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Test Prep: 6 Tips for GRE Success

Need help mastering the GRE? These tips may help you tackle the test.

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A student looks at her tablet in the school library.

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Another option for building critical thinking that's a little easier on the checkbook is using the free resources on the Educational Testing Services (ETS) website. Sample questions and essay responses, advice, and scoring guides are available online from the folks who created the GRE.

4. Take a practice test! While your vocabulary may be impeccable, your writing skills polished, and your quantitative abilities sharpened to a razor's edge, none of that matters if you're unaccustomed to the test's unconventional format.

"To walk into this test unprepared, to sit down [and take it] having never done it before is suicide," notes Neill Seltzer, national GRE content director for the Princeton Review.

Educational Testing Service, the Princeton Review, and Kaplan all have free computer adaptive tests online that help simulate what is a foreign experience to many.

"It's different from the SAT, and that really threw me off the first time," says Amy Trongnetrpunya, who earned a perfect score on the quantitative section of the GRE after scoring poorly on her first try. "The computer-adaptive practice exam really helped."

[Read tips on getting into various business schools with our B-School Admissions Q&As.]

5. Don't like your score? Take it again: Schools have access to any GRE scores for tests you've taken in the last five years, but experts claim that many universities only care about the best one. While this isn't true for all schools and all programs, many universities pull the highest scores from the GRE ticket they receive from ETS. The admissions officials (and sometimes work-study students) who receive the tickets are the first line of defense, and oftentimes, they record only the top score when they're compiling your file before sending it up the admissions food chain.

"Even though ETS will report every score, the person reading that file and making the admissions decision may only see the highest math and highest verbal," says Seltzer.

6. Take a tough English course: Even if you aren't an English major and don't plan on writing the next great American novel, honing your writing skills is integral to overall success on the GRE. The two essays in the analytical section take up roughly one third of the time test takers are allotted. Some testing experts argue that near the end of college you should take a high-level English or writing course.

While enduring a high-level writing course might put a small dent in the GPA (and ego) of non-English majors, it is an immense help when it's time to crank out two timed essays on the pressure-packed GRE.

"I would emphasize taking a few rigorous English and writing college courses, in addition to test prep, to best prepare yourself for the caliber of questions you'll find on the GRE," says Alexis Avila, founder and president of Prepped & Polished, a Boston area-based college counseling and tutoring firm.

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Corrected 5/1/12: An earlier version of this article misidentified Kaplan Test Prep. The cost of Kaplan’s on-site classes has also been clarified.
Corrected 5/9/12: An earlier version of this story misstated the scoring scales. The section-based difficulty of the verbal and analytical reasoning questions has also been clarified.