5 Tips to Help You Study for the GRE

Even though we’re in a pandemic, some graduate schools are, unfortunately, still looking for standardized test scores from graduate applicants. Having recently taken the dreaded GRE, I have a few tips that made all the studying leading up to the test a little less painful. Due to the adaptive nature of the test, it’s impossible to really know the content of the questions. However, I have a few resources that helped me to at least have a decent idea as to what the questions would look like and how I should approach them. So, without further ado, here are a few tips that will help you tackle the GRE.

Related: How to Beat Test Anxiety in College
  1. 1. Read more professional writing


    In the verbal section, you will be faced with questions that require you to fill in the blanks with vocabulary that you would rarely ever use, as well as dense passages that can cause your brain to slow down considerably during the test. My suggestion to at least get familiar with the type of content you’ll see on the test is to read more professional publications such as the Washington Post or the New York Times to understand the content of scholarly language and become more familiar with the structures of content you will likely see on test day. 

    Many of the passage questions are about science, history, culture, and politics, so it is helpful to get used to reading about different areas of study so that you’re comfortable with the same sort of language in the verbal section.

  2. 2. Use ONE test prep resource

    woman on laptop studying

    When I knew I had to take the GRE, I made the mistake of thinking I had to use multiple different types of GRE study subscriptions to help myself become more effective with the content. I was sorely mistaken. Having too many resources can easily confuse your brain because not one study resource is universal. Tons of resources teach different techniques in different ways, so it’s best to find one that you understand the most and fits your budget, and then stick with it to actually see how you’re improving. 

    My favorite one was Magoosh. Magoosh has a number of different study programs for different tests including the GRE, GMAT, and the TOEFL. If you foresee yourself taking one or more of these tests in the future, this is definitely a great resource. Although it can be expensive, with a $150 plan for a month subscription and a $180 plan for a six-month subscription, the practice tests and concept explanations were super helpful. Most free GRE plans do not have content accurate enough to compare to the actual test, so it’s best you start your studying much earlier on and subscribe to a quality site to get the most out of the program. 

  3. 3. Take at least two practice tests

    Test Taking Rep

    The idea of taking the test once is already frustrating enough. But let me tell you that taking the test twice before the real thing will be the greatest measure of your preparedness for the actual test. On the actual GRE website ETS, you have access to two free practice tests as soon as you schedule your test. If you scheduled your test early enough, I suggest you take one practice test as a diagnostic of how much you can handle with little to no prior studying. Then take the other one the weekend before the test to at least test your knowledge of what you’ve gained through your studying. Taking the practice tests will help you get used to the actual questions the test will have, and you’ll have a better idea of how you’ll do on test day. 

    Since the test is adaptive, your first verbal and quantitative section will be a medium level of difficulty. Depending on your success with those first sections, your second verbal and math section will be either easy or hard. Again, it is all based on how well you did the first time around. That’s why it’s best to take the practice tests to gauge what sections you’ll be given more specifically the second time around.

  4. 4. Look up EVERY word you don't know

    Woman in bed surrounded by laptop and books

    The GRE is jam-packed with confusing vocab that I guarantee you will almost never use outside of academia. It can be intimidating to read a word and have absolutely no idea what it means. That is why I suggest that in tandem with reading more scholarly articles, look up every unfamiliar world you come across right away and write it down. 

    Whether you add it to a running Google Doc or write it on a sticky note to look back on later, writing it down will help you retain and learn a new word that might show up on the GRE. The content on the test is unpredictable. Because you will have no idea what words you’ll come across until test day, it’s best to continue adding to your own personal vocabulary so that you’ll already be familiar with it in case it shows up on the test. 

    I also suggest using Quizlet, as many previous GRE takers have created different GRE vocab study sets for others to use. To get the most out of it,  find a set with both the term, definition, and an example sentence to help you understand fully how the word is used in a particular sentence. 

  5. 5. Evaluate whether to take the test at home or at a testing center  

    Considering the pandemic raises many concerns about going out in public, you have the option to either take the test at home or at a testing center, granted you keep your mask on during the test. I took the test at home, but there are a few pros and cons to take into consideration when deciding where to take the test.

    With at-home testing, you will definitely be less stressed as you’ll be in the comfort of your own home without feeling the stressful vibes of other test-takers around you. You can take your time to eat and mentally prepare yourself to be in a comfortable position for the test. However, you must make sure that your computer undergoes system testing through the ETS Equipment Requirement Testing

    One con is the environment testing you have to go through to ensure that your space is appropriate with the right equipment and the right network capability to get you through the test. You’ll also be asked to download Proctor U, a system that invites a live proctor to initiate your test as you're taking it and ensure your space is appropriate for test-taking. My proctor could not hear me when I did this, so that caused some unnecessary stress before my test. But if your set-up and equipment is well put-together, you should be smooth sailing for your test. And right after, your bed is just a few feet away for some post-test relaxation.

    In comparison, taking it at a test center does have its perks depending on the kind of test-taker you are. If you prefer a space with zero distractions that is more of a serious test-taking environment, this might be the option for you. You won’t have to worry about setting up equipment since all of that will be taken care of for you before your test. You will have a live proctor monitoring you compared to one that just monitors your computer screen when taking the test at home.

    Granted, you will have to travel and be aware of your surroundings as health risks are still an issue, so depending on how you feel, this may not be the safest option. However, it is all up to you and how you think you will fare taking a test at home or in a specified test taking area outside your home. 

Related: Deciding Where to Go to Grad School? Ask Yourself These 5 Questions First

Standardized testing can be extremely stressful and daunting, especially with all of the other stressors currently plaguing the world. Trust me, I have felt your pain. Just know that as soon as you’re done, you can knock this off your growing list of responsibilities in applying for grad school. I know it’s hard to think about now, but trust me — once you’re done, you’ll feel so much more accomplished. I have faith in you. Study hard, do your best, and good luck!