How to Prepare for the GRE

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Updated: February 29, 2024, Reading time: 17 minutes

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Prospective graduate students who typically put off studying for tests and are underprepared should not attempt to cram when taking the Graduate Record Examinations, commonly known as the GRE.

It is because earning an impressive score on this entrance exam for graduate school is challenging without essential preparation and mindset, according to some experts.

prepare for the GRE

According to Kaplan Test Prep’s Director of Academics Dennis Yim, many students, especially in undergraduate studies, generally do not take exams seriously and come out underprepared or unprepared, such as studying only on the weekend before the exam day, and that’s it.

As such, students must not consider that the GRE is just like the standard exams they had while they were finishing their undergraduate program. GRE prep is serious business, and your GRE score is important!

Students who plan to take the GRE should dedicate some time to be prepared and have the proper mindset. They should be able to take the time to do practice exams and analyze their aptitude based on those particular tests so they are confident enough to yield excellent scores when the actual GRE examination happens.

A Must See: Graduate School Must-Haves for First-Time Grad Students

What is your target GRE score? Are you ready to get into that graduate degree program you’ve been considering? Are you ready for test day? Being prepared is the answer. And the best way to do that is through practice tests. The GRE score proves your competence in the grad program you are interested in! So, get prepared and read on for more information!

Grad School Center is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

What is the GRE?

The Graduate Record Examination is developed and managed by the Educational Testing Service (ETS) and is used by thousands of business and graduate schools to make fellowship and admission assessments.

Numerous graduate programs need scores from the GRE General Test as part of the requirements for the application, while some also recommend or require scores from one or more GRE Subject Exams.

A graduate-level admissions examination, the GRE General Test provides business and graduate schools with a centralized requirement. It is used to compare all candidates who come from different corners of the globe and determine how extensive their professional and academic experiences are.

prepare for the GRE

Your GRE score is an integral part of your application to graduate schools; however, it isn’t the only requirement. Admissions teams or officers will take into consideration many other factors such as interviews, letters of recommendation, personal statements, professional and research experience, and undergraduate GPA.

Some colleges or universities may also require GRE Subject Test scores for your graduate school application. It is a possibility that your GRE score will come in handy when you are planning to pursue a law study since some academic institutions are considering GRE scores instead of LSAT scores.

GRE General Test Preparation Resources

The GRE General Test has three sections, namely Analytical Writing, Quantitative Reasoning (Mathematics), and Verbal sections. The GRE measures your writing and analytical skills, basic mathematical concepts such as geometry, algebra, arithmetic, college-level verbal reasoning, and vocabulary.

Analytical Writing

The Analytical Writing Measure will test your analytical writing and critical thinking capabilities. It measures your ability to sustain a coherent and focused discussion, construct and evaluate arguments, and support and articulate complex ideas. It doesn’t assess specific content knowledge.

This measure test consists of two separately timed analytical writing assignments, such as a 30-minute “Analyze An Argument” task and a 30-minute “Analyze An Issue” task. The Analyze An Issue highlights an opinion on an issue of general interest followed by particular instructions on how to respond to that specific issue.

On the contrary, the Analyze An Argument highlights the examinee’s ability to evaluate a given argument according to specific instructions.

Quantitative Reasoning

GRE General Test’s Quantitative Reasoning Measure will assess you based on the following:

Some of the questions under this test cover real-life settings, while some are purely mathematical settings. The abilities, concepts, and skills are assessed in four significant areas, namely Arithmetic, Algebra, Geometry, and Data Analysis.

It has four types of questions, namely:

Verbal Reasoning

GRE General Test’s Verbal Reasoning Measure will assess your ability to recognize relationships among concepts and words, analyze relationships among component parts of sentences, analyze and evaluate written material, and synthesize pieces of information earned from it.

50% of the test requires you to read passages and answer questions on specific passages, while 50% requires you to read, interpret, and complete paragraphs, groups of sentences, or existing sentences. This measure test contains three types of questions, namely Reading Comprehension, Text Completion, and Sentence Equivalence.

Preparing for the GRE

It’s almost test day… Are you ready? Cramming isn’t advisable when taking the GRE. In general, the exam is a test of patterns and not facts, so if you are aiming to have an excellent GRE score, you will need more time and effort to practice. A practice exam will get you started. It is recommended that you take 4 to 12 weeks of GRE prep.

Identify Your Baseline

Your baseline score is the test score you would earn if you took the GRE today. Before creating a study plan, you can take a full-length GRE practice test, such as from Princeton Review, as a mockup that has a testing environment similar to the real GRE. The results will guide you on your GRE prep plan by showing which specific areas you need to focus on the most.

Assess Your Target GRE Test Score

If you’ve started to create a list of graduate programs that interest you, you can start determining your GRE test score goals. You can compare your practice test score against the average GRE scores of the most recent incoming graduate students in each program.

This piece of information is available through your chosen school’s website. Your target score determines if it is the score that you wish to aim for or higher for the schools on your list. Again, test prep is key to success!

Develop A Plan To Close The Gap

Whether you choose a test prep book, online program, or prep course, you require a smart prep plan that will make you accountable and provide you with the results you need. With a little research effort, you will find a suitable environment for you.

Practice For A Strategy

Should you practice? Yes, test prep should be considered mandatory. It would be best if you concentrated on how you approach each question while taking practice exams and drills. If you are only focusing on the results, you will only reinforce the method you are taking the exam right now.

The strategy and method you will use to solve a problem and answer questions will help you get better performance in taking the real GRE. Practice tests are a must!

Simulate Actual GRE Situations

Paper-and-pencil exams can help you practice test-taking techniques and concepts; however, they do not adapt to your ways like the actual GRE. You must ensure that you budget online test prep practice into your study plan to help prepare for the computer-based exam experience.

Review Your Test Results

You must always review your performance at the end of every GRE practice test. Identify which type of questions you consistently miss, tend to ace, and slow you down. If possible, you can hire a GRE tutor to help you assess your performance on practice tests and develop a smart plan to achieve your GRE score target.

Improve Your GRE Vocabulary

Vocabulary is still an essential part of the GRE Verbal sections. You can internalize several words that will appear on the real GRE by reading respected content and publications such as academic writing and journals, as well as highbrow magazines and newspapers. When you encounter new terms on practice exams, write them down on your list.

Practice Using And Not Using A Calculator

An on-screen calculator may be used during the GRE. It can be a massive benefit if used correctly. It can also be a liability; therefore, you must figure out when to use a calculator for more accurate results and when not to use it. You would be better off learning the rules of key mathematical concepts. Test prep exercises should include using both methods.

Also see: 8 Ways to Be Productive in Grad School

8 Things Only A Grad Student Would Understand

Frequently Asked Questions

When should I take the GRE?

prepare for the GRE

Since the GRE is facilitated all year round at Prometric testing centers, you don’t need to register for a test schedule in advance. In assessing the perfect time to take the GRE, an essential factor is to check your academic schedule.

That said, you don’t want to take the exam during your busiest semester to avoid compromising your test results because, eventually, your GPA will suffer.

The quick and easy way of assessing when to take the GRE is to give yourself two to three months of preparation before you take the GRE for the first occasion.

This will provide most people with ample time to adequately prepare for the exam. If you want to make room for retakes, add one month for each repeat.

You need to wait at least three weeks between each exam you take, and giving it 30 days between exams provides you with enough time to self-assess by figuring out the lapses you’ve made and how to address them.

Take the GRE at least 21 days before school deadlines so you will be sure that schools will receive your GRE scores on time. In summary, take your first ever GRE three to four months before your graduate or business school deadlines and begin studying and preparing two to three months before examinations.

Where will I take the GRE?

Take the GRE General Test at any of the more than 1,000 testing centers in over 160 countries around the globe. GREs are generally available on independent testing centers or college or university campuses.

The GRE is either computer-delivered or paper-delivered. Computer-delivered tests can be taken at any location around the world all year. The paper-delivered tests, on the other hand, are administered three times annually in areas where the computer-delivered test is unavailable.

If you are interested to know where a GRE testing center is located near you, visit

How do I register for the GRE?

You must create a My GRE Account to take the test in advance of your test schedule. Walk-in GRE Registration at testing facilities is not allowed. After creating an account, you can register either for a paper-delivered or computer-delivered test. You must choose an exam schedule and testing center as well.

Types of GRE FeeCost
Testing Fee$205
Late Registration$25
Standby Testing$50
Test Center Charge$50

How long will the GRE take?

You will need approximately 3 hours and 45 minutes to complete the GRE examinations.

What is the validity of the GRE Test Scores?

GRE scores have a validity of five years.

How is the GRE scored?

GRE Examinees will have three separate scores for Analytical Writing, Quantitative (Mathematics), and Verbal sections. Verbal and Math GRE scores have a scoring system of 130 to 170 in one-point increments, while Analytical Writing falls on a scale of 0 to 6 with half-point increments. Some exam takers will have an additional experimental verbal or math section; however, this part will not be included in the final GRE score.

GRE’s computer-based exams have scores that are based on the number of questions you have answered correctly as well as the measured difficulty of the questions you were provided. On the other hand, your score for the paper-based exam is based only on the number of questions you answered correctly.

You can view the results of the quantitative reasoning and verbal sections after completing the exam if you take the computer-administered test. After two weeks, you will receive your score for the analytical writing section.

If you are on a paper-delivered exam, your scores will be made visible in approximately 1.5 months via online and mailed reports. The mailed report also contains the percentile rating for each section, which denotes how your score compares to the entire population of exam takers.

What is a GRE Subject Test?

prepare for the GRE

The GRE Subject Test is just the same as the SAT Subject Test in the way that it measures your knowledge of a specific subject such as Psychology or Biology.

Not every college or university requires a GRE Subject Test, but many of the most competitive graduate programs need them.

ETS delivers the Subject Tests thrice per year, in April, September, and October, and they are not part of the GRE General Test. Aspiring exam takers can register for the GRE Subject Tests either by mail or online.

Each of the Subject Tests has two hours and 50 minutes duration and has one section’s worth of exams. Every participant may cancel all scores at the end of the testing period.

The GRE Subject Tests vary from the standard GRE in that they test subject-oriented and specific knowledge, opposite to logic skills and pure reasoning.

These tests can help strengthen your graduate program application in a particular subject by measuring your skills and expertise. It is anticipated for students who have a comparably extensive background in one of the subjects or those who have earned an undergraduate degree in one of the seven major subjects.

The subjects in the GRE Subject Tests include:


The Psychology Subject Test has approximately 205 multiple-choice questions. Each question has five answers. Participants must answer questions in response to a graph or a description of an experiment. The questions are generally categorized into three sub-sections.

The 1st sub-section is experimental psychology, which is 40% of the questions and covers topics such as sensory structures, psychophysics, and long-term memory.

The 2nd sub-section specializes in social science and accounts for 43% of the test and addresses lifespan development, personality, and clinical & abnormal psychology. The last section covers general psychology and highlights the design and analysis of psychological research, the ethics of the practice, and the history of psychology.


Physics Subject Test has 100 5-choice questions divided into two periods of examination. Some of the questions will have answers related to descriptions, data, graphs, and diagrams within the test booklet.

The exam will require 20% of the questions for classical mechanics. The next section comprises 18% for electromagnetism, while the next 9% emphasizes wave phenomena and optics.

Another 10% comprises thermodynamics, followed by atomic physics. Examinees who want to pass this test successfully should know how to apply basic mathematical concepts, such as matrices and vector algebra, to their calculations.

Literature In English

Literature In English Subject Test has 230 questions and covers subjects related to literary theory, novels, short stories, essays, biographies, dramatic play, or poems. The questions will generally cover literature from the U.S., England, and other parts of the world.

Also, they either address excerpts from longer pieces or short works of English. Half of the questions consist cover literary analysis with questions related to rhetoric, meaning, and genre.


The Chemistry GRE Subject Test consists of approximately 130 multiple-choice questions. Examinees will be provided with a periodic table in their textbooks and a reference table of conversion factors and fundamental constants.

The exam doesn’t require a calculator because the questions are specifically designed to require limited mathematical capabilities. The structure of the chemistry test may differ.


The Biology GRE Subject Test consists of 190 questions, with five multiple-choice answers per question. Some of the questions are focused on hypothetical experiment results, a diagram, a field example, or a laboratory.

The exam covers three pillars of biology, comprising 33% to 34% of the test:

Biochemistry, Cell & Molecular Biology

The Biochemistry, Cell & Molecular Biology GRE Subject Test consists of 170 multiple-choice questions. A specific percentage of the questions are categorized in sets answering to a description of a specific diagram or laboratory experiment.

The test is divided into three sections. Around 36% of the test emphasizes biochemistry, with subjects ranging from major metabolic pathways to structural biology.

The 2nd section, which contains 28% of the exam, deals with cell biology with topics such as cell division and cytoskeleton. 36% of the test highlights molecular biology with subjects related to DNA Replication, genomics, and genetic foundations.

How important is a GRE Score?

Academic institutions vary in how they use your GRE scores. Some graduate programs measure GRE scores with strict standards and require a minimum score for applicants, while other programs consider GRE scores more of a formality of the requirements.

It is suggested that you ask your respective graduate and business programs about the unique role of the GRE tests in your chosen school’s admissions and financial aid requirements.

How does Computer-Adaptive GRE work?

The GRE itself is a computer-adaptive test, otherwise known as CAT. Every examinee will see two Verbal sections and two Math sections. The level of difficulty of the 2nd section per subject is identified by your performance in the 1st section.

If you answered several questions correctly in the first section, you would have a more challenging second section, but you would have the opportunity to earn higher scores. If you don’t get as many questions correctly in the first part, you will only get an easier second part, and your scoring ability is measured within a lower range.

The computer-delivered exam is GRE’s standard format for all exam takers. The paper-based GRE test happens only thrice per year.

What will happen to my GRE Score if I am not yet ready to enroll in graduate school?

If you’re not yet ready to apply to graduate school after you’ve taken the GRE, there is no need to rush. As mentioned, the GRE test score has five years of validity from the testing year you completed the exam. The testing year is around July 1 to June 30 of the following year. You can also cancel your GRE test score at the end of the exam.

You can only cancel your score for the GRE test as a whole and not on a section-by-section basis. You are eligible to renew your canceled GRE test score within two months of your test schedule by mailing or faxing a Score Reinstatement Form and making a payment to the ETS.

Key Takeaways

GRE prep is key to your success… when it comes to gaining entry into a quality grad school. Consider these points:

Additional Resources:

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