U.S. University Admissions Exams
Graduate Records Examination (GRE)
What is the GRE?
The GRE is an admissions exam used by graduate school admissions officers in the U.S. to determine readiness for graduate-level studies. The GRE is designed to assess readiness for a wide variety of graduate programs in the U.S. Scores are not only required as part of the application for entrance into a program, but they also can be used to grant fellowships or financial aid.
The GRE test is administered on a computer-based adaptive format and is approximately 4 hours long, including breaks. The exam consists of 6 sections, with different amounts of time allotted to complete each section. The adaptive computer-based test will select each successive section based on the answers you provided in the previous section. If you answer correctly, the next section will be more difficult; if you answer incorrectly, the next section will be less difficult.
Each section of the GRE is designed to assess general skills necessary for graduate school. Some of these skills include the ability to read complex informational text and understand high-level vocabulary words in the Verbal Reasoning section, respond to an issue in written form in the Analytical Writing Section, and apply general mathematical concepts to a variety of problem types in the Quantitative Reasoning section.
Performance on the GRE sections is often weighed differently and varies from program to program and university to university. In programs such as engineering or mathematics, the quantitative section is weighed more heavily in admission decisions than the verbal sections.
Before registering for an admission test, you should check the admissions requirements of the individual degree program to which you are interested in applying.
While it is not generally advisable to take the test too many times, you may be requested to retake the exam in order to meet minimum standards or to be more competitive for particular programs.
Students applying to the Fulbright Foreign Student Program are required to sit the GRE exam and the TOEFL exam. The Fulbright Foreign Student Program is extremely competitive and high test scores are crucial.
GRE General Test
|Exam Length||4 hours including breaks|
|130-170 (1-point increments) for Verbal and Quantitative;
0-6 for Analytical Writing
|Multi-stage test (MST), a computer-based format that allows student to navigate forward and backward within each section of the test|
|Number of Test Sections||6 sections, including an experimental or research section|
|Breaks||One 10-minute break after your third section; 1-minute breaks between all other sections|
|Analytical Writing||One section with two 30-minute tasks: analyze an issue and analyze an argument|
|Verbal Reasoning||Two 30-minute sections with approximately 20 questions each|
|Quantitative Reasoning||Two 35-minute sections with approximately 20 questions each; onscreen calculator available|
Score from the GRE Revised General Test are reported in three sections.
- The Verbal Reasoning section ranges from 130-170 points, in 1 point increments.
- The Quantitative Reasoning section ranges from 130-170, in 1 point increments.
- The Analytical Writing section ranges from 0-6, in half point increments.
- GRE scores remain valid for up to 5 years
Visit the ETS website for further information.
Registration, Test Dates, Score Reports and Study Material
Registration: The GRE is administered through the Educational Testing Service, ETS. Registration is done online at www.gre.org
Dates: The computer-based general exam is offered many times a month, throughout South Africa. Appointments for the exam are granted on a first-come, first-served basis through the online schedule at www.gre.org .
Score Reports: When registering for a test, students get four free reports to send to higher education institutions in the U.S. Students nominated for the Fulbright Foreign Students Program, by the Fulbright Office in South Africa, will be required to send a score report to The Institute of International Education (IIE). IIE’s code is 23 26. On the day you take the exam, it is possible to submit your GRE scores to up to four institutions without an extra fee. It takes two-three weeks for Institutions to receive the official scores.
- Practice materials can be accessed for free at http://www.ets.org/gre/revised_general/prepare
- By purchasing your individual copy of a GRE study guide at amazon.com
- If you are a Fulbright nominated candidate, you may be able to borrow a copy from your Fulbright Office or nearest U.S. Education Advising Centre.
GRE Subject Tests
Subject tests are designed to test the fundamental knowledge that is most important for successful graduate study in a particular subject area. To do well on a GRE subject test, you must have an extensive background in the particular subject area – the sort of background you would be expected to have if you had majored in the subject. Subject tests enable admissions officers to compare students from different colleges with different standards and curricula. Not every graduate school or program requires Subject Tests, so check admissions requirements at those schools in which you’re interested.
Subject tests are available for the following subjects:
- Biochemistry, Cell and Molecular Biology – free practice booklet: http://www.ets.org/s/gre/pdf/practice_book_biochem.pdf
- Chemistry – free practice booklet: http://www.ets.org/sgre/pdf/practice_book_chemistry.pdf
- Literature in English – free practice booklet: http://www.ets.org/s/gre/pdf/practice_book_lit.pdf
- Mathematics – free practice booklet: http://www.ets.org/s/gre/pdf/practice_book_math.pdf
- Physics – free practice booklet: http://www/ets.org/s/gre/pdf/practice_book_physics.pdf
- Psychology – free practice booklet: http://www.ets.org/s/gre/pdf/practice_book_psych.pdf
The GRE subject tests are generally available up to three times a year, typically in October, November and April. The exams are all paper-based, and test takers have 2 hours and 50 minutes.
For further information on GRE subject tests, please review the www.gre.org
How Subject Tests are used in Admissions: It is very important to do well on the Subject Test, as it assesses your knowledge directly in your field.
How to Prepare: There are a wide variety of test preparation materials available in both online and hard copy formats.
TEST TAKING TIPS FOR THE GRE GENERAL TEST
It is important to practice before taking the actual exam. Lack of familiarity with this type of exam can be a major obstacle. Starting with a general review, then working on practice questions, and finally building up to a full practice exam will help increase your performance on the exam.
OVERALL TIP 1: It is important to study the GRE in English. The GRE tests your reasoning skills in English. It can be difficult for native speakers of English. While it is acceptable to look up certain things in your own language, it is important to study for the exam in English as much as possible. You will not have time to translate effectively while taking the exam. You must be accustomed to answering questions in English as quickly and accurately as possible.
OVERALL TIP 2: Toward the beginning of your preparation studies, try to review topics broadly. This is the time to refresh your knowledge of mathematical concepts and English grammar and vocabulary.
OVERAL TIP 3: Acquire some practice questions. Start out just trying to answer the questions and applying the information from your review. Don’t worry about timing at first. After answering a few questions, review the answer choices and try to understand why certain answer choices are correct and why certain answer choices are incorrect. This will help you eliminate choices when you come across similar questions later.
OVERALL TIP 4: The GRE allows test-takers to skip questions. Depending on how you take tests, you may want to focus on easier questions first, and go back to more difficult questions later. However, it is important to remember if you’ve skipped questions to go back and answer them. It is very important to understand the interface of the exam, and be comfortable skipping questions and going back to them. There is no penalty for guessing, so even if you don’t know an answer, go back and answer the questions with your best guess.
OVERALL TIP 5: As studies progress, try practicing with groups of questions. Start to time yourself and pay attention to the kinds of questions and topics that are difficult for you. Review any content material with which you have trouble.
OVERALL TIP 6: Closer to your test date, take a few timed, practice GRE exams. Computerized practice tests are available when you register to take the GRE. It is also possible to find practice exams in paper format from bookstores and online. When practicing, try to take the paper practice exams first, and then progress to the computer practice exams. This will best prepare you for a computer-based exam.
TIPS AND PRACTICE:
VERBAL REASONING SECTION
TIP 1: It is important to study vocabulary. It is often helpful to study word roots. In this way, you can get a sense of a word even if you don’t know exactly what the word means. For example, if you know that TERRA has something to do with land, you may be able to get at the meanings of the words terrestrial, and territory. While the vocabulary you’ll be tested on in the new GRE will be in-context, you’ll still need to know what the words mean, and studying unfamiliar vocabulary will be helpful.
TIP 2: Try to make a quick review of English grammar. It is helpful both for the Analytical writing and the Verbal sections. Grammar is tested both directly and indirectly throughout the verbal section of the exam. Get a grammar book and try to brush up on the fine points of English grammar. You may find the following websites helpful:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/English_grammar http://esl.about.com/library/lessons/blgr_beginner_review1. htm
TIP 3: For the computer-based exam, it is important to get accustomed to reading a lot of text on a computer screen. You cannot take notes on text when it’s on a computer screen. Also, it may be distracting to scroll up and down the screen at first. Practice reading articles on computer screens. This is different than casually surfing the internet. Try to read a few articles in English every day to get comfortable reading on the computer screen. This does make a difference.
TIP 4: For some question types, you will need to pick several correct answers, or combinations of correct answers. Read the instructions for the questions carefully, and understand what the exam is asking for as best you can before attempting to answer a question. In some questions types, failure to select all correct answers or the correct combination of answers will result in getting the entire question marked incorrect.
For the quantitative section, remember that a lot of information is given in the question and the answer choices presented. Quite often the GRE Quantitative section doesn’t ask you to solve a question, but to compare equations or evaluate different topics.
TIP 1: Try to understand the question as much as possible before attempting to answer it. You avoid wasting time and picking incorrect answer choices this way. For example, if the test gives a set of two equations and asks you to evaluate which equation results in a larger sum, it may not be necessary to solve the equations to answer the question. You wonts get any points if you solve the equations but don’t answer the question correctly.
TIP 2: Pay close attention to the wording of questions. The actual mathematical content in many questions will need to be derived from the verbal information given in the question. You will often need to devise solutions based on on-numerical information. Please read questions carefully.
TIP 3: Often it is useful to use answer choices to figure out equations or understand numerical relations within the components of the question. Try to eliminate answer choices that are obviously wrong. This increases your chances of picking a correct answer.
TIP 4: Brushing up on general mathematical topics will be helpful. Understand concepts like odd, even, prime, composite, geometrical relationships, multiplicative properties, etc., will allow you to answer questions more quickly without a lot of confusing arithmetic. Even with a calculator, it is easy to make careless errors when you are taking the exams; so, it is good to have a basic understanding of math topics.
TIP 5: The GRE will provide an onscreen calculator for examinees taking the computer based test. There’s a helpful feature that lets examinees transfer answers into questions that require fill-in-the-blank answers. This will help eliminate any issues of copying the answer incorrectly from the calculator to the answer space.
ANALYTICAL WRITING SECTION
When writing essays, don’t try to impress the readers by using words or sentence structures that you find difficult. Write in a style with which you are comfortable. Answer the question as clearly as possible.
TIP 1: A good way to structure your essay is to introduce your point in the first paragraph, state your point, and give examples in the middle paragraphs, and then summarize your point in the last paragraph.
TIP 2: Try to use your experiences when answering questions. If you can relate an unfamiliar topic to something he or she is familiar with, usually once can write a stronger essay. Remember to stay on topic, though.
TIP 3: As a rule of thumb, try to write clear sentences, and keep one main idea per paragraph.
TIP 4: Try to save the last 5 to 10 minutes of the essay time to review what has been written. The best essays will be clear and answer the question effectively.
Check out our test-taking tips on video on our Fulbright Flagship Homepage!
TEST OF ENGLISH AS A FOREIGN LANGUAGE (TOEFL)
What Is the TOEFL
The TOEFL test measures your ability to use and understand English at the university level. It evaluates how well you combine your listening, reading, speaking and writing skills to perform academic tasks. The TOEFL IBT® test, delivered via the Internet, is an important part of your journey to study in an English-speaking country.
The TOEFL test is required of all students applying for the Fulbright Foreign Student Scholarship to study at a university in the United States at Masters and PhD level.
The TOEFL IBT is a four hour test and consists of four sections that include: Listening, Reading, Writing and Speaking. The IBT integrates grammar assessment throughout the exam. Score ranges from 0-120 (scholarship applicants should aim for 100+)
|Listening||30-39 questions||Test listening skills for both short conversations, and longer academic conversations. Question types may include multiple choice or others.|
|Reading||30-36 questions||Test reading comprehension skills. Question types include multiple choice and fill in the blank, among others, relating to a given reading passage. Each passage may have 4 to 5 or more reading comprehension questions.|
|Writing||2 essays||Tests writing skills. Students are presented with two separate essay questions to which to respond.|
|Speaking||6 speaking questions||Tests speaking skills; test taker’s voice is recorded during the exam. Question types include Independent Topics which should be on topics familiar to the student, and integrated Topics which require a student to read and/or listen to a question prompt and then respond verbally.|
REGISTRATION FOR THE EXAM
IBT test-takers must register online at www.toefl.org
Students nominated for Fulbright Foreign Student Program will receive a voucher to register for the TOEFL test.
Students working with the Fulbright Program/IIE on university placement, have to identify IIE as a score recipient at the time of registration. IIE’s code is 2326
TIPS AND PRACTICE
You may find the following websites useful: