Posted on December 24, 2009 by GRE Tutor
Although time is limited on the GRE, working too quickly can damage on score. Many problems hinge on subtle points, and most require careful reading of the setup. Because undergraduate school puts such heavy reading loads on students, many will follow their academic conditioning and read the questions quickly, looking only for the gust of what the question is asking. Once they found it, they mark their answer and move on, confident they have answered it correctly. Later, many are started to discover that they missed questions because they either misread the problems or overlooked subtle points.
To do well in your undergraduate classes, you had to attempt to solve every, or nearly every, problem on a test. Not so with the GRE. In fact, if you try to solve every problem on the test, you will probably damage your score. For the vast majority of people, the key to performing well on the GRE is not the number of questions they solve, within reason, but the percentage they solve correctly.
Posted on December 18, 2009 by GRE Tutor
Subject Test are designed to test the fundamental knowledge most important for successful graduate study in a particular subject area. In order to do well on a GRE Subject Test, you need to have an extensive background in the particular subject area — the sort of background you would be expected to have if you majored in the subject. Subject Tests enable admissions offers to compare students from different colleges with different standards and curricula. Not every graduate school or program requireds Subject Test, so check admission requirements at those schools in which you’re interested.
Posted on December 16, 2009 by GRE Tutor
Apply the following techniques to find the best antonyms (opposite) from the five given choices in the antonym questions. Often the first question or two on your verbal section will be an antonym question. Remember, the earliest questions you face on the GRE weigh more heavily than the final ones you answer. Take the time you need to answer these early questions correctly.
- Think of a context for the capitalized word
- Before you look at the choices, think of antonyms for the capitalized word
- Read all the choices before you decide which is best
- Look at the answer choices to determine the word’s part of speech
- Consider secondary meanings of the capitalized word as well as its primary meaning
- Break down unfamiliar words into recognizable parts
- Change unfamiliar words from one part of speech to another
- In eliminating answer choices, test words for their positive or negative connotations
- Watch out for errors caused by eye-catchers
Posted on December 13, 2009 by GRE Tutor
There are many appraoches to learning new vocabulary. The right way is the way that works for you. Generally, this is going to involve a combination of techniques and tools.
Mnemonic devices are things that help you remember something. They work by creating a link in your memory between a word and its definition through another associated image, phrase, or sound (or smell for that matter, but we don’t have any good examples for those). When you come up with a mnemonic tool, you are helping your brain by working with or creating associations that make it easier for you to remember a definition.
There are very few rules when it comes to good mnemonics. In fact, there’s only one that really matters: If it works, it’s good. Look at a word and its definition. Is there anything about either one that makes you think of something else? Reminds you of something or someone? If so, is there a way you can connect that association with the word and its definition? Let’s take a simple example for the word fallow. If you looked at the definition for the word (untilled, inactive, dormant) and the first thing that popped into your head was a picture of your brother Fred, who’s been out of work for the last six months and has spent that time lying on the couch, then you could use that image as a mnemonic device. The initial F in each word, Fred and fallow, links the two, and you associate Fred with inactivity, which reminds you that fallow means inactive and dormant. You do have to be careful here to distinguish between the association as a tool to remember the definition, and the definition itself, since idiomatic usage dictates that fallow is not usually used to describe people, though it can be used to describe parts of people (such as their minds).
While this example used an association from personal life, some mnemonics rely primarily on similar sounds and (often crazy) images to create associations. To come up with these, try to find a part or parts of the word that look or sound like other words that can lead you to the correct definition of the original. The connecting words should create specific, detailed images in your mind that have association with the definition you are looking for. The sillier the images, the better they work! Here are some examples borrowed from The Princeton Review’s Illustrated Word Smart.
Vocaublary Words and their Mnemonic Tools
- Benevolent; Ben is never violent (picture Ben as a peace-loving hippy)
- Conscientious; Conscience sent us (to do the right thing)
- Repugnant; Repulsive pug
- Solvent; Solves the rent problem
- Prophetic; Prophet-like
- Partisan; Party’s man (as in political party)
- Sonorous; A song for us
Posted on December 10, 2009 by GRE Tutor
Before we discuss specific strategies for learning vocabulary, we need to talk about how you know which words you already know. Sounds a little weird, doesn’t it? You may think it’s like a light switch with only two position: You either know a word or you don’t. However, the English language is actually divided into three categories: words you know, words you sort of know, and words you’ve never heard of. The best way to figure out which category a word belongs in is to imagine yourself walking down the street when a small spaceship lands in front of you. An alien emerges to greet you. Since we’ve already got you imagining a close encounter, it shouldn’t be too much of a stretch to imagine that the alien starts you for help defining words. The first word it asks you to define is apple. You respond by saying, “An apple is a type of fruit that grows on a tree, has an edible skin and a core with seeds in it, and is usually green, red, or yellow.” Apple is therefore a word you know, because it’s one for which you can provide a dictionary definition. The next word alien asks about is on the opposite end of the spectrum – acarpous, for instance. For all you know, this might be a word in Alienese; it falls into the “Huh?” category of words you don’t know at all. Finally, the alient, whom you’ve grown somewhat fond of by now, asks you to define integrity. This is probably a word you’ve seen many a times and used yourself, but how do you define it for your new friend? If you use examples or a story to explain integrity, it falls into the category of words you sort of know.
It is easy to see why you need to learn the words you don’t know at all that are likely to appear on the GRE. It might be a little less obvious why the “sort of” words are important, but it is every bit as critical to recognize these and learn their dictionary definitions. Although it might seem fine to skip over these words since you already sort of know them, you must be able to define them clearly in order to deal with them effectively on the test. If you are unsure about whether a word is a “sort of” or a “definitely” know, try defining it for your alient visitor.
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There may also be words you are sure you know, but that have secondary definitions ETS loves to try to trick you with. Often these secondary definitions involve a change in a word’s part of speech. For example, you probably know “color” as a noun, but do you know what it means as a verb?
Posted on December 7, 2009 by GRE Tutor
The Computer Adaptive format of the GRE makes knowing this vocabulary even more critical. On a Computer Adaptive Test (CAT), the computer tries to determine your “scoring level” by asking you a series of questions. At the beginning of the test, the computer doesn’t know anything about your scoring level, so it makes broad guesses. The first question will be of average difficulty, and if you get it right, the next question will be significantly more difficult. Similarly, if you get the first question wrong, the next one will be significantly easier. If you continue to answer questions correctly, your score keeps going up. The closer the computer gets to determining your final score (ie, the closer you get to the end of the section), the smaller the adjustments it makes as it recalculates your score based on your response to each question. The most important consequence of this structure is that questions at the beginning of the section have a greater impact on your score than do those toward the end of the section. Answering questions correctly at the beginning of the section can move your score up by about 40 to 80 points. By the end of the section, each question will only adjust your score by 10 or 20 points.
The bottom line is: It is critical that you be able to correctly answer the first several questions on the section. Knowing the stem words in those questions and answer choices is the key to doing so. After all, an antonym that appears in the first ten questions for which you don’t know the stem word is a question you can’t do much with. An antonym for which you know the stem word and at least four of the five words in the answer choices is a piece of cake.
The writing sample
Although the writing portion of the GRE does not directly test your vocabulary, the language you use will definitely play a role in the score you receive. The more precisely you choose your words, the more certain you can be of accurately conveying your ideas. Also, using a variety of words properly will improve your score. Notice that we said properly! This is an important caveat for the Writing Sample and the rest of your life. A big word improperly used can be more dangerous than a nice safe word used correctly. Using a word properly doesn’t just mean picking a word with a dictionary definition that matches your intended meaning. Context matters too. You have to know whether the word you want is only used in the plural, or if it always goes with a particular preposition. Is there a particular phrase it’s usually seen in? Is it only used literally or can it be used metaphorically as well? Learning words in context will ensure that you can answer these questions. It will also allow you to use your new vocabulary or the Analytical Writing portion of the GRE with confidence.
Posted on December 4, 2009 by GRE Tutor
Now that you know what kinds of words are tested on the GRE, we can look at how they are used in actual questions. Vocabulary is central to 3 of the 4 question types on the Verbal section (sentence completions, analogies, and antonyms) and pretty darn useful for the fourth (reading comprehension). Your use of language, which includes word choice, is also very important for the writing portion of the test.
When answering analogy and antonym questions, the more words you can define in the stem (the word or words in the question) and in the answer choices, the greater your likelihood of choosing the correct answer to the question. Knowing which four answer choices don’t work will get you to the credited response as surely as will knowing which one is right. You don’t even have to know the word(s) in the correct answer, as long as you can define and eliminate the ones in the wrong answer choices. We call this the magic of Process of Elimination, POE.
Sentence completions work in a similar way. First, you need to figure out the meaning of the words that belong in each blank. Then, you have to know the definitions of enough of the words in the answer choices to be able to narrow them down to a single answer, or at least a strong guess.
Ultimately, having a strong vocabulary is the key to getting the highest scores on the verbal section of the GRE. The difficulty level of a question on the test is determined by how many or few people on average will answer it correctly. What makes a sentence completion, analogy, or antonym question hard (ie, something that most people cannot answer correctly) is the difficulty of the vocabulary. For example, the hardest analogy may have the exact same relationship between the two words in the stem as the easiest analogy has, but the words in the former are much more obscure than those on the latter. To get the highest verbal score, you have to know the hardest words the GRE will test.
Posted on December 3, 2009 by GRE Tutor
Humans communicate through language, and although gestures and facial expressions are important means of communication, we most often rely on words to express ourselves. How many times have you been frustrated because you didn’t have the right words to say that you meant? The broader your vocabulary, the more precisely you can communicate your ideas to others.
It’s a little bit like playing “Telephone,” the game in which the first player whispers something to the second, and then the second player whispers what she heard to the third person, and so on. At the end, you find out how mangled the original sentence has become by the time it reaches the last person. The more carefully the first player articulates the sentence, the less extreme the alterations are along the way. Of course, playing Telephone is not much fun if the sentence doesn’t change. The whole point of the game, after all, is to see how distorted the original sentence becomes. What is entertaining in Telephone, however, is only frustrating when you are trying to make a point. When you use words that sort of mean what you want to say, the margin of error for your listener or reader is much greater than if you can choose the words that mean exactly what you intend them to. In effect, you have greater control over the message when you have greater control over the words that convey it.
The way you express yourself may also have an impact on how people view you. How do you decide how “smart” you think someone is? These days it’s probably not the fountain pen, or the monocle, or the stack of weighty tomes under someone’s arm that gives you an impression of intelligence. For better or worse, people draw their sense of our abilities largely from the language we use. In the end, how you say something matters as much as what you are trying to say.
The same thing will be true in grad school: You will be evaluated not only by the ideas you have, but also by how well you convey those ideas. Words are the tools you will use to express yourself in your personal statement when you apply to grad school, and later in your coursework, seminar papers and publications. The more precisely you can use language, the more seriously your ideas will be taken.
Posted on November 28, 2009 by GRE Tutor
The Graduate Record Examination (GRE) is administered on computer and is between two and three-quarters and a quarter hours long, depending on which question type you get on your experimental section. The exam consists of three scored sections, with different amounts of time allotted for you to complete each section.
Time: 30 minutes
Length: 30 multiple choice questions (MCQs)
Format: Sentence completion, Analogy, Reading Comprehension, and Antonym
Content: Tests vocabulary, verbal reasoning skills, and the ability to read with understanding and insight
Time: 45 minutes
Length: 28 MCQs
Format: Quantitative Comparison, Word Problems, and Data Interpretation (graph questions)
Content: Tests basic mathematical skills, ability to understand mathematical concepts, and quantitative reasoning skills
Analytical Writing section
Time: 75 minutes
Length: 2 essay prompts
Format: Perspective on an issue and Analyze an Argument.
Content: Tests ability to understand and analyze arguments and to understand and draw logical conclusions.
Your test will also contain an experimental section – a second Verbal or Quantitative section that the test-makers put on the test so that they can norm the new questions they create for use on future GREs. That means that if you could identify the experimental section, you could doodle for half an hour, guess in a random pattern, or daydream and still get exactly the same score on the GRE. However, the experimental section is disguised to look like a real section – there is no way to identify it. All you will really know on the day of the test is that one of the subject areas will have two sections instead of one. Naturally, many people try to figure out which section is experimental. But because ETS really wants you to try hard on it, they do their best to keep you guessing. If you guess wrong, you could blow the whole test, so we urge you to treat all sections as scored unless you are told otherwise.
Posted on November 26, 2009 by GRE Tutor
Let’s take a look at how the current GRE is constructed. As someone famous once said, “Know thine enemy.” And you need to know firsthand the way this test is put together if you want to take it apart. Before you begin, though, remember that the test-makers sometimes change the content, administration, and scheduling of the GRE too quickly for a published guide to keep up with. For the latest, up-to-the-minute news about the GRE, visit Kaplan’s website at kaptest.com.
The Secret Code
Doing well on the GRE requires breaking down the ‘secret code’ upon which each and every test is constructed. The GRE, like all of the tests ETS creates, is based on psychometrics, the peculiar science concerned with creating ‘standardized’ tests. For a test to be ‘standardized’, it must successfully do three things. First, the test must be ‘reliable’; in other words, a test-taker who takes the GRE should get approximately the same score if he or she takes a second GRE. Second – and this closely related to the first point – it must test the same concepts on each test. Third, it must be able to create a ‘bellcurve’ when a pool of test-takers scores are plotted; in other words, some people will do very well on the test, and some will do very poorly, but the great majority will score somewhere in the middle.
What all this boils down to is that in order to be a standardized test, the GRE has to be extremely predictable. And this is what makes the GRE and other standardized tests soc coachable. Becasue ETS has to test the same concepts in each and every test, certain vocabulary words appear over and over again, as do variations of the same exact math questions. Moreover, the GRE has to create some questions that most test-takers will get wrong-otherwise, it wouldn’t be able to create its bell curve. This means that hard questions will usually contain “traps” – wrong answer choices that will be more appealing than the correct answer to a large percentage of test-takers. Fortunately, these traps are predictable (this is what we mean by the secret code), and we can teach you how to recognize and avoid them.
Play the game
Too many people think of standardized tests as cruel exercises in futility, as the oppressive instruments of a faceless societal machine. People who think this way usually don’t do very wel on these tests.
The key discovery that people who ace standardized tests have made is that raging against the machine doesn’t hurt it. If that’s what ou choose to do, you will just waste your energy. What these high scores choose to do instead is to think of the test as a game – not an instrument of punishment, but an opportunity for reward. And like any game, if you play it enough times, you get really good at it.
Acquire the skills
You may think that the GRE isn’t a fair or decent predictor of skills – but that attitude won’t help you get into graduate school.
None of the GRE experts were born acing the GRE. No one is. That’s because these tests do not measure innate skills; they measure acquired skills. People who are good at standardized tests are simply people who’ve already acquired these skills, maybe in math class, or by reading a lot, or by studying logic in college. But they have, perhaps without realizing it, acquired the skills that spell success on tests like the GRE. And if you haven’t, you have nothing whatsoever to feel bad about. You just have to acquire them now.
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