GRE Preparation Guide 2019 – 2020

Apart from the traditionally accepted GMAT scores, you may know that business schools have started accepting GRE scores as well. This is good news for applicants, for several reasons:

  • Many Indian students who’ve gone through the process of applying for Masters degree already have a GRE score.
  • You can apply to a wider range of programs with a competitive GRE score.
  • The GRE exam fee is lesser than GMAT.
  • Some might argue that the GRE is easier than GMAT.

For any of these reasons, if you choose to crack the GRE, here are some basic guidelines to create your GRE study plan.
 

How to prepare for the GRE Test

Although the designers of the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) General Test assert that the test assesses only overall skills and general ability, you can hardly walk into your test centre with just a prayer on your lips and a heart full of hope. By test day, preparation and practice would be the mantra for you and thousands of other test-takers who are aware of the tough GRE score percentiles. Here are a few quick tips to get you into the groove.
 

Initial steps

The first step is to decide when you want to start your course in the school of your choice. If you want to join the school in the fall session, you need to complete your test by October or November the year before. Most students who are hoping for scholarship or financial aid prefer the fall season, as grants can be rare for courses that start in spring.

The second step is to understand the test format and structure correctly. As described in our post on GRE pattern and syllabus, the test consists of a verbal segment, quantitative segment, and an analytic writing segment.

In the computer-based test, computer-adaptive testing is used for all the three segments: that is, if you answer the first few questions correctly, the questions will become tougher as you progress, and these tougher questions will earn you more points.

On the other hand, if you answer the first few questions incorrectly, you will receive easier questions that carry lesser points. You should make yourself familiar with this system by using the GRE’s official website run by the Educational Testing Service (ETS), which conducts the test.

Do also remember that you should do well in your current course, as many schools look for a good academic record along with a top GRE score for admissions. But if you are planning for the GRE early—that is, while you are still preparing for a qualifying course—you will have the time to ensure not only good marks in your final examinations in your current school or college but also a top GRE score with adequate preparation and practice.
 

Methods of preparation for GRE exam

When you start the actual preparations for the test, you need to decide whether to opt for self-study from guides, a prep course with direct interaction with tutors, an online prep course, or private coaching. Your decision will depend on the time that you have to prepare and also your target schools. Here are some reviews of the top GRE online courses.

For instance, if you have only two or three months to go before the test, and you are keen on securing admission to a particular course in a reputed school, you need to be extremely focused; your preparation needs to be intense and you may have to go for a combination of preparation methods.

But before you decide on the method of preparation, it is best to take a practice test to determine your weak areas. If you find through a practice test that you are weak in more than one segment—for example, quantitative reasoning—you may not have the time to attend tutoring classes, and you may have to opt for an online course.

Along with enrolling for an online course, you may also need to invest in one or more dependable guides, some of which come with CDs containing practice tests and past test questions. Many reputed companies offer in-person classes and online courses, but they also make available comprehensive GRE books should you opt for self-study (see our post ‘Best GRE books‘).

You can either devise your own study programme or adapt one of model programmes devised by experts for your use depending on the time you have for preparation. There are many daily, weekly, and monthly model programmes available on the Internet to choose from.
 

Preparation tips to crack the GRE

Experts say that the ideal time to launch your GRE campaign is four to 12 weeks before the test, so that you can get everything that you have learnt well grounded in your mind.

Whatever your period of preparation, you should acquire the following must-have resources right at the start: the ETS Official GRE guide; the ETS PowerPrep software; a notebook to keep track of your progress; the official GRE quantitative practice questions; the official GRE verbal practice questions; online magazines such as Time, Newsweek, NYT, New Yorker, and Economist; a good dictionary (Merriam Webster’s or Oxford Advanced Learner’s); access to vocabulary.com; dictionary.com, and freedictionary.com; and membership in an online GRE prep course if you can afford it.

For most test-takers, the biggest difficulty in the verbal section is usually the vocabulary, so they are advised to use flashcards and study the roots of words.

In an effort to “improve their vocabulary,” many candidates memorise the meaning of words without understanding how they are used in context. Obviously, they would do well to look at example sentences and also study the different contexts in which the same word can appear. Of course, there is nothing as effective turning oneself into an avid reader and looking up unfamiliar words frequently, and also using them in speech or in writing.

There are many excellent websites that provide GRE material. Here’s how you can improve your GRE vocabulary using online word-lists and flashcards.

For the quantitative section, you should practise solving all the types of questions and also familiarise yourself with charts and graphs. No high-level math concepts are used in the test but only basic and medium-level questions from high-school syllabus. However, you would be well advised to make yourself thorough with the fundamentals.

You also need to prepare for the analytical writing segment by writing practice essays and learning to make an argument and to critically analyse a given argument. The ability to write clear and simple English is a basic requirement for this segment. Here’s a free GRE AWA essay rater.
 

GRE Exam Practice, and some more practice

Your study programme may be cleverly designed, and you may be preparing most studiously, but you still need to be familiar for the actual test conditions. If you are taking the computer-based test, for example, you should do several—rather than quite a few—online practice tests. It will not help at all if you do all your practice with pencil and paper.

While attempting the practice tests, you need to re-create the conditions of the actual test. For the computer-based test, you get a 10-minute break only at the end of the third section (about two hours into the test); for the paper-based test, the 10-minute break comes after the second section (about one hour into the test). Therefore, during a practice test, you should not be taking a coffee break whenever you want.

The ETS’s PowerPrep free software is an excellent source of practice questions. But only two practice tests are available, so you can probably take one in the middle of your study programme and one at the end. However, other prep companies provide a number of practice tests, and the more tests you complete, the better prepared you will be.

Here’s a list of Free GRE Practice Tests. You’ll get plenty of practice before heading into the exam hall.
 

Tips for GRE test day

 

Time management

You need to learn to manage your preparation-time well and also the time allowed at the test. Although the revised test format allows you to review your answers to previous questions within a section, you should manage your time well enough to respond to all the questions within each section.

Remember that you are not penalised for wrong answers, and guessing the answer to a question is better than leaving out the question.
 

GRE Test strategy

As mentioned, you will have to answer the initial questions correctly to receive tougher questions that carry higher points. For this, you need to devise a test strategy.

For example, in the verbal section, you should be able to eliminate incorrect choices in order to at least guess the answer in the shortest possible time. It will be possible to formulate a test strategy after completing an adequate number of practice tests.
 

Physical and mental preparation

The GRE tests not just your verbal and quantitative skills, but also the state of your mind and body. A focus on the test preparation should not take your attention away from a proper daily regimen that includes a healthy diet, exercise, and most importantly, adequate sleep.

Test-takers should also learn to relax during the test-preparation period by continuing their hobby or pastime. Most of all, you should try to maintain a positive attitude.
 

GRE Prep Blogs

How to Start Studying for the GRE
How to Improve Your GRE Verbal Scores
3 Common GRE Mistakes (and how to avoid them)
4 Frequent Misconceptions about GRE Quant

Head back to the GRE Exam Information page to learn more.