How to Prepare for the GRE

One of the many pressures of attempting to get into grad school is scoring well on the GRE.  A very quirky test, it can be quite intimidating when you first start reading up on it, but the structure is actually quite simple.  There are six sections total, but only three broad skill areas that will be covered – analytical writing, verbal reasoning, and quantitative reasoning.  Now, it should not be underestimated how broad these areas really are.  In studying for this exam, you will need to go back and re-learn a ton of information you may or may not have looked at since high school.  But what makes the structure of the GRE simple is the fact that the test-makers are extremely straight-forward about the types of questions they will ask you.  Comprehending what each different type of question is looking for and how to go about figuring it out is half the battle with the GRE.  Here’s a helpful breakdown of what to expect when you eventually find test day upon you:

Analytical Writing: You will have to write two separate essays each with a different purpose.  Both will prompt you with an argument, opinion, or statement of some sort regarding a particular issue.  For one of them, you will be asked to take your own stance on the issue and logically back it up with well-organized points.  For the other, you will be asked to only analyze the argument by going into detail about how well it is or isn’t supported by the facts given and what points would possibly need to be made to change that.  You don’t need to fret over how knowledgeable you may or may not be about the topics discussed; all that matters is that you have the focused mind-set to solidly comprehend what you are reading and then share your opinion about it.  There are no right or wrong answers here as long as you are addressing what is being talked about and making sense regarding it with a solid writing technique.  Ultimately, the best way to study for this is to practice writing a classic five-paragraph essay in a thirty minute time period.  Sounds exhausting and boring, but it will be the only way to really warm up your brain for this task.

Verbal Reasoning: To prepare for this part of the exam, studying loads and loads of vocabulary is crucial.  You will never be asked to directly define words, so don’t stress over memorizing exact definitions.  But make sure you genuinely understand what many of these obscure words mean, otherwise you will be very frustrated when you can’t answer questions that in fact look quite easy.  The reason for this is many of these questions are “fill-in-the-blank” questions.  You will be given a sentence with one or sometimes multiple blanks and subsequently have to choose from a multiple choice set of words which one fits the sentence best.  Most of these word options will not be ones you hear every day, however, which is why you need to brush up on the extensive English language.  The only other type of question you will see in this section asks you about a short passage you will need to read.  Thankfully this is not foreign territory to most students who have probably been through this type of question on past English exams and/or other standardized tests.  But similar to the Analytical Writing section, a focused mind that is ready to comprehend points quickly is very necessary.

Quantitative Reasoning: This may arguably be the most difficult section to study for as it covers an extremely wide array of math skills that can be quite time-consuming to catch up on.  Math questions on the GRE can be as basic as understanding the rules of Please Excuse My Dear Aunt Sally, or require more complex thinking such as finding the volume of strange 3-D shapes or solving for complicated ratios or permutations.  By understanding the types of questions this section will ask you, however, you will know what kind of problem-solving to expect to see.  Questions in this section will either ask you to directly solve a problem, interpret data on a graph or chart, or compare two quantities.  That last type of question is what you should really make yourself familiar with as it will probably be the most foreign to you.  The two different quantities will both have to be solved for or figured out in some way so you can eventually compare them.  The easy part?  You only have four multiple choice answers to choose from regarding them in the end: Quantity A is greater, Quantity B is greater, the two quantities are equal, or the relationship cannot be determined with the given information.  Being aware of that definitiveness ahead of time will ensure you an easier time understanding the question and what needs to be done.

Remember, the most pivotal aspect of this study process is practice, practice, practice.  Get a confident hold on these questions and there will be far less unpleasant surprises on test day.