Are you looking for tips for studying for the GRE? We’ve got them! Most people won’t reach their GRE goal score without preparation, and it’s important to know how to get the most out of your GRE studying so you use your time wisely and get your best score possible. In this guide, we go over 17 study tips for the GRE, including tips for the entire exam and more specific tips for each section of the GRE.
GRE Study Tips for the Entire Exam
These GRE study tips are useful for every section of the GRE, and they also include several tips you should know before or soon after you begin your studying.
#1: Know the Format of the GRE
Before you begin your GRE studying, you should know the format of the test so you know exactly what you should be studying and what you can expect on test day. The GRE tests skills in three main areas: Analytical Writing, Verbal Reasoning, and Quantitative Reasoning. Both the Verbal Reasoning and Quantitative Reasoning sections have score ranges of 130-170, in one-point increments. Analytical Writing has a score range of 0-6, in half-point increments.
The GRE lasts about 3 hours and 45 minutes and includes six sections. The first is always Analytical Writing, followed by (in any order) two Verbal Reasoning sections, two Quantitative Reasoning sections, and an unscored section used for research. You won’t know which section is the research section, so do your best on every section.
|Section||# of Sections||Time||# of Questions per Section||Time per Question|
|Analytical Writing||1||60 mins||2 tasks||30 mins|
|Verbal||2||30 mins||20 questions||1 min 30 secs|
|Quantitative||2||35 mins||20 questions||1 min 45 secs|
|Unscored Experimental Section||1||30-35 mins||20 questions||1 min 30-45 secs|
*The break comes after the third section (halfway through the test).
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#2: Figure Out Which GRE Section Is Most Important for You
It’s likely that one of the GRE sections is going to be more important for your grad school application than the other. If you’re going into a science or math-focused field, you’ll need to focus more on your Quant score. If you’re going into the humanities, focus more on your Verbal score. Don’t neglect the other section, but put more time into the section your grad school is going to care about more, especially if you have a limited amount of time to prepare for the GRE.
#3: Know How Much You Need to Study for the GRE
The amount you need to study on the GRE depends on the difference between how well you’re currently scoring on the exam and what your goal score is. If you haven’t taken a full-length practice GRE yet, do that to get a baseline score (see tip #6 for practice test resources).
Your goal score is based on the average scores of admitted students to the grad school you want to attend. In general, your GRE goal score should be 1-2 points higher than the highest average score reported of all the programs that you are interested in. Since the GRE is only one part of your grad school application, you won’t actually help your application that much by having a score way above the range of students they usually accept.
So, for example, say you’re currently scoring 150 on Verbal and 160 on Quant, and the most competitive grad school you’re applying to has an average of 155 on Verbal and 165 on Quant, you’d need to raise your score about 12 points to get 1-2 points above both those averages.
Here are the number of study hours it takes to get the following point increases on the GRE. (Note that point increases are overall, not per section. For example, with 80 hours of studying, you could see a 10-point increase on Verbal alone, or a 5-point increase in Verbal and a 5-point increase in Quant.)
- 5-point increase = 40 hours
- 10-point increase = 80 hours
- 20-point increase = 160 hours
- 30-point increase = 240 hours
#4: Create a Study Plan
Once you figure out how many hours you’ll need to study for the GRE, you can develop a study schedule so you know when you’re supposed to be studying and can stay on track. Set aside a regular time to study each day or week, such as weekdays from 7:00-8:30 or Saturdays from 12:00-4:00. This will make it easier to stick to your study schedule because you’ll know ahead of time when you should be studying and can fit the rest of your day around it.
You should also set yourself regular goals, such as “learn GRE geometry by the end of the week” or “raise my score 2 points by the end of the month.” That way you have something to work for and a way to track your progress.
#5: Get High-Quality Study Materials
Your GRE studying will only be effective if you use high-quality prep materials. Good study materials will accurately explain exactly what you’ll be tested on during the GRE and give realistic sample questions. Official ETS resources (both free and paid) are the best resources to start with since, because they’re made by the same people who create the actual GRE, you can be sure they’re accurate.
A GRE prep book is often the single most effective study tool you’ll use while you prepare, so it’s critical to get a good one. Check out our picks for the best GRE prep books.
#6: Take Regular Practice GREs
In addition to using high-quality prep materials, it’s important that you take full-length GRE practice tests. When you take a GRE practice test, you’ll get an idea of how you handle long tests, how you should pace yourself on test day, and the kinds of questions that are most challenging for you.
We recommend taking at least two practice tests, and ideally three or four during the course of your GRE prep period. For your first test, take an official GRE practice test (preferably one of the PowerPrep tests) at the start of your studies to get your baseline scores. Right before you take the actual GRE, take a second official practice test to see whether you’re scoring in the range of your goal scores or not. You can also take additional practice tests throughout your studying to track your progress. For more information on the best the best GRE tests to use, check out our complete collection of GRE practice tests.
#7: Review the Questions You Answer Incorrectly
After you take a GRE practice test, your work isn’t finished yet. For every practice test or quiz you take, make sure to go over every question you got wrong (or happened to guess right on) so you can understand how to answer the question correctly in the future. This can be time-consuming and boring, but don’t be tempted to skip this step! It’s the best way to learn from your mistakes and improve your GRE score. Otherwise you’ll keep repeating the same mistakes over and over again.
#8: Be Aware of Timing
Being able to get every question on the GRE right doesn’t do you much good if you can’t answer all the questions within the time limit. So, practice staying on track by timing yourself during practice sections. Both Verbal and Quant sections have 20 questions per section. Verbal sections have a 30-minute time limit, giving you 1 minute and 30 seconds per question. Quant sections have a 35-minute time limit, giving you 1 minute and 45 seconds per question. Obviously, there will be some variation in how long questions take, but you want to practice staying on track.
#9: Try Different Study Methods
Another one of the most important GRE study tips is to know which study methods work best for you. There are many ways to study for the GRE, and each has its own pros and cons. The main study methods are:
- Online GRE class
- In person GRE class
- Private Tutor
Nearly every student preparing for the GRE will include at least some self-study, and for many test takers, that’s all they need. However, if you’re struggling to stay motivated, understand certain concepts, or get the GRE score you want, trying a new study method can be very helpful. Check out our guide on the best ways to study for the GRE to learn more about each of these methods.
GRE Study Tips for the Analytical Writing Section
Use these GRE study tips for the Analytical Writing Assessment (AWA), which will always be the first section of the GRE. You’ll have 60 minutes to write two essays.
#10: Study Real AWA Prompts
Fortunately for test-takers, ETS has released the entire question bank for Analytical Writing. (See here for the pool of issue topics and here for the pool of argument topics). You don’t need to closely examine each topic and have an outline memorized, but we do suggest that you at least glance through them to get a sense of the topics covered and the patterns that emerge. It’s also a good idea to practice outlining essays for a few of the topics before you go in to write the essays on test day.
#11: Grade Your Essays With Official Rubrics
Don’t just write practice AWAs and then set them aside. You need to grade them as well! Be as objective as possible in identifying your essay strengths and weaknesses by comparing your GRE essays to the official standards. Don’t be tempted to give yourself the benefit of the doubt, because the GRE essay grader and computer program grader won’t. See the official essay rubrics and learn how to grade your own essays by reading our guide to how the GRE essay is scored.
GRE Study Tips for the Verbal Reasoning Section
This section has GRE study tips for the two to three Verbal sections you’ll see on the GRE.
#12: Use Flashcards to Memorize Vocab
One of the more challenging aspects of the GRE is the amount of vocabulary you need to know. Fully half of the Verbal Reasoning section tests your knowledge of some pretty obscure and sophisticated vocabulary. Throughout this section you’ll be asked to select words or sets of words to fill in the blanks in sentences. Even if you did well on vocab questions on the SAT or ACT, the GRE has more challenging vocabulary and tests more vocab words, so you’ll likely still need to do some review. Flashcards are a great way to study GRE vocab words. For flashcards of important vocab words, check out our 357 GRE vocab flashcards. They include all the words you should know for the GRE.
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#13: Read Different Texts for Practice
Flashcards are key to expanding your vocabulary, but the best way to improve your reading comprehension is to read regularly. However, you want to focus on quality rather than just quantity. You should read things that are topically similar to what you’ll be faced with on the GRE. Try to read a wide variety of texts from publications with a high reading level. Some examples include the Atlantic, the New York Times, the Economist, Nature, etc. Because there are often science passages on the Verbal section, you may also want to try reading abstracts from scientific studies on PubMed.
You don’t need to understand every detail that you’re reading, but make sure you’re getting all the main ideas. What’s the point of the article? What evidence does the author give to support their position? Does the article discuss any opposing viewpoints? If you can understand the argumentative and rhetorical structure of complex articles, you’ll be well prepared for the Verbal passages.
#14: Develop a Strategy for Attacking Passages
It’s crucial that you have a strategy for approaching Verbal passages well before test day. Having a consistent approach that works for you will help with time management and make you feel more comfortable when facing the GRE’s dense, complex passages.
- Skim the passage first: For this strategy, you’ll quickly skim the passage before reading the questions. Once you’ve read a question, you’ll look back in the passage for any details/facts that you need to answer that question.
- Read the questions first: For this method, you’ll read the question first, then read through the passage looking for the evidence that will tell you the right answer.
Both of these strategies can work well for students. The one you choose is a matter of personal preference, so try both out while you’re studying to figure out which one works best for you.
GRE Study Tips for the Quantitative Reasoning Section
This section has GRE study tips for the two to three Quant sections you’ll see on the GRE.
#15: Know What Math You’ll Be Tested On
Before you begin busting out calculus or advanced mathematics books, know what math topics the GRE will and won’t test you on. No higher-level math subjects, such as calculus, are tested, and most questions don’t require much more than high school math knowledge. This means that students who didn’t study advanced math concepts in college are not at an automatic disadvantage.
Instead of testing complicated math concepts, the Quantitative Reasoning questions aim to measure your basic mathematical skills, your understanding of elementary mathematical concepts, and your ability to reason quantitatively and solve problems with quantitative methods.
GRE Quantitative Reasoning questions test your knowledge of four main subjects. These are the topics you should be studying:
- Data Analysis
#16: Know How to Best Use the Calculator
You’ll have access to an onscreen calculator during the Quant sections of the GRE. Now, you already know how calculators work, but understanding exactly what this calculator can and can’t do will save you valuable time on the GRE. The GRE calculator can add, subtract, divide, multiply, parenthesize, take the square root of, add a decimal to, or change the sign (positive/negative) of numbers.
The calculator doesn’t include exponents, constants like π or e, logarithmic (ln, log) or trigonometric (sine, cosine, tangent) functions, nested parentheses, or the ability to square or cube. Even though the calculator is a useful tool, don’t be tempted to use it every time you need to do a calculation. Simple calculations are often quicker to solve without a calculator. Not only is it easier to solve problems like (5*4) or (3500/10) without using the calculator, but it also cuts down on entry errors (i.e. accidentally typing in 350/10) that could affect your answer.
#17: Learn How to Plug-In Numbers to Solve Problems
If you have a Quant problem you aren’t sure how to answer, one of the best strategies is plugging in numbers or plugging in answers to solve it. These strategies can save you valuable time and get you the answer quickly. In general, you’ll plug in answers for multiple-choice questions. This means you’ll plug in each answer choice one at a time to see which one works correctly with the problem. Always start with whatever the middle value is (often answer choice C). If this answer choice doesn’t work, you can then figure out whether to work your way up with higher values or down with lower values. You can often use plugging in numbers for Quantitative Comparison questions and other questions containing variables.
For Quantitative Comparison questions, you’ll often need to plug in multiple numbers to test out various scenarios. To ensure that the inequality or equation holds true for all possible cases, choose significantly different numbers, such as a large and a small number, a positive and a negative, a whole number and a decimal, etc.
Summary: Tips for Studying for the GRE
Preparing for the GRE can be difficult, so use these study tips for the GRE to maximize your study time and get the score you want.
The key GRE studying tips to know are:
What GRE score should you be aiming for when you take the exam? Learn what a good GRE score is based on the schools you’re interested in.
Confused about GRE scores? Check out our guide on how GRE scoring works.