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Everything you need to prep for the GRE

How to pass the GRE and get into grad school

Studying for the GRE can be stressful. After all, your GRE scores can determine which graduate degree programs you’re likely to be accepted into, and the exam has a reputation for being challenging.

It’s true that the GRE’s content can be unlike the types of problems you mastered in your undergraduate program. If you go into the exam blind, you’ll likely find yourself scoring much lower than you’re hoping to. That’s because the GRE is an evaluation of your ability to study and prepare for an exam. Study skills are necessary for a graduate student, and the exam is a measure of your aptitude for sustaining challenging studies. Set yourself up for success by using proven GRE prep strategies and study materials.

What is the GRE?

The Graduate Record Examination is an exam developed to evaluate a graduate school applicant’s preparedness for challenging academic work. The format of the exam itself is multiple choice and computer-based.

Sometimes the GRE is seen as an insurmountably difficult exam that will leave you pulling out your hair as you struggle to attain acceptance to a good university. Fortunately, this doesn’t have to be the case. A thorough review of the content on the exam and a structured exam prep schedule will allow you to significantly raise your score, regardless of where you’re starting.

The GRE consists of three main sections: Verbal Reasoning, Quantitative Reasoning and Analytical Writing. Each of these sections measures your mastery of arithmetic, algebra, geometry, statistical comprehension, reading analysis/comprehension, critical thinking and vocabulary.

Do I really need to take the GRE?

Whether you need to take the GRE or not depends on the requirements of the universities you’re considering applying to. While it’s a common admission requirement for many programs, some graduate schools don’t require it at all. Others consider it optional.

If you’re applying to law school, you’ll be required to take the LSAT, rather than the GRE. Medical school requires you to take the MCAT for admission. Be sure to look up the specific requirements of your prospective schools.

How to study for the GRE

Scoring at a high percentile is absolutely attainable if you prep using a set schedule, utilize a GRE prep book and review the content of the exam beforehand. To best prepare for the GRE, follow a systematic approach. 

  1. Leave yourself plenty of time to study. Cramming for the GRE is guaranteed to leave you with a much lower score. Just as the LSAT features logic puzzles that can only be mastered through practice and systematic review, the GRE’s quantitative, verbal and writing sections require exam-specific skills. Be as prepared as possible by starting your exam prep at least two to five months before the exam. 
  2. Find your baseline score. It’s imperative that you determine how far you have to go as early on as possible in your timeline. The results of your first practice exam, often called a diagnostic exam, will tell you how well you’d do if you took the GRE today and will guide your exam preparation.
  3. Find your target score. How well do you need to do to get into the graduate programs you’re considering applying to? Look at the average GRE scores of the incoming classes at your prospective universities. Set your target score slightly above this average to ensure you’re a competitive candidate.
  4. Subtract your baseline score from your target score to determine how far you have to go. You’ll base your exam prep plans on the areas you need to improve in most. Use your estimation of how far you have to go to set a study schedule using a planner and stick to it.
  5. Work your way through a GRE prep book. GRE prep books provide you with proven strategies for the exam, realistic practice questions and insight on the layout of the exam. This information will prove necessary for reaching your score goal. For more information, take a look at the full GRE Book buying guide from BestReviews.
  6. Practice your problem-solving techniques during practice problem drills and practice exams. Always mimic the actual conditions of the exam during your test prep. This means taking practice exams under realistic conditions: with a timer and without looking up solutions.
  7. Evaluate your progress. How much are your practice test scores improving? Hire a tutor if you need additional help.

Best stud materials for the GRE

Top GRE prep material

GRE Complete 2022: 3-Book Set: 6 Practice Tests + Proven Strategies + Online (Kaplan Test Prep)

What you need to know: An essential GRE prep book from a trusted brand.

What you’ll love: Proven test taking strategies, full length online and in-text practice tests, more than 1,500 practice questions and answers and in depth explanations of various question types energize your GRE prep and set you up for testing success.

What you should consider: Some users found the math review materials lacked depth and didn’t adequately explain fundamental concepts needed to master GRE-specific math content. 

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon

Top GRE prep material for the money

GRE Vocabulary Flashcards 

What you need to know: A set of 500 flashcards featuring challenging vocabulary found on the GRE.

What you’ll love: An ideal study material for memorizing new GRE vocabulary. Easily commit new words to memory by reviewing the definition of the word and its use in a sentence. Use these cards in conjunction with other study tactics and practice drilling yourself.

What you should consider: These cards don’t go into great detail about a word’s meaning or etymology.

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon

Worth considering

GRE Math Strategies: Effective Strategies & Practice from 99th Percentile Instructors (Manhattan Prep GRE Strategy Guides)

What you need to know: This is a guide that will help you improve your score quickly with extra practice.

What you’ll love: Written by 99th percentile GRE scorers and featuring in-depth math lessons and test taking strategies, this book includes drills to increase the accuracy and speed of your GRE math solutions.

What you should consider: Customers found the layout of this book wasn’t conducive to reviewing the material in a logical order.

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon


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Evelyn Waugh writes for BestReviews. BestReviews has helped millions of consumers simplify their purchasing decisions, saving them time and money.

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