Tips for Surviving the GRE


Graphic by Soo-Jin Sung

Blake Roberts, Staff Writer

As juniors and seniors in college, it’s easy to forget the stresses and struggles of standardized testing. For most of us, tests like the SAT and ACT are a thing of the past, but for the insane few who want to go on to graduate school, there’s another three-letter test looming on the horizon: the GRE.

The Graduate Record Examinations General Test (or GRE for short) is one of the essential parts of many graduate schools’ applications, for both Masters and PhD programs. It’s made up of three sections: Verbal Reasoning, Quantitative Reasoning, and Analytical Writing. But what exactly does any of that mean?

In plainer terms, it’s an English, math and essay section, similar to the SAT. The English section focuses on vocabulary and analyzing arguments; the math section ranges from arithmetic, geometry and data interpretation. The essay question involves making an argument on a specific topic, and then critiquing a provided argument.

So how exactly do you prepare for this test? The ETS, which administers the test, provides a free practice test and a 100-page math review for students. While helpful, students may feel they need more. So what to do?

  • Purchase a workbook for both Verbal and Quantitative Reasoning sections. Unfortunately, to be fully prepared for the GRE, students will have to spend a little bit of money. The GRE itself is already $200; why not spend $15 more to increase your chance of not having to take it again (and spend another $200)? These workbooks, usually over 500 pages long, can be found at any bookstore. A tip: when solving practice problems, record your work and answers in a separate notebook. That way, you can re-use the workbook for future study
  • Students shouldn’t undervalue free resources, though. Vocabulary questions make up at least 1/3 of the Verbal Reasoning Section. To study for this, one can find dozens of GRE vocabulary flash card sets on the app Quizlet. It’s free and offers a variety of different ways to study.
  • Manage your time wisely, unlike me. Everyone says it, but that’s because its true. Most grad schools require applicants to submit their scores by November 1. If you register to take the GRE in October, don’t wait until mid-September to start studying. If you do, and you’re anything like me, every moment you’re not studying will feel like time wasted. By starting your studying earlier, there will be less stress and guilt.
  • Don’t underestimate or overestimate your readiness. Just because you got good grades in all your English classes doesn’t mean you can ace the Verbal Reasoning section without studying (unless “grandiloquent” or “chicanery” are words you use often). But on the other hand, just because you’ve been weak on math in the past doesn’t mean you’re doomed to a low math score.
  • Realize that the GRE is not as important for your application as other standardized tests (like the LSAT). Don’t get me wrong; the GRE is certainly an important aspect of your application. But for graduate schools, your letter of purpose, writing sample and letters of recommendation are much more important, unlike law school. Don’t let your studying for the GRE interfere with the other aspects of your application.

Applying for graduate school can be a daunting task, especially for seniors scrambling to work on capstones or find housing. The GRE is simply another standardized test, just like the SAT. For more information about the GRE and graduate school more broadly, check out Dr. Lance’s graduate school seminar on Monday, Oct. 3 at 4:30 pm in HP 207.