GRE Test-taking Notes

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  • aggressive scratch paper usage, where you physically write givens and lettters and cross out eliminated choices using POE.
  • POE
  • Pacing
    • Math: 1st 15 mins: 9 questions, 2nd: 9, 3rd: 10
    • Verbal: 1st 10 mins: 9, 2nd: 10, 3rd: 11

Essay Section

  • focus on big picture
  • Transitions, flow control: " because" "however" "for instance"

Issue essay - "Present Your Perspective"

  • Pick the essay for which you can rattle off the largest number of well-thought-out reasons and their examples
  • Whether taking pro or con position, either way will require you to provide points which challenge the statement.
  • Have a direct response to any statement made in the prompt - provide a counterweight
  • AGREE OR DISAGREE WITH THE CLAIM. Pick a side and argue that side, pro or con.
  • Identify the crux of the issue and mention it as early as possible
  • MAINTAIN FOCUS! Be totally on topic, don't tangent, don't rant, every sentence germane to the crux of the issue.
  • Make a point that directly addresses crux of the issue & provide persuasive supporting examples
  • This isn't creative writing to entertain
  • Don't be Glenn Beck: don't make claims or generalizations or statements that you can't back up with facts or clear logic.
  • No point in a conclusion that adds little, merely repeating earlier statements

Analyze Argument

  • attack logic
  • Every single sentence needs to be substantial
  • Develop points, don't just mention them
  • Don't explain how to make the argument, just make the fucking argument
  • Provide an EXHAUSTIVE list of alternatives and develop them
  • Have a conclusion paragraph
  • use phrases like "well-presented" "well-reasoned" "seems logical" "failure to consider alternatives" "such alternatives include"

Verbal Section


  • Common GRE relationships for defining sentences
  1. A means to ____ B _____
  2. Type of
  3. Used to
  4. A greater/ lesser degree of
  5. Characterized by
  6. Without / Lacking
  7. Worthy of
  8. Causing
  • GET MORE SPECIFIC - If multiple answer choices fit defining sentence, use POE, and refine defining sentence to get more specific.
  • USE PARTS OF SPEECH in answer choices to establish ambiguous part of speech in stem word
  • POE to decide answer if you don't know words in answer choice.
  • ELIMINATE NON-RELATIONSHIPS if don't know definition of both stem words.
    • Ask is a A necessarily related to B
    • Eliminate if you have to tell a convoluted story to link words.
  • WORK BACKWARDS to create defining sentences to answer choices to help with POE

Sentence Completion

  • pretty straightforward


  • when you "sort of" know the word, use connotation
  • eliminate answers that do not have an opposite connotation

Reading Comprehension

  1. Case the joint. Get familiar with the passage. Focus on first and last sentence of each paragraph. Don't read every word and memorize every detail. Note general topic on scratch paper and paragraph organization.
  2. Now try to summarize main idea of the passage
  3. Read question, identifying the "lead word" phrase in the question (the most descriptive word)
  4. Skim the passage to find that word or phrase and make that line centered on the screen. Read more depth where you need to. Never answer a question from memory.
  5. Read question again and answer it in own words
  6. Use POE
  7. Use common sense but not outside knowledge - base answer on the passage only and pretend you didn't know anything about subject if you do.
  8. Avoid answer choices that make extreme statements. A statement in a correct answer choice will be indisputable. Moderate answers like "may" "can" "sometimes" are good!
  9. Avoid direct repetitions. Correct answer is almost always a paraphrase
  10. Watch out or answer choices that are true statements from from a different part of the passage but irrelevant to question.
  11. Watch out for answer choices that are true statements but aren't mentioned at all in the paragraph with the "lead word"
  12. If an answer choice is half wrong, it's all wrong. Focus on flaws and POE.
  • Line Reference questions - read 5 sentences above and below, cause the answer's not gonna be in that actual line
  • Retrieval Questions - direct textual support
  • Inference Questions - answer will follow logically from the text of the passage even if it's not supported directly.
  • Main Idea/Structure Questions ("The author is primarily concerned with")- eliminate answers that are too specific
  • Tone, Attitude, Style Questions - Usually the most boring sensible middle of the road statement
  • Least/Except/Not Questions - The best answer is the one you'd normally eliminate first. Eliminate correct answers!

Math Section

  • 45 minutes - 28 questions
  • 12-16 problem solving
  • 13-15 quantitative comparison
  • some are "Enter A Number" questions

Test-taking Tips

  2. Always read all the choices first, before you start to solve a problem
  3. Write down all given information
  4. Take time with arithmetic, especially in the beginning
  5. Double-check work before hit confirm
  6. Use ballparking to eliminate answers
  7. Using the plugin technique for solving for x is fool-proof; using actual algrebra isn't.
  8. Read through all the answers and see how they're distinct, especially for differences in sign.
  9. When doing charts, use as close an estimation of value as possible
  10. Use the average pie to organize information -> Total in the top, # of things in the bottom-left, average in bottom-right
  11. Distance/time/speed/rate problems -> use the average pie. Distance or amount in top, time in bot-left, rate in bot-right
  12. Ratio problems: "Count the parts" - Add up all the ratio numbers to get the total number of parts. Divide the actual total amount of things by the number of parts to get how much is in a part. Use the Ratio Box to help organize this information -> 3 rows (the ratio, the derived part number, and the real amount of objects), 1 + number of objects columns (last column is sum total of all the other columns)

Quantitative Comparison Question Tips

  • For Quantitative Comparisons, A is larger, B is larger, C is equal, D can't tell, no E
  • If a question is only nunmbers, the answer is never D
  • Don't calculate exact values if not necessary
  • Plug in a few values - try to find a # to disprove what you first proved
    1. "normal" number first
    2. 0
    3. 1
    4. A fraction near the domain boundary
    5. Negative number
    6. A really large number
  • For geometry questions, try to redraw the figure in an extreme way but still satisying all the given info

Math Rules

  2. Zero is neither positive nor negative
  3. Zero = even
  4. Even/odd applies to integers only -> fractions can't be odd
  5. Prime = divisible by itself and 1
  7. factor = numbers that go into orig # w/o remainder
  8. Order of operations = PEMDAS
  9. Quotient = dividend / divisor
  10. To multiply two numbers with the same base and diferent exponents, ADD of the exponents
  11. Two raise a number with base and exponent to another exponent, MULTIPLY exponents
  12. 0^0 is undefined
  13. Ballpark inexact square roots
  14. root 2 = 1.4, root 3 = 1.7
  15. circumference = 2*pi*r = pi*d
  16. simultaneous equations -> you can add and subtract them!
  17. Sum of the 4 angles creaated by 2 intersecting lines = 360 degrees
  18. Sum of the angles inside a triangle = 180
  19. Sum of angles inside any 4-sided figure = 360
  20. Area triangle = 1/2*base*height
  21. Length of diagonal inside 3-D box = a^2 + b^2 + c^2 = d^2
  22. Bell curve percentages 34:14:2 = these are percents above/below mean for 1:2:above 2 standard deviations
  23. Impossible => P=0; Certain => P=1
  24. Probability = (# of possible outcomes that satisfy a condition) / (# of total possible outcomes)
  25. Probability of both things happening, P total = P1 * P2
  26. Probability of one or the other, P total = P1 + P2
  27. Sometimes it's easier to calculate the probability of something no happening, then subtracting it from 1
  28. PERMUTATION -> when the order matters. Multiply the number of options available for each slot
  29. COMBINATION -> order doesn't matter. Just divide Permutation number by (# slots)!
  30. For PERM/COMB problems with constraints, either calculate total number of outcomes and then subtract the number of outcomes that violate constraint, OR calculate the number of outcomes for each possibility/situation and add them/

Divisibility Rules

  • 2 = If ones digit is divisible by 2
  • 3 = If sum of all digits is divisible by 3
  • 4 = If the last two (least significant) digits are divisible by 4
  • 5 = If ones digit is 5 or 0
  • 6 = If divisivle by both 2 and 3
  • 9 = If sum of digits is divisible by 9