Jonathan Golding, Ph.D. and Anne Lippert, PhD

Careers in Psych

De-Mystifying the GRE: Part 2

Preparing for the GRE is critical for success.

Posted Apr 20, 2016

How to prepare for the GRE?

To me this is not simply one question--there are multiple questions concerning GRE preparation. First, how prepared are you for the different sections of the GRE? If you are pretty good in math and plan on taking or have taken at least some Math courses in college, you are putting yourself in a good position as you begin to study. However, you might need to rethink your plans and think about some other Math courses or get someone to tutor you on the math that will be covered in the GRE. Remember, the GRE does not ask questions about calculus or trigonometry. Thus, for many of you your math preparation probably involves going back and relearning math concepts you were taught in the past.

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With regard to the verbal component of the GRE, you need to have a strong background in English. You may think you know the language well, but the GRE asks some pretty tough questions ranging from word definitions to comprehension of stories. One piece of advice is to Read, Read, Read. Over the years I have seen many bright students suffer on their verbal GRE scores, because they just are not exposed enough to verbal information. For example, one of the best ways you can learn new words is by reading these words in a news article or novel. I will add, however, that it is important to know how the GRE passages and questions are constructed so that you can become more proficient with the exam materials.

Finally, there is the analytic component. Are you a good writer? Are you able to think logically? As with the other sections, the more writing you do and the more critical thinking you accomplish, the better shape you will be in. There are courses you can take that will help you out with this section, like Logic or Composition. Also, understanding the structure and scoring of this section can be a real bonus.

Second, when should you start preparing for the GRE? Anyone who thinks they can just wait until two months before the test to start study is taking a big chance. I hope things will go your way, but I would argue that you should begin preparing for the GRE much earlier. If you are a college student, starting as early as your sophomore year may be a good idea. Besides reading more, writing more, and reviewing math concepts, you should consider using GRE practice books and software on a regular basis. One reason to use GRE software is that, because the GRE is only given on computer, you should familiarize yourself with this type of exam format. Another reason is that the online study guides typically give you information about the instructions for each exam section. Knowing these instructions can be a real time saver come exam day.

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Keep in mind that with regard to GRE preparation it is important to get on a GRE study schedule. I am sure you are busy with school, work, kids, etc., so a schedule can really help you out. This study schedule should include a specific time on most days when you will study.

Third, should you take a GRE-prep course? This is a very difficult question and for many of you it is not really an issue, because you simply cannot afford taking this type of course—these courses can cost $1,000. I should note, however, that even if you cannot take a GRE-prep course there are a number of online resources (including those from ETS) to help you with your preparation. Hopefully, the websites you use will have access to technology that mimics the GRE, and will include many practice questions. When you get practice questions wrong, go over each of them and understand why you were incorrect.

If you can afford taking a prep course, the names to look for have been around for a while (Kaplan, Princeton Review, Barrons) as well as newer courses (Manhattan PrepReview, PowerScore). These courses have the following advantages: helping you identify your strengths and weaknesses, providing structure (e.g., set class times), offering proven test-taking strategies, offering the potential for one-on-one instruction, offering practice tests, and allowing you to be around others who may provide external motivation. I want to add that too often students think that taking practice tests is all that really matters for GRE preparation. Although taking practice tests can be useful (especially with getting experience with types of questions and test timing), you will likely have to learn new test-taking strategies.

These advantages sound great, but there are disadvantages. Besides the cost, the downside of GRE-prep courses include the fact if you take an actual class with other students you may not get a lot of individualized instruction, you have to hope you have a good teacher, and that these courses do involve a relatively large amount of homework and at-home study.

In Part 3 of this post I will discuss taking the GRE. Thank you for reading this week's post. We hope you enjoyed it and please feel free to comment or ask questions below.

Please note that the comments of Dr. Golding, Dr. Lippert and the others who post on this blog express their own opinion and not that of the University of Kentucky.

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