There are many different ways to study for the GRE. But most GRE prep classes, GRE prep courses, and GRE tutors have the following 5 step process in common:
- Invest in some type of test prep material that is clear and easy to understand. Nowadays, there are more than 10 high quality options for almost every standardized test. Your chosen GRE prep materials should include:
- Descriptions of the major areas of the GRE
- Key concepts being tested in each area
- GRE testing strategies
- Several full length GRE practice tests
- Lots of practice GRE problems
- Complete a diagnostic test to understand strengths and weaknesses before you really start studying
- Plan in advance regular study time each week AND what you’ll review during each week
- Complete lots of actual practice problems, covering all of the major conceptual areas of the test
- Complete at least 5 different practice tests, and ensure your score is increasing each time.
However, beyond that generic plan, a customized approach based on the starting point of each individual student can truly increase GRE scores. For example, here was our approach with one particular student:
One Customized Approach
Student was doing well with the quantitative sections of the GRE, but needed to improve verbal and writing scores dramatically. His objective was to get admitted into top graduate school programs, which required GRE scores in the 90th percentile or better.
(1) Designed a study plan for GRE vocabulary
(2) Intensive student-specific preparation created to help the student maximize success for questions where he was familiar with words or phrases
(3) Direct observation of timed testing sections, to help improve time management and manage stress/frustration.
We observed significant increase in GRE verbal score on second test date, with stated improved confidence, time management, and ability to overcome challenges during the test.
You can read a full case study on our approach with this particular GRE test-taker (coming soon).
How To Customize a Study Plan?
Developing a customized GRE study plan doesn’t need to be difficult. The first step is simply identifying where you are strong vs. weak. If your percentile score in GRE Quant is 85th percentile (meaning you scored better than 85 out of 100 GRE test takers on your practice GRE), but your GRE Verbal score is 50th percentile, then you should consider layering in an extra week or two of GRE Verbal prep. If necessary, that may mean investing in additional test prep materials focused on whatever section you need extra help in. Just keep doing extra practice and reviewing problems you miss.
However, you do need to keep monitoring your performance across all sections as your test prep process progresses towards your test date. We’ve seen many students who are apparently very strong in verbal but weak in math spend 2 months straight focusing on improving their math score. Sure enough, come test day, their math score is much better. However, lo and behold, now their verbal score is much worse.
Why did this happen? Well, even if you are very good at GRE-verbal, you need to keep the concepts and the problem types fresh in your mind. You can easily make a bunch of small errors, even though you know the main concepts pretty well, and end up bombing the actual test due to those small errors piling up.
Like any standardized test, the GRE can be mastered with intelligent, careful practice that starts with basic test taking study plan development and strategy, and layers on a customized approach based on any given student’s starting point, strengths, and weaknesses. With a calm, steady, planned approach to studying for the GRE, most students observe significant improvement, regardless of the specific prep strategy they chose: GRE class, self-study, or private GRE tutor.
What are your experiences studying for the GRE?