Last Updated On: January 26th, 2021

Preparing for the GRE test

Knowing the structure and content of the GRE general test is one thing when you’re applying to graduate school, but here, I will discuss test preparation. Without a doubt, the first thing you should do is get a book. The Official GRE Guides published by the Educational Testing Service (ETS), makers of GRE, are your best bet. They offer a general manual as well as one that focuses on the GRE verbal section and another that focuses on the GRE math section. At the very least you’ll want the general official guide. You can get one or both of the other two if you feel you need them for your GRE study plan.

After familiarizing yourself with the structure of this standardized test, take a GRE practice exam. The number of tests you take is somewhat dependent on the amount of score improvement you’re looking for, but, suffice to say that you should be taking at least 3 practice tests during your prep. If you don’t get the GRE score you want on your first practice test, don’t panic. This practice test should be thought of as a kind of litmus test to see what your strengths and weaknesses are. When you start test prep, start by improving upon those weaknesses when it comes to GRE practice questions. Don’t worry too much about your strengths (they are strengths, after all) but, if you notice that you’re missing test questions from those strengths on subsequent drills or practice tests, consider doing a bit of a brush-up.

Note that not all of the free practice tests are created equal, especially when it comes to online practice. You can use the tests from the lower tiers to practice test-taking techniques and pacing strategies (even if you don’t take the full-length test) while making sure to not take the scores too seriously.

Verbal Reasoning

You can familiarize yourself with the structure and content of the verbal reasoning section here. The next thing you’ll want to focus on is vocabulary. In fact, the only necessary content prep for the verbal section is vocabulary, and this prep will be applied almost exclusively to sentence equivalence and text completion questions. Just about any GRE preparation material will include a list of commonly tested words. Review this list and look up any words with which you are unfamiliar. Additionally, I advise test-takers to look up any word that they hear or see in their day-to-day lives, which they are unsure of the definition to prep for the GRE vocabulary portion. This is especially crucial for those who are not so confident in their vocabulary. Knowledge of prefixes and root words is also helpful.

Unfortunately, there is no way to predict which vocabulary words will be on your test, so the other thing you will have to prep is your process of approaching these types of questions. Whether or not you go with your chosen process (relying on context clues, process of elimination, etc.), you’ll want to apply to your preparation whatever process you’ve landed on. You don’t necessarily need to practice doing these sample questions timed in order to practice your process and improve your vocabulary.

The reading comprehension section is entirely about process. Don’t put yourself in a position in which you are changing that process every time you take a section of a GRE practice test, and most importantly, don’t figure out what your process is going to be on test day. The reading section should and can be a methodical, thought-out process that maximizes accuracy and efficiency in correct answers. Once you land on a process you’d like to employ, first practice it untimed until it is “second nature.” After that point, only do timed reading practice. Keep in mind that the reading portion of the verbal section is essentially an open book test, so with unlimited time, everyone could do relatively well.

When it comes to argument questions, familiarizing yourself with argument structure (conclusion, premise, assumptions) is the first thing you should do. Assuming you’re familiar with that basic structure, the next thing to work on is being able to identify the four reasoning pattern types that appear on the test (causal, sampling, analogy, planning). When you’re drilling these questions, it’s not as important to practice them timed.

Quantitative Reasoning

You can check out an overview of the quantitative reasoning section here. Luckily, the concepts on this section are likely all things you learned in your first and second years of high school, and the types of questions are easily prepared for. Those concepts include: algebra, geometry, exponents/roots, charts/data, percent, mean/median/mode/range, rates, probability, quadratics, patterns, functions, arrangements/combinations, quantitative comparison, and arithmetic. There may also be simple interest and compound interest questions, which you can read more about here: Expert Insight on Compound Interest – Testing

Some of these concepts are probably like riding a bike, but you may be surprised how easy it is to forget things like order of operations or how to add fractions. Luckily, your prep book will cover even the basics of math review. If you have a lot of catch up, be sure to prioritize mastering the basics before focusing too much on topics like quadratics, patterns, arrangements/combinations, etc.

In addition to knowing the processes and definitions of these more basic concepts, the most effort towards memorization will probably be put into memorizing geometry formulas. You will need to know how to calculate area of triangles, circles, and quadrilaterals, as well as how to calculate other parts of those shapes. You will need to know the formula y=mx+b and also how to calculate slope. It’s also worthwhile to point out that you’ll need to get used to redrawing shapes since you can’t label them on the test interface.

Math prep most certainly does not need to be timed. In fact, in so far as the basics are concerned, if you have a lot to brush up on, mastering the concepts of practice problems should be the priority over being able to do problem-solving quickly.

Analytical Writing

Here you can find a detailed description of the analytical writing section. The best way to practice essays is by doing essays. Your prep book should have prompts in it and even an attempt at pointing out what you could’ve done with the essay. These descriptions tend to be more useful for the argument essays. Self-grading the issue essays is not easy. You might try to have someone read them for you, letting them know the sorts of things they should be looking for, but stopping short of giving you an actual grade. Overall for the issue essay, you want to improve upon your ability to state claims and support them.

One of the primary concerns that people have about the issue essay is an inability to come up with support for a particular position. Since the essay readers are not grading you on the type of support you are using, just your ability to appropriately use that support for your claims, one thing you can do to prep for the essay is to brainstorm on things you’re familiar with and interested in. With a little effort, most anyone’s interests and/or experiences can be molded to support claims for any number of issue essay prompts, which are always going to be very open-ended.

Practice test, tutoring, and prep courses

If you’re not sure how much prep you’ll actually need for the GRE exam, take a practice test before purchasing a book. Be sure you are at the very least familiar with the structure of the test. If you’re already thinking that you’ll need to improve upon certain topics, getting a book will be a near certainty, but the practice test will give a sense of what you’ll need to focus on so you do your best on the real GRE.

If you’re thinking you need tutoring, contact us. If you’re thinking you need a GRE prep course, check out The Princeton Review or Kaplan.

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