PTCAS: The GRE (Part 1)


*Dun dun dun* the GRE! Every student dreads it (unless you’re a fan of standardized tests), but I am going to help you conquer it! In today’s #dptwiththecc post, I’ll be giving you the low-down on the GRE. Get ready for your worst nightmare! (just kidding…kind of)

Now I’m not gonna lie, the GRE is HARD. And it’s not so much the material that is hard, it’s the thinking that is hard (you’ll see what I mean later). SO many people warned me about the GRE, but you won’t really “get it” until you actually take a practice test. There is definitely a learning curve, and you NEED NEED NEED to take as many practice tests as you can to get accustomed to the setup and types of questions. This is going to be a very lengthy post, so I am going to split it into 2 separate posts (you’re welcome lol). This will be part 1 (of course), and part 2 will be up on Tuesday. This information will be tailored to students applying to PT school, but this post is definitely useful for anyone that has to take the GRE! For part 1, I will give a general overview of the test, along with what to expect when taking it!

What is the GRE?

The Graduate Record Exam (GRE) is a standardized test that is required for admission into most graduate schools in the U.S. It is administered by the Educational Testing Service (ETS), and it measures your verbal reasoning, quantitative reasoning, critical thinking, and analytical writing skills. These are skills that you will need to succeed in a graduate program, which is why this test is usually a prerequisite for admission. Most PT schools require the GRE, while there are a few that may not (you may get lucky). The test itself is $205, you sign up online in advance, and you can pick your test time and test date. If you need to reschedule or change your testing site, there is a $50 fee, so plan accordingly.

How is the GRE structured?

GRE testing will take roughly 3 hours and 45 minutes. There are both computer-delivered and paper-delivered versions of the GRE, but because most people take the computer-delivered test, that is what I will be referencing throughout this post. The test has 3 section types: Verbal Reasoning (V), Quantitative Reasoning (Q), and Analytical Writing (AW). Here is a breakdown of each section, according to the ETS website:

Verbal Reasoning (V):
  • 20 questions
  • Analyze and draw conclusions from discourse; reason from incomplete data; identify author’s assumptions and/or perspective; understand multiple levels of meaning, such as literal, figurative, and author’s intent
  • Select important points; distinguish major from minor or relevant points; summarize text; understand the structure of a text
  • Understand the meanings of words, sentences, and entire texts; understand relationships among words and among concepts
  • 3 question types: reading comprehension, text completion, and sentence equivalence

Quantitative Reasoning (Q):
  • 20 questions
  • Understand, interpret, and analyze quantitative information
  • Solve problems using mathematical models
  • Apply basic skills and elementary concepts of arithmetic, algebra, geometry, and data analysis

Analytical Writing (AW):
  • 1 “Analyze an Issue” Essay Task
  • 1 “Analyze an Argument” Essay Task
  • Articulate complex ideas clearly and effectively
  • Support ideas with relevant reasons and examples
  • Examine claims and accompanying evidence
  • Sustain a well-focused, coherent discussion
  • Control the elements of standard written English

While there are only 3 section types, the GRE actually has 6 total sections: 1 Analytical Writing section, 2 Verbal Reasoning sections, 2 Quantitative Reasoning sections, and 1 Unscored or Research section (could be Verbal or Quantitative Reasoning). The first section you will ALWAYS encounter will be Analytical Writing, which you are allotted 1 hour for (30 minutes per essay). The following sections could be either Verbal Reasoning (30 minutes per section) or Quantitative Reasoning (35 minutes per section). The order for the rest of the test is totally randomized, so you’ll never know which section type will be next. Confused yet lol? If so, this chart from the ETS website should help you better visualize the test structure:

 Screen Shot 2017-12-15 at 1.50.39 AM

What is the test interface like?

The GRE interface is pretty simple. Within each section, you can freely move backward and forward, you can “mark” questions that you want to skip and come back to later to “review”, you can edit your answers, and you have an on-screen calculator. Here is an example of the review screen from the ETS website:

Screen Shot 2017-12-15 at 1.53.41 AM
GRE Review Screen

The Verbal and Quantitative Reasoning measures are section-level adaptive. This means that after your first section of either measure, the computer determines the difficulty of the next section based on how well you previously did. The difficulty type will remain the same within each section though, and each question contributes equally to your final score.

Are there any breaks?

There are 1-minute breaks between each section, + you are given a 10-minute break following the 3rd section. These breaks are always optional though, so you can skip them if you’d like.

How is the GRE scored?

Both the Verbal and Quantitative Reasoning sections are on a 130-170-point scale, in 1-point increments. The Analytical Writing section is on a 0-6-point scale, in half-point increments. Your Verbal and Quantitative Reasoning scores are combined for your composite score, while your Analytical Writing score is always separate. So, the lowest score is essentially a 260 and a 0, while the highest score is a 340 and a 6 (#rare!).
There are 2 types of scores on the test, your raw score and your scaled score. Your raw score is based on your number of correct responses. Unlike the SAT, the GRE does not penalize you for incorrect answers (thank goodness!). Your scaled score is a conversion of your raw score, done through a process called equating. This process just accounts for the minor differences in difficulty between test editions/dates, along with the section-level adaptations.

For the Analytical Writing section, each essay is graded by at least one human and a computer. These scores are then averaged, and rounded to the nearest half-point interval on the 0-6-point scale. The graders are supposed to grade your essay based on its overall quality in response to the assigned task. While grammar and mechanics are important, your critical thinking and analytical writing skills are the primary emphasis in scoring.

You are given percentile ranks (0-99) for each section as well, and these ranks usually change each year, + are based on the previous 3-year testing period. For example, for this year, a 155 V is in the 68th percentile, a 155 Q is in the 59th percentile, and a 4.0 AW is in the 59th percentile. These percentiles are handy, because they allow your score to be compared to the scores of other people who have also taken the test! The percentile means you scored better than ___% of test takers (i.e. the 70th percentile means you scored better than 70% of test takers).

One of the “perks” of the GRE is that you receive your unofficial scores for Verbal and Quantitative Reasoning immediately at the end of the exam (so you don’t have to wonder!). It takes a few weeks (about 10-15 days) to receive your official scores + percentiles, along with your AW score. This is also how long it takes for your selected institutions to receive your scores. Most of the time, your unofficial and official scores are the same, but there is that off chance that the computer makes a mistake, and your scores will require adjusting. You will also have the option to cancel your scores at the end of the exam (before you actually see them), but I wouldn’t recommend this unless you totally bomb the test (aka fall asleep at the computer or something). You always have the option to only report the scores you feel confident in, so keep that in mind! Once you cancel a score, it will no longer be in your reportable history, and you, along with any other schools, will never have access to it.

What is a “good” GRE score?

Most DPT programs require you have at least a 300-composite score (or a 150 V + Q), along with an AW score of at least 3.5/4.0. Check with your prospective programs for more specifics. My program didn’t have a minimum requirement, but they recommended that we be in or around the 50th/60th percentile. Most schools also list the average scores of accepted students, so I would advise you to be in or above that range to be safe. All of this information will be on the program’s PTCAS site + their program website as well. Every program weighs the GRE differently, so your best bet is to score as high as you can (better said than done, I know). You could also contact the program for more information.

When should I take the GRE?

Most people take their GRE over the summer or during Christmas break when they have more free time. It doesn’t matter when you take the test, as long as you give yourself enough time to PROPERLY prepare, + a little “leeway time” in case you want to retake it. Programs will usually have a GRE deadline, so I would suggest you take the test at least a few months before that deadline. Keep in mind that you can only retake the GRE every 21 days, up to 5 times in a 12-month period.

And that’s it for part 1 of this post (it was a lot I know—hence why I’m giving you a few days to digest it all)! Come back on Tuesday to check out part 2! In that post you’ll find out how to study for the GRE, hear about my personal experience, and learn a few tips and tricks!

Have a great weekend y’all!

(This post is based on my own knowledge/experience, information from Google, information from the ETS website, and information from the Pre-PT Student Doctor Network Forum. All images are from the ETS website, and do not belong to me. This post is not sponsored in any way.)



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