Young Asian scholar woman reading a book

Focus on English Skills to Master the GRE

International students looking to attend a U.S. graduate school often find language the biggest barrier to success on the GRE. 

Young Asian scholar woman reading a book

Focus on developing your English comprehension and vocabulary, rather than subject matter, in order to find success on the GRE.

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The GRE is one of the most important and widely-accepted tests that U.S. graduate schools use as part of their application process. If you are interested in graduate studies, taking the exam – and getting a good score – can be of great help.

However, since the test focuses more on comprehension of context and reading ability rather than one’s knowledge of facts or a specific subject, international students whose first language is not English often find themselves struggling with the language more than anything else when it comes to preparing and taking the exam.

As an international student, I found that the best way to enhance your reading skills as part of preparing to take the GRE was by reading in English extensively. That means reading not only academic papers and your course textbooks, but also the daily news, pieces in magazines and even celebrity gossip websites.

[Here are five ways international students can improve conversational English.]

The reading passages on the GRE are rarely challenging in an academic sense, so the expertise you have through one or two majors is not enough to make you ready to take the exam. By reading consistently and widely in English and making the effort to immerse yourself in the language, will you be able to more easily read and get a comprehensive understanding of the material on the GRE.

Another difficulty many international students need to tackle during their GRE preparation is expanding their vocabulary. Memorizing the dictionary may not be the most practical idea, so try consciously taking note of unfamiliar words you run into while reading and keep track of those new terms. Besides, a large vocabulary can be extremely helpful for international students when it comes to writing in English – another skill need to demonstrate on the GRE.

[Get more tips to prepare for the GRE as an international student.]

International students can take advantage of summer to join preparation classes in order to gain more insight into the GRE. Many universities have their own test centers and frequently schools offer discounts for their students on preparation courses.

There are other resources online that students can take advantage of. You can even take sample tests to get a better understanding of where your strength and weakness lie.

If you still have plenty of time, the best long-term preparation for not only the GRE, but also for your graduate school career, is taking a wide range of general requirement classes. Most international students I know tend to avoid these courses until their last few semesters just to fulfill their graduation requirements; however, they can vastly expand your knowledge on different subjects that can sometimes show up on a GRE.

[Learn more about studying at a U.S. graduate school.]

A friend of mine recently took a music appreciation class out of pure interest and told me that she encountered an article on a similar topic during her GRE test.

In addition to the general test, one can also take a GRE subject test to further prove one's knowledge in disciplines such as mathematics, physics, chemistry and biology.