Feb 19, 2008

A bit of advice

1- Move as fast as you can but remain cool read all the options before adopting one.
2- Never read the options for a question about which you have no idea . reading the lengthy options and then finding that you cannot attempt will be a disaster.
3- Choose short question ( with short statements) first and finish them quickly then comeback. In one hour you can attempt upto 70 this will give you confidence.
4- Donot waste the time on a question which seem difficult . may be some easier is waiting for you ahead. Remeber you alway can come back if you have spare time.

A few exam tips

I toyed with the idea of doing the "matching" section first, however, I'm not sure that would help. I think the best method is really to start from the beginning and work your way through. Answer as many of the multiple choice and matching questions as you can before heading to the experiements. Anything that is unfamilar or you know will take +2 minutes to solve, I would skip.

Keep in mind that unless you are spectacularly fast, you will have little to no time to review your answers. Hence my advice to skip unless you can solve quickly. I managed to make it to the end and had just enough time to go back to one of the experiment questions I had skipped (though I had read the whole thing) and answer 3 more questions. Do not plan on "coming back" to a question.

Once time is up I would also recommend that you count how many questions you answered for an idea of how you did. If you answered >130, I'd say you're likely above 70%, provided you're fairly confident of your answers.

Good luck for anyone taking the test!

Actual Exam Topics

Hi People,

I took the exam a while ago. Here are the questions that I can remember...

  • several operon questions (attenuation, CAP)
  • Barr body
  • What is the name of a drug which can induce abnormal chromosome segregation in plant (I am not sure if it is in plant or in other organisms, but I am sure that you can find some info about the drug in your genetic text)
  • Which carbon is most reduced?
  • Repair mechanisms (SOS, base-excision). The question required me to know detailed processes of the mechanisms.
  • tyrosine kinase pathway
  • KDEL sequence
  • Plus strand and minus strand of virus,

Success story

First, I studied for three months everyday two to three hours a day for six days a week. It was like a workout for me.

Second, the books I referred to were Cell by Alberts and Biochemistry by Voet and Voet. Any genetics book from your university is fine. As long as you use a genetics book that is easy to understand and easy to get the correct information from. Genetics problems on the exam are not difficult questions...they are problems we all did in the university but just never used in upper-classes...so we eventually forgot them all. They are really simple questions that only need a few minutes of review...such as tetrad analysis and somewhat intricate genetic/epistatic experiments.

Third, people on the forum have made it a habit to suggest putting full effort into studying...sometimes instilling fear into future testakers. As you can see, I didn't study myself to death...and there were two reasons why. 1) I had a research job...I am a junior specialist in my lab and was asked to juggle everyone's experiments as they were coming. During the time I was studying, I was extremely stressed out at work and was required to produce several papers in some top journals...in which I did. In my opinion, this experience helped me and will help me in many ways. Coming into the experimental section of the Biochem GRE, I answered all questions easily, averaging every problem in less than thirty seconds which I thought was pretty good since I wasn't able to answer the factual questions in that an amount of time. I have developed very good analytical skills. 2) Graduate schools do not want to hear that you took off three to six months just studying for an exam that only plays about 5% of your application process. It is a way to gauge whether you'll be a good student...but it won't gauge whether you'll be a good researcher which is what they want from you in the end.

4) The two exams given out...one from 1994 and one from 2000 are decent exams to study from. They are the ONLY exams out there and you should study these exams to get an idea of the style they are testing...DO NOT use these exams as what they are looking for. I never used any references from the net or any outside source...just what I developed in research and what I remembered from the university through the books. You'll realize that your own personal academic experience will give you an advantage over other testakers. For example, we had a cholera toxin question, a protein complex pull down assay, and a protein kinase C question in the GRE. The cholera toxin question was more in depth than I would have thought for the factual questions and the latter two topics were in the experimental section. In my three labs i've been in, I worked with the man who brilliantly devised the protein complex pull down assay and the man who discovered protein kinase C. Currently, I work with Vibrio cholerae...the agent that causes cholera. I was lucky and those experimental questions that would have taken the usual testaker several long minutes to orient themselves with data...was a piece of cake as I've been taught the methodology and the theory behind some of those expeirments.

Don't get scared...it's only going to bring you down. Relax and focus and you'll do fine. Ultraspiracle (from other posts) is a good friend of mine and we both attacked the test differently. I went for an all-out method...trying to answer every question not going back for corrections since I believed that my first instinct would be right. Ultra went slowly and methodically and answered questions he could answer correctly. He skipped quite a few questions and I only skipped about 8. We scored the same (93-94%) though. So, you need to figure out the best method for you in studying and test-taking.

Good luck!

How much time do I need to prepare for the exam?

In my opinion, the time needed to preparing the subject test is up to your situation. If you can spend almost all of your time to study biochemistry, genetics, cell biology, etc., it would not be required one month or just little more than to overview all those fields. However, if you have limited time to study them, even 6 months could not satisfy you to figure out many fields of biology. Therefore, it should be considered in the basis of case-by-case manner; how long does it take when someone prepares the test. I recommend you firstly make a plan and choose text books what you should read, such as Biochemistry, Molecular Cell Biology, Genetics. After then, you can calculate the time needed to read all of the texts. (Or just some selected parts of the books) This plan will provide you some expectation about the time preparing your Subject test.

In my case, I needed 40 days to read 2/3 of Biochemistry (Lehninger) and 1/2 of MCB. After recieving the score report, I think that I should have read some Genetics textbook. In the test of April, 2005, there were lots of genetics questions!! (I got the lowest % in the genetics.) As I posted, my score is 630 (85%). I reglet that I had not prepared the Genetics and spent more time to study.


In preface - I'm not against a form of "standardized" admissions criteria for applicants. I think it's basically a good idea, but the GRE program (especially the general test) has some serious flaws in the way the data is gathered and presented to graduate schools. There are also flaws in the operation of ETS itself. Thankfully, the GRE is only a part of an individual's application, and the schools are free to evaluate the applicant on whatever criteria they choose to emphasize. I'm mentioning these concerns as someone who's already been successful in a biotech career. My problem with ETS lies not so much with the tests as with their philosophy, attitude, and methodology.

1) The exhorbitant test fees. How much does it cost to have a lacky with less than a high school education plug a sheet of paper into a scanner to calculate the score? 130 dollars a score sheet for a subject test? If you take the test more than once, you have to pay them the same fee every time you take it. If you take a subject test, and want your scores earlier than one month after you take the test, you have to pay ETS an extra $10. ......um, this is total BS. The General test is 115 dollars just to sit in front of a piece of crap computer and have it spit the score back to you when you finish. Why ? And how LONG does it take to have someone run several hundred test score sheets through the scanner? Not a month, for sure.

right. Because they know we'll pay their fee, and live with their rules, since there are no alternatives.

2) I think there have been some Wall Street Journal articles about why ETS really are the bad guys. It's a total, global monopoly in every sense of the term. Who is their competition? (ans. = none) If anyone can provide links to these articles, it would be fun. And if this is the case, why they maintain the "gre.org" website instead of "gre.biz" or "gre.com" is a really nice joke.

3) ETS makes a big deal with all these admonishments about "test fairness" and "fair reporting of scores" and "fair computation of scores" and "fair use of scores" - they're the real benevolent purveyor of admissions criteria, and are really looking out for us, yeah? Who knows what they do with, and how they calculate the scores? Do you know? Does anyone you know know? I certainly don't know, and neither does anyone I know. Everything is a "secret". How many tests are circulating? How many examinees take the test? How do they compute percentile? Who decides which test items (especially on subject tests) are scored and which ones aren't scored? For goodness sakes, how CURRENT are the tests? NO ONE KNOWS! we only find out 5-10 or so years after we've taken our test(s), and by then it's a moot point anyway because we don't care anymore.

4.) The fact that a significant portion of test takers (many of them foreign applicants) make a perfect (800) score on the quantitative section of the general test is a real curiosity to me. This trend has only become very evident in the last 5-6 years. This implies beyond a doubt that there's something seriously wrong with that test. ETS has planned significant revisions to the format of the GRE general test in '06. You can bet that highly-motivated individuals will master the test, no matter what ETS's modifications are, or the nationalisic origins of the test takers. Basically, ETS knows the general test is a pile of dung, and they're scrambling to come up with a format that minimizes the advantages of memorization. However, schools keep taking the scores and relying on them as admissions criteria because there are no alternatives.

5.) The universities who accept ETS's test scores are no better in this whole scheme than ETS. Every university I know of requires general test scores, and more and more of these universities are wanting subject test scores. What do they provide ETS for this nice little arrangement? Do they pay a "membership fee" to have the scores and statistics sent to them? If they do, they're just lazy. This is data that "just comes in"...the universities do nothing to help gather the data except, probably, in a reciprocal arrangement, the universities provide a "testing center". ETS has the monopoly-advantage of convincing everyone, including universities, that students must take the ETS tests to be admitted to grad school. The problem with this philosophy is that everyone believes it! My guess is that the universities do not question the accuracy or authenticity of the data, nor the methods used to collect the data.

Actually, I have some pretty good sources in this arena. I'll research this aspect of score reporting to universities and the ETS realtionship and post it here if and when I find out something significant.

6) Only prospective graduate students, who are so pavlovian-conditioned not to make a fuss, and who will do anything asked of them regardless of the conditions, would tolerate this type of attitude from a private corporation that proclaims to generate data deeming their suitability for graduate study. Geez, why don't they just give everyone the Stanford-Binet IQ test and go from that? Oh, I see...those tests are too "Biased". Why, then, is the GRE not considered biased? If ETS were a government-run institution, such as the department of homeland security, then I could reason the clandestine attitude. But it isn't - It's a for-profit corporation...and no one seriously questions the ethics, or methods of ETS. Unbelievable. We seem to be so desperate for admission to a good school that we forget to question and make a fuss of the methods used to judge our suitability. And understandably so - the univesities and ETS really know how to silence a squeaky wheel.

7.) Finally, and the GRE Biochem subject test is my criteria here - why on earth would ETS post an ancient relic of a cobbled-together test on their website as an example, and then charge 80 bucks to unsuspecting souls for the "test prep manual", which contains another 11 year old test, and then slam us with the test we just encountered?...it's ridiculous. The "format" of the test was the same, but the nature of the questions we encountered, I thought at least, were vastly different from the samples. I felt better off in 1994 with no prep material whatsoever, and probably will have scored better 10 years ago. At least I didn't have something on which to base my preparation that seemed in retrospect to be deliberately misleading. Glad I didn't spend the 80 bucks for that "prep manual", and someone posted it here. Further, I'm glad I found this forum and was able to get a hint beforehand that it was worthless...otherwise, I might have shelled out the cash for it and been very, very pissed afterward.

8.) As a result of #7, do you trust ETS's prep materials for the subject tests after this? Do you trust ANY ETS prep material? I don't, and I'll stay as far away from them as possible. That 80 dollar sample test was a joke compared to what I endured on April 2. Why would ETS want to prepare you to do well on their tests anyway?

But the problem again is...there's no alternative. "We prepare the tests - let us prepare you!"

Right. Seems we all fell for that line.

9.) If you listen to ETS, and read the legalese, you'd begin to think they're not even in the business of test-making and test-administering. Their only function in life, the only thing they do, is gather and compile data. We, the test-takers, are nothing more than providers of statistics to them, and the only thing we represent is a "data point". We don't even have rights to our own test scores to be distributed as we see fit. Once we turn in that test booklet, everything we've done becomes their property.

I don't know what the alternative is to all this bellyaching, but it seems to me that there should be "some alternative" in this American system...maybe a test-administering organization that's equally represented by university faculty and students, rather than solely by a for-profit "climber" of Wall Street. The problems lie not in the tests themselves, but in ETS's self-serving need to claim that they alone are the source of reliable data to universities, who probably have no stake or concern in the reliability of the data - except to look at it and make decisions based upon it.

Some good advice regarding exam questions and timing

I think it's pretty common to run out of time. My experience was complete deja vu. I remember taking the test back in 1994, and ran into the same issues with time (not having enough time to finish the last couple of experiments). I wasn't as worried about my score then, and fully expected to leave quite a few questions unanswered. So, I didn't feel so bad. I ended up scoring 95% in Biochem, 80 something in Molecular/Genetics, and blew the Cell biology section out my orifice (50%). Overall it was 78%.

In my opinion, the test has changed considerably, and the major curriculums have also changed the way the subjects are taught. Instead of gross memorization of facts, the emphasis is on induction and deduction. This test seemed to require a lot more "front end" thought in the questions than the 94 test. In Nov., expect them to be worded strangely, and require you to make an assessment from the choices to get the correct answer. It's interesting, that many times I'd read the question stem and already know what I expected the answer to be, only to look down find that the choice I anticipated wasn't there! So, the test will ask you to know more obscure details (i.e. the ribosome can bind where? You expect rough ER, right? Well, it's not in the choices (cytoplasm, mitochondrial outer membrane, inner nuclear membrane, lysosome, secretory vesicle).

We'll need to expect to put in at least 3 months of steady preparation for the Nov. test if we feel we should retake it. The most valuable study time is when you've already covered the material, (like we've done) and are able to "think" about the subjects without worrying about trying to cram in all kinds of new information.