Exam Prep

GRE Preparation Strategies

General Timeline

The Princeton Review urges prospective GRE-takers to sit for a practice exam roughly six to seven months before they plan to submit grad school applications. If the score seems satisfactory, then the individual should register for a testing date that falls within four or five months of their application submissions. If the scores are not satisfactory, then the exam-taker may enroll in a GRE tutorial course, which may be available online or in a classroom format (availability of these courses will vary by location).

MyGRETutor.com suggests the students spend two months studying two hours per day and six days per week according to this timetable:

Week 1

  • Become familiar with the test format.
  • Review tutorials for:
    • Arithmetic
    • Algebra
    • Sentence equivalence
    • Text completion
  • Complete 10 practice questions for each section.
  • Dedicate long blocks of time to vocabulary practice.

Week 2

  • Complete the algebra tutorial, then begin the reading comprehension, geometry, and data analysis tutorials (with 10 practice questions each).
  • Take the first practice exam in one sitting, using real-life time allotments.
  • Continue practicing vocabulary.

Week 3

  • Complete the data analysis and geometry tutorials, and answer more practice questions in these sections.
  • Begin browsing the essay-writing portion
  • End the week by taking a full practice test (including essays).
  • Continue practicing vocabulary.

Week 4

  • Review full practice test.
  • Spend the week focusing on math-related practice questions, using practice test results as a guide for strengths and weaknesses.
  • Continue practicing vocabulary and begin outlining essays for sample argument and issue topics.

Week 5

  • Spend most of the week focusing on practice questions in all categories and studying the essay section.
  • End the week with the second full practice test.

Week 6

  • Like the previous week, begin by reviewing practice questions in all subjects.
  • At the end of the week, review results from all three practice tests and make a list of topics that require further consideration.

Week 7

  • Review all practice questions and essay ideas.
  • End the week by taking a third full practice test.

Week 8

  • Review all simulation exam results, go over the questions missed and study the explanations of correct responses.
  • Practice outlining a few more essay responses in a timed setting.

Day Before the Test

  • Visit the ETS testing location in person and, if necessary, map the quickest route, as well as an alternate route or two in case of traffic or road construction.
  • Avoid heavy studying the day before the exam.
  • Eat a healthy dinner, get a good night’s sleep, and, most importantly, set an alarm clock.

We discuss in a later section of this guide proper procedures to follow on the day of the exam.

Preparation Methods

First and foremost, exam-takers need a comprehensive GRE study guide. The ETS offers specific tips for each section of the GRE:

Verbal Reasoning

  • Reading comprehension passages are drawn from a wide range of academic subjects. Practice critical reading skills with article excerpts from publications in different disciplines, and attempt to identify main ideas, supporting ideas, evidence, as well as transitions and similarities and differences between different ideas.
  • Text completion and sentence equivalence questions require a fairly expansive vocabulary. Study vocabulary lists (which are normally included in a comprehensive GRE study guide) and make flashcards.

Quantitative Reasoning

  • Use the 102-page GRE Math Review and supplemental Math Conventions reference sheet (both available in a PDF format on the ETS website) as study aides. These documents contain all of the different math subjects that will (and will not) be included on the exam.

Analytical Writing

  • The ETS maintains online archives of all issue- and argument-based tasks that have appeared on past GRE tests. In the weeks leading up to the testing date, exam-takers should practice writing essay responses to as many tasks in both pools as possible.

Additionally, U.S. News & World Report recommends the following general preparation tips for the GRE test.

  • Revisit high school math: The bulk of quantitative reasoning questions on the GRE are considered “high school-level,” so algebra, geometry, and calculus textbooks circa high school will be a valuable resource.
  • Steadily build vocabulary: Consult dictionaries, thesauruses, and other language reference guides on a daily basis ― at the breakfast table, on the bus, or other spare moments throughout the day.
  • Carefully consider GRE prep courses: GRE tutorials, offered online and at brick-and-mortar locations, are relatively expensive, sometimes upward of $1,000. If affordability is not an issue, then these courses can be a very useful way to prepare for the GRE. Otherwise, dedicated studying and practice may be the most feasible option.
  • Practice in real-time: Simulated GRE tests are only helpful if the time allotment for each section matches that of a real-life exam. Most experts recommend at least three practice tests prior to the exam date.

Finally, first-time GRE-takers should gain a thorough understanding of how the exam is structured, the amount of time allotted for each section (which, in turn, determines how many minutes to allot for each question), and how computer-adaptive testing stands to influence the final score.