You can’t cram for the GRE test. By and large, the exam is a test of patterns, not facts, so if you want to raise your GRE score, you will need sufficient time to practice. We suggest you devote between 4 and 12 weeks to GRE preparation.
1. Find your baseline
Your baseline score is the score you would receive if you took the GRE today. Before you make a study plan, take a full-length GRE practice test under the same testing environment as the real thing. The results will guide your prep by showing you which content areas you need to focus on the most.
2. Determine your target GRE score
You’ve probably started making a list of the graduate programs that interest you. Compare your practice test score against the average GRE scores of the most recent incoming class to each program (find this information on the school website or in our grad school profiles). Your target score is one that would put you at or above the average for the schools on your wishlist.
3. Make a plan to close the gap
Whether you choose a prep course, online program, or a test prep book, you need a smart prep plan that will hold you accountable and give you the results you need. With a little research you’ll find the right environment for you.
4. Practice for technique
Focus on how you approach each question while taking practice tests and drills. If you focus on just the results, you do nothing more than reinforce the way you are taking the test right now. The techniques you use and the way you solve a problem are what help you get better at taking the GRE.
5. Mimic real GRE conditions
Paper-and-pencil tests can help you practice concepts and test-taking strategies, but they do not adapt to your performance like the real GRE. Make sure you budget online practice into your study schedule to help prepare you for the computer-based test experience.
6. Review your results
Always review your performance after taking GRE practice exams. What kinds of questions do you consistently miss? What question types do you tend to ace, and which ones slow you down?
This is where access to a GRE tutor can really give you a leg up. Test prep is only partly about mastering content—it’s also about your pacing and test-taking skills. To be completely prepared, sit down with a coach to review your performance on practice exams and make a smart plan to meet your GRE score goal.
7. Build up your GRE vocabulary
Vocab is still an important part of the GRE Verbal sections. You can absorb many of the words that will show up on the GRE by reading respected publications such as academic journals or some of the more highbrow newspapers and magazines. When you come across new words on practice tests or practice problems, add them to your list. They have been used before on the GRE and they may very well be used again. Check out our GRE Power Vocab book for lists and drills.
8. Practice with and without a calculator
A calculator is provided for you on the GRE as part of the on-screen display, and can be a huge advantage if used correctly! But the calculator can also be a liability. Figure out when using a calculator makes you more accurate, and when you’re better off learning the rules of a key math concept.