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7 Essential Study Tips for Acing the GRE

The Graduate Record Exam is a requirement for admission into many different graduate school programs, and more than 700,000 students take this test each year. If you are going to be one of those students, be sure to use these 7 tips for success.


1. Start early!

The most important thing you can do to ensure success is to give yourself plenty of time to prepare. The amount of information you need to know can be overwhelming, so it is vital that you do not feel rushed. Cramming for a test as extensive as the GRE will NOT work because truly mastering a concept does not happen overnight. The GRE is mainly a test of critical thinking, so it requires you to have an in-depth understanding of ideas in order to manipulate them to answer the questions. You will have to give a large amount of your time to this test, so it is better to start as early as you can.

It is up to you to determine how much time you should commit, but it is recommended to spend a few hours a week studying for one to three months. This means that you could spend four weeks studying two hours a week or 12 weeks studying 10 hours a week, which is a large difference. Making this decision depends on two major things: your natural ability and the score you need. If you are a naturally good test taker and only need to make a decent score to get into your dream school, starting a month in advance might be enough studying. However, if you are not a good test taker or need a very high score to get into your dream school, you may want to consider starting four to five months in advance.


2. Focus on the concepts that are difficult for you.

This one is VERY important. The first thing you need to do when you start studying is to take a practice test in order to determine your base score in all sections. This way you can determine which sections are going to cause you the most difficulty and focus on those. It is important not to spend too much time on the areas that you are already competent in since there are so many concepts that you need to master to get a high score. Stay focused! It is easy to practice what you are comfortable with, but remember that learning new material might push you out of your comfort zone.


3. Make a detailed plan.

After taking the practice test, the next thing you need to do is create a detailed schedule. You can now use the information you gathered about your abilities to plan how long you should spend studying each section. Start by looking at your weekly schedule and block out time each day to study GRE material and even dedicate days to each of the specific sections. I would recommend getting a calendar dedicated only to GRE study times in order to stay organized. Be sure to always follow this schedule closely to ensure that you get as much GRE studying done as possible.


4. Buy study tools that will work for you.

Figuring out what study tools to use can be just as overwhelming as actually studying. Here are a few options:

After you make an account with ETS, which manufactures and administers the tests, you will have access to several good study tools, including two full-length practice tests that are set up exactly like the actual exam. You can buy additional tests for $39.95 if those are completed. You will also have the option to purchase writing prompts for $20 that can be scored by the computer to get a rough estimate of the score you would get on the actual exam. Additionally, there are lists of prompts used in the past for practice and examples of essays that received different scores.

On the ETS website, you can purchase study books with detailed information about how each section of the test is organized. You can get the set of three books for $72 or order them individually. With the three books, you will get two more full-length practice tests and smaller practice sets for different concepts and question types. You can also buy them from Amazon here: GRE Power Pack. These books include a math review section that highlights some of the ideas you will be responsible for knowing, and it gives detailed explanations of all question types with tips on how to answer them. ETS.org is a great resource because it is manufactured by the actual people who make the test.

Magoosh is an online test prep website that offers a variety of services. You can take timed practice tests, watch videos on different concepts and do practice questions in specific areas. On top of that, you can email real people with questions and get the writing assignment scored, which is something not offered by some other sites. You can get a six-month subscription for $149 or a one-month subscription for $129, though they often have deals.

Manhattan Prep is another company that makes useful study books. They have numerous options, but one of the best is their 5lb book of practice problems, which you can buy from Amazon for $19.78 here: Manhattan Prep 5lb Book of Practice Problems. This includes a practice verbal reasoning test, a practice quantitative reasoning test and almost 30 sections with practice questions separated by concept. Most of the book is math, but there are four verbal reasoning sections at the beginning. This book is great for practicing just the concepts that you are struggling with. With this purchase, you are also given access to an online website with more practice problems, videos and flashcards for the verbal reasoning section. Manhattan Prep also offers private tutoring and workshops, but they can get pretty pricey. However, if you have the money, this would be a great way to increase your score.

This is only a small sample of the GRE study tools available. Be sure to look online and find the tools that are the best fit for your learning style and budget.


5. Take full-length practice tests periodically.

The GRE is a marathon of an exam, so it is important that you do full-length practice tests to build up your stamina. Make sure that you have few distractions. Turn off your phone, close yourself in your room or a similar private space, and be sure to eat breakfast and get plenty of sleep. I would recommend taking it at the same time as your actual test, so the exercise can be as similar to the actual test as possible.You should do this about once a week to ensure that your brain stays used to focusing on one task for such a long period of time.


6. Keep up with your physical health.

This may seem like an odd tip, but regular cardiovascular exercise has been shown to increase brain power by increasing blood flow to the brain. This increases neural connections in the part of the brain responsible for memory, thus increasing your ability to form new long-term knowledge of the concepts you are attempting to learn.

Eating healthy and getting enough sleep is also important simply because they make you feel more alert. The better you feel, the more effectively you will be able to study. It takes a lot of stamina to study for the same material for hours, and this is what it sometimes takes to ace the GRE. On top of that, sleep is when a majority of long-term memory is consolidated, so getting plenty of rest is about more than simply feeling good; it is important for learning.


7. Don’t get discouraged!

When you start studying, it will be easy to get overwhelmed and feel like there is no way you can learn everything you need to know. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking you are not smart enough! Put in the work, and you will be fine! If you follow these 7 tips, you will be more than prepared when test time finally arrives.


Check back tomorrow for tips on acing the quantitative reasoning section!









Photo courtesy of Freddie Marriage on Upsplash


I am a senior psychology major at UTM, and if you need me, I'm probably hanging out with my cat. I am a sister of Zeta Tau Alpha and Secretary of Psi Chi, along with involvement in several other on campus organizations. I love all things books, coffee, and travel but preferably a combination of all three!
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