Prepare for the GRE with these Apps
So you’re looking to get into graduate school, aren’t you? The Graduate Record Examinations (GRE) is required by many graduate schools as part of your application. If you took the SAT to get into college, the GRE has a similar standardized testing format, but there are key differences between the two. Besides the increased difficulty of the questions, the GRE also tests different skillsets. Therefore, if you expect to simply appear on your test date and cruise through the GRE just because you have taken the SAT before, you’d be in for a rude shock.
In addition, in keeping up with the times, the GRE has modernized and is now mostly administered via computer-based testing rather than the traditional paper-based testing, although you will still have to sign up for a spot at specially-designated testing centers available all over the world. This new format of testing presents new challenges of its own, and in this article, we will be discussing what those challenges are and how apps developed by Magoosh and Manhattan Prep can help you to get into the graduate school you so desire.
After all, if GRE has modernized and taken advantage of technology, why shouldn’t you, too?
The Revised GRE Format
As at August 1, 2001, the GRE underwent significant change. The current GRE has six sections. The first section will always be the Analytical Writing section. The other five sections can appear in any order, and include two Verbal Reasoning sections, two Quantitative Reasoning section, and either an unscored or a research section. If you get an unscored section, it will look like a third Verbal Reasoning or Quantitative Reasoning section, and you will not be told which of them doesn’t count. Therefore, you should aim to do well in this section as well. However, if you get a research section, it will be identified as such and it will always be the last section on the GRE. Refer to the image below for the new GRE exam format:
You will get a one-minute break between all sections except between the third and fourth sections, for which you will get a ten-minute break. The scores for the revised GRE Quantitative Reasoning and Verbal Reasoning are reported separately on a 130-170 scale in 1 point increments.
This change is significant enough to warrant its own subsection. The revised GRE adds a basic and small four-function calculator with a square root button. The calculator also obeys the mathematical order of operations, so if you input “4 + 2×3,” it will give you 10 instead of 18 because it resolves the “2×3” first before the addition.
While you may rejoice at not having to perform calculations mentally or on a piece of scratch paper any more, the on-screen calculator can actually be more of a bane than a boon. The on-screen calculator can slow you down if you are not careful, and the GRE has specific trap questions that particularly target those who blindly key in numbers in the calculator.
Before attempting any question, identify what the question is asking for, and see if there is a shorter method or strategy to get the answer. There are zero questions on the Quantitative Reasoning sections that can be solved solely through the use of the calculator. This point is so important that it’s worth repeating: there are zero questions on the Quantitative Reasoning sections that can be solved solely through the use of the calculator.
Improving your Vocabulary for GRE’s Verbal Reasoning Sections
If you took the SAT in the past, you might have foreseen this. The Verbal Reasoning sections contain Reading Comprehension questions, Text Completion questions, and Sentence Equivalence questions. The easiest way to score on the Text Completion and Sentence Equivalence questions is to possess a large vocabulary. But what if you don’t?
Fortunately, there are a number of words that GRE tends to use very often, and you need to know 1000 essential ones. Having to memorize 1000 GRE words may seem daunting, but if you split them up into bite-sized portions and attack 50 words a day, you will be done in 20 days.
To make your job simpler, Magoosh has a free app called GRE Vocabulary Flashcards (there are a few Magoosh apps). This app is available on both Apple’s App Store and Google Play, and it already contains all the 1000 words you need to know sectioned into “decks” of 50 words each and labeled “Common Words,” “Basic Words” and “Advanced Words.”
To use a “deck,” just tap on it. A single word will then pop out, and you can tap on “tap to see meaning” to view the definition of the word and an example of the word in use. You can then select “I knew this word” or “I didn’t know this word” to continue on to the next word.
What’s cool about Magoosh’s GRE Vocabulary Flashcards is that it uses a Spaced Repetition (SRS) system, and words that you tapped “I didn’t know this word” will be highlighted as “learning” and will appear more frequently in your deck until you have mastered the word. This aids your retention of the words.
Tips & Tricks
The trick with using flashcards is that you have to be honest with yourself. If you are even a tiny bit unsure of the definition of the word, tap “I didn’t know this word.” Also, when going through the deck, be disciplined and give yourself two to three seconds to think of the full definition of a word before you tap on “tap to see meaning.” If you immediately tap on “tap to see meaning” whenever a word pops up, the purpose of using the flashcards is defeated.
Whenever you encounter words that you are unsure of, you can also quickly jot them down in your note-taking app on your phone and group similar words together. You will realize how many words there are in the 1000 essential GRE words that have similar meanings. Grouping words will help you form relationships between words and improve your recall.
A small flaw that the Magoosh GRE Vocabulary Flashcards has is that the definitions of some words can be unclear, ambiguous, or even inaccurate. A dictionary and thesaurus app may come in useful here to compensate and supplement your learning experience on the Magoosh app. The dictionary and thesaurus app that I used for this purpose was the Merriam-Webster Dictionary app. The paid version of the app only costs US$3.99 and comes supplied with many examples for each word that you look up. Check out the article we wrote comparing different dictionary and thesaurus apps here.
Test Yourself with Practice Questions on your Mobile
Once you are done mastering the vocabulary words, you might want to start familiarizing yourself with actual questions on both the Verbal Reasoning and Quantitative Reasoning sections.
When it comes to preparing students for the GRE, Manhattan Prep is always one of the top in the league. It therefore comes as no surprise that the Manhattan Prep – GRE app is outstanding. The app is available on both on Apple’s App Store and Google Play, and comes with 1003 practice questions, six quizzes, and a short guide to each question format.
When you download the app, you are given a 1-day free trial, after which you can purchase the full app for US$9.99, which is cheaper than buying a single GRE guidebook on Amazon. What makes the Manhattan Prep – GRE app shine is its interface and tracking tool.
The Manhattan Prep – GRE app is sleek, modern and uncluttered, which makes studying for the GRE almost pleasurable. Words are clear against an ocean-blue background, and Reading Comprehension passages pop up beautifully and hide easily when you are attempting the Verbal Reasoning section. A feature that I love is that a detailed explanation is shown immediately after you answer each question, so that you can check your answers and learn from your mistakes.
You can set a daily reminder in the app to nudge you to practice. It also has an in-built tracking function that tracks how many questions you have attempted, the average time you spent per question, and how questions you attempt per day, which is great for pacing yourself! The only flaw in the app is that it does not having drills or practice questions for the Analytical Writing Section.
Another app that you might want to consider is GRE + by Arcadia Prep. The free app, which is only available on the Apple App Store, comes with guides and a few practice questions, which means that you will need to purchase individual Math, Verbal and Writing packages to practice more. The Math Package costs US$15.99, the Verbal Package costs US$4.99, and the Writing Package costs US$4.99. It also comes with a performance and progress tracker, so it makes a great alternative to the Manhattan Prep – GRE app.
To score well in the GRE, practice really makes perfect. Do not neglect studying for the GRE just because you have three or more years of college education. As mentioned before, the GRE tests specific skillsets that you need to be familiar with.
That being said, while I think the above apps are great as learning tools, I don’t advise jumping straight into practicing GRE questions without knowing the specific skills and strategies tested. GRE Apps are great learning tools but not replacements for traditional guides.
For example, the questions in the Quantitative Reasoning section does not test your level of computational skills per se. Of course, you need to be familiar with basic mathematical functions, equations and rules of geometry, but you don’t need anything beyond that such as trigonometry, complex numbers, and differentiation. More often than not, the crux of attempting to answer a Quantitative Reasoning question lies in understanding the question first. I found many Quantitative Reasoning questions frequently throw out traps involving a play on the language, which can fool unsuspecting people if they do not read carefully.
When it comes to learning the skills and strategies for tackling GRE questions, at the moment the GRE apps out there cannot supplant the value of traditional published textbooks and guides. If you have yet to purchase a reliable guide, I would recommend guidebooks published by Manhattan Prep and Princeton Review as they are really at the top of their game.