A graduate degree means advanced job opportunities and higher salaries. But before you head back to school, you’ll need to pass the GRE. This nearly four-hour standardized test can make or break your grad school application, so it’s important to do well. Here are 10 steps to help you ace the GRE:
While the GRE is similar to the SAT, it’s a lot more challenging. You should know what you’re up against. The GRE has three sections: verbal, quantitative, and analytical writing. Each is timed. You will most likely take the GRE on a computer, which means Computer-Adaptive Testing. In other words, if you answer questions correctly, the computer will give you harder questions worth more points. If you answer incorrectly, you will get easier questions that won’t help your score as much.
2. Take A Practice Test
It’s important to establish a baseline and figure out where you’re at before you start studying. Dennis Yim, the Associate Director of Pre-Business and Pre-Graduate Programs for Kaplan Test Prep, recommends taking free practice tests.
3. Establish a Study Schedule… and Stick to It
Yim, who has taught GRE prep courses for 10 years, says it’s important to be realistic when mapping out your study schedule. Ideally, a student should study 10 hours a week (about 80-100 hours total).
4. Start Early
Kaplan recently surveyed 150 graduate schools, and 41 percent of them said a low GRE score was the biggest “application killer.” Don’t procrastinate. Yim recommends you start studying 2-3 months in advance, depending on your baseline score.
5. Personalize Your Studying
Your GRE prep process must be the right fit for you. Some students find it helpful to buy GRE prep books or sign up for tutoring. Cassandra Bailey, a Ph.D. student at Sam Houston State University, said she used a free vocabulary app on her phone to help her learn five new words every day. Here are some of the most common words you’ll see on the GRE: anomaly, equivocal, lucid, precipitate, assuage, erudite, opaque, prodigal, enigma, fervid, placate, and zeal. Don’t know what they mean? Better get flashcards.
6. Do the Math
Here’s the scoop: there are only a few formulas you need to know to be successful on the GRE. Refresh yourself on geometry and algebra. Yim said you’ll need to know the Pythagorean Theorem (a2 + b2 = c2), how to find the area and circumference of a circle, and the slope-intercept of a line. You should also know the Combined Work Formula (good for those pesky word problems), permutations, and order of operations.
7. Be Consistent
Whatever your plan is, be consistent in your approach. You don’t want to stretch your GRE prep out over six months and start and stop, start and stop. Conversely, you don’t want to cram your 10 hours a week into one or two days of crazed studying. “It’s a marathon, not a sprint. It’s all about making sure you’re realistic in how you’re approaching it,” Yim said.
8. Test Your Progress
Taking practice tests throughout your study process will help you gauge your progress. You’ll see where you need improvement, and you can adjust with plenty of time to spare before your exam date. Don’t underestimate any of the sections, even if it’s knowledge you learned in high school, said Collin Clovis, a graduate student at Idaho State University. “The special rules of triangles, angles, or probability might escape you when you’re under the gun of a ticking clock,” Clovis said.
9. Practice Time Management
The GRE testing environment is stressful, and timing is a huge factor. Try taking some of your practice tests with the time constraints you’ll see on test day:
- Analytical Writing: 30 minutes for each of the two essays
- Verbal Reasoning: 30 minutes for each of the two sections (20 questions per section)
- Quantitative Reasoning: 35 minutes for each of the two sections (20 questions per section)
During the test, you don’t want to spend too much time on any one question, and you may need to skip a few. Yim recommends a three-pass system. On the first pass, build your momentum and answer the questions you can easily get right. Mark the ones you can’t. On the second and third passes, go back and answer as many of the harder questions as you can. This method works on both the paper and computer versions of the test.
10. Ace the GRE
Get good sleep the week of the your test, and eat a healthy breakfast on the day of. Relax. You’ve worked hard, and you will ace this. “Everyone likes getting tested on something they have experience with, so relax, reach back in your memory, and enjoy reminiscing on all you know and how far you’ve come,” Clovis said.