About four years from now, you may find yourself sweating through reading passages that make SAT passages read like a comic strip, and tripping over words that seem beyond the scope of the Oxford Dictionary. The test is called the GRE, and in many regards it’s similar to the SAT.If you plan on going to graduate school—and don’t plan on becoming a lawyer or a doctor (they’ve got their own fiendishly difficult tests)—you will have to take the GRE. If this is news to you, don’t despair. Instead, educate yourself about what lies ahead so that you can better prepare.
The good news is that after four years of being steeped in college curricula, your brain is likely to contain a lot more test-relevant information. Your vocabulary will be bigger, and you’ll be used to reading academic writing. Surprisingly, it is your math skills that are likely to diminish, since you’ll probably be doing very little math after the first year out of high school.
Whatever major you end up choosing—whether it is math-heavy or not—below is a quick primer on what to expect on the GRE, and how much that content differs from the SAT.
SAT Math isn’t really about testing what you learned in high school. After all, trigonometry and calculus aren’t covered at all. What the SAT math really tests is your ability to reason logically and with numbers. The GRE math is very similar in this regard. Indeed, the problems are so similar that I often recommend that GRE students who need extra material use the College Board SAT book. True, the GRE math is a bit tougher, but the style of questions (confusing word problems and weird shapes inscribed in circles) is identical.
What you can do: Don’t let your math skills totally deteriorate in college.
Imagine the SAT Verbal section with more academic reading passages and more subtly worded wrong answer choices. Otherwise, the passages aren’t too different. As for vocabulary, it’s actually not that much more advanced than what is on the SAT. But beware: The fill-in-the-blank sentences have morphed into convoluted paragraphs with three blanks, and you have to guess correctly on all three blanks to get any credit.
What you can do: Maintain your SAT vocabulary and augment it throughout college. Be diligent about looking up words you don’t know. Learning them will not only help you on the GRE, but will also make you better at reading the tons of material coming your way in college. And we all know what that means: better grades.
The GRE won’t ask you to identify grammar mistakes (although the GMAT, the test for business school, has one of these sections). The GRE does, however, include two essays, one of which is very similar to the SAT essay and one that requires you to point out the logical flaws in a short paragraph.
What you can do: Write! Start refining this skill now and throughout college. Once you’ve learned to purge your writing of grammatical flaws and to imbue your writing with a strong sense of style, the GRE essay should be a cinch.