OT: GRE study

Submitted by .ghost. on June 6th, 2012 at 11:08 PM

How many of you have taken the GRE?  New one in particular?  What did you use to study?  I went with a small online company called magoosh, forgoing the mainstays such as Kaplan and Princeton.  Just curious what worked for members of the community, and perhaps more importantly what you wish you would have known while studying. 



June 6th, 2012 at 11:23 PM ^

I took the GRE a number of years ago (would have been 2005, I think), so I don't know how different it is now. But I studied on my own using some used books I picked up from other people who had taken it before me. I did well; I think classes and things like Kaplan are overrated.

Put in your time studying, however you do it, and you'll be fine.


June 7th, 2012 at 8:12 AM ^

Disagree.   Princeton Review helps with the MCAT tremendously. 

Not so much for content (bio/biochem/physics/etc), but rather test taking skills.  Forcing you to sit for 3 full-blown simulated MCATs really helps you get the time-management skills needed (can take up to 8 hours).

Space Coyote

June 6th, 2012 at 11:27 PM ^

Study prefixes and roots of words a little bit.  Don't bother studying any specific words, you could study 1000 and fewer than 5 would probably end up on the exam.

Go over a practice exam or two to work on the math.  If you took all your math classes in high school, then it's probably been 6 years since you've used that stuff.  Other than that, don't get too worried about it, it wasn't really that difficult and most colleges don't really worry about it all that much (ie, they don't really care if you got a 700 or a 780, they just care that you're not stupid and break their minimum score that they look for).

I didn't study a great deal for it and I got into all the schools I applied to (which included some of the best schools in my field), and I would have been annoyed if I put much more time into it.  I'm not saying blow off studying completely, but it's more of touching up on your fundamentals than studying for the bar exam.   


June 7th, 2012 at 10:27 AM ^

I already own the 2011-2012 Kaplan Guide and I am wondering if it would be worth it to purchase the 2013 edition as well? I am thinking there isn't much of a helpful difference, but I don't want to miss out on any possible advantage. Would you, Genzilla or anyone else, know about this? 


June 6th, 2012 at 11:30 PM ^

I tested out of math for college and took the GRE ten years after graduating HS, so my math skills were rusty at best. I worked through all the math stuff in the Princeton study guide and somehow managed a 700 on that section.


June 6th, 2012 at 11:33 PM ^

I took the new version. You will only see a fraction of what you study for on the test. Definitely freshen up on your algebra skills, but don't stress over it.


June 6th, 2012 at 11:34 PM ^

Kaplan has a list of 40 or so words that commonly appear on the GRE. For me, at least two of the words appeared (it's been a while so I'm not sure about the details). Be sure to learn those 40 words, it's probably one of the best bang-for-your-buck areas to cover. Also, to get this list, you can find it through Google's book project for free. They scanned the book and you can search for the list in the book.


June 6th, 2012 at 11:36 PM ^

Studied on my own using a Kaplan book. They laid out a pretty good plan and gave you a good idea where you stood and where to concentrate. Also check out khanacademy.org (I think, I'm on my phone can't check for sure). If you figure out what you need to concentrate on they have some good video courses. I think there's enough out there to be able to do well on your own if you're able to utilize the available resources.


June 6th, 2012 at 11:40 PM ^

"dont study" because everyone is different, buy I wouldnt spend much (or any) $ on prep. I have 2 reasons for saying this:

1) it's easy. And the new one? Easier than it used to be because they took out a tough type of question. If you were a high scorer on the act, sat, and psat, you will be fine.

2) Depending on discipline, it'd not that critical. I am going to grad school for math, and had a mayh prof who had been the head of the dept at va tech tell me he doesn't care about the gre, especially the non math parts. Talk to profs, find out how much the gre matters in your field before dropping hundreds on classes. The subject test in your field (if there is one) is usually much more important.

As a side note, if you too are doing math, study hard for the math gre subject test (not math part of normal gre). It is extremely brutal.

Wisconsin Wolverine

June 7th, 2012 at 12:16 AM ^

I agree.  I think you can do quite well without spending the money on an actual class, but a book or two may be worth the cash.  Unlike the Badger above me, I am a true math-tard & I spent 90% of my time studying for the math.  I ended up doing fairly well but not awesome on the math.  The verbal I can't really comment on, that kind of thing was always just natural for me.  It seems to me like either you know a word or you don't?  Very different from the math.

But as far as the math, I did learn one helpful strategy - sometimes, the GRE doesn't expect you to actually 'solve' the problem in terms of calculation.  What is really required is for you to rule out impossible answers, which often leaves you with the right one without having to do the actual calculation.  So yeah, it helps a lot to understand the fundamentals of the math you're working with, which leads to tons of time-saving shortcuts.

Again, math-tard.  Sorry I can't give better advice!


June 7th, 2012 at 9:41 AM ^

I was going to reply to the above 2 posts and say that I agree--I didn't use anything more than the study materials provided, and I aced it...but...instead I have more questions for the repliers...

  1. ...um, are you guys like bffs? 
  2. are you the same person?
  3. or are you the children of a Badger and a Wolverine? 
  4. Is that more properly called a Badgverine?
  5. all of the above?


June 6th, 2012 at 11:41 PM ^

I actually thought this was about the GED and was extremely confused by the posts. Then I felt bad that all these people on here had to take the GED before. Then I looked up GRE and realized I'm the fool here.


June 6th, 2012 at 11:51 PM ^

I agree with what others have said.  I wouldn't spend a lot of money on a course.  There are plenty of free and inexpensive resources available that are more than adequate to help you prepare.


June 7th, 2012 at 12:09 AM ^

Don't stress out too much about it. Study, but there is no reaosn to take a class or anything. Usually just a guide book with a few practice tests will be the best thing to get you ready for what to expect. Also: when you take it make sure that you do you best to answer the first few question correct, or else the test will lock you into a lower scoring bracket that you can't get out of. Have to love technology haha.

That being said, if you're taking a subject test, then take it far more serious. They're more difficult and tend to be weighted heavier for admissions. The normal GRE not so much.

Good luck!!



June 7th, 2012 at 12:11 AM ^

The best thing I did was immerse myself in periodicals like The New Yorker and Harpers, and did my best to complete the New York times crossword every day. Many of my colleagues (i work at a liberal arts college) said to use the books and such, but those periodicals and higher end recreational word exercises do wonders for your vocabulary and comprehension. I did it and took the GRE I'm no certified genius, but I got WAY more than what I needed for the grad program for which I was applying.


June 7th, 2012 at 12:16 AM ^

I took the GRE last summer.  The GRE website has a free program you can download which gives you access to two practice tests.  Those will prepare you pretty well for the quantative and written portion.  The written portion will always be "aggree/disagree with this statement" and "point out the flaws in this guy's logic."  For the verbal portion, I googled "GRE vocabulary" and copy/pasted all the words I wasn't completely familiar with into a Word document, which I then reviewed every day.  That worked out pretty well for me.


June 7th, 2012 at 12:24 AM ^

Get a good night's sleep before the test. I didn't and my math suffered. Granted, my mental math skills are poor (I'm an engineer...), but my head was not clear that day. It didn't seem to affect my verbal or writing portion, though, so I may be in denial.

As others have said, it's not a big factor in most grad schools' acceptance processes. Don't stress out too much about it.


June 7th, 2012 at 12:25 AM ^

I have been brushing up my math since that is terribly rusty.  My vocab has always been fairly strong since I am an avid reader.  All I am really doing for that is reading classics on my kindle and tapping any word I am unfamiliar with to access the dictionary.  I finished The Brothers Karamazov, War and Peace, and am now working my way through Les Miserables.  I will also get some vocab cards and go through them.  I am actually studying quite a bit; probably stressing out over it more than I should judging from the responses here. 


June 7th, 2012 at 12:29 AM ^

It isn't worth spending money for a course. If you are already a UofM student and you're thinking of grad school, you better have the necessary discipline. All you need to do is take a prep book or two and work through all the questions and the tests. If you're really cheap, you can check them out of the library.

It has been a few years, but I took a few months to work through a prep book, going to the Law Library on campus to study. I took the test in Evanston, and made sure I got a good night's sleep. Believe it or not, the day before, I actually learned a couple words that were on the test by running through some of the Reader's Digest "It pays to enrich your word power" sheets. The sections must be different, because I ended up with a total of 2300 on three 800 point sections. That was good enough to get into the school I wanted to go to.

Picktown GoBlue

June 7th, 2012 at 10:10 AM ^

took mine in Evanston without any extra courses (*long* time ago).  Have always been a big fan of word and logic puzzles, math, crosswords, and generally enjoy test taking.  Got me into said B1G school in Evanston.  If you're not naturally into those areas that are on the general GRE, there may be some value in a course, but I'm just not sure.


June 7th, 2012 at 12:32 AM ^

I took the revised version about 6 months ago.  Honestly, there's not much you can do about the vocabulary,  although memorizing high-frequency words will help some. Also, focusing on the subtle differences in synonyms (e.g. obscure/recondite) and common words that have multiple meanings (e.g. appropriate, intimate) will help as well.

The math portion should largely be review.  Many questions are designed to waste your time in calculation, so always be on the lookout for shortcuts that should help limit/eliminate massive number crunching (e.g. division by zero, absolute value quantities equating to negative numbers, etc.)

The writing portion is a crapshoot. Based on my score on this portion, I believe I am only qualified to give advice on what NOT to do.

The bottom line is that a couple weeks of serious effort should get you a score above the insta-cut line at most every school, and for grad school, that's really all you need. If you are planning to memorize thousands of words, I think your time is better spent making a compelling and focused SOP.

Good Luck.


June 7th, 2012 at 12:48 AM ^

I took the Kaplan Course only for the help with the verbal section despite being charged for both.  I also memorized the 500 most common vocabulary words.  

My verbal score dropped 60 poitns.   




June 7th, 2012 at 1:35 AM ^

To my surprise, I did great on the GMAT when I took it a couple years ago (and got into Ross, woohoo!).

My prep: I took a Kaplan course in my weaker area (I hate to be a stereotype but for me that was quantitative) and I found that helpful, especially because it taught me how to approach intimidating questions. The half-course is a great option if you're disproportionately strong in one area. In addition, I studied quite a bit (at least 10-15 hours a week) for three months using a bunch of different books. However, the most helpful thing for me was taking as many practice tests on the computer as possible. I tried to take one each week, then go over the questions I got wrong. As nerve-wracking as the test was, it was a million times easier because I was comfortable with the format.

Good luck!

oriental andrew

June 7th, 2012 at 1:37 PM ^

I took the GMAT in 2006 or 2007 (i forget exactly when), so things may have changed since then.  But in any cases, a lot of the advice applies.  If you really feel like you need a structured environment to get focused on studying, then go for a class.  My older sis did a combo of self-study and Princeton Review class and killed the GMAT. 

For me, I just went the self-study route.  The biggest thing for me was making sure I was able to do my practice tests in peace, ie, without the distraction of my toddler-at-the-time daughter.  Worked out, as I got a 750 or something (or whatever the test was out of). 

I bought the big GMAT book and got hand-me-downs from a friend of the Kaplan math, verbal, and Get a Perfect Score (or something) books.  Also had the CD-Roms so I could do practice tests.  Downloaded a few free practice tests. 

Key for me was going through literally every page of every book; then revisiting the areas where I felt weaker.  I did all the little practice mini-tests, and also set aside time to do a few full tests in as test-like an environment as possible.  It was tough after 8 years out of school, but somehow I got through it, and b-school after that!

Nard Dogg

June 7th, 2012 at 1:20 AM ^

I studied for only about 48 hours before the test, and focused on verbal strategies and math with a Kaplan book.

Just FYI though, not sure if you know this (you probably do, but I didn't): they changed the scoring system not too long ago, so when numbers in the 160s showed up, I thought I had failed miserably. Turns out it's out of 170 now in each section. Crisis averted, but for about three hours I was freaking out.


June 7th, 2012 at 8:53 AM ^

My advice:

Take a practice test first, to see how you do.  I recommend the ETS freebie.

Then try to figure out what sort of score schools you are considering would like.  If they don't explicitly tell you (some programs will publicize it on their website, others won't), give a call and see if you can get a range of scores from recently accepted students.  Certainly a few places will withhold any guidance, but most of them will give you some info.  If you're close to what you need, go with a book.  If you have a lot of work to do, classes may help more.  Also, how do you learn?  Are you someone who took a lot of large lectures and for the most part skipped class and learned from the book?  Then clearly just buy a book.  Did you learn best by asking questions?  A class may help more.

I disagree with the person above who said that classes work best for people who wouldn't put the work in on their own.  I'd say maybe 50% of my students come to class thinking that going to class 3 hours a week is sufficient, and they don't do any work at home.  They don't get anything out of it.  If you sign up for a class because you need the motivation, you're flushing your money down the toilet.

Just my two cents.


June 7th, 2012 at 8:58 AM ^

I'm going for a second masters (MBA) and have never taken either the GRE or GMAT - if you have enough good experience you may be able to get it waived.

Had that luck at UofM, and my recent applications to GW and G'town.


June 7th, 2012 at 9:44 AM ^

This is a small, somewhat insignificant detail but I found it incredibly important when preparing for the GRE.

Being a computerized test, the GRE is adaptive, meaning it changes depending on how you do in the early stages.  The way I understand it, the early questions in each section are the most important because they help place you in a range of difficulty that affects the later portions of the test.  In other words, if you do really well in the early portion, the test determines that you fall, say, in the 700 - 800 range.  Then it starts to give you 700 - 800 level questions and gradually narrows you into a score.  Likewise, if you do poorly on the opening stages of each section, there's only so much you can do in the later section because the test has already determined you fall in the, say, 400 - 500 range and the best you can hope for is a 500.

If the questions toward the end of each section are really challenging, it might be a sign that you are doing really well and the test is feeding you particularly challenging questions.  That seemed to be the case for me on the verbal section.  I took the test twice and did much better the 2nd time even though it felt like I was really struggling toward the end.  

But that was partly because I learned about the adaptive nature of the test and prepared to take much more time with the early questions and allowed myself to rush the end of each section.  

Caveat:  I took the test 7 years ago so it may have changed.  Somebody who's taken it lately, feel free to correct me if this is no longer the case.


June 7th, 2012 at 10:35 AM ^

I took the GRE 2.5 years ago, and all I did was brush up on my math shortcuts, but otherwise didn't do much in terms of prep.  I may be an atypical situation, though, as I have become somewhat of a veteran of standardized tests (LSAT, couple bar exams, patent bar), so the format and timing elements that tend to screw people up were not much of a roadblock.  My weakest area was in math simply because I hadn't had to think about angles and spatial relations for years, but the questions themselves are not math-intensive as much as logic puzzles that you can figure out pretty quickly if you can save yourself the needless computations.  The verbal always seemed to mess up others, but as long as you understand the common words (I don't suggest memorizing them because you'll likely confuse yourself; just get a sense of their origins/usage) you should be fine.

As others have noted, the first couple of questions put you in a scoring bucket, so make sure you get those right.  And this might be an unnecessary reminder, but don't worry about skipping questions if you find them taking up too much of your time.  I'm not privvy to the scoring algorithm, but wasting 2-3 minutes on a question will kill your score.  If you don't know the word, just guess and move on.  In aggregate, your final score will be a pretty close representation of your abilities on the exam.

Finally, see how relevant GRE scores are to the program(s) you are applying to.  With my M.S., it was secondary behind my work experience and education, but with law school the LSAT is a major factor for most schools because there are few other metrics they tend to consider because of the vagaries of the legal market and law schools in recent years. 

Good luck!


June 7th, 2012 at 12:03 PM ^

not on a computer, just offered a couple times a year, and with a baffling analytical section with logic problems.

I checked a test and study guide book out from the local public library and cranked away on practice tests  - including in classrooms, so I had the experience of working on problems in the actual environment. I also drilled on vocabulary from the same book.

I prepped for several hours every day for three weeks prior to the exam. Oh, and I kept time controls, so I got used to doing math and reading under time pressure.

The book was 5 years old, and the practice questions in it were older yet, but turned out to have much harder questions than what turned out on the exam itself. That was a really good thing. I scored extremely well in all three sections, got into every grad school I applied to, winning offers at three of them including my first choice. I graduated with a PhD from the best department in my field in the country, debt-free, and landed a plum tenure-track position in my first interview at a Big Ten school, where I find myself today, tenured and doing exactly what I want.

I also review lots of graduate school applications - have for twelve years now - and I take the GRE scores into account along with all the other stuff. Math matters most to me, then verbal. I pay almost no attention to the writing score.

Hope that helps!

Tha Stunna

June 7th, 2012 at 1:22 PM ^

I took the test four years ago.  Generally, get plenty of sleep and never ever stay up late cramming the night before these sorts of exams.

For the math:

Make sure you can do ALL of the math in the test in a timely fashion, and be sure to double check your work.  It will probably be review, unless you missed learning about standard deviations at some point.  There was some official prep material from the GRE itself, if I remember; that should suffice for a review.  If you're going into engineering or some math-centric field, you really do want a high score.  The top 6% get an 800, and I don't think there's much of a margin for error since the questions cover low level math.

For the verbal;

I thought cramming was pointless and impossible, until my Korean-born undergrad, who lacks much of a vocabulary, got a 620 or so on the test by cramming for a month.  That being said, it's probably not worth that much effort unless you need a high verbal score.  You should perhaps read a few books, learn a few root words, and learn to guess intelligently based on said roots or similarities to other words.

Also, don't stress out about the test; that's a good way to get a bad score.

Hands Free

June 7th, 2012 at 1:30 PM ^

I took the new GRE last Fall, and decided to use the Kaplan Guide after perusing all the reviews I could find on GRE guides.  With the test in its infancy, there weren't many reviews available but Kaplan seemed to be the best from what I read.

The test tips it provided weren't helpful in a significant way, but the practice problems and tests were quite helpful.  Even if you have a handle on the material tested, it's nice to go through some actual questions in a timed manner so you are ready for test conditions.  I took a couple practice tests and went through numerous individual problem sets.


July 3rd, 2012 at 2:07 PM ^

I need to register/start studying for the GRE.  Any idea how much time I need? I work full time and am trying to transfer into a different grad program which is requiring me to take the test.  I was able to get a waiver to get into the first program.  

So, any suggestions? Do I start studying and then register for a test like three weeks out?  Or do I register now so I stick to a timeline? I need to take this "ASAP" with the potential to transfer in the fall.  Thanks in advance! 



July 3rd, 2012 at 6:16 PM ^

Mine was right at the change from old to new version, so when I signed up (for the last available slot) it gave me 2 weeks to study. I did well, but I would suggest a little longer. A scheduled timeline can't hurt. Are you good at standardized tests?

If yes, a few weeks to a month is more than enough time. If not, a little extra time to familiarize yourself with the structure of the test would be adventageous.