How to Study for the GRE: An Expert’s Guide

Here’s How To Study For The GRE The Easy Way

The GRE remains an important step in the business and graduate school application process, and learning how to study for the GRE, an equally important step. The GRE, or Graduate Record Examination, has recently been revised to make it more of a flexible tool for both business schools and other graduate programs as a useful standardized test to measure applicant’s reasoning abilities. If you’re applying to an MBA program or similar graduate programs, chances are good that the school will request your GRE scores.

About the GRE

The GRE tests three areas of knowledge and skill:

  1. Verbal reasoning: This tests your ability to synthesize information, analyze verbal relationships and demonstrate your ability to recognize relationships among words, concepts and ideas.
  2. Quantitative reasoning: This section tests your mathematical abilities including problem-solving using arithmetic, geometry, and data analysis, the types of math used in business.
  3. Analytical writing: The analytical writing section evaluates critical thinking and analytical writing skills. You’ll be tested on your ability to articulate ideas clearly and support them in writing.

The test is taken by computer at a test center of your choice. There are over 1,000 test centers worldwide, and the test can be scheduled in advance. The verbal and quantitative sections are scored on a scale of 130 to 170, and the writing section is scored in half-point increments on a scale from 0 to 6. You can learn more about the test in our GRE Test Overview.

How to Study for the GRE

It’s possible to learn how to study for the GRE. Give yourself at least eight to twelve weeks of time before your test date to practice the test questions. Because the tests are administered on a rolling basis, there’s really no pressure to take the test by a certain date, except when you know you need to get your scores to a college by a cut-off date for admissions.

The following step-by-step guide can help you learn how to study for the GRE so that you get the best score you can.


Step 1: Take a practice test.

A practice test helps you get a baseline reading of your potential score. Once you’ve taken a practice test, you have a good idea of how much work lies ahead of you to bring your scores up. It also helps you identify areas of potential strength and weakness.

Step 2: Focus your initial efforts on areas of weakness.

It’s helpful to work first on your challenges. This gives you plenty of time to practice and learn the skills you need to overcome gaps in your knowledge or problems that are difficult for you.

Schedule at least several practice sessions per week, and focus the first two weeks on the areas of greatest weakness. For those who struggle with math, review formulas and equations related to the GRE. For those who struggle with verbal skills, make up flash cards, read challenging text, and continue practicing with your chosen GRE prep materials.

Step 3: Learn some tricks for the GRE

Normally tricks don’t work well on standardized tests. For the GRE, however, there are a few tricks or tips that can help you improve your scores. For example, the GRE doesn’t penalize you for skipping questions. Skip any that are confusing or taking you too long to answer. There is also a ‘mark and review’ feature on the test that lets you flag questions you wish to return to. This is helpful if you have extra time on the test and would like to return to a question.

No question carries more weight than another, so it’s okay to work through the test as quickly as you can.

Step 4: Practice the writing section.

The writing sections allow you to demonstrate your ability to craft a clear, cogent and rational argument to support your points. You have only 30 minutes to read the question and compose your answer. You’ll need to think quickly and be able to outline in your head or on scratch paper the general outline of your essay. Then within half an hour, you’ll need to compose the essay.

Your writing section doesn’t need to be perfect. The testing company knows that you didn’t have time to polish the draft as carefully as you may like. Focus on crafting your argument and demonstrating your analytical skills, which are what business schools want to see from their applicants.

Step 5: Take timed practice tests right up until the test day.

After focusing on each section of the test during your study periods, it’s time to put it all together by taking full-length, complete practice tests. The last two weeks before the test date, take as many full-length tests as you can. Keep notes on the questions you get wrong and examine them for a pattern. This may lead you to ideas about areas you still need to study for the best score you can get.

The night before the test, put aside your books. Don’t try to study more, thinking you can cram before the GRE. If you’ve done your best to prepare using the time you had, then you should do well on the test.

Can You Retake the GRE?

If despite your best efforts you didn’t receive a great score on the GRE, you can take it again. The testing company allows you to take the test up to 5 times during the year, but you must wait an interval of 21 days before taking the test again from the last test date.

The GRE offers Score Select. This means that you can choose which test administration scores to send to the schools on your list. You can send your latest scores, or a score from a recent administration. Because you can choose which scores to send, it may be worthwhile to retake the GRE if you didn’t score well the first time around.

Should You Take a Test Prep Class?

Companies such as Kaplan and The Princeton Review made a big point to recommend test prep classes, including classes for the GRE. If you’ve found that standardized tests are hard for you to take, or you get so nervous on test day that you never score well, then a class may be a good way to prepare for the GRE. In a class, you can get personal attention and learn all sorts of techniques for time management and more.

Keep in mind that the GRE allows you to take up to five administrations of the test each year. If you don’t do well the first time, you have several other opportunities throughout the year to retake the test. Your time may be better spent learning how to study for the GRE rather than on test prep courses if you simply need to brush up on your vocabulary or equations to improve your score.

Preparing for the GRE: Resources

There are many resources online to help you prepare for the GRE and to learn how to study for the GRE. These include:

  • TestPrepPlace: We have sample GRE questions to get you started. Check them out here.
  • ETS/GRE: ETS is the official website for the GRE. The testing organization has put together a lengthy list of books, software, and online resources to help you prepare for the GRE. Some of the materials are free, while others are available for a price.
  • Kaplan: Kaplan test prep offers both classes and study materials. Classes are live (in person) at Kaplan testing centers, available online, or available from a private tutor. Additional resources include study guides, software and online tests.
  • The Princeton Review: Like Kaplan, The Princeton Review also offers in person classes, online classes, tutoring and many self-paced resources. Books, software, and free sample tests are available through their website.

How to study for the GRE isn’t complicated, but it does take diligence and practice. The skills you demonstrate on the GRE are important skills you’ll need to be successful in business. Make the most of your GRE study time to do the very best that you can.