How do I Prepare for the GRE&Reg;?

C. Mitchell

Preparing for the Graduate Record Exam®, also known as the GRE®, is an important part of applying to graduate schools. Although GRE® scores are only one of the many ways that schools assess applicants, the scores are usually one of the most important. One of the best ways to prepare for the GRE® is to become familiar with the sorts of questions the exam tests. Sample GRE® tests and GRE® questions from years past are usually available from the exam administrators, and can often be purchased at the time of exam registration. Commercial test prep companies also offer classes and study materials to help students prepare for the GRE®, and private tutors are also available in many places.

A typical answer sheet for a multiple choice standardized test, like the GRE.
A typical answer sheet for a multiple choice standardized test, like the GRE.

Scheduling is an important part of building a study plan. The first thing to do is to gather basic information about the exam: learn what specifically it tests; figure out when and where it is offered; and register to take it on a date that is soon enough to report the scores to the grad school or schools where you are applying, but far enough away that you will have enough time to adequately prepare. Once you are registered, create a calendar of all of the days you have before the exam. Most students devote at least some time each day to studying.

No matter how you build your plan to prepare for the GRE®, it should center around doing practice problems. Most graduate programs in the United States, and some graduate programs in other English-speaking countries, require applicants to take the general GRE®. Subject-specific GRE® exams are also required in some circumstances. Although the general exam and subject-matter exams test specific subjects, doing well requires more than an expert knowledge in those areas. More than anything, the exam requires an ability to apply knowledge to the standardized test format of the GRE®.

It is also important to practice answering the GRE® questions under time pressure. The GRE® is a timed exam, and doing well usually requires students to pace themselves, answering questions quickly in order to move on. Some students devise strategies of identifying easier questions to answer first, then using extra time at the end to go back and answer harder questions.

Commercial GRE® prep classes will often teach students strategies and tricks for managing the time constraints of the exam. Study skills are also usually explained in GRE® study books, which are available at most bookstores and libraries. Students who find that they are struggling to master GRE® prep, either in terms of questions or timing, often seek the help of a professional tutor. Joining a study group with friends or peers who are trying to prepare for the GRE® can also be helpful.

There is no single right way to prepare for the GRE®. The key to success is creating a study plan and practice regimen that fits your learning style. Some people work just fine on their own, while others study better in groups. Classes and one-on-one tutoring can be helpful to many students, but others find the repetition and outside perspectives unnecessary or even distracting. Finding the best way to prepare for the GRE® is often as simple as finding a method that works for you, and sticking to it.

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