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The 8 smartest ways to prepare for your GRE exam

Sean Campbell
Last Updated: 8 October 2021 • 5 min read

In our recent article, a speedy overview of the GRE exam, we took you through a list of key notes on everything you should know about the test, including some brief pointers on GRE preparation. 

But we think you deserve more than just a few tips, so we decided to go further and come up with a comprehensive GRE study guide, to allow you to get the most out of the exam!

Here we take you through the smartest ways to prepare for the GRE exam, and point you in the right direction for the top study resources, including GRE guide books and mock exams. 

Let’s get started!

The 8 best ways to prepare for the GRE exam

  1. Get started at least 8 weeks out
  2. Create a study schedule
  3. Know the score you need 
  4. Find your level with a GRE practice test
  5. Get to know the format
  6. Invest in a GRE guidebook 
  7. Complete regular practice tests online
  8. Read real-world English!

1. Get started at least 8 weeks out

Getting an early start is something we always recommend when it comes to test preparation. Ideally, you should begin preparations for the GRE between 8 and 12 weeks ahead of your exam date.

This will give you plenty of time to study without stress, and without having to spend long hours at a time buried in books, practice tests and nerves!

2. Create a study schedule you can stick to

You’re a busy human, we get that. So when it comes to making a study schedule, make sure to make one that works with your current life, and your wellbeing. Hard work is great, but exhaustion isn’t! 

If you’re started preparing for your GRE more than 8 weeks out, you should be able to work according to a less intense study schedule that allows you to spend just an hour or two at a time, two or three times per week. 

As the test gets closer, we’d recommend stepping up the intensity of your study schedule to get your brain in sharp condition, before slowing down a little on the week of the exam. 

This “tapering off” period is really useful as it gives your brain time to absorb and organise all the information you’ve been working through!

3. Know the score you need 

So now you’ve got plenty of time, and a good study schedule, it’s time to get properly started on your GRE preparation. 

First things first — find out from the college or university you’d like to apply to the minimum GRE score (or percentile) required to be accepted. 

This can potentially change from institution to institution, but there are some general rules: 

A score above 318 (out of 340) is considered to be good, while a score above 329 is excellent. 

The final score you get is not as important as the percentile you fall into though , i.e. where you rank according to other test-takers.

Usually however, a score above 318 puts you in the 75th percentile, while a score of 329 puts you in the 90th percentile. 

4. Find your level with a GRE practice test

Knowing approximately what score you need, it’s time to get an idea of where your current level is. Check out the ETS website (the company which administers the GRE exam) to find an official GRE mock exam and some sample questions for free. 

Don’t worry about the format, and don’t worry about how well (or not so well) you do! Taking a blind practice test is a fantastic way of finding out exactly what your strengths and weaknesses are. 

And as a bonus, it’s an excellent way of getting familiar with the GRE format (or pattern). 

5. Get to know the format (pattern) of the GRE exam

Knowing how a test looks, feels and functions, as well as what types of questions are included is HUGE Even a very high level English speaker can underperform on an exam if they’re unfamiliar with the pattern and the time limits therein. 

As mentioned above, the simplest way to get to know the format of the GRE is to do a practice test and get that experience first hand.

However if you’re curious to find out more about the format now, check back into our GRE overview article!

6. Invest in a GRE guidebook 

The right guidebook for any standardised test is a fantastic investment. It’ll take you through absolutely everything you need, from format outlines, through practice questions, mock tests and sample answers, as well as helpful strategy pointers. 

Here are 5 of the best GRE guide books & their publishers:

  • The Official Guide to the GRE Revised General Test, 3rd Edition — ETS
  • Magoosh GRE Book — Magoosh
  • GRE Prep Plus 2022 — Kaplan
  • Princeton Review GRE Prep, 2022 — Princeton Review
  • Official GRE Verbal Reasoning Practice Questions & Official GRE Quantitative Reasoning Practice Questions — ETS

7. Complete regular practice tests online

All of the above guidebooks come with one, two or more GRE practice tests, but we’d recommend doing regular tests online to mimic how you’ll actually sit the exam. 

So how regularly should you do a practice test? Around once a week should be enough. This will allow you to gauge and manage your progress, and also leaves plenty of time to analyze and work on your skills to perform better the next time. 

For some of your practice tests, particularly those you do closer to the exam date,  try to work under the same conditions that you’ll have on test day. That’s with time limits, on your own, with no background music or other tabs open. This will help you feel more comfortable on the day. 

Here are 5 of the best FREE GRE practice test platforms and websites*:

  • Powerprep II free GRE practice test
  • Manhattan Prep free GRE practice test
  • Kaplan free GRE practice test
  • Princeton Review free GRE practice test
  • McGraw Hill free GRE practice test

*We recommend trying out 2 or 3 of these as each has some advantages and drawbacks from the others. Some mimic the test format better than others, while some are better for giving feedback and analysis.  

8. Read real-world English!

The purpose of the GRE exam is to measure your readiness for postgraduate education. In other words, your challenge is to prove that you can understand, analyse and interpret academic and business-world English. 

So aside from direct GRE test preparation methods like practice tests, one of the best ways for you improve your GRE prospects is to spend time reading formal English literature on a daily basis — newspapers, magazine articles in your industry of interest, research papers in your field of study — all of these will help you acclimatize to the standard of topical language you can expect in the GRE, and will help develop your overall English fluency!

We’ll assume since you’re reading this that you’re interested in studying abroad, right? Well that’s what we do here at Edvoy— we match international students with top notch universities and courses all over the English speaking world! We can help you find your perfect course

By the way, if you’re considering applying to a university, you’ll need a strong Statement of Purpose — luckily we’ve also written a great guide to the SOP here.

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Sean Campbell
Written By
Sean Campbell

Sean is a writer, copywriter & editor from Ireland.

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