Mission: GRE

My score: Writing 4.5, 81%ile, Verbal 164, 94%ile. Quantitative 161, 76%ile.

GRE Basics, Official Source

The GRE is made, administered, and scored by Educational Testing Services, ETS. ETS is the largest private nonprofit educational testing organization in the world and it is based in New Jersey with a Princeton address. GRE stands for Graduate Record Examinations.

Exam Structure and Prep Material

ETS provides a lot of prep material, click here. In my one week of preparation, I did not venture beyond their site and the free material they provide.

Is the GRE adaptive? That question is answered here on the ETS site.

When will I get my score?

Check the website for current information, but they showed me an “unofficial” quant / verbal score at the test center. I had to remember it if I wanted to know what it was. They said 10-15 days, I received my score with the writing score included on the 9th day after the test.

GRE Strategy by Section

  • Mark questions throughout each section. Better to mark too many, as in 5-7 of 20 rather than not mark any at all. Being able to return is a big advantage. If you finish with extra time, you want to be able to utilize the extra time productively by returning to marked questions.
  1. First 5 minutes: pick 3 examples and categorize them first thing.
  2. Ensure that you can support your argument before you start making it.
  3. 25 min remaining: start writing.
  4. 10-5 minutes remaining, you should be starting the closing paragraph.
  5. Time expiring: finish the closing paragraph and return to edit until time is up.
  • 30 minutes is enough time to write, but not time to make huge changes once you have started writing. Picking examples first is critical. It is easier to adjust your argument to your examples than it is to think of examples once you have decided on your argument.
  • Throughout the essay, glance at the prompt and ensure you are sticking to the specific subject and answering exactly what they ask. You should spend the whole time adding relevant support to your stance.
  • Practice-write essays while studying. Even though they aren’t scored it’s worth getting an idea of how long 30 minutes feels like when writing. To review, read the examples of 6 and maybe 5.5 scores along with the grader’s explanations. I found them informative.


  • On the vocabulary questions, the correct choices will be supported by the sentence around it. The sentence fill-in questions are good ones to return to because it is easy to err on just one of the three words and get the whole question wrong.
  • Reading comprehension that describes confusing locations or categories of items, make a map or diagram.
  • Reading comprehension that presents two sides of an argument, jot quick marker words of each side in a diagram to keep opposing sides separate and like sides together. Possibly jot a quick flow of the argument.


  • They give you a calculator on the GRE. Remember to use it! Complex response checking becomes much quicker!

GRE Time Strategy

The GRE being adaptive per section, your time strategy depends on which category you fall into: 1. below average, 2. average, 3. above average. If you are below average, the earlier sections, 2 and 3, will be more difficult. If you are above average, the later sections, 4 and 5, will be more difficult. On the more difficult sections, you should expect to skip (or guess quickly) some questions to return later if you have time. On the easy sections, you can proceed deliberately and be very careful to check your work because you will likely have extra time.

GRE Contrasted with GMAT (My Perception)

Because of indecision, I took the GRE followed by the GMAT 11 days later. I am therefore somewhat qualified to compare and contrast. They are both standardized tests, mostly multiple-choice, with writing sections. Now to contrast:

  • The GRE is not as time-intense. For this reason, I have listed a few more detailed note-taking strategies that take some more time. Unlike the GMAT, on the GRE there may be time to utilize more detailed notes.
  • GRE verbal is more focused on vocabulary, while GMAT heavier on grammar. On the GRE, honestly, they use many words I don’t know and I miss questions because of it. On the GMAT, some of the sentences to analyze are lengthy brain-twisters with just minute differences among the answers. They are difficult, but on the GMAT I rarely see words I don’t know.
  • The GRE verbal correct answers seem more straightforward. They are not necessarily easier but there are a lot fewer instances of selecting the “best” answer with multiple possibilities like on the GMAT.
  • The GRE math is more straightforward. I dare say “easier.”
  • They give you a basic calculator on the GRE, not on the GMAT.

GRE Study Diary 2020. Test Day = Monday, 3 February 2020

27 Jan, 7 days to test: registered for the test. Looked up location. Started notes right here on this post you’re looking at. Read a description and viewed samples of each question type.

28 Jan, 6 days to test: took un-timed practice test throughout the day. The essays seem pretty straightforward – stay on subject!

Score : Verbal 163, 93%ile. Quantitative 166, 89%ile.

Score data from ETS. Notice that 4% of testers ace the quantitative. Highest %ile is 96.

29 Jan, 5 days to test: None, applied to master’s programs.

30 Jan, 4 days to test: None, applied to master’s programs.

31 Jan, 3 days to test: took second practice test. Of note, I forgot that a calculator is provided so that certainly impacted my math score by wasting time. I ran out of time with 2 questions remaining. At this point, I suppose the lesson learned is use the calculator, do your best, and I’m as ready as I’m gonna be. Of course, I consider my essays perfect but the computer has no opinion on that.

Score: Verbal 160, 86%ile. Quantitative 161, 76%ile.

1 Feb, 2 days to test: None.

2 Feb, 1 day to test: Re-took just the math portion of test 1, this time with time and with the calculator that I forgot to use the first time. This time I got all 40 questions correct for a 170 (calculator helped but also helped to already have seen the questions).

3 Feb, Test Day

Ate a huge breakfast and I’m glad I did. There were 6 sections:

  1. Writing
  2. Verbal 1
  3. Quantitative 1
  4. Verbal 2
  5. Quantitative 2
  6. Verbal 3

Score: Writing 4.5, 81%ile, Verbal 164, 94%ile. Quantitative 161, 76%ile.

4.5 / 6 on writing – what?!?! My essays were better than that! That’s what I always said in English class anyway.

Overall, good enough I think. Pay attention to time on the second section of each test!! I think my strategy was good, especially focusing on food. You gotta get brain food during a test that long. The only strategy “mistake” I made I would say was starting the second math section a bit slow – or a bit too deliberately. I ran out of time and that is not good.

The second sections of each portion clearly indicated that I did well on the first – they were very difficult. On verbal 2 there were many vocabulary words I did not know and on which I was forced to guess. On math 2, I left 2 or 3 questions unfinished. Verbal 3 was considerably easier again and I finished it with 7 minutes remaining. It was enough time to review all of my answers and I did, I believe, correct one error I made so I was glad I returned to check.

Test Day List

  • ETS, What to Bring Test Day
  • Passport
  • Snacks:
    • Nutsbars
    • Bananas
    • Gatorade or juice.
  • Eat and coffee at 1 of many restaurants just east of test center.
  • Test center: Rua George Eastman Suite 98, Sao Paulo, BR 05690000
    • Close to estação Morumbi
    • ~1 hour from Bela Vista by Metro, 40 minutes by Uber.
  • Leave apartment at ~6:30 to arrive near test center ~7:45 in time for breakfast and coffee, test starts at 9.
  • Write down the codes of the schools you want to send the score to! If they do not allow you to reference it, you at least may be able to remember better.

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