The GRE, or Graduate Record Examination, is nightmare-inducing for college applicants everywhere - but it doesn’t have to be.
Lots of students put off taking this exam until the last possible minute. While it’s not a difficult test, it does require a bit of preparation, especially if you want to do your best.
The GRE isn’t exactly a test you can “cram” for. However, with a little bit of preparation and devotion to mastering solid study strategies, you’ll be able to succeed when you take this challenging exam.
Here’s what you need to know about the best ways to study for the GRE.
What Is The GRE?
Created by the Educational Testing Service, the GRE is a standardized test that is designed to serve as a baseline assessment for students' readiness for graduate school.
It’s required by a vast majority of graduate programs in the United States, sometimes by itself, and sometimes in addition to other exams, like GRE Subject Tests (the latter assess technical readiness in specific disciplines, like psychology).
Many programs either allow or require students to submit scores from the GRE, with disciplines ranging from technical fields to the broad liberal arts. Some business schools, which used to require the GMAT examination instead, now will accept GRE scores instead.
The exam is broken down into three sections. If you took the SAT or ACT when you were in high school, the GRE’s structure may seem familiar. You’ll find a verbal section and a quantitative section, both of which are scored on a range from 130 to 170. The analytical writing section is scored on a scale of 0 to 6, with 6 being the best possible score.
Subject test scoring varies considerably among the six subject test disciplines.
Best Ways To Study For The GRE
Studying for your GRE test can seem intimidating, but you can do it! Here are some of the best ways to study for the GRE so you can get the knowledge you need to succeed.
Consider ETS Services And Resources
ETS, the organization responsible for creating and administering the GRE, offers several test prep resources. If you head to the GRE website, in fact, you’ll find all kinds of online practice exams and even a free review document that’s helpful for the math section.
You can also find a list of essay prompts that will help you prepare for the writing section of the test.
When you sign up for an ETS account, you’ll be able to access the POWERPREP Test Preview Tool. This tool is a free overview of the GRE and will provide you with all kinds of information on question styles, test structure, and more. You can also pull up two free practice tests here, too.
It’s important to familiarize yourself with what’s actually on the test so you can prepare for these questions specifically. Don’t assume the GRE will be like other tests you have taken because you need to dedicate more time to work on strategies specific to the GRE.
Try A Free Practice Test
While you can only take a few practice tests through ETS directly, both Kaplan and Manhattan Prep offer their own free full-length GRE practice exams. Taking these tests is a great way to practice if you’re on a budget.
Target Your Own Weaknesses
If you’re a strong reader, you probably don’t need to focus as much on the verbal reasoning section for the GRE. Instead, you’ll want to figure out where your deficits are and then spend more time working on those weaknesses.
You should also consider the areas that will weigh the heaviest on your admissions application. If you are applying for a math-focused degree, you will need to spend more time brushing up on those skills before you take the GRE.
Although it’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with all aspects of the GRE, focusing on your strengths won’t necessarily be the smartest use of your time when you’re preparing for the test.
Don’t Be Afraid Of Self-Prep Strategies
If you are a self-motivated learner, don’t be afraid of creating your own study plan. You don’t necessarily need to spend a cent in order to prepare for this exam. When you are the master of your own study plan, you’ll be able to set the pace and figure out how often you study and how your sessions are structured.
While you don’t have to spend a ton of money on preparing for the GRE, it’s not a bad idea to invest in a few GRE prep books. Look for those by testing preparation agencies (or even those published by ETS) to make sure you’re getting the best level of preparation possible.
Familiarize Yourself With The Test Format
If you’re prone to testing anxiety, this is one of the best ways to study for the GRE you will find. Of course, you’ll need to spend time brushing up on the content in the test, too, but familiarizing yourself with the question types, scoring system, and directions for each section can help calm a lot of nerves.
Not only will this help you feel better because you know what to expect, but it will also save you time when you’re taking the test - you won’t have to reread the directions a million times to figure out what you are supposed to be doing.
Take A Class Or Two
For some students - particularly those who have been out of school for a while - it may be beneficial to take a formal GRE test prep class.
This will not only provide you with a refresher on the basic math and verbal skills in the exam, but it will also train you on proper test-taking strategies. Plus, you’ll have a teacher to help keep you in line and accountable for your progress.
It’s a lot harder to slack off when someone is there reminding you to stay on task!
There are both online GRE classes you can take along with in-person courses, too. Make sure you check reviews to find the most reliable and best GRE prep class for your needs and budget.
You don’t need to be reading Proust to brush up on your reading skills for the GRE. Any kind of reading will do! In fact, lots of test prep experts recommend reading for pleasure more while you are getting ready for the exam.
If you are an active reader, you’ll be a faster reader. You’ll also remember more of what you read and be able to analyze it with ease. All of these skills will help you ace the verbal reasoning section for the GRE.
Memorize Mathematical Equations
One of the best ways to study for the GRE (at least the math section) is to keep an updated list of mathematical equations on hand. Often, these are the same equations you masters din high school - but if you haven't’ taken any math classes in a while, you may need a refresher.
Keeping a list of equations is an easy way to prepare for this section so you aren't blindsided by questions you haven’t seen since you were in the ninth grade. You can also make use of our best online math courses to help you prep.
Set Reasonable Goals And Timelines
Set your target GRE score based on two factors: how well you think you can do given the proper preparation, and how competitive your program is.
For your GRE scores to have a good impact on your odds of admissions at your target schools, they need to be slightly higher than the norm at those scores. If you only match the target score, you’ll be meeting the average - when what really matters is scoring well above average.
You should try to set a reasonable timeline for yourself, too. Although many graduate programs will allow you to submit multiple GRE scores, sometimes later than when the other application materials are required, you’ll want to give yourself plenty of time to get your scores in. Plan to take the GRE a few months before the application deadline.
That way, you’ll have time for scores to get where they need to go - or to retake the test if you don’t score as highly as you’d like. That said, some schools won’t accept older GRE scores, so make sure you look into the requirements at these schools you plan to apply to.
Then, give yourself at least three months for intensive GRE study so you’re in the right mindset when you take the exam. Create a dedicated study plan and put it on your calendar so you aren’t tempted to slack off when the going gets tough.
Score Well On The GRE - The First Time Around
By preparing and studying hard for the GRE, you can reduce the likelihood of having to take the examination again. That not only reduces the amount of time you’ll have to spend studying later on, but it can reduce your stress levels, too.
Plus, taking the GRE can be expensive. In most areas in the world, taking the GRE just one time will cost you more than $200. Not only that, but you can’t just take the test whenever you feel like it. Slots are only offered on a first-come-first-served basis. Since the GRE is now offered via computer at certified testing areas, it can be tough to get an appointment in some rural areas.
Long story short? If you want to do well on the GRE, put in the hard work now. Use these best ways to study for the GRE so you can make the most of your studying time. Trust us - you’ll thank yourself later on!