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Preparation tips for the GRE General Test

Updated on May 11, 2011

If you are interested in enrolling in a graduate degree program in the United States, you may be aware that most applications must be accompanied by a GRE (Graduate Record Exam) score.

Most colleges and business schools throughout America use GRE scores as one of the determinants when assessing the readiness of applicants for graduate level work.

The GRE General Test is offered year-round at many computer-based test centers throughout the world. Paper- based test centers are available in locations where computer-based testing is not offered.

The GRE General test comprises three parts:

  • Quantitative reasoning
  • Verbal reasoning
  • Analytical writing

If well prepared, students may find all three sections to be very manageable. However, students usually have an inclination towards either the social sciences or the natural/ mathematical sciences, and many times their areas of expertise are reflected in their GRE scores. Students with strong backgrounds in the social sciences usually find the Quantitative reasoning section to be more challenging, and students with strong scientific/ mathematical backgrounds find the Verbal reasoning and Analytic writing sections to be more difficult.

Despite your background, your strengths or your weaknesses, it is very possible to score well in all of three sections of the GRE General test. This article will help you to thoroughly prepare for the GRE General examination, and will assist you in achieving your best possible score at the GRE General exam.

Fundamental Preparation

1. Go to the ETS GRE General Test website and familiarize yourself with the contents of the site. This will give you a general idea of what the exam entails.

On the ETS GRE site, you will find the following:

2. Upon reading the contents of the ETS GRE General website, you will realize that you have actually been preparing for the GRE exam since high school. Many of the mathematical concepts and the vocabulary words that appear in the test would have been introduced to you at the high school level.

At this point the following will be necessary:

  • You will need to become fully aware of all the math topics that will appear on the test
  • You will need to think of resources for expanding your vocabulary
  • You will need to begin reading (new content) articles as often as you can, while assimilating the content as quickly as you can
  • You will need to gather resources that will allow you to do as many GRE General Practice tests as you can before the actual test
  • You will need to familiarize yourself with the pool of topics that the ETS website provides for the Analytical section of the GRE General exam

3. Download all the preparation materials that the ETS GRE General site has to offer. These materials are available to anyone who visits the ETS GRE General site, not just applicants for the exam.

The following are available for download:

4. Get a copy of the priced GRE General Test preparation materials that are available of the website:

5. If at this point you do not think that you will be able to prepare for the GRE General Test on your own accord, you should seek professional help from an experienced tutor. GRE tutors are available both online and offline.

Core Preparation

Your core preparation should begin at least six months before your exam. You can sign up for the exam at the ETS GRE General Test site.

1. Go through as much of the ETS GRE downloaded material as you can, and via the Powerprep, get an honest assessment of yourself.

Based on your initial scores you should have an idea of your weak areas and your strong areas. You should make a note of them. As a matter of fact, throughout your preparation you should have a notebook specifically for writing down problematic areas that require special attention. You should make a note of all of the mathematical concepts that you fail to remember or have not yet learnt; and all of the vocabulary that you encounter that you do not know the meaning of. You should try to address your problems immediately if you can. Do not wait for just before the exam to try to cram new words or concepts.


2. Verbal Reasoning

The Verbal reasoning part of the exam has two sections. Each section is 30 minutes long and has 38 questions. Each section contains the following

  • Antonyms
  • Analogies
  • Sentence completions
  • Reading comprehension questions

The best way to score high in the Antonyms, Analogies and Sentence Completions sections is to learn as many vocabulary words as you can before the exam, and to do as many examples before the exam as you can.

  • I have found the GRE Kaplan Exam Vocabulary in a box to be an excellent set of base vocabulary words.
  • I have also found the list of 5000 collegiate words to be the most thorough list I have come across. You should try to learn as many of these words as possible.

The Antonyms section is pretty straight forward, but the Analogies and the Sentence Completion sections require a lot of practice for you to begin to develop the skill for answering them correctly.

You should always view all of your choices before answering these questions, as you are not looking for an answer that may seem plausible, but always the most suitable answer.

For the Reading Comprehension, time will be your greatest enemy. Not only do you have to assimilate the content of the reading passage, but you are also required to choose the most suitable answer for any given question. To help with this you should just practice picking up random books or articles and reading paragraphs as quickly as you can, while trying to grasp key points along the way.

You can get additional help with the Verbal Reasoning Section from the practice tests in the following books:

  • Cracking the GRE with DVD
  • Barron’s new GRE with CD- ROM

3. Quantitative Reasoning

The Quantitative Reasoning part of the GRE General test has two sections. Each section is 30 minutes long and has 30 questions.

Each section of the Quantitative Reasoning part of the test contains the following type questions:

  • Quantitative comparison questions
  • Problem Solving- Discrete quantitative questions
  • Problem Solving- Data interpretation questions

The Math review on the ETS GRE General Test Website gives an account of all of the concepts that you will need to know for the Quantitative Reasoning section. While practicing for the test, you may come across additional conversions (e.g. from yards to miles) that may not be in the Math Review. You should take a note all of the additional conversions and concepts that you come across while practicing, and ensure that you master them before the exam.

Since you have just about one minute to answer each question in the Quantitative section, you should note that the testing room is not the place to waste time while trying to recall a concept, formula or conversion. These should all be at your finger tips. The tesing room should be a place just for calculations and question interpretation.

You can get additional help with the Quantitative Reasoning section from the practice tests in the following books:

  • Cracking the GRE with DVD
  • Barron’s new GRE with CD- ROM

4. Analytical Writing

The Analytical Writing section of the test requires test takers to write on one “issue” topic (45 minutes) and one “argument” topic (30 minutes).

It is important that you prepare for this section just as much as any other section of the GRE General test. The GRE General Test practice book will give you information on all that you need to know about this section.

Although there are no specifically correct answers to this section, it requires just as much attention as the other sections if you will like to earn a high score. In preparation for this section you should view the entire pool of topics from which your test topics will be selected, for both the “Issue” and the “Argument” Analytical sections. You should research as many of these topics as you can and practice writing on both the Issue and Argumentative topics as frequently as you are able to.

You can view the entire pool of “Issue” and the “Argument” topics on the ETS GRE General Test site.

Apart from having knowledge of the topics, when preparing for the Analytical Writing section, there are some more important factors that you should pay close attention:

  • Accurate spelling of words
  • Accurate use of grammar and punctuation

Note: There is no spell check or grammar check available for this section (As Microsoft Word offers)

Test takers will be heavily penalized if they submit their responses to the Analytical Writing section with inaccurate spelling and grammar.

When you think you have achieved the level of writing for the Analytical Writing section that you are happy with, you should have a qualified professional comment and give you tips on your writing style, content, grammar use and spelling.

To gain high marks in this section, test takers should submit a level of writing that is:

  • Strong in content
  • Free of spelling and grammatical errors
  • Beyond that of a High School Student (your writing should display that you have a broad vocabulary base and that you have a logical flow of thought)
  • In concordance with the question being asked
  • Well organized with an introduction that flows into a body and then a conclusion

To help prepare you for the Analytical Writing section, you should read as many perfectly scored sample answers as you can.

Final Preparation

After the core preparation for the GRE General Test, you should be comfortable with taking the actual exam. If you still have a few problem areas during the week before the exam, you should iron them out before the day of the exam. You should have a set of index cards on which you make note of the areas that still pose a problem to you, and scratch them off as you address each problem. You may also make a list of all the vocabulary words that prove to be stubborn, and take that list with you wherever you go.

Professionals predict that your score on the actual day will be +/- 50 points of the average score that you make in each of the verbal and quantitative sections during your final week of preparation and practice testing.

The scores reported on the General Test are:

You should aim for 750 and above in each of the Quantitive and Verbal Sections, and 5 and above in the Analytical Writing section.

It is extremely important that you are well prepared for the exam so that you enter the room in a relaxed frame of mind. You should never wait until last minute to do any core preparation for such an important exam.

On the night before the exam you should check for all of your required documentation, and place them in a location where there will be readily accessible. On the night before the exam you should also get at least eight hours of sleep so that your concentration levels during the exam will be optimal. Your exam may be in the morning or the afternoon depending on how you scheduled your time. You should ensure that you have a proper meal at least one hour before the exam commences.

I hope this article has helped you with your GRE preparation. Once you have read this article, it is up to you to do the necessary work to obtain a good score that will place you in your Master’s Program of choice.

Best of luck to you on your GRE General Test and give it your best shot!


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    • profile image

      Jackmc1047 4 years ago

      This website had taken the entire pool of GRE Analytical Writing topics, removed all duplicate topics, and sorted them by how likely they are to appear on your test. Check it out. It's pretty helpful.

    • profile image

      sara 5 years ago

      significant information of GRE

    • magoosh profile image

      magoosh 5 years ago from Berkeley, CA

      Nice comprehensive post! If you get a chance, you may want to update it, because the GRE underwent some significant changes in August of 2011. For example, the test no longer has Antonyms or Analogies.

    • gis_r07 profile image

      gis_r07 6 years ago from Boston, MA

      Thanks for stopping by HPR. I did the GRE some years back. It can be quite trying; so I thought I would share some of what I learnt along the way.

    • H P Roychoudhury profile image

      H P Roychoudhury 6 years ago from Guwahati, India

      The hub supplied useful information.

    • gis_r07 profile image

      gis_r07 6 years ago from Boston, MA

      Thanks for stopping by RBrendan. You must be taking the Subject GRE and not the General GRE test. Good luck on your exam!

    • RedmanBrendan profile image

      RedmanBrendan 6 years ago from Dallas, Texas

      Bookmarked and voted up, I have to take my GRE in a few months, ah particle physics.