By Mike Sugarman
Mike is a senior tutor for MyGuru, a provider of online GRE tutoring which helps students build customized study plans and focuses on GRE-specific test taking strategies. Mike graduated from Columbia and scored in the 99th percentile on the GRE and SAT, and a perfect 36 on the ACT.
You probably thought that you would be done with standardized tests forever when you took the SAT in high school, right? No more multiple choice questions about boring reading passages, no more questions about integers, no more taking a test for three hours and then writing an entire essay.
But if you’re planning on applying to grad school, you have likely found yourself in a place where you need to prepare for a standardized test yet again.
Don’t sweat it! With some focused preparation, you can get yourself in a great place to qualify yourself for whatever program excites you most.
Just follow these tips for prep and you’ll be on your way to your ideal GRE score.
1. Set Your Target Score
There’s no such thing as a best GRE score, only the best GRE score for you. Research desired scores for every program you want to apply to. Some programs will list their median GRE scores for accepted applications right on their websites, but in some cases you’ll actually have to get in touch with the graduate advisor in that department.
Create a list of those desired GRE scores and then, this part is important, take a practice GRE so you know how much you’ll need to improve. So much of your prep strategy is going to count on how many points you need to improve.
Fortunately, ETS offers PowerPREP, which includes two free practice tests as well as some extra practice problems. Take the first one as a diagnostic.
2. Know The Format of the Test Inside Out
You’ll certainly get the general idea of GRE’s format after taking your initial practice test. But knowing the test’s format inside will help you feel a lot more in control come test day.
The GRE’s format is simple: two Analytical Writing sections; two Verbal Reasoning sections; two Quantitative Reasoning sections; two unscored sections that could be either Verbal or Quantitative.
What gets tricky is that both the Verbal and Quantitative sections are adaptive, meaning that the more questions you answer correctly, the harder the questions get. Harder questions are also worth more points, which means the GRE massively rewards accuracy.
Understanding the high value placed on correct answers will hopefully be a motivating factor for you to put in serious prep work.
3. Create a Plan for Improving on Specific Sections
With the Quantitative section, make a list of all of the math concepts you’re the least rusty on. There is a wealth of quality math workbooks on Amazon and free math resources you can find with some simple Googling, all of which can help you brush up on that geometry you haven’t seen since freshman year of high school, or those percentage concepts that always tripped you up.
With Verbal, brush up on your grammar and read something challenging every day until the test. Again, there are plenty of free grammar resources online, and challenging reads can come from quality newspapers and magazines, or classic books you always meant to read.
If you want to get actual hands on practice with reading comprehension practice try the Reading sections of practice SAT exams. While the SAT’s reading section isn’t identical to similar material on the GRE’s Verbal Reasoning section, you will still be getting quality practice reading short passages and dealing with multiple choice answers.
4. Plan on Taking Multiple Practice GREs
Practice is one of the surest ways to get in control of the test. That ETS resource, of course, has two practice GREs, but you’ll want to find more.
ETS offers two more official practice tests with its PowerPREP plus practice and that’s really not a bad investment if you’re committed to getting enough practice.
Taking multiple GREs in the test center makes for great practice, too. Nothing is going to give you the experience of dealing with a realistic testing situation like an actual real life testing situation. Taking an actual GRE is the best way to figure out what your weaknesses are.
5. Seek Help
Ask a friend who has taken the GRE what she did to improve on it. If you’re in college now, you may find that there are GRE prep classes offered on campus. You can find GRE classes outside of a campus setting too.
You may want to find a tutor, since someone who is an expert on the test will be able to help you diagnose your exact problem areas and work with you on the exact skills you need to master to get into that program of your dreams.