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Getting Into Graduate School In Social Work:

About the Graduate Record Examination

NOTE: This information is current as of July, 2001.

G...R...E... Those are three scary letters!

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First, don't try to wing the GRE. I can't think of a better way to waste the $100+ you'll spend to take it. I know a few rich idiots who tried, and they all did worse than average. You can get GRE practice tests inside the preparation books that every large bookstore sells (or every university library keeps on the shelf), so there's no reason to waste your money and self-esteem by spending a lot of money to take a test that you haven't even prepared for.

I took 5 practice tests (out of a Barron's How to Prepare for the GRE book) and found a huge difference between my 1st-time scores and 2nd-time scores. Even if you don't study anything, practicing the GRE makes an enormous difference--especially on the analytical section, where you'll encounter totally abstract and unfamiliar logic problems. (Fortunately, most social work programs don't even care about your Analytical score, so if you have to have a weak section, make sure it's the Analytical section.)

I don't think the $200 Kaplan/Princeton/etc. crash courses are really that helpful. Friends of mine who took similar courses claimed to benefit from them, but these same friends were also the sort of people who didn't have the self-discipline to sit down and really prepare for the GRE by themselves. (That made me wonder why they were applying to graduate school, but oh well!) I never took any expensive courses. The relatively inexpensive Barron's book helped me prepare just fine.

Good preparation books can really be worth the money they cost. One of the nice things about the Barron's book I had was that it had a "high frequency word list" in the middle of it. This list contained about 300 vocabulary words that tend to show up frequently on the GRE. I memorized the whole list even though I was skeptical that I would see the same words on the test. Boy did it pay off. I was amazed to find that when I got to the vocabulary in the Verbal section of the GRE, nearly 1/3 of the words I was asked to identify were from the Barron's list I had memorized.

So how did I prepare for the GRE? I decided to work part-time instead of full-time one summer so that I had time to prepare for the GRE hard-core. I spent 10-20 hours a week from May through July preparing. Some of my friends said they thought it was a lot easier to take the expensive courses than to exercise their own self-discipline, but I was terrified enough about the GRE that I had no trouble staying motivated to study on my own. If you have the self-discipline and intrinsic motivation to prepare by yourself, I say spare yourself the cost of those GRE review classes. Besides, the classes usually only last 3 or 4 weeks--I studied for 8.

About the content of the GRE: Study up on your algebra, your geometry formulas, your basic logic rules, and your vocabulary. I found the Barron's book that I keep referring to to be very good, although I think the practice tests included in that book were harder than the real thing. Make sure you remomorize your geometry formulas--a lot of test takers forget to do that.

Make sure you visit the GRE web site and read all about the test before you take it. The test is constantly being revised, so it's important that you read the very latest information available on their site.

Finally, study hard. Study really hard. But make sure you're studying the right stuff.

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