There are a lot of different GRE practice tests out there, and it can be hard to sift through the materials to figure out what’s worth using…or what might actually hurt you in your studying.
In this article, we’ll walk you through which GRE practice tests are the best, which are the worst, and how to get the most out of whichever GRE sample tests you decide to use.
What Makes a Good GRE Practice Test?
There are three important factors that determine whether or not a GRE Practice test is good for studying with: whether it’s official, whether it’s computerized, and whether it’s free.
Factor 1: Official vs. Unofficial GRE Practice Tests
When it comes to studying for the GRE, using official ETS materials is always the best route to go for practice tests and questions. Official tests are the only materials that will ask you the questions in the exact way the real GRE will. This is important because a lot of the time, succeeding on the GRE isn’t about knowing and understanding the general concept; it’s about knowing how to apply that knowledge towards answering questions worded in a particular way.
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Factor 2: Computerized vs. Non-Computerized GRE Practice Tests
I’m not just talking about the difference between GRE practice tests online and on paper, but also about whether the tests are administered using adaptive testing software or are simply straightforward PDF tests. If you’re going to be taking the computer-based GRE (as most test-takers are), then computerized, adaptive practice tests should be an integral part of your GRE study regimen. Some computerized GRE practice tests online include ETS’s PowerPrep and PowerPrep Plus, CATPrep’s demo test, and Manhattan Prep’s online tests.
Computer-based adaptive practice GREs are obviously ideal if you will be taking the test on a computer. But once you finish the official PowerPrep tests, you should rely primarily on official, non-section-adaptive material (ETS free GRE PDFs, practice tests from the official GRE study guide) rather than unofficial GRE online practice tests. If you do end up using unofficial computerized GRE material, make sure the tests mirror real tests in style, content, format and length.
Factor 3: Free vs. Paid GRE Practice Tests
Free official material from ETS is the best source of GRE practice tests there is; there’s no cost to you and you’re guaranteed ETS-approved questions. You might also come across free GRE practice tests from companies other than ETS, but this material is less reliable because not only is the material often not exactly the same as what will be tested on the GRE, but you also can’t be sure of the quality of the material. As a rule, most of the paid unofficial GRE prep content out there is of higher quality than the free unofficial GRE prep content because the paid content has to be good enough to warrant charging for.
To sum up, here’s the hierarchy you should follow when searching for good GRE sample tests:
#1: Free, official, computerized GREs (PowerPrep)
#2: Free, official paper GREs (mostly paper-based practice tests, some review)
#3: Paid, official tests (ETS books and PowerPrep Plus)
#4: Free, unofficial computerized tests (to get used to the interface and computer-based test-taking only)
#5: Paid, unofficial tests (to supplement study)
#6: Free, unofficial test PDFs (to supplement study)
Free Official GRE Sample Tests
ETS provides free and official GRE practice tests for all test-takers to practice with. Depending on whether you’re taking the computer-based or paper-based GRE, you’ll find some of it more valuable than the rest, but all of it is great GRE study fodder.
POWERPREP Online Computer Software
What It Is: POWERPREP Online is an online tool created by ETS (the company that writes and administers the GRE) that simulates the computer-based GRE test taking experience. This is the most realistic practice test for the computer-based GRE.
PowerPrep tests are only available for 90 days from the time you download them, but you can always re-download them after your test as expired; there’s no limit to the number of times you can download them.
Use It To: Take realistic GRE practice tests. Since there are only two tests, you should plan out ahead of time how you’re going to incorporate the PowerPrep tests into your GRE studying. One good option is to use the first test to determine your baseline level, and then, after studying, measure your progress by taking the second practice test.
PowerPrep also comes with a Test Preview tool, which has additional practice questions. You can use this tool to learn how the different question types on the test work without having to use up one of your practice tests. Learn more about what you can get out of PowerPrep with these tips.
Paper GRE PDFs
What They Are: Full-length, paper-based practice GRE exams.
Use Them To: Practice for the paper-based GRE exam or to supplement your computer-based GRE study. For the most part these PDFs are replicated in the PowerPrep practice tests 1 and 2, so if you’ve already taken those tests you won’t be able to download these PDFs and take the tests fresh. Some questions in the PDFs, however, are not included in the PowerPrep practice tests, so you can still use the PDFs as a source of additional official practice questions once you’ve taken the PowerPrep tests.
Free GRE Practice Test, Old Format (Pre-2011, Out of 800)
One other source of free and official sample GRE tests is the old GRE PDF practice book.
What It Is: Free prep material from ETS for the old, out-of-800 GRE (administered up through June 2011).
Use It To: Supplement your study with additional verbal and quantitative reasoning questions; more details on which out-of-date questions in this old practice book to avoid using in this article.
Other Official Free GRE Practice Material
By far, the most useful of the non-practice test free official GRE materials are the ETS’s public collections of all the Analytical Writing topics that will ever appear on the GRE. The “Issues Pool” and the “Argument Pool” contain every single possible “Analyze an Issue” and “Analyze an Argument” prompt, respectively, that you’ll be asked to answer. Learn more about how to use these pools of essay topics to familiarize yourself with the different varieties of tasks you’ll be asked to do and with the different topic areas in our GRE essay prompts article.
The ETS website has some sample Verbal and Quantitative Reasoning questions for further practice and drilling of skills. The ETS GRE Math Review PDF contains some content review and exercises to prepare test-takers for the GRE Quantitative Reasoning section. Test-takers who need to review basic mathematics fundamentals like algebra, probability, and so on may find it helpful. However, the Math Review PDF does not contain any official GRE Quantitative Reasoning practice test questions.
The GRE Math Conventions PDF is even lighter on practice content – its main value is that it gives specifics about the mathematics conventions followed on the Quantitative Reasoning section of the GRE. Reading through the Math Conventions PDF might be a useful refresher for anyone who hasn’t taken a math test in a while, but otherwise, it’s entirely skippable.
Purchase Official GRE Practice Tests
In addition to the various free resources available online, ETS has also made additional GRE prep material available for purchase.
The Official Guide to the GRE Revised General Test, 3rd Edition
What It Contains: Two full-length paper-based GRE sample tests (completely different from the PDFs, PowerPrep practice tests, and PowerPrep Plus).
Cost: $27 on Amazon.
Use It To: Drill skills on the GRE using the practice questions and use paper practice tests to simulate real GRE experience with the understanding that there is a little more time per question (but shorter time and fewer questions overall) on the computer-based GRE.
You can at least counteract the paper-based format of the book tests for the Analytical Writing portions of the paper tests, however; use the prompts from the tests in the book but type your essays into the PowerPrep test preview tool with the computer-based GRE timing. This will give you more practice typing your essays in a short period of time with the limited GRE Analytical Writing computer interface.
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POWERPREP PLUS Online
What It Is: PowerPrep Plus Online is produced by ETS. There are currently two PowerPrep Plus practice tests; these tests are section-adaptive, just like the real GRE, and have completely different questions from all the other official practice tests.
Cost: $39.95 per test per use (you can only take a test once per purchase; if you want to retake it, you must buy it a second time). Tests (including completed tests) can only be accessed for 90 days from date of purchase.
Use It To: Take additional realistic practice tests. Use these in conjunction with the regular PowerPrep practice tests as ways to measure your progress throughout your studying.
What It Is: ScoreItNow! Online Writing Practice Service for the revised GRE General Test will grade your essays using the same software the real GRE does, although the real GRE essays are also graded by a human grader; read more about that in our GRE Analytical Writing articles.
Cost: $20 per every set of 2 essays graded (up to six official GRE essay topics available).
Use It To: Write an essay in the time limit and get an idea of how the official GRE e-scorer system will grade your essay. Use it with the free PowerPrep tests (instead of the PowerPrep Analytical Writing questions) for the least expensive realistic GRE testing experience.
Caveat: At $20 per set of 2 essays, this tool can get expensive quickly. The first time you sign up for ScoreItNow!, you do have the option to get scoring and feedback for six additional bonus ScoreItNow!-constructed essays, so you’d at least be getting a little more bang for your buck, but after that you’re basically paying $10 per essay graded.
Official GRE Practice Questions
Besides The Official Guide to the revised GRE General Test, ETS has also released two volumes of never-before-published sample GRE questions. The Official GRE Verbal Reasoning Practice Questions, Volume 1 contains 150 unique Verbal Reasoning practice questions, while the Official GRE Quantitative Reasoning Practice Questions, Volume 1 contains 150 unique Quantitative Reasoning practice questions.
Cost: Around $12 for each physical book (less for the ebooks).
Useful For: Drilling yourself on Verbal or Quantitative GRE practice questions. These books are great especially if you only need to focus on improving either your Verbal or Quantitative Reasoning score (or if one score is more important to your grad school apps than the other). The books further divide down questions in each section by different type of question, so you can also really focus in on, for instance, all reading comprehension questions, or all data interpretation questions.
Unofficial GRE Practice Tests
In addition to ETS (the maker of the GRE and all the official practice materials), there are tons of prep companies who have stepped up to the plate with their own GRE practice tests. Some of these are useful for supplemental studying, while others…are not so great. We’ll guide you through which is which.
Free Unofficial GRE Prep Material
The most useful free unofficial GRE practice test we’ve found comes from Manhattan Prep. Their practice test is modeled on the computer-based GRE and is computer adaptive. Some of the Verbal Reasoning sentence equivalence and text completion question use unrealistic or repetitive vocabulary in a way that the real GRE would not. For the most part, though, the questions on both the Verbal and Quantitative Reasoning sections are of near-official GRE quality, which makes it a useful supplemental GRE study tool.
Another good free GRE practice test comes from CATPrep (can also be found on the Manhattan Review site). Their free, no-time-limit practice test is modeled on the computer-based GRE, although it is abbreviated (5-8 questions per section instead of 20). The Quantitative Reasoning questions on this test are realistic, which makes it good practice for that section; however, the Verbal Reasoning sections are too hard, with too much focus on reading comprehension (4/5 questions are reading comprehension, which is not realistic, and their reading comprehension passages are not good quality). Use this test to supplement your GRE studying if you’re doing a lot of prep and want to practice with a semi-realistic computer demo simulation, but be aware of its limitations.
Two other free and unofficial computerized GRE practice tests you might come across from are from McGraw-Hill and Kaplan, but each of these tests has serious flaws (browser window issues for McGraw-Hill that make longer passages unreadable and longer questions unanswerable, quality issues for Kaplan) that means you’re probably better off not using them at all. The only reason to try out either of these is if you can’t get the PowerPrep software to download and want some familiarity with what the computerized GRE interface will look like; in that case, go with Kaplan (although their test does require Adobe Flash, a plugin no longer supported by some browsers).
Unofficial Paid Sample GRE Tests
The time to use unofficial paid practice GREs is when you’ve run out of official questions to practice with and need supplemental study material. Unofficial paid tests are best for review weak content areas, rather than for drilling questions or skills, because they usually don’t question you in the same way the real test will.
Best Practice Tests
Based on our own research and online consensus, we’ve found that the best non-official GRE practice tests are created by Manhattan Prep and Barron’s. Each company has multiple GRE books, however, so you need to be sure you get the right one.
To actually get access to Manhattan Prep’s online tests, you’ll need to purchase one of their eight strategy guides, which then grant you one-year access to 6 online computerized GRE practice tests. The 5lb Manhattan Prep GRE book has practice sections of 20 questions each (1 easy, 1 medium, 1 hard) for verbal and math, but the questions aren’t actually arranged into practice tests, so they don’t provide you with realistic testing experience.
The Barron’s books also provide good supplemental practice questions and tests. Barron’s book of 6 GRE Practice Tests contains six paper practice tests (with the same timing and question quantities as are found on the computer-based GRE) which are good to use for supplemental practice if you’re worried about running out of official practice tests. Barron’s new GRE review book, in addition to strategies and other practice material, has a short diagnostic test at beginning (only 1 verbal and 1 quantitative section each) and 2 model tests at the end (as well as other practice material); if you get the physical book, it comes with a CD-ROM that has 2 additional practice tests.
Worst Paid Practice GREs
The number one source of unofficial practice GREs to avoid are the Kaplan Premier books. The questions overall are both too easy and are presented in unrealistic ways. For example, Kaplan presents Verbal Reasoning passages and then alternates asking “choose one answer” questions with “select all that apply” questions for the same passage. This is something that you’ll never encounter on the real GRE, but will certainly throw you off when you’re taking a practice test.
Users have also reported issues with access to the Kaplan website. While Kaplan has paid courses that supposedly simulate realistic GRE testing environments, it’s hard to imagine that those tests will be of good quality, considering the issues with their other materials.
4 Tips for Getting the Most Out of GRE Practice Tests
To wrap up, we’ve got four tips to follow for maximizing the available GRE practice test resources out there.
#1: Set a Baseline
You can’t accurately measure how well your studying is working without first figuring out what your current level is. Get a baseline measure of how well you’re doing by either taking one of the PowerPrep or PowerPrep Plus practice tests (if you’re taking the computer-based GRE) or free official PDF tests (if you’re taking the paper-based GRE).
#2: Make a Goal
Once you have a baseline score, the next step is to figure out what score you need to aim for. This target score should be determined by the average GRE scores of the schools and programs to which you’ll be applying. There’s no point in striving for a perfect 170 on the Verbal and Quantitative Reasoning sections when the average student at your target schools had scores of 155.
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Average together the average scores of all the programs and schools you’re considering to set your target GRE score. We have more information about this in our article about what makes a good GRE score.
#3: Assess What Improvements You Need to Make
This step will help you streamline your studying so that you’re not just blindly taking full-length practice GREs, but instead are focusing in on your weak areas. Analyze the results of the practice test you took to figure out where you need to focus your efforts. If you need to improve your Quantitative Reasoning score, focus your studying there; if you do fine on Verbal Reasoning except for reading comprehension questions, practice only reading comprehension questions over and over.
#4: Create a Study Plan
Finally, figure out how much time you have until the test and how much improvement you’ll need to make. Create a study plan that uses both full-length practice tests with practice questions. Ideally, you’ll save the official full-length practice tests for measuring your progress and use other questions for day-to-day practice and drilling.
Want to make sure you haven’t missed a single test? Get information about all official GRE practice tests right here.
Need some extra questions to supplement your studying? Use our complete list of GRE sample questions.
What GRE books are worth buying, and which should you avoid? Learn more with our GRE book reviews.