The GRE: What you need to know about taking (and retaking) the test

Veterinary schools require the GRE as part of your application. I, frankly, had now idea what to expect from the test and assumed it was something akin to the dreaded MCAT. Not so, my friends. Not so.

I have taken the GRE once for my graduate school application, so I now know the drill. The test contains five sections– two quantitative sections, two language sections and one analytical writing section (two essays). Most GRE’s are now entirely online and you can take them almost any day of the week (unlike the MCAT). You have to go to a very official testing center, scan your finger print, be on your best behavior, etc., so get there early (I missed that memo…).

While the test is certainly not the gauntlet med students face, it is trickier than I anticipated and I strongly recommend a good test prep book (or two). My friend and I actually compared two prep books side-by-side, ETS and Kaplan. I recommend both for different purposes. The ETS book is best for practice tests because they actually make the exam and we found the Kaplan tests were not representative of how hard the questions actually were. The Kaplan book is better for test prep strategy (it seems like the ETS folks don’t want to share their secrets and the Kaplan team tells all).

I studied for about two months (a few times a week) before the exam and felt confident. I didn’t feel like I needed a test prep course, but I am also fairly disciplined when it comes to studying – call it a masochistic streak. If you are someone who benefits from someone forcing you to sit your butt in a chair and study the material, definitely take a course.

My main advice is to understand how the test works and familiarize yourself with some of the tricks test makers play – the test required more strategy than I thought.

Keep a little cheat sheet with tips you learn along the way. The test recycles the same types of questions each year and you will do much better if you know what to look out for.

One tip a friend of mine, who scored very highly on his MCAT, offered for studying was to take practice tests with a timer at the same time of day you will actually be taking the exam. That way you can condition your mind to focus at a time of day you might typically spend daydreaming or even sleeping.

Before I started studying, I had no idea what a “good” GRE score was. For vet school purposes it seems that anywhere in the mid to upper 150s is respectable and higher is even better (obviously this varies by school). My scores were within range for my graduate program and average for the vet schools I’m interested in, but I decided to retake the exam this coming summer to see if I can improve to be a bit more competitive. Note: many schools super-score GRE scores, meaning they take your highest scores even if it’s from an old exam, so retaking the test won’t hurt anything but your bank account and your social life! Woo!

I know test prep isn’t the sexiest topic, but it’s something that raised a lot of unanswered questions for me. Bottom line: do not fear the GRE, mere mortals (like me) have conquered it and lived to tell the tale.

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Why Vet School? A Personal Statement

*Note: This is not actually my personal statement, just reflections on the question that governs the entire application process.

I pride myself on being quick on my feet, thoughtful and clear. But this question has always been an embarrassing challenge. How do you say, “Because I feel it in my bones that I want to be a vet,” without sounding like every little girl that’s ever loved a litter of golden retriever puppies? You have to convey an appreciation and love of science, a deep and broad understanding of a field comprising a good chunk of the tree of life, reasonable hands on experience, a smattering of research ability, a life changing moment when you truly “knew,” and all the warm fuzzy stuff you think about the profession in a way that demonstrates enthusiasm not total blissful ignorance.

And while I will do all of that in my personal statement (to the best of my abilities), I thought I would take the time to write the real answer I give myself when even the idea of owning scrubs seems like finding life on Jupiter (I really have considered just buying them and wearing them alone in my apartment like an old prom dress). Here it goes.

I want to be a vet because I have never felt more myself than when I was standing next to a horse. Whether I was freezing cold chiseling ice out of a water trough, changing a bandage or galloping bareback in the summer (yes that really happened in my childhood, thanks mom and dad), I loved knowing I was the first line of defense for this 1200 lb animal and I loved it even more when I knew that animal trusted me.

I know I need a job that is active. I have enough professional experience to understand what it means to sit still at a desk and stare at a screen and that experience was important to validating what kind of job and lifestyle I need. I’m excited by the idea of working outdoors or in a fast paced clinic where I get to think on my feet and only part of my time is spent filling out charts or reading current literature (which I love).

I never thought I could truly say it, but I do love science. It is unusual to say you love something that you aren’t very good at (or people have rarely told you you were good at), but I do. I enjoyed the challenge of learning how our bodies work. I can read through a complex scientific article and distill it down to a few key points. For me, science always seemed like this thing I could never understand, and now that I’ve scratched the surface, I only want to learn more.

I get bored easily. Once I feel I understand a job or a course, I’m usually on to the next big thing. But as a vet, there is always a new challenge or a new case. If not in practice, you can always teach, mentor, advise or write.

One of my bucket list items is to be an expert in something and this is the one I’ve chosen.

I don’t know how many of these reasons resonate with you, but I have done my best to articulate some of the intangible things that motivate us aspiring vets to keep walking down this uncertain path. And I hope you know now that there is someone else out there who doesn’t have a textbook answer to vet school’s most important question.