My study tips and tricks for giving your best shot at the GRE!
Disclaimer: everything I state in this article is my own opinion, and I have not been paid to promote any services.
I am Vibha Masti, a Master’s student at Carnegie Mellon University (at the time of writing this post). In 2022, I decided to start the long, arduous journey of preparing my grad school applications. I had set quite ambitious goals for myself, and I wanted to maximize my chances by scoring well on the GRE. I ended up scoring a 334 (170 Quant, 164 Verbal, 3.5 AWA). Overall, I spent about 2 months preparing for the GRE, with math/flashcards on my commute, and more focused study on the weekends.
About the GRE
The GRE (Graduate Record Examinations) is a test administered by ETS. Most US universities require you to submit a GRE score as a part of their STEM Master’s/PhD applications. If you are writing the GRE on or after September 22nd 2023, the length of the exam will be reduced from around 3 hours 45 minutes to 1 hour 58 minutes!
Old Pattern (Before September 22, 2023)
New Pattern (On or After September 22, 2023)
Scoring and Difficulty
Your GRE scores are calculated based on your percentile. You are scored separately for each section type — Quantitative (/170), Verbal (/170), and AWA (/6). There is no direct mapping between percentile and score, but you can get an idea by checking the latest stats from ETS or by watching Greg Mat’s video on this:
The GRE follows an adaptive difficulty strategy, meaning that if you score well on one section of a certain type (quant/verbal), your next section of the same type will have a higher difficulty. That means, if you do well on the first quant section, your next quant section will be a bit harder.
Your quant and verbal scores will be available as soon as you finish the test. At the end of the test, you will have the option to send 4 free scores to any 4 universities of your choice. Be sure to do your research beforehand and make a mental note of the universities you want to submit to. Every additonal score report costs $27 to send, so bear that in mind.
Preparation for Quantitative Reasoning
If you are applying for a STEM degree, chances are your quant score matters quite a bit more than your verbal score. My advice: do not dismiss quant thinking that it will be easy — it is very easy to lose out by making silly mistakes.
To prepare for quant, I purchased Magoosh’s 6-month Premium online course for $129 and followed the beginner’s study plan with mock quizzes. I found that consistency helped me more than bursts of productivity, so I practiced for 1 hour everyday during my commute to work. I found Magoosh’s videos on math tricks to be quite helpful while preparing and I ended up using some of the tricks during the exam.
Preparation for Verbal Reasoning
Studying for the Verbal section took me a bit more work. A lot of the words that I encountered were very new to me, so the first step I would recommend is working on building your vocabulary.
During my commute back home (yes, the traffic in my city is really bad), I tried to improve my vocabulary with the GRE Vocabulary Flashcards app (iOS/Android). I set out to finish all the Common Words and practiced them daily. In parallel, I was also reading Word Power Made Easy by Norman Lewis, which is a book I would recommend to everyone preparing for the GRE. With this book, I did not need to memorize words from the flashcards as I could understand the roots of these words. I also used the Etymonline app to help me understand the roots of new words I encountered in the flashcards.
In addition to the above free resources, I also used the Magoosh beginner’s study plan and did mock quizzes.
Preparation for Analytical Writing
My only preparation for the Analytical section was looking at the Magoosh AWA mock sections and videos, along with ETS’s official guide. I tried to grade myself using the rubric shown, but did not focus too much effort on this. I only wanted to score a 3+ on AWA, as it is not given as much importance as Quant and Verbal. In my opinion, if you score less than a 3, it is not a good sign, but scoring a 5 or 6 is not necessary.
The best way to prepare for the test, after enough learning and practice, is to take mock tests. The Magoosh Premium plan comes with 3 mock tests, ETS provides 2 free tests called PowerPrep Online, and Manhattan prep provides 1 free test and 6 additional tests for $49. I practiced first with the Magoosh tests and free Manhattan Prep tests, and did the 2 ETS mock tests closest to my actual exam.
In the weeks leading up to my GRE, I tried to practice as many mock tests as I could. The level of difficulty may not be exactly the same, so do not expect to score the exact score in the real exam, but most these tests give you a good estimate.
Note on quant: getting a 170 means you have room for almost no wrong answers! So try to focus as much as you can on doing well in quant, as hitting a 170 on quant is much easier than doing that for verbal (in my opinion).
- For STEM degrees, do not neglect quant
- Understand the pattern and scoring as well as you can
- Choose 4 universities to send your score to
- Quant resources: Magoosh Premium ($129 for 6 months), Greg Mat, 5lb book
- Verbal resources: Word Power Made Easy, GRE Flashcards App, Magoosh Premium, Etymonline
- AWA resources: Magoosh Premium AWA mock sections, ETS official guide
- Mock tests: ETS (2 free), Manhattan prep (1 free + 6 additional for $49), Magoosh Premium (3 included)
Good luck! Don’t stress out about this, and trust the process. You are never too late to start preparing!