How to Improve GRE Scores: The #1 Thing You Must Do

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Want to score better on the GRE? In this guide, we’ll go over exactly how to improve your GRE score and lock down the numbers you need for grad school.

We’ll also discuss factors that may make it easier or harder to improve your score, and offer studying tips to make sure your prep time is spent as efficiently as possible!

 

The Only Way to Improve Your GRE Score

Unfortunately, there’s no magic secret tip to easily increase your GRE score. The only reliable way to get a better GRE score is to study for the test. This applies to individual sections too, of course. So if, say, you’re wondering how to improve GRE Verbal section scores, then study for the Verbal section!

With that said, not all studying methods are created equal, and you want to be sure that you are using your time in a way that will really help you improve. We provide more advice on the best study methods below, but overall, to really improve, you’ll need to identify and target your weaknesses.

Here’s about how long you can expect to study for a particular point increase:

  • 5 points = 40 hours
  • 10 points = 80 hours
  • 20 points = 160 hours
  • 30 points = 240 hours

Note that these numbers reflect a total point increase, not an increase per section. So if you studied for 80 hours and you split your time fairly equally between sections, you could improve about 5 points per section.

These are really rough numbers and depend on your personal circumstances, as we’ll discuss next.

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Unfortunately, there’s no magic GRE wizard to cast a spell to raise your score!

 

What Makes It Easier (and Harder) to Improve?

While in general more time spent studying = more points, there are some factors that will affect how easy it is for you to improve your score:

 

How Much You’ve Already Studied

If you’re trying to improve your score from a previous go-round with the GRE, how much you’ll be able to improve depends on how much you’ve already studied. If you already studied for 120 hours and raised your score on Verbal from a 145 on your first practice test to a 159 on test day, it may take quite a bit of effort to improve even more.

On the other hand, if you’ve only studied a little bit so far—or you’ve been studying ineffectively—it may be comparatively easier to get that points boost. In this case you probably still have a lot to learn about the test, which will really help boost your score.

 

How Quickly You Pick Up New Material

The faster you pick up new material, the easier time you’ll have ascending new GRE score heights, because you’ll be able to do more with your allotted study time. If you know that it takes you a little on the longer side to integrate new information, try to budget extra hours for the point increase you want. This way you won’t feel as pressured to move quickly. Pressure leads to panic, which ultimately leads to poorer learning.

 

The Strength of Your Foundation

The GRE tests material that is taught to students over a period of long years. Unfortunately, even 100 hours probably isn’t enough to pick up foundational Math or English language skills if those are lacking. In that case, score improvement certainly isn’t impossible, but it is going to be more difficult and slower going.

If, on the other hand, you have a pretty strong underlying foundation in a subject area and you are just a little rusty, you can probably improve your score quite a lot without too much effort just by brushing up on those older skills.

 

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A little refurbishing and it will be good as new!

 

How to Improve GRE Scores: Tips to Study Better

If you’re serious about putting in the time to improve your GRE score, here are some tips to help you make the most of your prep time. These tips apply to the entire test—see the next section for a few section-specific strategies.

 

Set a GRE Goal Score

Setting a goal gives you something specific to aim for, which will help keep you motivated through long hours of studying. A goal score will also let you know if your preparation paid off once you take the actual test!

See our guide to what’s a good GRE score for you for more on setting the right goal score.

 

Learn the GRE Format

Learning the format of the exam early on will help de-mystify the test and make you feel more familiar and comfortable with the exam. It will also help you figure out what material is actually covered and thus help you figure out what to study!

See our guide to learn more of the ins and outs of the GRE format.

 

Use Realistic GRE Practice

You want to use practice materials that are the most like the real GRE as possible. It’s intuitive: the more like the GRE your practice questions and tests are, the more familiar you’ll be with actual GRE material.

The gold standard for this is, of course, ETS. Because they make the GRE, their materials are the most like the real GRE. They’ve released a number of free practice materials. You can also check out the best GRE prep books for more on high-quality, realistic practice options.

 

Analyze Your Mistakes

When it comes to effective GRE preparation, your mistakes are basically a gold mine: they let you know exactly where you’re going wrong and what you’re struggling with. Go back through practice questions and tests to see: are you struggling with sentence completions? Trigonometry questions have you confused? Are you running out of time? This tells you what you need to keep working on—so mine that gold!

 

Create a Personalized Study Program

The largest part of creating a personalized study program that works for you is targeting your weaknesses. This dovetails with the last tip—your mistakes on practice questions will often help reveal your weaknesses. You may also already be aware of some to target.

By focusing on your weak points, you’ll use time more efficiently than if you try to prep for everything equally. There are probably already concepts and strategies you’ve mastered or at least have a good handle on. You definitely don’t need to spend as much time on those as on the areas where you’re really struggling.

 

Practice Pacing Yourself

Knowing how to answer every question won’t help you very much if you can only get through half the questions in the time limit. Thus, it’s important that you practice staying on pace when you complete practice sections and tests. The Verbal and Quant GRE sections both have 20 questions. Verbal sections have a 30-minute time limit, giving you about 1:30 per question. Quant has a 35-minute limit, which gives you about 1:45 per question. Of course not all questions will take the same amount of time, but that’s a general guideline for the purposes of practicing.

 

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Like the noble sled dog, you need to practice going at a speedy but steady pace!

 

Section-Specific Tips for Improving Your Score

Lastly, we have a few strategies for how to improve your GRE score on a specific section.

 

Quant

Here are two tips to help you improve your GRE Quant score.

 

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Review GRE Math Concepts

Building (or reviewing) your underlying math knowledge is the best way to make reliable strides in your GRE Quant score. While figuring out how to eliminate answers and use strategies and shortcuts can help, if you don’t remember basic algebra, you’re going to have a tough time.

There are a lot of resources you can use for math review: a prep book, Khan Academy, an old math textbook (just make sure it’s covering GRE-relevant concepts!). Find a combination that works for you—and includes lots of practice—and you’ll be hitting higher scores on the GRE Quantitative section in no time.

 

Memorize the Quantitative Comparison Answer Choices

Each Quantitative section of the GRE will contain 8-9 Quantitative Comparison questions. That stacks up to a pretty sizable percentage of the total number of Quantitative questions.

So what can you do to gain an edge on this question type? Well, it turns out that all of the answer choices for each of the Quant Comp questions is the same:

  • “Quantity A is greater.
  • Quantity B is greater.
  • The two quantities are equal.
  • The relationship cannot be determined from the information given.”

If you can memorize these answer choices, you’ll save time on test day because you’ll always know the answer choices in advance for these questions. Additionally, knowing all the answer choices will help you to spot patterns and get a better sense for Quant Comp questions overall.

 

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Which quantity is greater: yellow candies, teal candies, or my confusion?

 

Verbal

There are a couple of things you can do for a score boost on the GRE Verbal section.

 

Learn Vocab

Vocabulary knowledge is important to every Verbal question on the GRE. Vocab is used quite directly in sentence completion and sentence equivalence questions, where you’ll have to choose the correct word(s). But it’s also important for passage questions, because the passages often have difficult language that makes them opaque and hard to easily understand.

You can learn vocab by drilling flash cards, but you should also work on making sure you understand how to use and understand the vocab in context. Our next strategy is a great way to work on that.

 

Read Complex Texts

The Verbal section includes complex passages and sentences that are difficult to understand. Reading complex texts will help you to get more comfortable deciphering unfamiliar material and figuring out the main ideas and arguments of that material. Try to read from a variety of subject and sources—classic literature, publications like The Atlantic, Nature, The Economist, and The New York Times, and even scientific publications and academic journals if you have access to them!

 

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Some great literature to consider.

 

Analytical Writing

If you want to work on improving your AWA score, here are some strategies to use:

 

Study Real AWA Prompts

ETS has actually released every single analytical writing prompt, for both the “Analyze an Issue” and “Analyze an Argument” tasks. While you don’t need to closely examine every single prompt, reading through a few of them will give you a sense of AWA prompt styles and question patterns.

 

Practice Outlining (and Writing)

Doing some practice outlining is even better than just reading the prompts! Spending a few minutes jotting down a quick outline for some of the prompts will help you be much more prepared for encountering AWA on test day. It doesn’t need to be super-detailed—just a few lines on what your main points would be.

You can also practice writing out the essays for a couple of your outlines. This will help you figure out if your outlines are sufficient and if you can get through all your points in the time allotted.

 

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Ready, set…write!

 

Key Takeaways: How to Improve Your GRE Score

Here’s the bottom line: the only way to really improve your GRE score is to spend time studying for the test. Unfortunately, there’s no magic secret trick to GRE score improvement other than studying efficiently. And the more you want to improve, the more you’re going to need to study.

That said, there are a few factors that might make it easier or harder to increase your score through study:

  • If you’ve already studied a lot, you may find it harder to get a big point increase simply because you may have already addressed a lot of your weaknesses.
  • The faster you pick up new material, the fewer hours it will take you to get a point increase.
  • If you have a strong content foundation that you just need to brush up on, you’ll be able to increase your score relatively easily. If, however, you have serious deficits in your understanding of math concepts or reading comprehension, it will take more effort to ameliorate those deficits and get a point increase.

There are several tips that will help you study efficiently to improve GRE scores:

  • Set a goal score to help you stay on track
  • Learn the format of the test
  • Use realistic practice when you study
  • Closely analyze your mistakes so you can target weaknesses
  • Create a personalized study program
  • Practice pacing yourself!
  • For Quant score improvement, review and practice foundational math concepts.
  • The improve your Verbal score, practice vocab and read complex texts.
  • For Analytical Writing score improvement, study AWA prompts and practice outlining and responding.

If you put in the time, you can see your GRE scores rise!

 

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Sparkle on, GRE wayfarer!

 

What’s Next?

Get the info you need to manage test planning and logistics: when to take the GRE, how long to study for the test, and how long it takes the get back GRE scores!

Reaching for the top? Read up on the highest possible GRE score, and get more insight on how the test is scored.

For more studying resources, check out our list of the most useful GRE prep books and the best question-of-the-day sites.


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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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