How To Prepare for the GRE: Four Essential Things You Need

Train your brain!

A friend of mine is planning on taking the GRE in July. Having been out of school for a little while, he’s worried that his test-taking and studying skills have eroded away a bit, and he’s been asking me what he should be doing to prepare. I could see that the GRE is overwhelming him a little, like I’m sure it is for many people, so I broke it down for him into four simple tips. Here are the four things that are absolutely essential to any preparation routine for the GRE.

1. Study Guides
Nobody can do well on a test if they don’t know what topics are on it. A study guide, like the ETS’ official GRE study guide, Practicing to Take the GRE General Test (10th Edition), will tell you exactly what you need to know for the exam. If you don’t thoroughly understand what topics you need to know for the GRE, you are doing yourself a huge disservice. Paring down your pool of topics is important in saving time and understanding how to solve problems on the test itself. In the context of standardized tests, there is such a thing as knowing too much.

2. Practice Exams
Get your hands dirty! Familiarity with the GRE format and question types is another important key to success. Practice may not make perfect, but practice will make prepared! Preparation is the first step in achieving perfection! (OK, now I’m just making up my own adages.)  The goal here is not just to “do the problems.” The goal is to gain familiarity with how the GRE frames certain topics within the context of a question. On the day of your GRE, you want to look at a problem and be able to immediately say, “Oh, I know what this problem is asking me about! I have seen many problems that have been stated in a similar manner, and I know what concept I need to use to solve it!” Of course, you probably won’t actually say that, but you get the idea.

3. Motivation
Don’t forget this one! It’s easy to lose sight of why you are taking the GRE. It sort of becomes this horrible monster that follows you around, poking you every few minutes, saying, “FEED ME!” It can be tempting to treat it like an annoying sibling by ignoring it or hoping it will go away, but it won’t! You are taking the GRE to get into graduate school. Remember graduate school? Remember how much you love [insert your area of interest here]? Remember what motivated you to go to graduate school in the first place? Remember all that? You’re taking the GRE so that you can achieve something much greater than just a number on a piece of paper. Don’t forget that, and stay motivated!

4. Time
Some people will need a lot of time to study; some people will only need a little. This is the reality. Only you know how much time you need and how much time you have. Planning takes up time, too! It’s tempting to think to yourself, “well, I can sign up for the GRE whenever, so I’ll just do it later.” Horrible idea! First of all, this train of thought will only lead to more and more procrastination, until you realize that you’ve run out of time and need to take it, oh I don’t know, in three days! Second, the window is closing on the current GRE, and people will be flocking to the Prometric testing centers to take the test before the upcoming changes in August, so sign up ASAP!

5. GRE Test Prep
This is, of course, optional, but remember that there are companies out there like Testmasters who make it their business and livelihood to know and beat standardized tests. They aren’t just teachers; they’re not just trying to teach you concepts. They’re trying to teach you how to beat the tests too. Would you rely on your high school gym teacher to prepare you for the Olympics?

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