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Winning Strategies for the GRE

GRE test taking prep advice


Preparing for the GRE can be daunting.

A higher score often means a greater chance of attending the graduate school of your dreams.

We all know this isn't an exam that you can cram at the last-minute. We also know there aren’t enough hours in the day to waste time on test-taking tactics that don’t bring about positive results.

It’s important to find the best study plan for you that helps you track your improvement.

Instead of falling down a rabbit hole of fringe exam techniques, approaches, and tactics, let’s break down some of the most widely accepted and useful ones. Who knows? These strategies could be just what you need as you embark upon your preparation schedule. 

Focus on your weaknesses

First off, taking several realistic GRE practice tests will help you gauge where you’re at as you begin the GRE journey. Finding tests that are nearly identical to the one you’ll sit on test day is key, but practicing on a computer or through paper-based tests is important as well. Only you know which version makes the most sense for you, depending on your location, interest, and capabilities.

Locating your weak spots and making a list of them, not only by section, but question type, will help you understand where your GRE knowledge needs a little extra work.

Ask yourself the following questions: Is there a pattern to how I answer these questions incorrectly? Is there a common confusion surrounding these errors?

Value your strengths in the sections and questions you answer correctly, but keep in mind you only need to brush up on already makes sense. Hone in on your weaknesses so that you can ultimately turn them into strengths. 

Remember, you’re kind of going back to high school

The GRE tests high school level math, including Algebra and Geometry. Brushing up on the difference between the X and Y-axis are instrumental, as familiar theories and mathematical problems will pop up. Spend some time with the subjects you covered in high school math to help you on the quant section of the GRE. But remember, you don’t need to get too in depth or complex, as the exam doesn’t go into high-level, advanced mathematics.

Even though most of us would have no interest in revisiting high school, try to set the bad yearbook photos apart from the math fundamentals you’ll need to know for GRE success. When it comes to vocab, however, you might want to make a point to learn more advanced words and read denser texts. The GRE is generally believed to be easier for math and more difficult for reading comprehension, grammar, and new vocabulary.

Regardless, when it comes to both—review, review, review.

Map out the reading passages

Most people prepping for the GRE usually want to speed read through the dense passages on the reading comprehension section to get to the questions more quickly.

Mapping out each reading passage is a top strategy for higher GRE verbal scores. Take note of the passage’s main idea, its structure, as well as any opinions, views, or attitudes presented throughout. 

This is known as active reading, not passive reading. Naturally, you probably wouldn’t take notes while reading the latest Stephen King book, because it’s reading for leisure without accompanying comprehension questions—unless, of course, you’re in a demanding book club.

More than likely, the subjects presented in the reading passages—whether it’s about art or history or politics—won’t interest you. But by taking notes and specifically mapping out the passage as you go, you won’t run the risk of getting confused or being unable to find the information needed to answer each question.

Practicing mapping out passages is easy and will become second nature with time. Incorporate this strategy into your study plan so when test day rolls around, it’ll be something you do subconsciously while actively reading.

Learn the directions and format

Spending time learning the format of the GRE is paramount to combat test day stress. Let’s face it, no one wants any surprises, so becoming familiar with the order of tasks and sections will help you feel in control of your time, energy and hard work. Remember, this varies slightly, whether you’re taking the computer-based GRE or paper-based GRE.

Regarding the test design features on the computer version, it’s imperative to remember the following: the availability of preview/review capabilities within a section, "mark" and "review" features to tag questions so you can skip them and return later if time permits, the ability to change or edit answers within a section, as well as an on-screen calculator for the Quantitative Reasoning section.

In the end, there’s a variety of winning strategies to succeed with the GRE, and hopefully these few will help you keep track of the most effective study method for you.

Keep reading and asking others what works for them, but also take note of what works for you. Remember, you want a seamlessly positive GRE test-taking experience, so implementing winning techniques that facilitate that is so important.

Ready to practice? Please check out our GRE practice questions and we also recommend the free practice at the GRE Tutor website.

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Ayesha Z, Phillip H & 1 others saved this
Dr Joern Meissner
Written by Manhattan Review
Manhattan Review, providers of Manhattan Review GMAT Prep, was founded by Dr Joern Meissner (pictured), an internationally renowned business school professor, in 1999. Headquartered in New York City, Manhattan Review operates in many cities in the United States and in selected major cities around the world. It helps students gain entrance to their desired degree programs by working to improve their admission test scores.

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