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Preparing for the Comp Sci. GRE?

Cliff posted more than 11 years ago | from the what-study-methods-did-you-use dept.

Education 36

arys asks: "I've been looking around for a good book on the GRE Computer Science subject test but all I found were a book that is out of print and an other that has the worst reviews possible. What I want to ask is those of you that have taken the test, how did you prepare for it?"

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An Undergraduate Degree Helps (5, Funny)

Markus Registrada (642224) | more than 11 years ago | (#6062727)

The best way to prepare for a GRE in Computer Science is to study computer science. A variety of four-year programs are offered at hundreds of universities around the world. Apply early and you might get a scholarship.

Courses in "Microsoft Word2000" probably will be a bit off the mark. You might have to study some algebra and maybe even some literature (if you don't choose University of Phoenix, that is).

Re:An Undergraduate Degree Helps (0)

kurosawdust (654754) | more than 11 years ago | (#6065690)

(if you don't choose University of Phoenix, that is).

Hey buddy, you name me another computer science school that lets you keep your toolbox when you're done!

Thought so. (3, Informative)

rubinson (207525) | more than 11 years ago | (#6062767)

I took the GRE last summer (although not the CompSci subject test). I went through a number of practice books and tests. By far, the best materials were the ones provided by and published by ETS.

Most of the materials are free for download from their website, including reviews for the subject tests. (Many of these resouces are sent to you when you register.) You can purchase "Practicing to take the GRE General Test" for $18 (I highly recommend this book).

I also used the Princeton Review and one other series that I can't recall offhand. Neither of these resources had the depth of the ETS materials (or the GRE itself). If I had just used the 3rd party materials, I would have been screwed. They simply didn't cover everything that was on the test -- the ETS materials do.

The relevent link: []

Also, I can't recommend highly enough the practice tests provided by ETS. The 3rd party books also provide practice tests that are largely worthless. But the ETS tests are the real thing. Made a huge difference for me. (5, Informative)

Muhammar (659468) | more than 11 years ago | (#6063433)

GRE - All tests and especialy the general portion of it: Buy the published test stuff from ETS. Get as much of their original materials which were given in previous years as possible.

Contrary to what they want us to believe, the best way to prepare for the GRE test is doing the tests repeatedly. The authors are probably the same over years, and the format, material and type of question is mostly a re-hash of the previous tests.

Having practiced the test in full lenght 3-5 times will greatly improve your speed and confidence at the actual test. You need to stick above the average procentile - which is not that hard if you compete against people that did not practice the actual test. A lot of people lose on scores not because the lack of knowledge, but because of the unfamiliarity with the test, nervousness and lack of time. The test authors have this "earnest" way in wording their multiple-choice answers: they often give the answer away just by the way they write them. You can see through them after few practice runs. (1)

The Cydonian (603441) | more than 11 years ago | (#6065206)

I agree; haven't written the test so far, but if my SAT (I & II) experience is any indication, then practising with old tests is always a good choice.

Only problem is, I've found only this practice book [] published by ETS for the CompSci Subject Test. Any other *official* test-prep material you'd like to suggest? (1)

Muhammar (659468) | more than 11 years ago | (#6065594)

No, I was not trying to suggest any particular official material - anything that you get from ETS is good (the more the better). My days with GRE are over for couple years now.

[Given that I am Czech, never had English in school, have a quite bad case of dyslexia - troubles with spelling even in Czech - and I got even in the *vocabulary/text analysis* part of the general test a score above 50% percentille supports the argument about the possibility of preparing for GRE from the old tests.]

Agree (1)

IITian (667616) | more than 11 years ago | (#6076623)

Agree completely. I have taken GRE Computer Science, GMAT and other GRE tests and only the ETS practice tests were of use. Those tests are almost exactly similar to the real ones. In contrast, I recall studying from a few of these other guides for my GMAT, the first one I took and they were all useless and confused me a lot. Finally I had to throw out them. Third party books are not only useless but will decrease your scores. Best strategy is to do well on your courses and take the ETS practice tests to gain familiarity with the real test.

This is why we have cooking classes! :D (1)

wishes (129587) | more than 11 years ago | (#6062806)

Surely there must be something online somewhere that has the info you need? Ive had trouble myself with various things that are either undocumented or long out of date, and invariably they are somewhere on the net, just a little hard to find.

I took the Computer Science GRE a few years ago (1)

woolie (187633) | more than 11 years ago | (#6062857)

A large percentage of the problems were incomprehensible to me. 'Perhaps,', I thought, 'things have changed a lot since I was an undergraduate.' I showed some examples to a local university professor. He couldn't make sense of the questions either.

I'm told that few graduate CS programs require it.

Best way to study for the CS Subject Test (4, Informative) (628354) | more than 11 years ago | (#6062921)

Take all the important books from your undergraduate studies (you did keep them, right?) and spend six months reading everything that your professors glossed over. The important books would be from the classes for: compiler construction (preferably the "Dragon book"), computer architecture (preferably Tanenbaum's "Structured Computer Organization"), design and analysis of algorithms, fundamentals of programming languages, don't forget discrete mathematics (Gries' "A Logical Approach to Discrete Math" can't be beat), linear algebra, and The Holy Bible (there are currently many extremely bright people hoping to get into a Ph.D. program to weather the horrendous economy).

On the worst reviewed book: do not, under any circumstances, read any portion of it. Even now, there are dark corners of my mind where its evil influence still lurks, terrorizing otherwise productive neurons into inaction.

To be honest, and not to sound elitist, unless you attended an Ivy League school, or a quality private school (such as RPI), you're probably screwed. The best way to prepare is to get into a Master's program that doesn't require the subject test (most don't), then take the test right after that.

I know smart people who were blasted by the subject test, got their Master's, then went on and scored in the 95th - 99th percentile the second time around. It's just a matter of what you were exposed to in school. I know that without the programming languages course and compilers course, both electives that most people avoid at my school, I would have tanked the subject test.

Re:Best way to study for the CS Subject Test (2, Interesting)

saden1 (581102) | more than 11 years ago | (#6063172)

The test is very compressive so not only do you have to be at your A game but also have to be at A^x game. I don't think one has to have attended an Ivy league school to get a good score test but I do think that one has to have attended a quality school with good professors. I gleaned over the GRE CS subject test and pretty much everything that was on it I have been taught at the public school I went to. The problem is though I don't quite remember everything I was taught (might have to do with having killed one too many brain cells during my college days).

Like the gentlemen above said your best bet at getting a good score on the exam is to go to graduate school first and get your masters degree then take the test.

Re:Best way to study for the CS Subject Test (3, Insightful) (628354) | more than 11 years ago | (#6063322)

I don't think one has to have attended an Ivy league school to get a good score test but I do think that one has to have attended a quality school with good professors.

Don't get me wrong; I think I got a decent education from the public school that I went to, as well. I would say that most people who pay enough attention in class at most any accredited college will learn enough to become decent professionals in the field of Computer Science.

However, to get into a Ph. D. program, you have to be better than decent, as you have noted in your post. You're going up against a tough crowd of people from some of the finest institutions in the world. The test isn't about doing well, it's about doing better than a substantial percentage of all the other people taking the test.

In a general Computer Science degree, you just won't be (in my opinion) exposed to the depth and breadth needed to really excel on the subject test. And that's what it's all about. If you can score in the 90th+ percentile, you will get in a Ph. D. program somewhere. If you can score in the 95th+ percentile, you'll probably have a free ride, too (stipend and tuition remission). Don't forget that the regular GRE is also important as it relates to getting teaching assistantships in some cases. The general GRE test is all about gaming the system, a trained moron could ace the test -- get the Princeton Review book and read it thoroughly.

Re:Best way to study for the CS Subject Test (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#6064240)

However, to get into a Ph. D. program, you have to be better than decent, as you have noted in your post. You're going up against a tough crowd of people from some of the finest institutions in the world.
Amen to that.

I don't usually post as AC, but I wanted to give some specifics without sounding like a braggart:

GRE - 750/770/800 (99/93/99 %)
CS - 810 (94%)

Top 10 CS grad school, top 5 school in my chosen area.

I used to think I was smart before I came here, but now I feel like the village idiot. There are some damn smart people in CS grad school.

And FWIW, a friend at another school says their CS grad students have the highest general GRE scores of any field save one - music theory! If you get bored with hacking, try writing a little counterpoint!

Re:Best way to study for the CS Subject Test (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#6068870)

dude. its marked out of 800 total
so 810/800 ? i dont think so.
so 800/800 is 100% not 99%.

Re:Best way to study for the CS Subject Test (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#6073100)

dude. its marked out of 800 total

so 810/800 ? i dont think so.
so 800/800 is 100% not 99%.
I can only report what my score notification letter says. After columns for "date", "type", and "code" it has "score" 810, "% below" 94, some empty columns for "subscores", the # correct, incorrect, and hidden, and the "formula score" of 45.

Oh, and about people saying it's a hard test: correct 47, incorrect 10, omits 13. A 67% correct rate resulted in that 94th percentile score.

Re:Best way to study for the CS Subject Test (3, Informative)

jhealy1024 (234388) | more than 11 years ago | (#6063392)

I know smart people who were blasted by the subject test...

Amen to that. While I'm no CS genius, I was a CS major in a good program during college. I took the GRE CS subject test during my senior year, and I got reamed by it. Biggest waste of $130/4 hours I've ever experienced. And I wasn't the only one; most of my friends had the same experience.

I took the exam because 1 school I was applying to required it. Had I known what the exam was going to do to me, I would have just skipped that school. While I don't want to sound like a chicken, you should seriously consider whether you need to take this exam or not.

If you insist on taking the exam, I suggest you read the major texts from each section of CS, especially those that you haven't studied. Look through the course catalog and find all the courses you didn't take (pay attention to Compilers, Operating Systems, Programming Languages, and Theory of Computation). I got nailed because I took the exam without having taken compilers yet. Turns out a lot of that year's exam was related to compilers. Whoops.

Re:Best way to study for the CS Subject Test (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#6068954)

I agree. As I was taking this test I was ticking off the course numbers of the class each question applied to. I think I covered everything in my undergrad core plus 4 or 5 electives which I didn't have to take. The test consists of very specific queestions on a very broad subject matter. And don't feel too bad if you get what you think of as a bad score. Remember that only about the top 10% of CS students even take this test, so basically a 50% on this test puts you at say 92%. And yes, I also got reamed on this test. Definitly not a test you want to take cold.

Re:Best way to study for the CS Subject Test (2, Informative)

scruffy (29773) | more than 11 years ago | (#6069140)

That's a good list. The one thing I would add is a book on formal languages and automata. The Dragon book has a lot of what you need, but not Turing machines, for example.

If you have to cram, it's too late. (2, Informative)

Pathwalker (103) | more than 11 years ago | (#6063054)

If you are trying to learn everything you need to know in a few months, you are doomed.

The computer science GRE is not an easy test.

The normal GRE is a test of basic skills, everything you need to know for it you should have known when you graduated from high school.

The Computer Science Subject GRE is an overview of the entire field of study. Take a look at the courses you have taken over the past few years, and look for gaps, or subjects you avoided. These gaps need to be filled in. Look at the higher level elective classes you didn't take, and try to gain an overview of what would be covered in them.

When you think you've filled in the gaps, re-read some books covering the basics of computer science (Knuth's Art of Computer Programming; Cormen, Leiserson, Rivest, and Stein's Introduction to Algorithms; Hennessy and Patterson's Computer Architecture: A Quantitative Approach, etc...).

After this, you might be ready for the test.

Good luck!

I hope you do better than I did.

what I did, what I would change (1)

ghamerly (309371) | more than 11 years ago | (#6063502)

I took the Computer Science GRE straight out of undergrad (from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo [] ), and it was fairly hard. However, I did get into a good PhD program (UCSD [] ).

When preparing, the only material I had were the "worst-reviewed book" (and it truly was bad), my friend who I studied with, and my textbooks from classes.

Even though the red book was bad, I still got two things out of it: (1) an appreciation for what the real test would be like (to some degree), and (2) we were forced to evaluate each question for correctness (since there are incorrect answers), which made us study the material more critically, and understand it better. So there is some benefit to using the red book.

If I had to do it over again, I would still use the red book (but with the knowledge that it is poorly written). I would *definitely* find another person (of my same caliber) to study with again. The only thing I would do differently is I would review my classes & old textbooks more, guided by topics found in the red book.

I disagree with the posters who say that you need a master's first to do well on this exam. I didn't ace it, but I did well enough to get into a good program.

Finally, for the GREs (all of them), nothing beats taking practice tests for getting prepared. I took one practice test a week for about 6 weeks, and that helped a lot (for the general GREs).

Find a Chinese or Indian CS grad student (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#6063995)

Find a Chinese or Indian CS grad student who took the subject test in one of the previous years. Take a look at this article [] . It works exactly as described in the second item on that page. I'm surprised that it took the ETS so long to catch on to this.

Wing it (0, Flamebait)

addaon (41825) | more than 11 years ago | (#6064245)

Honestly, it's not a difficult test. If you've been taking classes for at least two years, are interested in the field, and have some wetware in the brainbin, you should have no difficulty at all. I took the CS GRE last year, after 5 semesters of college, and my studying was limited to the (rather helpful) information provided by ETS. I can't tell you how well I did, because I don't know what the scoring scale is. Normal GRE is 200-800, but the subject is on a different scale. In any case, whatever an 840 actually means, it's enough to get you (me) into Stanford... is studying really worth it? Spend the time playing hockey, or masturbating, or something useful.

Re:Wing it (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#6070353)

ah, he's lying, he just wants you to do badly, thereby giving him a better percentile rank.

the CS test is largely incomprehensible. all the tests are hard, but when you read the physics or math tests, you at least understand what they're asking. the CS test is off in a parallel universe, i'm afraid. you're best bet is do a lot of practice tests to try getting a handle on their questions and what they're getting at. chances are that if you knew what they meant, you'd have a good stab at the answer.

Re:Wing it (1)

addaon (41825) | more than 11 years ago | (#6073713)

I don't know why I was modded troll, and I don't know why you think I'm lying... I really was sharing my honest opinion and experience. What questions did you find difficult to understand? I thought it was quite straightforward and well written, at least for ETS. Certainly better written than, say, the verbal section of the standard GRE.

GRE = Generic Router Encapsulation? (2, Funny)

Mordant (138460) | more than 11 years ago | (#6064736)

Wow, I never knew there was a whole test just on this one aspect of VPN tunneling technology . . . ;>

Re:GRE = Generic Router Encapsulation? (1)

schon (31600) | more than 11 years ago | (#6067541)

I never knew there was a whole test just on this one aspect of VPN tunneling technology .

Well, GRE did come from Cisco :o)

CompSci GRE Experience (2, Informative)

BanteringCTO (584124) | more than 11 years ago | (#6066285)

I don't normally comment, but you've received so little meaningful help (IMHO), I thought I'd try. I've taken (and passed) the CS GRE. It was not an easy test for me Since then (nearly ten years ago), I've gone on to get both undergraduate and graduate degrees in CS and I've gained some understanding. The bottom line is that the CS GRE tries to test one's understanding of CS theory and it's mathematical or programmatic representation. In other words, you need to know numeric representation and manipulation (binary, hex, etc.), common algorithms/methods (recursion, sorts, etc.), CS terminology, discrete math (algebra's also a given, calculus isn't much help, trig doesn't hurt) and a sprinkling of graphics programming. Note that I did not mention any applications. Being a power user with some experience in VB will do absolutely no good. You must study CS theory and the math behind it. There are any number of good books covering these topics. I'd start with a good one on Operating Systems, if I were you. If most of it makes sense, you're on the right track. If not, consider taking some courses to prepare you.

Take the practice, and then... (1)

Tom7 (102298) | more than 11 years ago | (#6066702)

I took this thing about 3 years ago. I found it a lot more pleasurable than the computer-based general test.

Go online and take the practice test. If you find it fine, then you are all set. I don't think that cramming will help much, but it can't hurt except by wasting your time. I personally missed a couple of questions having to do with information/coding theory, since I had never taken anything in that.

If you find it incomprehensible, then you are in trouble. The best idea would be to re-take the classes you missed (?) as an undergraduate. The test questions are not hard, but they cover an incredible breadth of topics--you need to have basic knowledge of a LOT of stuff in order to do well. I don't know any easy way of getting that knowledge!

took the GRE.... (3, Informative)

Zurk (37028) | more than 11 years ago | (#6068840)

i got a 1960 total when i took the GRE coupla years ago. i took it on the computer based test ..heres a few (may help you or may not) tips :
[1] dont spend anything on classes or books. they dont help. i didnt. no multiple choice test like the GRE/GMAT/LSAT etc is covered fully by any book on the market or any classes. theyre all a ripoff.
[2] to prepare, i went to the local public library everyday for four weeks before i took the test, with a pencil, stopwatch and tons of paper. i grabbed a dozen or so GRE preparation books from the shelves (princetons, kaplans, barrons, the official GRE test publications and others), ignored all the sections and did ALL the practice tests. i averaged *THREE* full GRE tests everyday for two weeks (3 x 7 x 2) straight. i split up the tests so that i did the tests in weeks 1 and 3.
[3] in weeks 2 and 4 i only reviewed the test answers, went thru the model explanations (if any) and redid any questions i had got wrong, ten times each, until i got em right ten straight instances in a row.
[4] expect to do much worse in the real test than you do on the practice tests. on the real one i got 1960, on the practice ones i was getting 2000-2300. getting into a tier 1 university with a 1960 was a piece of cake, however.
[5] do at least ONE computer based test on the internet..i found 3-4 of them which i did in one day. i didnt pay for any of em. YMMV.
[6] simulate the test conditions exactly. the public library helps...its dead quiet, i have a stopwatch, and i simulate the test by not going backwards on any questions, timing each question so that i completed each question in the 60-90 seconds that you normally are allowed and doing everything else required.
in the end if you can do the last dozen or so practice tests with a decent average (2200+/2400) youre in good shape. assuming you dont fuck up on test day of course, or come late for the test or get in a car accident or whatever.

Re: comp sci GRE (1)

galt2112 (648234) | more than 11 years ago | (#6075697)

The only way that I was able to do well was to take practice tests from a red book that it now out of print.

Get ahold of practice tests from as many sources as you can, and be prepared to spend 6-12 months brushing up on areas with which you had problems on the sample tests.

So, does this mean I'm screwed? (1)

Merk (25521) | more than 11 years ago | (#6075937)

I was thinking of doing a Comp. Sci. master's degree and the places I was interested in all seemed to need a Comp. Sci. GRE. As an undergrad I did Engineering Physics with an Electrical Engineering option. Although I had a tiny bit of exposure to programming in C++ and assembly in school I didn't cover almost any of the stuff the GRE tests on. Without going back to get a Comp. Sci. undergrad degree, is there any hope of my doing ok on the Comp. Sci. GRE?

Re:So, does this mean I'm screwed? (1)

BanteringCTO (584124) | more than 11 years ago | (#6120199)

No, you're not screwed. I passed it the first time without any undergraduate degree. It was just really hard without the formal training. You obviously have the brain for it, and the Math background. Picking up the programming and terminology shouldn't be tough if you're self-motivated. Remember, you only have to pass. Take a practice test, then compare your results to the percentage they represent with respect to the percentage of their value (e.g., subject X is worth 18% and you got 90% of those questions correct). Figure out what percent you need to add, then focus on the subjects worth the most where you are closest to being proficient. If there's a time crunch, I'd ignore the areas of greatest ignorance completely.

Avoid books by REA at all costs (1)

NonSequor (230139) | more than 11 years ago | (#6085089)

Their study books for the general GRE and the math GRE were terrible. Most of the questions are poorly written. They don't give you a very accurate picture of what the actual test is like.

Automata, Turing machines, state machines (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#6092553)

I went to a good school, got good marks, and got nuked on the CompSci GRE when I saw questions on these subjects. They were never part any of my under-grad courses, but they were on the exam. Several people I wrote the exam with walked out when they saw these types of questions, studied the topics for a few months, then re-wrote the exam.

CS not popular anymore (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#6093467)

Seeing as how computer science jobs have been on the steady decline, my advice would be to take another GRE test, like music or something...

What I wish I had done before I took it (2, Funny)

Zelxyb (217422) | more than 11 years ago | (#6098369)

I know this is a little late so nobody will read it but whatever.

The one thing that screwed me over was that I didn't take a senior-level Automata/Formal Languages course. I got jacked by questions like:

I A context-free language is also a regular language
II A regular language is also a context-free language
III Your mom

Which of the above statements are true?
a. I, II, III
b. I, III
c. I, II
d. III
e. eat me

Still, I got into grad school...
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