Try this one out for size…

P = 300c² – c

c = 100

Quantity A    Quantity B

P                      29,000c

A. Quantity A is greater

B. Quantity B is greater

C. The two quantities are equal

D. The relationship cannot be determined from the information given



Why would anybody in her or his right mind take the Graduate Records Examination (GRE), let along undergo this mental torture twice?

I know for a fact that I cannot be the only masochist on this planet, who would choose (and charge to my credit card) four hours of essays, readings, obscure vocabulary questions and then bewildering math problems such as the one above.

Make that eight hours, spread over four years.

And why can’t mathheads use numbers instead of letters? I thought letters were for the right-brain folks, who study journalism, public relations, advertising, philosophy etc.

One of my friends from my Sacramento days asked me on Facebook, why someone of my “advanced age” (nice) would put himself through all of this agony? The short answer is that I want to compete for the big degree, and the GRE is a necessary evil.

So what limited wisdom can I impart based upon these grueling experiences to anyone considering following in my footsteps?

First, resolve yourself to no more kicking and screaming. Take a GRE prep class. It does make a difference. For little ole me, I raised my cumulative score by 270 points (conservative interpretation) or 300 points (less conservative interpretation), when one equates the new scoring system (e.g., scale of 130-170 points) compared to what was used (e.g., traditional 200-800-point scale) just four years ago.

I signed up for the GRE course offered by the University of Oregon Teaching & Learning Center for $155 for four consecutive, three-hour Saturday morning classes. There is no reason in my humble estimation to pay $1,200 or more to one of the GRE prep centers that are easily found with a Google search. It’s your money.

At a minimum, a GRE prep course makes you more confident heading into the test center. And more importantly, it teaches you some of the tricks of the trade.

Now you wouldn’t think the wonderful Homo sapiens at ETS (Educational Testing Service) would try to deceive test takers? Think again.

ETS employs smart cunning people, who are put on this planet for the sole purpose of devising answers that appear to be right, but are actually wrong. And they know they are wrong. This is either Machiavellian or just plan evil.

For reading comprehension (count on: Unbelievably boring, convoluted turgid text … excuse me for the understatement), the GRE gives you five answers. Two absolutely suck. That leaves you with three answers that are plausible, and maybe they are all right … but damn it, two are wrong.

The GRE gurus are looking for the “best” answer based upon the reading. What may be the best interpretation to you may not be the best to ETS? Sounds subjective? You’re right and there is a high probability that you are not selecting the best answer. Only ETS’ opinion matters.

Sorry. Life is not fair. As my future mother-in-law would say: “Grow a pair.”

Second, forget the calculator, if you can.

Wasn’t the Titanic not equipped with enough lifeboats? ETS is kind enough to provide you a basic calculator with its onscreen program. Shouldn’t you use it, particularly a numbers-challenged journalism graduate? You can, but you are costing yourself precious time.

The GRE prep class counterintuitively recommended dispensing with the calculator, answering the questions based upon pure logic. The problem at the beginning of this blog post gives you four answers (okay, I added one more). Some problems have five potential answers in ascending numeric order. Two will be ridiculous. If you can throw one out that gives you no worse than a 50 percent chance of getting the problem right … without your crutch calculator.

Then there are the problems in which you have absolutely no clue, and only a 20 percent chance of getting it right … regardless of whether you use the calculator or not. Should you respond to the problem anyway? The answer is an emphatic, yes. If you luck out and get it right, you are also recording a right answer for a high difficulty question, and that raises your quantitative score.

Sometimes it is better to be lucky than good.

Third, manage your time as a good quarterback does trying to pull out victory from the jaws of defeat, when precious seconds are running down to zero.

You have an option of having the descending clock running, while you are taking the test or you can hide the clock with one click of the mouse. Keep in mind, that similar to the Wicked Witch of the West and her hour-glass in the Wizard of Oz, time never stops.

My verbal scores and the results of my two essays (scored 0-6 by ETS essay readers) are the most important to me. I do not plan on competing for a Ph.D in physics or rocket science at MIT or Cal Tech. Instead, I am looking to attain my doctorate in public relations. That means I needed a verbal score on steroids.

The verbal section includes text completions with as many as three fill-in-the-blanks for each sentence; sentence equivalence that test your synonym capabilities; and the above mentioned reading comprehension texts, the latter which drains time at an alarming rate.

My humble advice: Skip around and complete the text completions and the sentence equivalence questions first. Why? They don’t take as much time. There is a higher probability of getting these right. Most of all, you don’t want to leave these blank if you run out of time. That’s what happened to me taking GRE Test 1.0.

Once you have completed the text completions and sentence equivalents then turn your attention to the readings. But first … read the questions CAREFULLY. One question may say:”… if true, the following will support the author’s contention”… Another may say: “… if true, the following will undermine the author’s contention.” Undermine is the opposite of support, and these two competing questions may be attached to the same reading. Yikes!

Finally, make sure that you really want to attend graduate school either to compete for a master’s or for your doctorate. Some schools put more emphasis on the GRE than others, but all the good ones require taking the friggin’ test.

You get as much out of the GRE as you put into it. Take the prep course.