GRE Test Preparation

If you’re applying to grad school, you will have to sit the GRE (Graduate Recorded Examinations) test as part of the admissions process.

The aim of the test is to measure applicant’s:

  • Verbal reasoning
  • Quantitative reasoning
  • Analytical writing
  • Critical thinking skills

It is a computer-based exam that can be taken at any Prometric testing center.

Depending on the schools you are applying to, the GRE test can either be a simple formality or an important factor for selection by the admissions team.

The use and weight of the GRE score can also vary greatly between departments and programs at the same school, so it’s a good idea to try and find out the amount of emphasis placed on your GRE score.

The schools you are applying for should have information readily available on how they consider GRE scores in admissions and funding decisions, as well as GRE scores of previously admitted students.

The best way to obtain this is to contact the graduate admissions tutor for the specific program (not the grad school in general).

To help you prepare for the GRE test, we suggest taking the following steps:

1. Look at the structure

The GRE test is split into five sections: the first always involves analytical writing, which is then followed by sections on verbal and quantitative reasoning.

The test is what is known as a multistage test, where your performance in the earlier sections will determine the difficulty of subsequent sections.

You are allowed to move between questions within each section, and mark questions to look at again later on if you have time.

The entire tests normally lasts around 3 hours and 45 minutes, with a short break allowed after you have completed each section.

2. Check the scoring

The scoring scale runs from 130 to 170. It’s possible to receive a perfect score of 170, even if you don’t answer all the questions on the multiple choice section.

If you answer no questions at all, 130 is the lowest possible score. Nothing will be subtracted if you answer a question incorrectly, so the best way to maximise your score is to answer every question.

To find out more about the GRE test scoring, including how to get your test results, how the test is scored, and understanding your scores, please visit the official GRE test scores guide.

3. Pay your fee

The GRE test costs $205 to take, but the Educational Testing Service (ETS) will reduce this fee if you have extenuating circumstances.

If you are able to prove economic hardship, ETS may offer you financial aid.

Find out more about GRE test fees.

4. Find out where and when you can take the GRE test

As mentioned earlier, you can sit your GRE test at a designated Prometric test center.

To find your nearest test center, as well as upcoming test dates and seat availability, please go to the GRE test online portal.

Get yourself booked in as early as possible, in case you have to retake the test at a later date.

5. Revise for the test thoroughly

Leave plenty of time to get yourself ready for the GRE test - at least four weeks as an absolute minimum, although ideally eight to twelve weeks to allow sufficient preparation.

To help you perform your best on the day, we recommend devising a study plan. One way to do this is have individual sessions of no more than one hour, and use each one to practice for a specific part of the test.

For example, you could plan to do six study sessions a week - two on analytical writing, two on quantitative reasoning and two on quantitative reasoning.

Practice for each section as much as you can. For the verbal section, you may want to focus on boosting your vocabulary. Some GRE study guides provide lists of hundreds of words and their meaning that they suggest candidates learn before taking the GRE.

While this seems like an impossible task, select five or six words to learn each day, and you will learn many new words within just a few weeks.

Brush up on your arithmetic, graphs and charts for the quantitative section - most of the math section in the GRE test is aimed at 9th grade (or lower) skills, so completing some practice exercises at this level should help you improve your score in this section.

Finally, write some essays to aid you with getting thoughts together quickly and coherently. Make sure you check your essays for spelling and grammar errors, as these will be assessed during the test, too.

As you work on practicing each section, think about how you might deal with questions you are unsure about. Since you need to answer the questions in a calm, efficient manner to finish the test in time, try to come up with a strategy when you hit these type of questions.

For example, you may want to create an essay plan to help you deal with the writing section.

As test day approaches, take a look at your practice test scores and see which are your weakest areas. For example, if your quantitative reasoning scores are behind your scores for the other sections, then it’s probably worth dedicating more time to increasing this.

Look at the exact questions you answered incorrectly, and see if you can work out the correct answers for these. You may identify a gap in your knowledge that is causing you to provide the wrong answer, and that there is some particular material you need to cover in more detail.

Get plenty of sleep in the weeks running up to your test - this way, you’ll be able to retain more information from your revision sessions, and will feel ready and refreshed when the actual test day arrives.

Learn to manage your time effectively as part of your study plan. Remember that you will only have a limited amount of time to complete all the questions in each section of the test. Try to focus on the early questions of the test (the first 20 or so), as your answers to these will determine what questions you will be given next.

Always double-check your answers - the more correct ones you give at the beginning, the more highly-scoring questions you will be shown later on, which will help increase your overall score. If you get these questions wrong, you will get lower-scoring questions for the rest of the test.

To further help you prepare, you can also take a GRE prep course. However, these are expensive (most start from around $1,000), and the quality can vary, so do your research carefully before signing up.

Some students also find that an English writing course can improve their essay skills under timed conditions, so this is something that may be worth looking into if you feel you need a boost in the analytic writing section.

6. On the day

  • Make sure you wear comfortable clothes - if you’re unsure how cold/hot it might be, dress in layers
  • Aim to be at the test center at least 30 minutes before your test is due to start. If you turn up late, the center may choose not to admit you, and you will lose your test fee
  • Arrive alone, as test centers do not have large waiting areas for family or friends
  • Bring your required identification document
  • Prepare to be at the center for up to four and a half hours.

Don’t bring:

  • Any notes or other information for the test, either written on paper, clothing or on your skin, to the center
  • Tobacco, food or any other beverages
  • Personal calculators
  • Cell phones, smartphones, PDAs, digital watches, smart watches, or any other electronic, recording, listening or photographic devices. If you do, you will be asked to leave, and you will lose your fee and test score
  • Any personal items apart from your identification document(s).

Further Resources