At this point, it’s time for you—and us—to take stock of your progress and determine your next steps. Here’s a quick checklist to assess where you are in the process.
- Determined when you want to apply to school?
- Familiarized yourself with GRE® questions through the Kaplan 20-Minute Workout?
- Selected your target programs?
- Taken a Kaplan practice test for the GRE at kaptest.com/GREPTVid?
- Figured out how you’ll finance your degree?
- Prepared for the GRE?
- Taken the GRE and secured the score you need?
- Started your application essays?
- Submitted your applications?
If you checked all of them, our congratulations—you’re well on your way to graduate school.
If you’re not done with the GRE, then it’s time to get started. We’ve got free resources to support you at each step, so give us a call at 1-800-KAP-TEST, talk to us on Facebook or Twitter, or visit our pages on the GRE, Financial Aid and more at kaptest.com/gradfinaid.
We wish you continued success on your path to graduate school.
Recently a reader asked me to post about strategies for long Reading Comprehension passages and Bolded Statement questions. (Mohamed also asked about vocab strategies, which I will discuss soon. Be sure to see previous vocabulary-related posts from my Kaplan colleagues.)
The Kaplan New GRE Verbal Workbook includes a chapter devoted to Reading Comprehension, as well as sets of practice questions and additional resources. One of these resources is a list of additional tips for tackling the Reading Comprehension section, including Bolded Statements questions. These tips are found on pages 78-80, and I’m going to borrow from them here.
There are differences between real-world reading and reading GRE passages is that on the GRE:
- On Test Day, you don’t care about the facts in the passage — you only care about ideas. A passage might tell you that the character Superman first appeared in 1938. You don’t care what year Superman was introduced, but you care about WHY the author told you that. The passage may then go on to describe how the powers attributed to Superman have changed over time. In that case, knowing that Superman has been around for 70+ years might be important.
- Prior knowledge is not welcome on Test Day. Forget everything you might know about Superman — everything you need to know will be contained within the passage. Wrong answer choices play on things that test-takers understand to be logically true, but if those facts aren’t mentioned in the passage, you don’t care.
- If a passage tells you Superman has a twin sister, then as far as you are concerned, he has a twin sister. The passage text is TRUE. Period. You may question texts as much as you like in real-world reading, but on the GRE, accept that whatever the passage is telling you is correct.
Bolded Statement questions should be tackled the same way as other Reading Comprehension question types. In these questions, you REALLY don’t care about the facts or details. You ONLY care about the purpose of the statements, and you consider each statement separately. Is it an opinion? An example? An argument? If it is an argument, is it the passage’s primary or secondary argument, or perhaps a counterargument? Is it evidence, and if so, of what? You care about the purpose of each statement in relation to the other sentences in the passage.
Let me repeat that. Just as with other question types, you must consider Bolded Statements in the context of the passage as a whole. Do not skip the un-bold statements; they are your context clues for figuring out the role the Bolded Statements play.
Have a question about grammar, punctuation, usage, or style? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and put “blog question” in your subject line. Then look for a response here!
One of the most destructive habits I see among students is the tendency of some of them to argue with the test. I don’t mean to judge: we’ve all been there. You’re rockin’ some readin’ comp, cruisin’ along, and suddenly the choice you picked is wrong because of one measly word or one measly line in the passage. As for the correct choice, well, you could have sworn it was wrong, and the linguistic contortions by which it’s proven correct seem nothing short of magecraft and witchery. You cry, “That’s a load of horse whiskers!” (Only I’m probably the only person who actually cries that.)
If arguing with the test is a habit you succumb to violently and often — if it’s commonplace for you to lose yourself fuming and roiling, convincing yourself that the test makers are idiots and that your answer is right and their answer is wrong, or perhaps that all the answers are right or all of them are wrong — let me tell you two very important words.
All right, let’s be fair. Has a test maker ever published a logically imprecise question? Yes. If you’re studying online practice questions, is it possible for a problem to contain a misprint? Yes. But ninety-nine times out of a hundred?
That may seem unkind of me to say, but what’s even more unkind is derailing your entire process of test preparation by squandering your brain cells down an avenue of thought that’s certain to do nothing for your score. Short of getting hired on at ETS, you can’t change the GRE. The test is what it is. If a problem makes you mad, well, isn’t it likely that thousands of other people were maddened by that problem, too? You have a choice. You can analyze the test maker’s logic, uncover your mistake, and make sure you never make that mistake again, or you can join the legions of angry test takers who sit around seething and calling the test maker nasty names. One of these options absolutely helps you get a better GRE score and go to a better grad school. The other burns a lot of neurons to no effect.
Recently, I took on the challenge of writing some sample GRE Analytical Writing essays to serve as models for our courses. Frankly, I didn’t think this would be a particularly difficult assignment. After all, barely a week goes by in which I don’t teach students how to write at least one of the two types of essay. In addition, I’ve graded hundreds of them in the course of my years teaching at Kaplan. Piece of cake, right?
Well, maybe not. First of all, I spent an inordinate amount of time procrastinating getting started. Could I find 30 straight minutes when I could be sure of being uninterrupted? What word processing software could I use to simulate what is found at the testing center? What should I use as a timer? How could I choose an essay prompt at random without risking seeing it for more than the allotted time? (Fortunately for Kaplan-trained students, these last few questions are easily answered by practicing in the highly realistic interface provided by our full-length practice tests.)
Eventually, I fired up TextEdit on my Mac, set up my iPod Touch with a timer, and told my family members to leave me alone for 40 minutes. Then, I:
- Grabbed an old spiral notebook and a pencil to use for my scratchwork.
- Got the list of “Analyze an Argument” essay assignments (found here) without actually looking at them, then scrolled down a couple pages with no peeking.
- Chose one at random, set the timer for eight minutes (the amount of time Kaplan recommends) for my brainstorming and planning, and got to work.
I swear the timer must not have been working right. Those eight minutes seemed to fly by in about 30 seconds. I hadn’t finished my preparation work, but I immediately reset the timer for 20 minutes and started typing my essay. I wrote what I saw as the bare bones of an essay, hoping to have time to go back later and flesh out some of my points. I made sure to identify the argument’s evidence separately from the conclusion in the opening paragraph and addressed the specific prompt by stating that the argument relied on some unsupported assumptions and was not acceptable in its current form. I then wrote two paragraphs exploring the different flaws and assumptions, showing how these could be used to weaken the conclusion depending on other facts that might be found. My next-to-last paragraph included a possible reprieve for the hapless author, describing a particular fact pattern that, if true, could help make the original case stronger. I even left time at the end to type a brief conclusion restating the evidence and conclusion and declaring the argument still flawed and in need of more support.
Alarm! What? But I’d barely written anything! I had plenty more to say; the paucity of my production had nothing to do with all those great ideas I had in my head. Nonetheless, the timer had gone off, so I reset it for two minutes to allow for some minimal proofreading. I did find a few minor errors of mistyping and punctuation that I was glad to spruce up.
The next day, I tackled the “Analyze an Issue” essay. I chose a topic at random and proceeded using a similar method to the one I’d used for the Argument essay. This time, the amount of time allotted wasn’t nearly as problematic for me. I’m not sure whether it’s the nature of the assignment or whether I’d gained from my experience the day before, but I finished my preparation in six of the eight minutes, then finished the writing itself with three minutes to spare. This allowed for some more serious editing—in this case, a rearrangement of my second paragraph—that improved the essay. For this essay, I used the first paragraph to state my thesis clearly, then gave a quick summary of why this position is correct. I followed this with a paragraph using a personal experience to support my position, another paragraph using reasoning as support, and a third paragraph bringing up a possible counterargument to my position and then knocking it down with facts from a recent independent study. A short concluding paragraph reminds the reader of my position and reinforces it.
Through writing these practice essays, I learned plenty that I hadn’t really understood when merely teaching others how to write the essays. The principal surprise to me was how hard it is to write very much, even for a fast typist with plenty of ideas. What really saved me from disaster was sticking to Kaplan’s timing recommendations. With an onscreen countdown timer on Test Day, keeping track of timing should be almost as easy as it was for me with my alarms. Kaplan’s essay templates and guidance were remarkably useful, helping me make all the types of points I needed for a high-scoring essay. Ultimately, it is essential to write practice essays before tackling them at the testing center. Figure out your own essay-writing flaws and foibles on your own time, when it doesn’t count, and use this experience to learn how to write essays that will yield you terrific scores on your GRE.
“Alright, I know how to read – what more to it can there possibly be?
“Almost all of the answer choices in the Reading Comp section seem like they could be correct – it’s hopeless…”
If you haven’t uttered one of the above statements about the GRE’s Reading Comp questions, then you are probably somewhere in the spectrum between these two attitudes of naively confident and unduly uncertain.
Indeed, you will need to know how to read – but your present activity proves that you are in check with that prerequisite…
So, testing more than just your ability to discern words from groups of letters, the GRE attempts to assess your ability to think critically and read strategically – with purpose. Moreover, the Reading Comp passages and their corresponding questions are measuring your analytical skills as they are performed under time constraints. Specifically, how well can you determine the best definition of a word in context? Given detailed and dense prose, are you able to identify an author’s tone and then determine her main idea and purpose? Rather than only partake in the inefficiency of time-intensive rereading, can you initially glean information from text and then perceive ideas in such a manner as to draw accurate inferences from them?
The answer is YES, you can…but only if you learn to read in a way much differently than most folks tend to read books at the beach, differently even than the method you probably used to read text books to earn your degree. Strategic reading is a skill and, as such, it requires methodology built around it and – here it comes – practice!
Great preparation for GRE success must include learning and practicing a device for efficiently and proficiently gathering sufficient data and intelligence from our initial read so that we can adeptly answer 1-3 questions while making only quick, referent analysis of the passage.
Far from having multiple correctly-worded answer choices (although the New GRE does now include questions, “Select all that apply” which have multiple answer choices that are correct), the traditional multiple-choice question has only one choice which is worded in such a way to be correct given the stated question. Furthermore, the other 4 choices have serious flaws, however hidden to us those flaws may seemingly feel. It’s NOT about feel, this task is categorical and the passage will “tell” us all that we need it to, thus allowing us to predict the right choice, if only we are well-trained and well-practiced in the scheme of skills to do so.