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Your GRE Tools, Rules, & Materials

Our expert team of instructors at Veritas Prep hears lots of questions related to the Graduate Record Examination, or the GRE. One of the most common questions students ask is “can you use a calculator on the GRE?” The quantitative sections of the test have many questions that can be answered quickly with the help of a calculator. Meanwhile, some students want to know whether the GRE is given on paper (similar to the SAT and ACT) or via a computer (similar to the GMAT). Others are curious about how long it takes to complete all of the sections of the test. Learn answers to these and other questions regarding the GR, and discover some helpful tips that can contribute to a student’s success on the day of the exam.

What to Bring to the GRE

All students must bring valid identification (an unexpired, government-issued document, such as a driver’s license or passport, with first and last names matching the name used to register for the exam) as well as their admission ticket to the testing location. Today, most students take the GRE via computer, though there are a few instances in which a paper version of the test is used. When students are taking a computer-delivered test, they don’t need to bring any GRE test materials. However, there are still some students who take the paper-based GRE. These students must bring an eraser and four sharp No. 2 pencils. The official at the testing location won’t provide students with pencils, and mechanical pencils are not acceptable. Our instructors at Veritas Prep have practical experience with the test and can provide students with invaluable insight regarding the GRE. In our online GRE prep classes, students learn test-taking strategies that can help them excel on all three sections of this exam.

Calculators and Other Items to Leave Behind

Can you use a calculator on the GRE? Yes, you can! Students can use a calculator on GRE questions, but they cannot bring their own to the testing location. Those who are taking the test on a computer can use the on-screen calculator on GRE quantitative questions. Keep in mind, however, that using the GRE calculator to solve every question can be very time-consuming, and there are typically ways to arrive at the answer much more efficiently. Veritas students receive great insight into when to solve by hand (with a variety of methods) and when to use the calculator on the GRE. Alternatively, students who are taking the GRE paper test may borrow a calculator at the testing location. Some students have the impression they’ll be able to use the calculator on their smartphone during the test. However, smartphones, cellphones, and other electronic devices are not allowed in the testing room.

In both scenarios, it is best for students to view the calculator on the GRE as a useful tool but not the primary way to solve every quantitative question on the exam. It is very easy to fall back on the GRE calculator as a crutch, but making extensive use of it can actually be counterproductive, both in terms of time spent on a problem as well as accuracy (be wary of miskeying numbers if the needed calculation involves multiple operations!) The well-prepared student will know which kinds of questions are solved more efficiently with their own skills and which kinds of questions make using the GRE calculator a smart method of solving.

Using the GRE Calculator

Keep in mind that the provided calculator on the GRE, whether on-screen for the computer version of the exam or physical for the paper version, is very basic. Here is what the calculator can do:

  • The four basic operations (addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division)
  • Parentheses (the calculator does respect the PEMDAS order of operations)
  • Square roots (there is not an exponent key, so any solving of exponents will have to be done by multiplication)
  • Decimal values
  • Change the signs (positive/negative) of numbers that have been entered
  • Store and recall answers using the memory keys
  • Display up to eight digits at a time
  • Enter an answer on Numeric Entry problems with one entry box using the Transfer Display button at the bottom of the calculator (if there are two vertically-stacked entry boxes, answers will have to be entered by keying a value into each box).

The calculator on the GRE is nothing fancy, but using it effectively can make the quantitative sections go more smoothly. Here are some guidelines to keep in mind when deciding if using the GRE calculator is the best approach for a given question:

  • The vast majority of GRE quantitative questions do not require difficult calculations; using the calculator simply because it’s there is not the optimal strategy for working efficiently.
  • Before committing to making use of the calculator, look for ways to solve with less math work. Look for conceptual shortcuts or ways to use the answers to narrow down the scope of the computations required, saving valuable time and reducing the number of chances to make a careless mistake.
  • When tedious calculations are required, the GRE calculator can make short work of them, whereas solving by hand might be time-consuming and/or error-prone. Some examples include long division, square roots of unfamiliar numbers (like, say, 441, not 49), and addition, subtraction, or multiplication of values with multiple digits. Going into the GRE, the well-prepared student will have a solid grasp on which kinds of calculations give them the most trouble, making the use of the calculator to solve them a good strategic decision.
  • Try to avoid using the calculator for simple calculations, such as addition, subtraction, or multiplication with one- or two-digit numbers, or familiar exponents and square roots.
  • On Numeric Entry questions, pay attention to what form the answer needs to be in. If there is one box for entry, the answer will be an integer or decimal, so solving in that form (using the GRE calculator to decimalize given values) makes sense. If there are two vertically-stacked boxes, the answer will be in the form of a fraction, so decimalizing creates extra work: the value will have to be converted back to a fraction in order to enter it, creating an extra opportunity for a careless mistake or miskey.
  • Think about doing a ballpark estimate before committing to exact calculations. In many cases, the estimate will only be close to one answer, which can be chosen with confidence. If multiple answers seem plausible, having an estimate in mind will provide clues about potential miskeying if the calculator produces a wildly different answer.

Rules of the GRE

There are several GRE test rules for students to keep in mind. Students are not allowed to wear digital watches during the GRE, especially in the age of the smartwatch. These types of watches can make noises that disturb other individuals who are taking the test. Also, students sit in assigned seats during the test and are not allowed to talk to each other after the test has begun. They must arrive at the testing location 30 minutes early to ensure that everyone is seated and the test begins as scheduled. Students who have smartphones and other electronic devices with them should not use them during breaks, even to check email or other messages. They are not allowed to wear earbuds and listen to music during the test. And food and drinks are not allowed in the testing room.

Extra Tips for Success on Test Day

There are additional preparations that a student can make in order to perform well on the test. Most students spend about three hours and 45 minutes at the testing location, so it’s important for them to eat a healthy, protein-rich meal in order to have sustained energy throughout the testing period. It’s a good idea for students to bring an extra snack to eat during break time if they feel their energy begin to wane. Students should remember to wear a non-digital watch with a second hand so they have an idea of how much time they have left in each section. Wearing a couple of layers of clothing is another smart idea for students taking the GRE: This ensures that the student won’t be too hot or too cold in the testing room. In addition, students should wear loose-fitting, comfortable clothing. Clothing that is too tight can become very uncomfortable over the three-plus-hour testing period.

Our professional instructors use first-rate study resources to prep students for the GRE. Prospective GRE students can find fast answers about our services and the registration process on our FAQ page. Of course, students are welcome to contact us via email or telephone if they have other questions or would like to sign up for one of our courses. Veritas Prep is proud to provide effective instruction, guided practice, and support to our students throughout the preparation process.

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