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    GRE Prep: What You Need to Know

    February 21, 2021 | Staff Writers

    GRE Prep
    Degree Finder
    BestValueSchools.org is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

    If you’re planning to attend grad school, you’ve likely heard of the GRE. While some schools require no GRE test for admission, most schools in the United States require it. The GRE is a standardized ranking system that measures the general competence of students.

    Though there has been criticism of the GRE in recent years, and an increasing number of schools are beginning to waive it as an entrance requirement, the GRE is still an important part of most people’s pursuit of graduate school. 

    The GRE can be a scary thing. It is a universalized test that does not account for your field of study. Instead, everyone is judged by the same criteria. For people with little familiarity with a certain subject, this can be a little overwhelming. However, the GRE is intended to serve as a demonstration of the cumulative total of your education. As a result, you’ve already done the hard part. With preparation, the GRE does not need to be quite as daunting. 

    To help you out, we’ve put together a guide to GRE preparation that begins with a brief overview of the GRE itself. We then go into a breakdown of study methods, prep tests, and what type of prep course is best for this exam.

    We’ll help you figure out some of the best ways to prepare for this exam by pointing out the free, accessible, and best options for getting ready to take the GRE. 

    First, let’s take a look at what this assessment is.

    What Is The GRE?

    The short answer is that the GRE is a big test designed to measure your knowledge.

    The long answer is that the Graduate Record Examination, or GRE exam, is a general test used in the admissions process for most grad schools in the United States. It is also used by a few Canadian grad schools, though most schools in Canada do not require applicants to complete it. 

    The GRE is created and administered by a non-profit organization called the Educational Testing Service, or ETS. ETS has administered the GRE since 1947, but the test was created about a decade earlier by the Carnegie Foundation. The Carnegie Foundation is one of the largest philanthropic organizations in the world, and it dedicates much of its resources to education efforts.

    Depending upon the school in question, how important the GRE is to the application and admissions process differs. Some schools put a lot of weight on GRE scores, while others view it almost as a formality. For the most part, however, the GRE is used competitively when deciding between multiple applicants for the same program.

    The GRE essentially focuses on three areas: analytical writing, verbal reasoning, and quantitative reasoning. These sections are intended to demonstrate the student’s overall critical thinking skills. The GRE includes an assessment of vocabulary, algebra, geometry, and arithmetic. 

    Students can take the GRE in a computerized form or a paper form. Though the paper form was historically the most common, paper testing is offered as frequently as the computerized assessment. These different models are, theoretically, the same. Of course, the actual practice of writing a test on paper and the computer differ.

    The structure and scoring of the GRE changed about a decade ago. The GRE used to operate on a scoring scale between 200 and 800. Now, the student is assigned a score between 130 and 170. This score is often used as a gauge by which to rank the various applicants to grad programs. 

    What Kind of Questions are Asked on the GRE?

    Knowing what the GRE is can be helpful. It can make it less daunting, less unfamiliar, and more manageable by putting the test itself into perspective. But, what you’re probably really wondering is what kind of questions are you going to have to answer when taking the GRE. 

    The good news is that you can find thousands of sample questions online. These questions are modeled directly on the type of questions that have appeared on GREs in the past.

    The bad news is that the questions asked on the GRE change regularly. 

    That said, the type of questions asked should be similar. As a result, there are a lot of options if you’re looking for a study book, prep course, GRE practice test, or online GRE test prep course to help you through GRE preparation. These different methods are helpful to students, particularly if there is an area that they are concerned about doing well in or that they feel they need a refresher about. For instance, if you haven’t looked at a math equation or thought about verbal reasoning or analytical writing since high school, you might be very concerned about the questions they’re likely to ask you when you sit down to take the GRE exam.

    Often, students also hire tutors to help them with the GRE. Most of these tutors have written questions for the GRE in the past, or they might be current graduate students. If this is the case, the tutors are likely to not only have taken the official GRE exam themselves but to have performed well on it. This experience gives the students working with these tutors a huge advantage when preparing for the exam. 

    There are a few different sections to the GRE, and they break down into three categories: verbal, analytical, and quantitative. These various sections tend to have different approaches:

    • The verbal section of the GRE focuses on reading comprehension, vocabulary, and critical reasoning. 
    • The analytical writing section focuses on essay writing. 
    • The quantitative section focuses on math and basic reasoning skills related to math. 

    The verbal section might, for instance, list a term and then ask the student for a synonym or antonym for that term. The student will then have a list of words to choose from. For example, a typical question might look like this:

    Synonym: Aggregate

    1. Part
    2. Establish
    3. Assemblage
    4. Adapt
    5. Blend

    The student would then have to select the best option listed. Working through various activities, such as study guides, sample tests, and prep courses, can help students to get a sense of the more specific nature of the GRE questions. 

    How to Study for the GRE

    The best way to study for the GRE is to get a sense of the type of questions and assessments typical of the GRE. Then, the student should set a study plan. This study plan is a linear path, which you can follow in the weeks and months leading up to the GRE. It should involve study, rest, practice, and preparation. These various steps will help you familiarize yourself with the assessment, the conditions of examination, and the habits of thinking and reasoning required to succeed.

    What is the best way to study for the GRE?

    Many experts on the GRE note that the assessment is largely based on patterns. By allowing yourself to become accustomed to these patterns, you strengthen your potential success on the GRE. Therefore, these experts recommend devoting between four and 12 weeks or one to three months to GRE preparation. The longer you spend preparing, the more likely you are to pick up on the patterns that could help you increase your score.

    Of course, you won’t use every second of these months to prepare for the GRE, but this is the period over which you should spread out your studying. Doing so gives you the best shot at success on the GRE. It helps you get into the habit of thinking in the right ways and developing certain habits that help you with the exam. These habits will help you to answer the GRE questions as best as possible.

    In many ways, the information requested on the GRE is not an assessment of the facts that you know. Instead, it is an assessment of a certain kind of reasoning. This reasoning is not a determination of intelligence. It is, instead, simply a matter of habit and skill. To succeed on the GRE, you need to train yourself to practice this kind of reasoning. 

    There are a few different ways to study for the GRE. One of the most popular ways is to take a GRE sample test. Some people take multiple practice tests to get an idea of your so-called base score. A base score is what you would get without preparing or training yourself in the habits you need to do well on the GRE. Completing practice tests also gives you a sense of the type of things you’ll be studying. 

    It is important to remember that this score is not the score you will get on the GRE. It should not scare or intimidate you. Instead, it is part of the process of preparation. After doing the practice test, you can start to think about how you approached certain questions. Then, it is possible to think about ways to approach them differently. 

    GRE prep books can help in the study process. These prep books guide you through this process. These books can also help to give you a little perspective on the GRE. If you seem to do poorly on a certain kind of question, the prep book might provide you with a better or more effective way to approach those kinds of questions. 

    After familiarizing yourself with the test and how you can approach the questions, it is a good idea to put yourself in the same conditions that you will be in while you write the GRE. Getting the environment right will consciously and subconsciously prepare your mind. It will make the actual test much more familiar. To do so, you can find an isolated place to work, give yourself only the tools that you will have while you write, and give yourself the appropriate time limit. 

    Free GRE Practice Tests

    As we mentioned earlier, practice tests can be a great way to prepare yourself for the GRE. These tests are based on former GRE assessments and try to mimic the real thing as much as possible in both tone and content. By using practice tests as you study, you familiarize yourself with the process of test writing, which also lets you track your progress as you go.

    Fortunately, there are countless free practice tests available online. Some of these tests are offered by the ETS, the official administrators of the GRE. Others are offered by tutoring services, educational institutions and organizations, schools, and third parties. 

    It is good to be aware that third-party websites may have ulterior motives when offering free tests. Many free tests out there are from institutions that hope to lure you in with free testing to make their other paid services more attractive. It is not necessary to pay these firms or to attend any courses to access GRE practice tests. Instead, attending their courses is just another option available to you in your prep journey. 

    Where can you find free GRE practice tests?

    The best place to start looking when preparing yourself for the GRE is the ETS’s GRE home page. On this website, the ETS has a lot of information regarding the GRE available. It is important to remember that the GRE is intended to assess you, not to trick you. Therefore, the administrators are interested in helping you prepare as much as they can. 

    The ETS has a page on their website called Prepare for the GRE. This page has links to various resources intended to help you prepare for the GRE. Some of these resources are free, and others cost money for access. One of the free resources offered by the ETS is the Powerprep Practice Test, which is an official practice test for the GRE. This test is an official practice test for the GRE and simulates the real GRE and offers many great features.

    There are countless other free practice tests out there for students. Some of the other free GRE tests are offered by services such as the LEAP platform, Kaplan, Manhattan Prep, and Princeton Review. All of these linked tests are well respected and effective preparatory materials.

    The ETS also links to other resources such as preparation guides offered by the Khan Academy. These prep materials include instructional videos and explanations of the concepts featured in common GRE questions. Other tools relate to the various GRE test subjects

    Some of the best free practice tests include:

    Best GRE Prep Online

    In the current era, many people prepare for the GRE online. The internet houses a huge amount of information about the GRE and the preparation process. Much of this information is free. It is probably the case that students who take the GRE now have more information and preparatory material available to them than any other generation. 

    When studying for the GRE, make use of these opportunities. This advice goes for just about any standardized tests you may have to take. Standardized tests typically follow the same format despite individual question changes. Research as much as you can about the exam before taking it. That way, you have some idea of what to expect. Doing your research can help you assess the nature of the test in question. Just be sure that the information is coming from a reputable source. There is a wealth of great material on the internet, but there is also a huge amount of falsity. 

    Hundreds of prep courses for the GRE are available online. For the most part, prep courses are not free because they are lengthy, dedicated tutorials constructed and operated by experts and experienced tutors. 

    Some of the most popular online prep courses for the GRE include:

    The courses listed above are all reputable courses. They are also some of the most popular courses offered at the moment. Some of these names are likely familiar to you. Many of these companies offer a wide range of different preparatory materials, including tests, tutors, and study plans.

    How much can you expect to pay for a good online GRE prep course?

    The price range varies quite widely. The courses listed above range from about $150 to $630. For many people, this is too expensive. However, other courses are available for about $50. Also, price is not the only factor you should consider when selecting a GRE prep course. The quality of the course is not directly related to how much the company charges for their course. 

    What makes a good online GRE course?

    A good online prep course will likely feature a curriculum created by a team of experts in the subjects at hand. It will also likely feature a study plan, practice questions and exams, approachable tutors or instructors, a customizable schedule, statistics and information, video and audio instruction, and a well-structured program. 

    Top GRE Prep Courses

    There are hundreds of prep courses out there intended to coach you through the process of readying yourself for the GRE. Some of these courses are great. Others are intended to make money from students and focus on maximizing profit rather than education. 

    GRE prep courses can be very beneficial. Not only do they help students better understand the material on the GRE, but they also help to alleviate some of the stress. These courses can help students mentally prepare for the exam, allowing them to feel more relaxed and enter a strong mental space when taking the real test. 

    There are a lot of things to consider when trying to find the best GRE prep course. It is important to know if the course in question comes from an established institution. It is also important to know that the course will be well suited to your learning style. 

    Many things factor into what prep course you should select, including your budget, schedule, knowledge, and self-preparation. If you are an excellent self-guided learner, you may need something different in your prep course than someone who struggles to organize their study. 

    What is the best GRE prep course?

    There are a lot of options to choose from when it comes to GRE prep courses. Some prep courses focus exclusively on the GRE, while others include courses for other standardized tests such as the MCAT or SAT. It is difficult, if not impossible, to select the best prep course. However, it is possible to identify some attributes shared by courses that tend to succeed. 

    Some attributes that successful prep courses have in common are flexibility, student satisfaction, variation of instruction, section-specific tutors, a strong study plan, and a well-organized schedule. Most of the best courses offered also include weekly planners, progress trackers, and goals to be met at certain increments. 

    Good GRE prep courses come from accredited educational organizations. There are many scams out there, so make sure that you always do your research before choosing one. These organizations hire expert tutors and professionals to provide students with the best possible standard of education. Most of the best quality programs are well established in the field. Having years of experience under their belts allows GRE prep courses to develop an extensive and sophisticated understanding of the process involved in writing and studying for the assessment. 

    Each standardized test is different. As a result, it is important to make sure that the specific course you enroll in is dedicated to the GRE exclusively. This approach is the only way to get the most out of your prep time, and it ensures that you are as ready as you can be when it comes time to write the GRE. 

    Some of the best prep courses for the GRE include:

    • Kaplan Test Prep
    • Cambridge Coaching
    • Manhattan Prep
    • Magoosh
    • Parliament Tutors
    • Manhattan Review
    • Princeton Review

    These prep courses are some of the most regularly celebrated courses offered for the GRE. They regularly rank highly in lists of prep courses. 

    How effective are GRE test prep courses?

    GRE prep courses are extremely effective. Most students who do well on the GRE have done some form of preparation. This might be self-guided but, more likely than not, it involved taking a prep course of one form or another.

    One of the best things about a GRE prep course is that it combines studying and guidance. Not only do you review content, but you also have the benefit of learning from someone familiar with the exam. This combination means that you can cater your education to your strengths and weaknesses and work with someone who can gauge progress, track development, and tackle any problems.

    These courses are designed specifically to help students become accustomed to the habits and patterns necessary for success on the Graduate Records Examinations. 

    Conclusion

    The GRE is an important step in most people’s journey to a graduate degree in the United States. For some, it can be a stressful and overwhelming step. However, with proper preparation, this assessment should simply exist as a way for you to demonstrate the cumulative total of your educational experience.

    To quickly recap, the GRE is a standardized assessment of your knowledge. For schools, it serves as a universal method by which students are ranked in comparison to their peers. This ranking allows the admissions departments to easily compare the potential students with a standard metric when making admission decisions.

    Though criticism of the GRE has grown in recent years and many people are questioning its ability to measure potential success, the GRE is still an important part of the application process for most graduate students in the country. If you plan to attend grad school, you will likely have to take the GRE. 

    Fortunately, there are a lot of ways to make the GRE much easier on yourself. These include preparatory programs and self-guided practice. Prep courses, online prep courses, and practice tests are intended to give students a sense of the testing style, testing structure, and topics covered. These prep materials can be of huge benefit. They can prepare people for the content and experience of writing the GRE. Many students also find it helpful to hire a tutor who has experience with the assessment.

    Some of the best ways to study for the GRE include making weekly study plans, developing a one to a three-month study schedule, tracking progress and milestones, and attending prep courses. As the assessment typically gauges a candidate’s ability to reason in a specific manner, training your mind to become familiar and comfortable with this form of reasoning is key. The most effective way to ensure success in the GRE is by developing the habits and patterns of thought necessary to answer the type of questions generally asked in the assessment. 

    With good time management, consistent study habits, and regular practice, you can prepare for the exam so it doesn’t have to be so stressful. Instead, you can see it as an opportunity for you to showcase your ability and demonstrate why you’re a good fit for your grad school of choice. In the end, your overall ability is all that the admissions department at your dream school is interested in assessing. If you are comfortable entering the GRE, your results will prove it.

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