20 GRE Tips and Tricks You Need to Know for Test Day

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Looking for some GRE tips and tricks to help you get the highest score possible? We’ve got you covered! In this article, we’ll help you figure out what GRE tricks can actually do for you in terms of score improvement. Then we’ll offer 20 great GRE test tips and tricks that you can use to do your best on test day.

 

GRE Tricks: What Can They Help You With?

Let’s be clear: if you’re hoping that learning a few GRE tips and tricks will result in a giant boost to your score, I’ve got bad news. The only reliable way to see large improvements in your score is to invest lots of time in preparation. There’s no way around that.

However, strategic GRE tricks can help you gain a small bump to your score. Most of the GRE test tricks and tips in this article are focused on cutting down on careless errors and helping you maximize the points you can get from guessing.

In other words, these tricks will help you get the most out of the preparation you have done. You’ll be able to put your knowledge to its best use on test day.

 

10 General GRE Tips and Tricks

These GRE test tips and tricks will help you on every section of test.

 

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#1: Memorize Directions

You can save time—and cut down on test-day surprises—by learning the format and directions of the test inside and out. Knowing the test format is an essential part of any GRE study plan. But going the extra mile to really memorize the directions for each section and question type confers additional benefits. First, you’ll save a little time in each section, which gives you more time to answer questions! Second, you’ll be able to take a mini brain break when the direction screen is displayed before each subsection. And finally, really knowing and understanding the directions will cut down on any confusion. You won’t have to worry that you’ll make a silly mistake because you misread the directions.

 

#2: Do Easy Questions First

Within a subsection, all GRE questions are worth the same amount of points. This means it makes sense to collect the easy points first! So when you encounter a question on test day that seems confusing or hard (or even that you just don’t want to do right then), just skip it! Use the marking function to indicate that you didn’t answer it, and move on to the next question.

Then, after you’ve made your first pass through the subsection and gotten all the easy points, complete your marked questions. You may find that they aren’t as difficult as you thought they would be!

 

#3: Answer Every Question

There’s no guessing penalty on the GRE. So it’s to your advantage to guess on every question. If you have time to make a quick, educated guess, that’s ideal. But even if you have to randomly pick some answers when you have 30 seconds left, still do it! You can only gain points.

 

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You can gain points for trying. This dog can gain pats for trying.

 

#4: Use Process of Elimination

When you read a question and you’re very unsure of the correct answer, don’t panic. Instead, use process of elimination to eliminate as many incorrect answers as you can. Even if you can’t identify the correct answer with certainty this way, you’ll increase your odds of guessing correctly with every answer choice you eliminate.

 

#5: Read Carefully

Unless you’re doing some rapid guessing to close out a section, it’s critical that you read questions closely. There’s nothing worse than leaving points on the table because you misread a “not” or “except” or you put your answer to a math problem in the wrong format! The GRE often anticipates that students will make careless reading errors and will include dummy answer choices that align with those errors to trip you up.

 

#6: Stay on Pace

Poor time management can be a real point-drainer on the GRE. Be sure to keep an eye on your time when you’re taking the test. Verbal and Quant both have 20 questions per section. Verbal sections have a 30-minute time limit, leaving you about 1:30 per question. Quant has a slightly longer 35-minute time limit; you have about 1:45 per question. Obviously, there will be some variation in how long questions take, but you want to practice staying on track. But this is a general guideline that should keep you from sinking too much time into a particular question.

 

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Don’t let a hard question slow you down too much.

 

#7: Check for Mistakes

If you have time, make a quick pass through to check your answers after you finish a subsection. This will help you catch any careless errors, like marking a different answer than you wanted by mistake or misreading the question.

 

#8: Keep Scratch Paper Neat

You are entitled to unlimited scratch paper on the GRE. However, to make the best use of it, you should keep it neat. This means writing neatly and systematically. Otherwise, you run the risk of introducing errors into your work, especially on the math section.

 

#9: Stay Calm

Taking the GRE can be a stressful experience, especially when you face an unusually difficult question or feel like you’ve forgotten something you studied. But the key to success is to stay calm. Don’t let your momentary discomfort spiral out of control. Move on to another question. Tell yourself that you can do it, and that you’re doing great. Otherwise, you could lose focus, which could really impact your score.

 

#10: Take the Break

Even if you don’t think you need the break, take the break. Just having that time to take a breather and rest your brain is reason enough to take the break. But you should also take this chance to eat a snack and drink some water. If your blood sugar crashes, you’ll become fatigued, and being dehydrated can impair your focus.

 

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These dogs did not take their break and fell asleep during the second half of the GRE!

 

4 GRE Verbal Tricks and Tips

These GRE verbal tricks will help you to maximize your point potential on the Verbal section.

 

#11: Use Word Tone for Vocab Questions

I know I already mentioned using process of elimination in the general GRE tips and tricks section. But there are some specific elimination techniques that you can use for vocabulary questions to help you out on the Verbal section. The first one is word tone.

Word tone is whether a word is generally positive or negative in connotation. Words with similar meanings can have different valences. For example, while “notoriety” and “eminence” both generally mean “fame,” notoriety has a negative valence and eminence has a positive one.

You can usually tell from context if a blank should have a positive or a negative word. Focusing on the choices with the appropriate word valence should help you narrow down your choices even if it doesn’t definitively lead you to the answer.

 

#12: Eliminate Outliers in Sentence Equivalence

This tip for using process of elimination is specific to sentence equivalence questions. In sentence equivalence questions, the two words you choose have to give the sentence a similar meaning. This means that even if the two words you choose aren’t direct synonyms, they have to at least be somewhat related. So you can eliminate any outlier words that don’t seem to match any of the other words at all.

 

#13: Use Evidence From the Passage

For reading comprehension questions, it’s critical that you rely on evidence from the passage when you select your answer. The GRE often tricks you on passage-based questions by presenting you with answer choices that could be true but aren’t directly linked to any information in the passage. So remember: the answer doesn’t just need to be theoretically compatible with what’s in the passage, it has to be directly supported by it. Don’t pick answers that aren’t directly contradicted by the passage but that don’t actually have any evidence present. The direct evidence may not be as clear as it is on the SAT—it might only be a phrase or a few words. But it will be there.

 

#14: Don’t Try to Absorb Every Detail of the Passages

There’s another major thing you can do to help yourself on passage-based questions: don’t get bogged down by detail. You might be tempted to try to learn every detail of the passage before answering any questions about it, but this is a huge waste of time. The entire passage won’t usually be relevant to a particular question. It’s better to hone in on the part of the passage that matters and look for details then. You can see more on developing an appropriate passage strategy in our guide.

 

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You’re reading too closely, Mr. Wizard!

 

6 GRE Math Tips and Tricks

These GRE math tricks will help you maximize your Quantitative section score potential. While GRE math tricks and shortcuts can’t substitute for actually knowing the math, they can help you solve questions faster and cut down on errors.

 

#15: Plug In Numbers

When a GRE problem has variables, and you aren’t solving for a specific value, plugging in numbers in place of the variables can make equations easier to parse. This is particularly true of quantitative comparison questions. You can plug in several numbers with different properties (like 0, 1, 2, -1, and a fraction). This will help you see if there’s a consistent relationship between the two quantities or if you would need more information.

 

#16: Plug In Answers

Similarly, if you are stumped on a multiple choice question, you can usually figure out the answer by plugging the answer choices back into the question. This is not the most efficient strategy, as it involves a lot of plugging-and-chugging. But it will get the job done if you’re stumped. When you have to pick the answer from a list of quantities, the answers are typically in numerical order, so it’s a good idea to start with the answer choice in the middle of the list and then see if you need to go bigger or smaller. That cuts down on the number-crunching. Remember, any correct answer gives you points—it doesn’t matter how elegantly you solved the question!

 

#17: Make Sure Answer Is in the Correct Format

Some GRE questions ask for the answer in a specific format. For example, you might need to give your answer in particular units. If you don’t convert to the correct units you might choose the wrong answer on a multiple choice question or write down the wrong thing on a Numeric Entry question! Don’t leave easy points on the table because you forget to convert inches to feet or something like that.

 

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Don’t make careless errors. (I’m looking at you, “Tipps.”)

 

#18: Use Judicious Estimation

There are times on the GRE where it makes sense to do some estimation instead of going through a complete series of calculations. For example, you’ll often be able to exclude some answer choices for being way off base just from a quick estimate; this can be especially useful on multi-answer multiple choice questions.

 

#19: Hone In on the Information You Actually Need

In both data interpretation and word problems, you’ll be presented with a lot of information. This can be overwhelming! But don’t get bamboozled by all the numbers and facts being thrown at you. Instead, figure out what the question is asking and hone in on the information you actually need. If this means you need to list out everything you know and then determine which pieces of information will actually help you solve the question, that’s fine. But having a systematic approach to the information presented to you will really help you solve the problem efficiently.

 

#20: Draw Diagrams

GRE math problems often include a lot of abstract information. Drawing out your own diagrams and charts can help you make sense of the information you’re being provided. Drawing your own figures and graphs for geometry problems can be helpful because GRE figures are not necessarily drawn to scale. But diagramming can also be very helpful for word problems! Drawing a little figure can help you visualize the situation and get a handle on what’s going on.

 

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Do you think he diagrammed out his trajectory beforehand?

 

20 GRE Tips and Tricks You Need to Know: Summary

While GRE tips and tricks can’t replace dedicated hours of preparation, they can help you make the most of your knowledge on test day.

Here are 10 GRE tricks for the entire test:

  1. Memorize directions to save time and cut down on confusion
  2. Do easy questions first to get the easy points
  3. Answer every question; there’s no guessing penalty
  4. Use process of elimination to increase your odds of guessing correctly
  5. Reading questions carefully to avoid silly mistakes
  6. Stay on pace so you don’t run out of time
  7. Check for mistakes at the end of each subsection if you have time
  8. Keep your scratch paper neat to cut down on errors
  9. Stay calm, even if you’re feeling the pressure!
  10. Take your break (and eat a snack and drink water during it!)

And here are 4 GRE verbal tricks:

  1. Consider word valence
  2. For sentence equivalence, eliminate outlier choices
  3. Always find evidence in the passage to support your answer
  4. Don’t try to learn every detail of the passage when you read it

And six GRE math tricks!

  1. Plug in numbers to make variables easier to parse
  2. Plug in answers when you aren’t sure what else to do
  3. Make sure your answers are presented in the correct format
  4. Estimate when you can to save time
  5. Always focus on the information you actually need
  6. Draw diagrams to make questions clearer

 

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This is really only a good trick if he pulls his head out of there now.

 

What’s Next?

Looking for even more tips? Check out 34 critical GRE tips and strategies for advice on everything from preparation to test day!

If you want advice for a specific section, see our guide to acing GRE Quantitative or our advice on crushing GRE Verbal.

Want guidance for test day? See our top GRE test-day tips, the 4 things you must bring with you to the GRE, and our guide to GRE test centers.


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Author: Ellen McCammon

Ellen is a public health graduate student and education expert. She has extensive experience mentoring students of all ages to reach their goals and in-depth knowledge on a variety of health topics.

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