Update: Some of this article's advice is now outdated due to changes in the GRE. A more recent article on the exam can be found here.
First things first: the GRE is for graduate schools, but not for MBA programs (that requires the GMAT); however, some business schools may accept it.
Background: The GRE is a computer-based test that generates questions based on your previous answers. If you continue to correctly answer questions, they will get harder. The test has three sections: quantitative reasoning, verbal reasoning and analytical writing. The test was updated in August 2011 to more accurately reflect the current thinking skills needed in graduate schools.
The quantitative reasoning/verbal reasoning sections are now scored on a 130-170 range with one point increments. The writing section is still scored 0-6 with half point increments. The test has six sections, the last being a research section, and the duration of the test is approximately 3 hours and 45 minutes.
There is no new data on what test scores students will need to be accepted into certain schools because the scoring has changed so recently. Now, a scaled score of 150 (on each section) is considered to be an average score. See more score averages from the Educational Testing Services (the creator and administrator of the GRE) here.
Understand test directions: On the GRE, time is precious, and you can save loads of it by learning the section directions before the test.
Take practice tests: This is everyone’s first tip to performing better on any standardized test, mainly because it works. Taking practice tests can help your brain mold its thinking around the structure of the GRE and improve your speed.
But, be careful about the test prep materials you use because most are outdated. See question types and further materials from the ERT here.
Try to make your practice tests as similar to the real GRE as possible. Instead of practicing 30-minute sections at a time, try to practice the entire test in one sitting. Take your tests every Saturday morning around the same time you will take the GRE. Spreading out your studying can help your brain retain the information you learned while practicing, instead of just memorizing it. It’s the same idea as studying in smaller increments for a test as opposed to pulling an all-nighter and cramming the day before…and we all know which one is more beneficial.
Try doing this for at least 12 weeks, and you will begin to see significant improvements.
Use a GRE study book: They are very easy to find, although most can be expensive. The books will help you recognize patterns and common traps on the GRE. Find the most recent edition of the book to reflect the August 2011 changes.
Work with a one-on-one GRE Tutor: Finding out where you struggle is the first (and easiest) step to improving your GRE score. Anyone can do that by taking a practice test. But, to significantly improve your score, you will need to improve in these areas. That’s the real challenge to raising your GRE score. A one-on-one tutor can give you the in-depth training and explanation you may need to improve in your problematic areas. Then, you can work to fine tune your skills in other sections. Taking a GRE prep class can help, but only a tutor can tailor each session to your specific needs. In New York City, GRE tutors are our most requested tutors.
First test in each section: Previously, the first 10 questions in every section were the most important because those would determine your scoring bracket. If you answered all 10 correctly, you would enter the highest possible scoring bracket, and from there, your score could only drop marginally.
However, the new GRE is slightly different, although it still offers a tiered scoring system. There are multiple tests in the Verbal Reasoning and Quantitative Reasoning sections. The first test determines your scoring bracket, and the difficulty of the questions in the following tests are determined by your performance on the first test. The scoring brackets are not as significant as they previously were. But, entering a higher scoring bracket early can ultimately improve your score.
Answer every question: There is no penalty for an incorrect answer on the new GRE.
Review high school math: By the time you’re 22, you may want to forget just about everything you did, wore and listened to in high school. But, for the GRE you at least need to remember your algebra and geometry. Taking practice tests/questions or reviewing basic algebra/geometry books could help you.
See math an updated math review from the ETS here.
Make dictionary.com your homepage: Because you are going to need to know the weirdest, strangest, most-obscure, never-will-be-used-in-context vocab words out there for the GRE verbal section. Read as much high-brow literature as possible, and constantly check dictionary.com for definitions of words you’re unfamiliar with. Subscribe for dictionary.com’s word of the day. And start doing this early because you cannot grow your vocabulary overnight.
Know writing topics: The writing section measures your ability to form an argument for or against a topic. You will be scored on your use of examples, development and support, organization, language fluency and word choice.