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Studying for the GRE

GRE flashcards by NEPMET
GRE flashcards by NEPMET

I recently took the Graduate Record Examinations (GRE) General Test as part of the application process to get into a technical masters program. I had only a few weeks to prepare for it and was given advice of all kinds from many sources, some of it helpful, some of it not. Below is a list I’ve compiled of the advice that was helpful along with some of my own:

  • Find out what score you should be shooting for
    By all means, reach for the sky and try to get the best score you can, but within reason. Whether your scores are good or not is dependent upon what the program(s) you’re applying for are seeking. See if you can find the average GRE scores for current students in your program and make that your minimum goal.
  • Start early
    Start a month or two before you have to take the test. This will give you plenty of time to learn what you might need in order to improve your scores.
  • Take a written practice test first
    Before any studying, print out the practice test from the GRE website or use a GRE preparation book and work through the problems by hand. Use this to guage your skills and find out what you need to work on. The types of problems that you spend the most time on should likely become a focus early in your preparation.
  • Practice your weaknesses at the beginning
    If you struggled with vocabulary in the practice test, spend most of your time in the early days of preparation learning vocabulary. If it took you forever to work the math problems, spend a few days just working practice math problems.
  • Buy a GRE preparation book
    Even if you have access to online practice tests, spend the 20ish dollars it costs to get a current GRE prep book. The practice problems are more than worth it and they’ll provide you with some strategies for taking the test. Take their suggestions with a grain of salt though as some of them are worthless. Just use what you find works best for you.
  • Practice, practice, practice
    This is key. Spend at least a couple of hours a day drilling yourself with as many practice problems as you can. Grade them yourself and, if available, read through the solutions to those you get wrong.
  • Save the timed practice tests for last
    Work as many practice problems as you can but save the full timed practice tests for last. These tests can be found in the prep books and online and are extremely helpful if you take a few of them in the days before you take the actual test. They get you used to the process and help you learn to manage your time.
  • Prepare physically
    If you’re taking the GRE, you’ve likely taken plenty of tests prior to this and know that you need a good night’s rest and a good breakfast the day you take it. The same applies here. Exercise the day before and try to schedule the test so you won’t be in a stressful state when you arrive to take it (i.e.: schedule it so you don’t have to drive in rush hour traffic to get to it).

There are many other tips to be found with the help of Google or in one of the books available on GRE test prep, but these were most helpful to me. I got the score I wanted on my first try and aside from my test day, wasn’t any more stressed than I usually am. I hope these tips help those of you preparing for the GRE as much as it did myself. Good luck!