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GRE CS Subject Test Prep? 34

coaxial asks: "So it's that time again to consider taking the GRE. While there are many resources on the web about the general test (mostly vocabulary building), the computer science subject test seems to be lacking. This is a shame, since this test covers pretty much everything in the undergrad curriculum. So I ask the grad student readers of Slashdot: what resources, besides the one book I've found, did they use."
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GRE CS Subject Test Prep?

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  • Oh bollocks, I didn't see that book available when I took the test ~1 year ago.

    Didn't the practice test give you some idea of which subjects you need work in? (Yes, the practice test is on ETS' website, just look for it...)
    • Don't feel too bad, it wasn't available last year, as far as I could find. It may show an earlier publishing date (I didn't look) but I looked fairly hard last year and it wasn't available.

      That test sucked. Hard. I still have the hickey.
  • The information may be somewhere, but what do I choose? Test takers? Educators? Message from the GRE Chair?
  • by Alphabet Pal ( 895900 ) on Monday July 25, 2005 @06:51PM (#13160860)

    Have you looked into prospective graduate schools yet? When I started looking at entrance requirements, almost all of them said that GRE CS test scores wouldn't even be considered in the application. I just focused on the "plain old" GRE, made sure to do well on the math section, and had no trouble getting into the grad school I wanted.

    • When I was looking last year (although life swept the rug out from under me at the last minute, so I'm still in industry) most schools did want the CS GRE. There were a few exceptions, buut the majority did look at them.
    • I think it rather depends on where you are applying - different schools look for different things. I live in Canada, and when I applied to grad school, I couldn't find one school here who even mentioned the GRE, let alone looked at it. They asked for transcripts, but the most important things were your references.

      Personally, I lucked out though - my grad school application was quite late because I wasn't sure I wanted to go, and it basically consisted of me going up to the advisor for my final year un
    • I am in a PhD program in CS (UCSB). I didn't take the CS GRE. I was told it wasn't necessary by the school I applied to.

      As far as their policy on the "plain old" GRE, they didn't look at the math section -- they assume you got perfect or near perfect. They cared about the verbal section, requiring a score of over 600 -- so that you could, in theory, be an understandable TA. Of course, the average for native speakers is below the average of foreign students, which is why you always should try to email TAs t
    • I second this, but would also like to add that some schools make the distinction between "required", "recommended" and "optional". Unless you're (and by you I mean the top poster) coming from an unknown or not particularly respected program, don't submit a GRE subject score unless a program requires it. If none of the programs require it, don't take it. A good score will not get you into any decent program, but a bad score may get you taken out of the running. In almost all cases, taking the exam can on
  • My first thought was about GRE tunnels. Network admin mindset...
  • Good luck. (Score:4, Interesting)

    by NotoriousQ ( 457789 ) on Monday July 25, 2005 @07:07PM (#13160974) Homepage
    You will need it if you are relying on a single review book to get you through. I will guarantee you that reading one review book will not help much if you are not ready for it on your own.

    The only thing a review book will accomplish is to trigger some of the memories of subjects that you learned. Even if you manage to read all of the material on the subject, it is unlikely that you will remember the exact question that they will ask you.

    My advice is to review what topics are covered, and what they involve. Do not bother learning details, you can do it for one topic and still remember all of them. Be ready to go from your general understanding to the specific instance of the question. It is not that hard if you had a nice university CS education.

    My studying: Reviewed Many-one versus turing reduction (I kept forgetting which one was which), took the practice test in the booklet the evening before the exam.

    My score: 880 (I guesstimated all of the networking questions, as I have never seen networking before, did not bother studying it either. Looking back, studying would not have helped either.)
  • and you took CS as a minor, then they don't trust your institution. They are giving a clear signal that they don't trust your grades, degree and accreditation of that degree to indicate your aptitude for their program. I would think twice.
  • Some advice (Score:4, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday July 25, 2005 @07:35PM (#13161177)
    I took the exam in '99.

    Forget the test prep packets, there is simply too much material that can be asked. Did you keep your old books? Get the books you had for any data structures or algorithms classes. The ones for the class after the introductory classes (ACM CS2 in educator speak) and then the last algorithms class you took. Those topics are the core of the exam. The other big sections were digital circuits and computer organization (memory, disk, processor, networking). You should have had a class on basic electronics and a class on operating systems that covered these topics. There will be a few questions about NP-completeness and formal languages.

    Mathematical calculation is required. Stuff beyond 1+2 will be asked. You need to know linear algebra, matrices, combinatorics, graph theory, and basic calculus. The math is integrated with the CS topics.

    Make sure you know the material before signing up. You won't be able to cram everything in a month or two. If you couldn't take the test today, with no preparation, and at least do decently, you aren't going to be able to make up for it by the fall.

    What you can improve on is speed of recall. There are a LOT of questions, I think around 60 or 70. You must answer quickly and get it correct the first time. Good pacing is essential.

    It's on a curve. You can miss several questions and still do well. I got the maximum score despite getting at least 4 or 5 questions wrong.
  • I graduated with a B.S. in Computer Science and none of the grad schools I looked at required a GRE Computer Science score.
  • by PylonHead ( 61401 ) on Monday July 25, 2005 @08:43PM (#13161609) Homepage Journal
    Basically, when you're a counter-terrorist, you've got to remember to *guard the bomb site*. I know one guy who was passed over because, when the bomb was planted, he was jerking off over in T spawn. He had no idea which site to go to.

    Also, practice with the Deagle/AWP combo until you've really got that down. All the high level comps are dominated by that crap.

    Just keep practicing until the test. I'm sure that those [GRE] guys will let you join.

    Good luck!
  • Most departments care more about your recommendation letters than your GRE scores anyway. Actually, I've been told that my ECE department doesn't even look at the verbal and only considers the math and analytical if you are massively deficient... and this is a top 10 program.

    I can't imagine that the CS scores would be that different.

  • Why? (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward
    This is not intended as a troll, but it will probably get modded that way :-)

    Why do you want to get a graduate degree? You're going to devote a few years of your life to this, and unless you come from a rich family, it's going to cost a lot of money. So, why do you want to do it?

    Is there a specific area of CS that you find especially interesting and want to explore further?

    Do you enjoy the university environment, and want to stick around a while longer? Are you thinking of going all the way and gettin
    • Re:Why? (Score:5, Interesting)

      by gseidman ( 97 ) <> on Tuesday July 26, 2005 @09:30AM (#13164403)
      When I decided to go to grad school, it was because I wanted to be a professor and, in particular, a professor in a large, well-respected CS department (i.e. well-funded with a large pool of talented professors, grad students, and undergrads). Despite a B+ average as an undergrad (though my B.S. came from a well-respected CS department and I had taken many more courses than were required), I aimed high and applied to three highly-rated and well-respected universities for grad school. All of them required the CS GRE, though they simply used it as an easy first cut (anyone under a particular score, maybe 750 or 800, is out of the running immediately).

      I was accepted by an Ivy League school with full funding (RA/TA, not fellowship). And I went. And I slogged my way through candidacy (which got me a Master's) with much friction and suffering. And I gave up and got a real job. And I'm far, far happier for it.

      If you are convinced that you want to be a professor in CS, the only way to get there (in any CS department that expects any level of research from their faculty) is with a Ph.D. If you want to work at a serious research institution (e.g. Google or MS Research), get the Ph.D. If you just want the extra boost of a Master's for the money, get MS certifications instead (yes, I mean it, they actually mean something these days). If you feel that you can be better prepared as a computer scientist/software engineer/whatever by getting a Master's, you probably don't really know what you want and should take a closer look at your motivation. If you are treating grad school like the snooze button on the alarm clock of life, you are in good company and you should make sure that you are at least aiming for a Ph.D. even if you don't know if you'll finish it; the snooze button approach is all about leaving options open.

      If it sounds like I don't think much of a Master's in CS, it's because I don't. I have one from an Ivy League school and while I learned a lot doing it and had fun and was exposed to all sorts of knowledge along the way, the four years I wound up spending on it have earned me a piece of paper that excuses me from not having any certifications yet. The best things that came out of my time there were social, not academic or career-related.

      (On a side note, if you think you'd like to go to grad school because it's easier to meet a mate in school than in the real world, you're right. I doubt I'd be happily married now if not for grad school. See the snooze button approach above.)
    • and unless you come from a rich family, it's going to cost a lot of money.

      Well, this is not entirely true. Most decent departments will fund students by paying their tuition and giving them a small stipend. Of course, there's the money you lose in terms of life time earnings by not working those years you're in grad school, but you certainly don't need rich parents to survive that.

    • I don't know what schools the poster was applying to, but all PhD students in the UCSB CS department are funded enough to net positive during their academic career (of course, it may mean living in campus housing or sharing a room). Even some MS students have funding enough to cover school.

      Several companies exist around town that are willing to work around student hours, allowing anyone who is able to find work (sucks for student visas). I am sure that other University towns present similar options. In fact
  • by AuMatar ( 183847 ) on Tuesday July 26, 2005 @12:40AM (#13162740)
    I took the test this year, and I had a fairly good score (840/900, 91 percentile). A single test prep will *NOT* be able to cover all topics. Especially not to the depth that each needs to be covered. My suggestion- get a book on each topic. OS, graph theory (there is a *lot* of graph theory), complexity analysis, databases, compilers, etc. If you still have your undergrad books, you can use those. But do not expect to be able to study the test, like you can for the SAT or normal GRE. The number of topics, and the depth of knowledge needed in each, is just way too much.

    This is not an easy test. I speak as someone who aced their SAT (1580), normal GRE (1510), and took almost 2 years worth of AP tests- this is the hardest test I've ever taken. If you aren't coming straight from undergrad (I wasn't), give yourself at least 3 months of intense studying. If you are, I'd still give yourself 2 months of targeted studying.

    Best of luck to you. And on your school search as well.
    • this is the hardest test I've ever taken.

      I found the LSAT tougher than the GRE CS. But I suppose that's probably because I took it cold, without even seeing a practice test or asking anyone what kinds of questions would be on it. (I just wanted to see if I could have gotten into law school. Dad's a lawyer; it's an Oedipus thang.) Still, I scored in the 90th percentile, so it wasn't that hard. {grin}

      It was surprisingly analytical. As a geek, I'm embarrassed to admit that I got most stuck on the logic

  • I took the GRE CS exam back in '87, so this obsolete info probably won't help you a durn bit, but old people like to talk to younguns about back when they were your age, so shut up and pretend to listen. {toothless smile}

    My prep (aside from 3.5 years of CS classes) consisted solely of getting the practice test [] [PDF] (it wasn't available online at the time {smile}) and making sure I understood the questions it asked. In particular I recall the regular expressions stuff puzzling me (I got the concept, but d

  • practice tests (Score:4, Informative)

    by gseidman ( 97 ) <> on Tuesday July 26, 2005 @09:06AM (#13164238)
    No amount of studying will prepare you if you don't know the subject. On the other hand, due to the constraints of the test (length and multiple choice) and the breadth of the field, it can't go particularly deeply into any topic.

    The really important thing is to know what you have a good, current grasp of and what you need to learn/relearn/refresh: Do you remember what LALR stands for? Can you calculate the cost of a pipeline bubble or a branch misprediction? What information would you need to do so? How is depth-first/breadth-first related to stacks/queues related to LIFO/FIFO? What is the stack pointer? What is the frame pointer? What is an interrupt? What are the three primary elements of OOP? What is modus ponens/tolens (sp)? What kinds of race conditions are there? What is a critical section? What is the difference between a monitor and a semaphore? Define NP-complete. And so on.

    I recommend picking up some practice tests (from the library if possible). Don't worry about taking them, per se, but go through them and make sure you remember something about the topics the questions cover. Think of it as sort of a checklist. If there's anything in the practice tests (or the list above) that you can't bring to mind, or feel fuzzy about, or never learned, go look it up (on the web, in your old textbooks, whatever) and brush up on it. Don't expect to learn about compilers if you've never learned them, but you should be able to answer questions about different categories of languages with regard to parsing requirements, for example. Go through the practice tests with a pen and paper and write yourself a list of topics for which you need greater clarity, then brush up on it from whatever materials you have handy. (You *did* save all your old textbooks, right?)
  • I graduated with a BS in CS last year. I'm attending UC Santa Cruz this coming fall (I'm so excited!)

    I'm not the type of person who has ever really felt the need to study and study for these standardized tests. I get good enough scores, and I'm lazy. Despite that, I decided to study (only a bit--don't want to harm my reputation here) for the GREs.

    First, a lot of the schools I looked at either didn't want the GRE subject test, or would consider it, but it would be a tertiary level reason (compared to

  • From what I know, I can definitely say that if you are from a reputed school, and have a decent GPA, it's a complete waste of time and money taking the GRE CS subject test; most of the top US schools won't even care about them.

    However, if you are not from a well-known school and/or your GPA is on the lower side, a very good subject test score may make your application stronger.
  • I've personally found Hunter Hogan's CS GRE Study Guide to be a fairly useful overview. You can download it for free here: []

Don't tell me how hard you work. Tell me how much you get done. -- James J. Ling