Imagine you haven’t taken a math exam since your calculus final the first semester of freshman year, but now you have to conquer the Quantitative Reasoning section of the GRE to secure a spot in a master’s program for European literature.
Or maybe you’re a physics major and haven’t written an essay since your gen ed history course and now have to face a full hour of writing on the GRE.
For a lot of prospective graduate school students, taking the GRE means stepping outside their comfort zone and exercising skills they haven’t needed for the majority of their college classes.
Studying for the GRE can seem daunting, time-consuming, stressful, especially if you take the test during the academic year.
However, test-takers have access to countless test prep resources, some of which are free.
If you use your time wisely and focus on the topics and question types that give you the most difficulty, you can walk into the exam with confidence.
A Broad Overview of the GRE
Before you even crack open a review book, you should take the time to understand the test’s format and contents.
The GRE consists of two Analytical Writing sections (30 minutes each), two Verbal Reasoning sections (30 minutes each), two Quantitative Reasoning sections (35 minutes each), and an unscored experimental Verbal Reasoning or Quantitative Reasoning section (30 or 35 minutes).
To get a preliminary idea of what the test includes, take a look at the ETS (the GRE administrator) test content guide.
GRE Resource Checklist
Once you have a clear understanding of the test’s content, it’s time to gather the resources and study materials you’ll need to ace the exam.
Every test-taker learns and retains information differently, so you may find it beneficial to try out a number of studying strategies using a few different review formats:
- Study Calendar– To stay on track with your test preparation goals, it helps to create a concrete calendar. Instead of winging it every time you sit down for a study session, plan ahead to time which material to cover or which question type to practice.
- ETS Tools– The ETS website offers a wide range of resources and tools to help students prepare for the GRE. For example, the ScoreItNow! online writing practice tool offers sample writing prompts and diagnostic feedback on your writing. The POWERPREP test preview tool allows you to take practice tests that simulate the actual computer-based exam.
- An Official GRE Workbook– Many grad school applicants like to study the old fashioned way and buy a GRE prep book to work through at their own pace. Test prep books typically include content reviews, tips and strategies, practice questions, and full practice tests.
- Video Lessons– If you’re a visual or auditory learner, you may want to consider video lessons for GRE review. Simply search “GRE prep” on YouTube, and you’ll find free instructional videos and tips from successful test-takers.
- Flashcards– Especially if you want to brush up on your vocabulary or memorize math rules and equations, flashcards are an excellent (and often free) study tool.
- Full-length Practice Tests– The best way to gauge your preparedness for the exam is to sit down and take a full-length exam. You can find practice tests on the ETS website and through independent test prep organizations.
- Mobile Apps– The ETS offers the Official GRE Guide on the Apple Store and Google Play Store. The starter pack includes an overview of the test and a bank of practice questions with rationales. You can also find free and paid study apps from independent providers.
- Vocab Podcasts– Want to use your commute to study for the GRE? Listening to vocabulary learning podcasts is a great way to sharpen your reading and writing skills.
- Newspaper/Magazine Subscriptions– Aside from completing practice essays, reading advanced publications is one of the best ways to improve your analytical writing skills. In the months leading up to the GRE, subscribe to newspapers or thought-provoking magazines to stimulate analytical thinking.
Diversify Your Study Routine
While preparing for the GRE may seem time-consuming, you can make the process more enjoyable by diversifying how you study.
Instead of doing the same thing every day, consider investing in a variety of the resources discussed above and switching up your study sessions throughout the week.
That way, you’ll feel more engaged in the material and won’t burn out before the actual exam.