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How to Study for the GRE: 4 Golden GRE Prep Tips

By an IvyWise Master Tutor

Just as in undergraduate admissions, the graduate admissions process often requires standardized testing as part of the application process. Whether you are a current college student considering your postgraduate options, or a professional looking to advance in your current field or make a career change, studying for the GRE is an important way to prepare your strongest application to graduate school.

What Is the GRE Test?

GRE stands for Graduate Record Examinations, a standardized test that is often taken as part of the graduate admissions process in the U.S., Canada, and a few other countries. Educational Testing Service (ETS) owns and administers the exam. While graduate programs have different application criteria and not all of them require the GRE, it is one of the most popular graduate entrance exams. Some highly ranked law schools have started accepting the GRE instead of the traditional LSAT.

How Long Do You Need to Study for the GRE?

Since the GRE exam is a test of patterns and not facts, you can’t rely on memorization alone if you’re hoping to ace the exam. Instead, students need to devote months to studying various components of the exam if they’re looking to maximize their success. Typically, test-takers will need to devote between one and three months minimum to test prep if they want to perform well.

How to Study for the GRE: 4 Golden GRE Prep Tips

Preparing for the GRE can be a daunting prospect for many prospective graduate students, especially if it is the first standardized test they have taken in several years. When preparing for the GRE, it’s important to take the necessary steps to become familiar with the test and find ways to improve your score. Here’s how to prepare for the GRE.

1. Start With a Practice Test

Before developing your study plan, take an initial practice GRE to establish a baseline and research the minimum and/or average GRE scores of the institutions to which you are applying. Amassing some reliable test preparation materials is also important — the Official GRE Mentor course is developed by ETS to help you prepare. Kaplan and Magoosh also publish excellent GRE preparation materials that mimic the format and tone of the test. At IvyWise, we work with students to help them achieve their best possible score on the GRE, including guiding them through the practice test process.

2. Identify Areas of Growth

After taking your first sample practice test, review your answers. Can you identify any areas of growth? If your quantitative skills are not where they used to be (what even is a PEMDAS?) or if you are struggling with antediluvian (solid GRE word) vocabulary, make a note. For example, if you notice that your grasp of triangle geometry is not as strong as it was when you were in ninth grade and that the concept appeared in multiple questions, set that topic as your learning goal for a couple of hours of study. It can be tempting to practice everything all at once, especially if one section is giving you more trouble than the others, but having a more focused approach will make it easier for you to create a list of your challenges, set more manageable study goals, and track your own progress.

3. Learn the Question Types

The GRE contains three sections: analytical writing, verbal reasoning, and quantitative reasoning. Analytical reasoning will always be the first section of the exam, but the other two sections can appear in any order.

As you start to do more practice GRE problems, you will begin to recognize the different question types as soon as you see them. The sooner you are able to identify question types, the easier it will be to know exactly how to answer.

  • Analytical Writing: This section contains an “Analyze an Issue” task that requires you to think critically about an opinion that is presented on an issue and write a well-reasoned argument in response.
  • Verbal Reasoning: The text completion and sentence equivalence questions are fill-in-the-blank questions that heavily rely on your knowledge of vocabulary. “Pre-phrasing”, or anticipating an answer by thinking of a synonym, is an invaluable strategy for tackling these. On the other hand, reading comprehension questions come in multiple choice, multiple answers, or sentence selection varieties. These questions may require you to evaluate, strengthen, or weaken an argument, and necessitate close textual reading.
  • Quantitative Reasoning: This section contains quantitative comparison, multiple-choice, and numeric entry questions that require you use mathematical methods to find the correct response. Once you understand the problem and what you are being asked to solve, you must determine the best strategy for solving it. You can use the basic on-screen calculator to perform computations.

4. Watch the Clock

Timing on the GRE is everything. Until recently, the overall testing time for the GRE was nearly four hours. Now it’s just under two hours, so it’s important to get the pacing right. Completing timed practice sessions is a great way to do that.


Number of Questions


Analytical Writing One “Analyze an Issue” task 30 minutes
Verbal Reasoning Section 1: 12 questions
Section 2: 15 questions
Section 1: 18 minutes
Section 2: 23 minutes
Quantitative Reasoning Section 1: 12 questions
Section 2: 15 questions
Section 1: 21 minutes
Section 2: 26 minutes

The computer-based testing format allows you to skip questions and go back to change answers. Because of this, it is important to keep track of where you are in a section at all times. As all questions within a section are weighted equally, your goal should be to efficiently and accurately answer as many questions as possible.

Having a study plan with a minimum number of hours per week and sticking to it is essential for success on the GRE. Like any other standardized test, the more time you spend familiarizing yourself with the format of the test, the more likely it is you will improve. Don’t rush into this exam! Setting aside time to prepare for the test and employing strategies to do your best can only help your application — and your peace of mind.

How to Prepare for the GRE Effectively with IvyWise

If you’re looking to take your GRE test preparation to the next level, working one-on-one with an independent tutor can help. At IvyWise, we can help you make the most of your GRE prep by creating a customized test prep plan and guiding you through all areas of improvement. Call us today to learn how we can help you with GRE and grad school preparation.

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