Taking the GRE

The Graduate Record Exams (GRE) are a standardized testing system used to evaluate verbal, quantitative, and analytical writing skills. Subject tests are also administered by the GRE. They are very similar to the SAT/ACT/AP tests taken in high school. Along with academic records, GRE scores provide a way to compare the applicants.

Most schools require general GRE scores as part of the application package. Fewer schools require the subject scores. You may not know which schools you will be applying to when you schedule the tests. So, you should plan to take both the general and subject tests. Both tests take over four hours. We recommend that you take the general tests in the Spring (usually April) of your junior year. Take the subject test in the Fall (usually October) of your senior year.

Review for the general tests is usually minimal. It's usually enough to take a couple of practice tests. Keep in mind that on the general tests that there is no penalty for incorrect answers; thus you should answer every question.

The Subject GRE Test

The subject test in chemistry requires substantial preparation. The fall of the senior year is an excellent time for this test. Focus your study on (from highest to lowest priority) organic, general, physical, inorganic, and analytical chemistry. We have found that a good general chemistry text contains 40-50% of the questions asked on a typical subject test.

Your organic notes and text should be enough for organic chemistry. Given that your last exposure to organic chemistry was in the fall of your sophomore year, it makes sense to spend more time there. Physical and analytical chemistry should require the least review since you covered those topics in the junior year. The chemistry faculty usually offer our students a review session during the fall semester.

In contrast to the general test, you are penalized for incorrect answers. If you have no idea what the answer is for a given question, skip it! If you can rule out all but two remaining answers, taking a guess is probably worthwhile.

You should take a couple of practice subject tests. The chemistry library has several copies of GRE test books for chemistry with samples of complete tests. Practice tests are also available online.