Prepping for the GRE may take up to four months of moderate to intense study time (10h – 20h per week).
But it’s not only the time that matters. It’s also the way you prep for the GRE that will ultimately make a big difference.
To succeed, you need to be committed, disciplined, and have a specific target score in mind. You also need to focus on areas and topics you’re not entirely comfortable with. Let’s step out of the comfort zone and look at how to tackle this challenge!
Related topic: The 4 Best GRE Prep Courses To Take
Here are the eight best ways to prep for the GRE
1. Know what you’re up against – format, dates, costs, timing, scoring, and topics
If you want to slay the GRE, you first need to know exactly what to expect on the test. This will give you a framework you can work with, and boost your confidence instantly.
Let’s take a look at a couple of basic facts:
- GRE is a computer-based test that is 3h 45 minutes long.
- You may only bring specific things to the test hall.
- The test costs $160 per try (you have up to 5 tries in a 12 month period).
- It’s best to take the exam in the summer when you have more time to prep.
- The exam score is valid for 5 years.
- The maximum score is 340 (170 per verbal and quant, plus, there’s a writing section scored 0 to 6).
- A score that will get you admitted to around 80% of graduate schools is 320.
- There are three main sections – verbal reasoning, quantitative reasoning, and analytical writing. Verbal is two, 30-minute sections with 20 questions each. Quantitative is two 35-minute sections with 20 questions each. Writing is one section with two 30-minute tasks.
- The test is administered every 21 days in the US.
Now that you know the facts, decide on three important things:
- When are you going to take the exam?
- What is the target score for your school of choice?
- What is going to be your study schedule?
By answering these questions, you’ll be ready to start your prep like a pro. You’ll know your target, your timeframe, and your deadlines. That’s the most important step.
2. Complete a mock sample test to know your baseline score
You can find a sample test on the ETS website. Going through at least one test at the beginning of your studies is a great idea. It will give you an estimate of where you’re at, and how intensely you need to study to achieve your target score.
If it turns out you score only around 290 or 300 out of 340, you’ll have a better idea of how much work you need to put it. It will also help you set more realistic goals and a timeframe for your studies.
Treat this score as your benchmark and then work on getting closer to your ideal score. Then complete one full-length test every month leading to your GRE deadline and measure your progress.
3. Complete the GRE practice questions with a timer on
You have 1 minute and 30 seconds per verbal question, and 1 minute and 45 seconds per quantitative question. So you need to prep yourself with a timer from the very beginning of your studies.
Putting a time-constraint, completing a whole section, and tracking your results is by far the most effective GRE prep strategy.
Just remember to record your score each time you finish a section. Create an Excel or Google Sheets spreadsheet and put your score there. You’ll see how you improve over time and this can be a great motivator.
Magoosh has a built-in timer you can use during your prep sessions.
Pro tip: Do not make a mistake of working only on quant or verbal. Study both sections in parallel like on the real exam.
4. Think if you could benefit from a GRE prep course
Yes, prep courses can be quite pricey, but still, this is one of the most effective ways to improve your score. Some companies in the market guarantee a score improvement of at least 5 points. If you don’t get that improvement you get your money back which is a fair deal in my opinion.
By choosing a course, you should get:
- 5-10 full-length practice exams
- 5000+ practice questions
- Ability to get in touch with an instructor through chat or email
- Essay markings
- Online dashboard with scores, timed-practice, reports and statistics
- Mobile app for practicing on the go
- A bundle of GRE books
- I think that this amount of features is worth $200-$300 and it’s going to improve your score for sure.
Some of the best course options I was able to find:
- Magoosh GRE 6 Month Premium Course ($149)
- Princeton Ultimate GRE Self-Paced ($299)
- The Economist GRE Tutor Ultimate ($299)
Related topic: Should You Take A GRE Prep Course?
5. Use flashcards on your mobile phone to learn thousands of new words
I personally learned over 5000 GRE words by using a simple flashcard mobile app called Anymemo. There are many other apps like this available. The key to expanding your vocabulary is spaced repetition.
It means that you have to learn, forget, and re-learn the same word three or four times before it sticks to your long-term memory.
Develop a vocabulary learning habit a couple of months before the exam. Set a goal of learning 10 new words a day and in four months you’ll have over 1000 GRE words etched in your brain forever.
Use a mobile app to learn GRE vocabulary!
Bonus tip: there are also lots of traditional flashcards available like 500 Essential GRE Words by Manhattan Prep.
6. Be relentless about completing the reading comprehension tasks
Next to developing a rich vocabulary, reading comprehension is another thing to maul to succeed on the test. Many GRE students make a mistake of completing all sorts of ancillary tasks that are supposed to improve the reading score.
You may think: “I’ll read some Shakespeare and improve my lexicon and reading skills.”
Reading classics is definitely valuable, but don’t fool yourself. Working on actual GRE tasks should always be your number one priority.
The reading comprehension tasks are always convoluted and try to trick you into picking the wrong answer. So complete two or three of them every day, and then analyze your results. You’ll get much better at it over time.
7. Compete at least a couple hundred quant practice questions
You have 1 minute and 45 seconds for each quant question. That’s 15 seconds more than for verbal, but that’s only because the questions are arguably harder.
If you got a high score on the ACT or SAT, the GRE maths sections shouldn’t pose a threat. But you should revise all your basic math skills before attempting the exam. This includes arithmetic, algebra, geometry and data analysis.
On the GRE you will need to apply your math knowledge to practical problems, so again, the best way to do it is by completing hundreds of practice questions and then checking the solutions.
In this way, you’ll learn how to recognize the patterns and get better with time.
8. Don’t forget about the writing task
While you should devote the majority of your time to the verbal and quant sections, you also shouldn’t disregard the writing task.
You’ll have 30 minutes to analyze an issue and another 30 minutes to analyze an argument.
This may seem easy but it really isn’t. To tackle it, I suggest collecting as many previous GRE writing tasks as possible and going through them one by one.
The main things to work on here are your critical thinking ability and analytical writing skills. Write as much as possible in the period leading up to the exam. You can even journal or start a blog, but get familiar with putting words on paper.
Related content: How To Write A Great Essay
Studying for the GRE may be a smooth experience for you if you plan your study sessions well. You need to have a target in mind and track your progress on a regular basis to see if you’re improving or not.
The prep will take at least a couple of months, but if you’re disciplined enough to put one foot in front of the other, you simply cannot fail. Think about it in terms of reps. Just put in more reps and you’ll be fine!