Practice test, prep course, study materials, oh my! How to prepare for the GRE

Taking the graduate record examination (GRE) is stressful, but when you figure in all the time you’re going to spend studying, it’s enough to drive you crazy. In order to feel prepared, you’ll want to be sure you’ve taken a GRE test preparations course or at the very least, taken a GRE practice test or two. Here are some answers to your frequently asked questions regarding the GRE.

Now that I’ve registered, should I take a test prep course?

A test preparations course isn’t necessary for everyone. However, if you’ve been out of school for a long time or really need a math refresher, taking a course isn’t a bad idea. Though they can be quite expensive — a quick search for test prep courses in Michigan shows prices ranging from $800 for a course at Michigan State University through over $2,000 for one-on-one instruction from Kaplan — they can offer peace of mind for the test taker.

What practice test materials should I use?

You’ll want to make sure the test prep materials you’re studying from were prepared by a legit company that knows the test subjects well. Finding Joe Schmo’s website and giving him your credit card information for study books claiming “top scores” is probably not a good idea. Sticking with reputable companies like Kaplan, Princeton Review and Barron’s is your best bet.

According to the Educational Testing Service, the company that administers the GRE, “Since the GRE revised General Test, which was introduced in August 2011, features a new design and new question types, using test prep for the prior version of the GRE® General Test is not recommended.” You can download free test prep materials from the ETS website. Borrowing a friend’s materials from five years ago will help you begin studying the basics, but you’ll want to get current materials to make sure you cover all areas.

How far in advance should I begin studying?

I know that when I was studying for the GRE, I hadn’t taken a math class in quite a few years (six to be exact!) and I didn’t want to completely BOMB the math portion, so I started studying three months before the test date. How far in advance you begin studying depends on what else you’ve got going on in your life.

  • Are you still taking classes full time or working 40 hours a week? If this is the case, you may want to start around four months early so you can look at the material for a few hours each week.
  • If you’re in between semesters and only work part time, you’ll have much more time to devote to studying each day, and a two-month study period should be enough time for you. 

Now what?

Be sure to stock up on flash cards, highlighters, a small timer and snacks to keep by your study area to help cut down on lost time. I also light a candle to help me relax if I know I’m going to be studying for a longer period that day.

And, don’t forget to take a study break once in a while: get up, stretch your legs, listen to a good song and then get back to work!

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