questions from algebra to calculus. But don’t freak out! For the most part, you can figure out the math questions with tricks that don’t require a whole lot of numbers and calculations.

For more information on what’s included on the GRE test, check out Kaplan’s website.

HINT: Save up before you sign up! Taking the GRE costs $205. As you figure out what’s on the test, also figure out how to pay for it.

Step #2: Know your goal score

Some graduate schools require a minimum score on the GRE test before an application is considered. Other schools request GRE scores with your application – and use the results to differentiate you from someone who may have similar qualifications. The GRE website gives the mean scores for all test takers (and even gives the scores for the “top 10%” and “top 25%” of test takers):

Section Possible Score Mean score
Analytical Writing 0-6 4
Verbal Reasoning 130-170 151
Quantitative Reasoning 130-170 153

HINT: Understand your schools’ expectations and use of GRE scores. Is GRE required or optional? What the averages scores of students currently attending that school? What are the scores for students who are accepted into your specific program?  

Step #3: Study! (And study some more!)

Make a study schedule and commit to following that schedule. You’ll want a solid few months to study for the exam. And you’ll want to block off at least a solid hour each time you sit down to study. Consistent daily studying over time (rather than cramming the last week) lets you soak up the information while building skills, knowledge, and confidence.

Below is a list of my personal favorite places to practice:

  • Kaplan: If you want to spend a month’s PCV stipend, you can sign up for the paid practice (a bit beyond a volunteer’s budget). But Kaplan offers lots of free practice, including an online “boot camp” which includes practicing many of the various questions you will see on the test. They have actual teachers who respond to your questions in real time during these classes.  
  • MyGRE Tutor: This online tool has some free practice questions and a full practice test. For less than $20, you can access all the questions and all four of their practice tests.  
  • ETS website:  Use this official website to sign up for your GRE – and to take two free practice tests. These online tests visually mimic what you’ll see when you take the real GRE.  
  • Memrise app: This app mostly focuses on the vocabulary of many languages (including Thai 😊). By searching for “GRE”, you’ll find many options to help you learn/practice vocabulary you’ll need for the exam. It helps you to absorb the words in a way that is fun; you’re not just memorizing definitions.  
    • The app can be found on the Google Play store or iTunes app store.

HINT: Find an accountability partner to make studying a part of your daily routine. A trusted friend from home or another PCV who is committed to taking the test with you in Thailand will encourage you to stay on task and make studying a priority.

Step #4: Sign up to take the test

You can technically sign up whenever you are ready and have the $205 fee – just use the ETS website and create a login and password. When you sign up, you also decide where to take the test. There are only two options (that I have found) in Thailand: Chiang Mai and Bangkok. The Chiang Mai location only offers the paper version, which takes a bit longer to process/grade and offers limited availability.  The main Thailand testing center is in the boonies of Bangkok. It’s about a 20-minute taxi drive off of the Lat Krabang (A2) stop. If you decide to take it in the morning, you may want to consider staying in the area. A recommendation is the All 24 Luxury Residence, about a 10-minute taxi ride from the center. Private rooms cost about 600 THB. (Split the cost with your PCV accountability partner–a friend who’s taking the test with you–and it can be cheap!)  It is also within walking distance of multiple 7’s and even a Pizza Company!

HINT: Sign up for the test after you’ve studied a bit and taken a practice test – to understand how much lead-time to give yourself to prepare for the actual test.

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Step #5: Test Day!

Obviously, get a good night’s sleep before the big day!  The testing center is located on a college campus, but it is really easy to find!  

When you arrive, you’ll fill out and sign multiple forms to make sure you are who you say you are.  

Security is amazingly tight:  

  • Lockers are provided to store all your personal items. You will be taken through a security check, this entails checking pockets and if you have a sweater (which I recommend) they will have you remove it to check it thoroughly.  
  • Pencils and scrap paper are provided; you cannot use your own. I had a bit of a cold when I took the test and they wouldn’t even let me bring in my own tissues!  However, they were very generous in providing me with unlimited tissues from their box.  
  • You cannot bring your own refreshments. They provide snacks and water before the test, during the break, and after your test.  

HINT: For more information about the GRE, in general, you can visit the ETS website.

That’s it! It’s as simple as 1-2-3-4-5. But I’d also suggest a step #6: Celebrate!

 

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Our celebratory “after”/ “we survived” picture

 

No matter what your post-PCV plans entail – getting started on a career or continuing with graduate education – I’m sure you will be GREat!


 

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