Taking the GRE
The Graduate Record Exams (GRE) are a standardized testing system used to evaluate verbal, quantitative, and analytical writing skills and are very similar to the SAT/ACT tests taken in high school. In some respects, the GRE serves as a means of normalizing the range of academic standards at applicant's institutions. Coupled with the academic record, the GRE scores provide a gauge for comparison of the applicants. Subject tests are also administered by the GRE.
Virtually every school will require submission of the general GRE scores as part of the application package. Fewer schools require submission of the subject scores relevant to the discipline in which you apply. Since you will usually not know which schools you will be applying to when the tests are administered, you should probably schedule test times for both the general and subject tests. We strongly recommend that you take the general tests in the Spring (usually April) of your junior year and the subject test in the Fall (usually October) of your senior year. Applications for the GRE tests and testing dates may be obtained from the Career Services Office or on-line. Applications and payment of the testing fees must be post marked at least six weeks before the testing date.
Both tests are given over four hour time periods, which is why we recommend taking the tests on two separate test dates. Review for the general tests is usually minimal; taking a couple of practice tests to adjust your pace and to get a feel for the type and style of questioning should suffice. Keep in mind that on the general tests that there is no penalty for incorrect answers; thus you should answer every question. Make notations on the test where you know you have to give more thought to a question, and eliminate answers you know are incorrect.
The subject test in chemistry will require substantial preparation. The fall of the senior year is an excellent time for this test. By then you should have completed the core requirements in chemistry and the test is given at a time when you will have the greatest opportunity for preparation. Areas to focus on include (from highest to lowest priority) organic, general, physical, inorganic, and analytical (although this is also a function of your aptitude for the various sub-disciplines). We have found, for example, that up to 40-50% of the questions asked on a typical subject test can be found in a good general chemistry text. Your organic notes and text should be sufficient for organic chemistry and probably will be material requiring the most time given that your last exposure was in the fall of your sophomore year. The physical and analytical chemistry should require the least review since those topics are covered in the junior year.
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 eliminate enough answers to decide between two remaining answers, taking a guess is probably worthwhile. The chemistry library has several copies of GRE test books for chemistry with samples of complete tests. You may want to take a couple of the tests as your test date approaches to establish a general pace to complete the exam and to develop strategies for eliminating questions and answers for more difficult and/or unfamiliar areas. In addition, the Chemistry Department faculty usually offer our students a chemistry GRE review course during the fall semester. This 4.5 hour course is offered free of charge.
Your GRE scores should be submitted to the schools you wish to apply to as soon as possible after they are received or requested at the time the GRE application is submitted. You do not need to request that test scores be submitted when you complete the application if you do not know at that time to which schools you will be applying. These requests can be made at a later time; however, additional fees will be charged.