If you wish to study abroad, you might have already asked yourself the following questions. Do I need to take the GRE? If yes, how can I prepare for the GRE? Usually, the GRE test is required for graduate school (master’s degree) in the USA. However, it may not be a prerequisite for some study programs.
If you wish to study abroad in Europe, the UK, Canada or Australia, the GRE is normally not mandatory. But, some universities may ask or recommend you to take the GRE test. Universities generally receive admission applications from around the world. Different countries have varying course outlines and grading systems. A standardized test like the GRE allows universities to assess different applicants.
Depending upon the requirements of the study programs you’re applying for, you may or may not have to take the GRE. It’s recommended to take the GRE test even if it’s not required. If you score well, your application will stand out. Before we talk about the preparation, let’s look at some details and understand how the test looks like.
The GRE General Test
Usually, graduate programs (master’s programs) require the GRE general test and not the GRE subject tests. The GRE general test is a computer-delivered test that consists of three sections: verbal reasoning, quantitative reasoning and analytical writing. We shall discuss the three sections shortly. Do not let the details scare you as you will also be learning different ways to prepare for the GRE general test in this post.
First things first, familiarize yourself with the test format before you start preparing for the GRE at home.
- Text completion (fill in the blanks): You’ve to select the correct word to best complete a sentence.
- Sentence equivalence: You’ve to select the two sentences that are closely related. It’s slightly advanced than simply identifying synonyms.
- Reading comprehension: You’re to read passages of different lengths (from 100 to 450 words) and answer the questions.
In this section, you’re assessed on basic mathematical skills, understanding of elementary mathematical concepts and the ability to reason quantitatively. You’re tested in four areas mentioned below.
- Arithmetic topics
- Algebra topics
- Geometry topics
- Data analysis
The two tasks included in this section are:
- Analyze an Issue
- Analyze an Argument
In the issue task, you’ve to develop a position about a given issue and support your opinion with the help of examples and reasons, which support your views. Instructions are provided. In the argument task, you find a set of instructions on how to evaluate a given argument. You’ve to support your analysis with reasons and examples that are relevant to the argument.
Now that we’ve been through the details of the test, let’s talk about the preparation.
How to prepare for the GRE at home
To prepare for the GRE by yourself, you will need adequate time to practice. We suggest you practice for a time range of 4 to 12 weeks.
Take a diagnostic test
Take a POWERPREP practice test for the GRE under a testing environment and see how much you score. By doing this, you will get a basic understanding on the format and identify your strong and weak areas such as time management, reading skills, etc. Whatever score you get, whether good or bad, do not take it to heart as the official test matters the most.
Constructing a plan
Once you’ve identified your strong and weak areas, you should dedicate time proportionally to each area. For example, you scored higher in the quantitative section and lower in the critical thinking section. Hence, you’ve to spend more time practicing your critical-thinking skills and less time practicing your mathematical skills.
Determine your target score
It’s not advised to set a target without doing research. Write down the list of your preferred programs you wish to study abroad, and search for the minimum score required for each program. Moreover, find out the average GRE score of the accepted applicants from last years. Your target GRE score should be more than that average score. Here is the range for the score of different sections of GRE:
- The verbal reasoning score may range from 130-170 in one-point increment.
- The range for quantitative reasoning score is from 130-170 in one-point increment.
- The analytical writing score may range from 0-6 in half-point increment.
Your GRE score report also includes your percentile rank, which is a comparison of your test scores with other test takers.
Take practice tests
The best way to prepare for the GRE on your own is by solving GRE practice tests under an exam environment. It will help you improve your time management, your understanding of concepts, and your strategy. Each person has a different approach to answering questions. Identify the most useful strategy for you through experimenting on these tests. I’d recommend solving as many as you can.
Now it’s time to see how you can prepare for different sections of the test.
Preparing for different sections of the GRE test
Solve many different sets of questions. Read the answers to the questions you get wrong and try to understand the mistake you made. Verbal questions are usually indirect so it’s important to review your answers and learn the reasoning. Also, read articles and short passages and identify the key messages as quickly as possible. Time is limited, so you’ve to read quickly yet carefully. Moreover, improve your vocabulary. You can download a GRE vocabulary list and learn some new words every day. Follow a vocabulary learning strategy that suits you best.
Answer many sets of questions and find your best strategy to use when solving a mathematical question. Get an idea of the types of questions under each section and time yourself. Focus on the questions you’ve answered wrong and find out where you’ve gone wrong when solving. Allocate more time to these questions and with time, you can get hold of them.
Go through some practice tests and writing examples. Write on both tasks of this section under exam conditions and keep a track of your time. Try to come up with a strategy that works best for you. Some prefer to start immediately, while others choose to list down their thoughts and points before they start writing. In order to add variety and make your preparation interesting, analyze any debates or opinions you watch or read.
TED Talks and Podcasts are some of the good sources for broadening your horizons because you may come across new topics from different fields. More importantly, learn the art of effectively supporting your views and analyzing an argument.
You’re done with your preparation and would like to apply for the GRE test, these are some points that will come in handy.
Applying for the GRE
Depending upon your preparation and admission deadlines, apply for the GRE test and choose a date by when you’ll be ready to ace the test. The computerized-test is available three times a month, and this helps you adjust to the exam date and allows you to reattempt the paper. There is no limit to the number of retakes. However, you can only reattempt the test once every 21 days. The GRE score is valid for 5 years. The information mentioned above is as of October 2020. Please inform yourself about the latest information.
If you’re preparing for IELTS as well, read our blog post How to prepare for IELTS at home.
If you want tips on how to prepare admission documents such as CV, Letter of Motivation (LOM), Letter of Recommendation (LOR) etc., check out steps to study abroad.
Author: Furqan Afzal
Co-author: Adil Ilyas