The Ultimate Self-Prep GRE Guide
You’ve decided you want to give the GRE, and you’re determined to give it on your own – As someone who scored a 335 without classes, I can tell you that these are two great decisions, you’re already off to a good start! However, much like any other exam, the GRE takes careful planning, tons of practice and dedication to crack. So, where do you begin?
- Make a Timeline:
Understand when you want to give the GRE. Studying for the exam takes anywhere between 1 to 3 months, so decide on an approximate date and backtrack from there to form your timeline. Be realistic and account for exams, coursework and work commitments. If you’re in college, we recommend giving it in your third year so you can focus purely on your applications in the final year. Remember – the GRE is valid for 5 years, so even if you plan on gaining work experience before your Masters, it always helps to finish off this hurdle since you likely won’t find time for this once you start working.
- Set a Goal:
A great place to start is by looking at the average GRE score of admitted students in your dream universities. At a minimum, this should be your benchmark. You don’t want your GRE to ever be the reason you lose out on a great university. Do the research and set a goal for yourself. This will be the difference between doing well and killing it when it comes to the GRE!
- Know your Weakness:
The best way to start is by taking a diagnostic test, tons of which are available freely on the internet. Chances are, if you haven’t been an avid reader since your childhood, the Verbal section will be a little tricky. Understand where you need to focus on, this will be vital when you allot time for studying per your timeline. A simple Google search should be able to point you to some helpful sites.
- Don’t Ignore the Basics:
Take time to go over the core fundamentals – especially in the Quantitative section. The sooner you complete this step, the quicker will you be able to dive into practice. As for the Verbal section, start reading as soon as the thought of giving the GRE crosses your mind. Start with anything, newspapers even, because this will develop your ability to understand meanings of words based on context clues – a tactic you will definitely employ when giving the GRE.
Resources for brushing up on the basics:
For the Quantitative section:
For the Verbal section:
There is no golden number for the number of words you must know to be best prepared for the exam – the more, the merrier! It is more crucial to know the applications of words than simply the meanings so practice words accordingly.
- Practice, Practice and Practice:
There are a lot of books out there today to help with practicing both Quant and Verbal problems. Practicing improves your speed and accuracy, a combination you need to master to score well in the GRE. Therefore, a majority of your timeline should be spent on this step. The one book that I believe is the most helpful for preparing for the GRE is Manhattan 5lb. Solve this book in its entirety – twice, if you need it! I have not come across any other book that better prepares you for the exam. That being said, you should be utilizing multiple resources to understand the different types of questions you can encounter.
Books for Practicing Problems:
- Manhattan 5lb (Without a doubt!)
- Princeton’s 1014 Practice Questions
- Kaplan’s GRE Prep
- Barron’s GRE
- Nova’s GRE Math Bible
- Princeton’s Cracking the New GRE
- Test Yourself:
The best way to understand your readiness for the final step is by giving multiple practice tests – this should be right at the end of your timeline. Don’t waste time on any tests unless you are fully prepared and have practiced adequately. For tests as well, there are multiple online sources – feel free to explore and test repeatedly until you feel confident. Remember to note your score over time to see what concepts you need some more practice in.
Resources for Practice Tests:
- Kaplan’s 10 Quant and Verbal Sets
- Barron’s Testing Software
- Manhattan’s Online Practice Test
- Princeton’s Practice Test
- Kaplan’s Online Practice Test
- McGraw Hill’s Practice Tests
The final step before GRE is to give the two practice tests available on the ETS website. These are the closest to the real deal so remember to give them a few days apart at the very end of your timeline and examine the results closely. If they are not in the range you want your score to be in, go back and practice more!
- Don’t Forget about the AWA Section:
AWA is a tool many universities use to gauge how well you are able to convey your thoughts on paper – this also reflects in your SOP and other documents. Practice your AWA section well. More often than not, students find themselves in a race against time in this section. A good AWA score is not enough to get you an admit, but a bad one is definitely going to go against you. Share your AWA practices with your friends and seniors for review and incorporate the feedback you receive.
Resources for the AWA section:
- Book that Date!
Go ahead and mark your calendar for the exam any time during your timeline that you feel confident. You’ll never feel 100% prepared, because you really can’t be, but as long as you are in the GRE mode and have put sufficient practice behind you, book the date on the ETS website.
In the world of competitive exams, the GRE is comparatively easy. That being said, it is necessary to be diligent in your preparation and sincere in your practice. The more practice you do, the higher your chances at achieving the score you want!
Best of luck to everyone giving the GRE!