Your Guide to the GRE General Test: What it is and How to Prepare

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Your Guide to the GRE General Test: What it is and How to Prepare

What is the GRE General Test?Who needs to take it?

If you are someone interested in pursuing a career that requires graduate school, chances are you’ve heard of something called the GRE. But what exactly is it? The Graduate Record Examination, more commonly known as the GRE, is the most frequently accepted standardized test for graduate and business school. Prospective graduate and business school applicants from around the globe interested in pursuing various degrees (master’s, doctorate) are often required to take this test as a critical component of a complete admissions application. The GRE General Test is available online at more than 1,000 testing centres in over 160 countries. More recently, due to COVID-19 related safety restrictions, it is also possible to take the test from the comfort of your own home. To learn more about this process and to schedule a test through ETS, see here.

GRE General Test Components

The GRE General Test measures various academic skills and competencies, including verbal, quantitative, writing, and critical thinking. The computer-based GRE is adaptive – this means that if you do well, the questions become more complicated. If you make many errors, the test becomes more manageable. Your final score takes into account the difficulty of your test. Scores for each section can range from 130 to 170. The test takes 3 hours and 45 minutes to complete and comprises six different sections. There are optional 1-minute breaks after every section and a 10-minute break after the third section. The contents of the test are as follows:

  • One 60-minute Analytical Writing section

The analytical writing section is always the first section of the GRE. The purpose of this section is to measure your critical thinking and analytical writing skills. You must demonstrate your ability to construct, evaluate, and discuss a compelling argument. The prompts are general, which means you do not need to have any specific content knowledge beforehand. There are two essay writing tasks in this section. First, you must complete an Argumentative Writing Task. In this essay, you must evaluate a given argument. You have to assess the soundness of the argument rather than take a stance. Second, you must complete an Issue Writing Task. Here, you must evaluate the statement provided and develop an elaborate discussion with rational examples to support your views.

  • Two 30-minute Verbal Reasoning sections

The verbal reasoning sections assess your ability to analyze and evaluate written material, as well as your success at extracting and synthesizing important information. It also tests your ability to examine relationships between sentences in broader paragraphs, as well as and different words within a sentence. There are three types of questions:

  • Reading comprehension
  • Text completion
  • Sentence equivalence

In reading comprehension, you must read a passage and answer a list of questions. In text completion problems, you will be presented a passage 1-5 sentences long with 1-3 blanks, and you must choose the correct answer from 3-5 answer choices. Every blank must be accurate for you to receive credit for the question. There is no partial credit. In sentence equivalence, each question presents a sentence with a single blank and a list of vocabulary words. You must select the word that best completes the sentence.

  • Two 35-minute Quantitative Reasoning Sections

The quantitative reasoning sections aim to assess necessary mathematical skills and your understanding and ability to reason and solve numerically based problems. There are four question types:

  • Quantitative comparison.
  • Multiple choice (select one answer)
  • Multiple choice (select one or more answer)
  • Numeric entry

In quantitative comparison, you will be provided two equations and must determine which of the quantities, if any, is more significant. The multiple-choice questions follow the structure of other standardized tests and are thus self-explanatory. However, in some sections, you will be asked to select all appropriate answers, whereas, in others, you can only choose one.   The numerical entry questions are often considered the most challenging. You must enter the correct answer’s specific value into the blank text box provided for these questions.

  • One 30 or 35-minute Experimental or Research section, which can be either Quantitative or Verbal

The experimental section is just that – experimental! It will present as either an additional verbal reasoning or a quantitative section. You will not be able to figure out which section is the experimental section.

How to Prepare for the GRE 

Unlike other tests you may have taken in high school or college, you cannot cram for the GRE General Test. As outlined above, the question sections and types are very varied. The design of the test is such that it assesses skills, not content knowledge. As such, it takes time to develop the skills necessary to do well. In a broad survey of current graduate students, most students reported that it took between 2 and 4 months of consistent studying for them to feel prepared and ready going into the GRE. The specific duration dependedon the amount of time they were able to dedicate to studying and their prior academic experiences. At the outset of any test preparation, it may help take a full-length practice test to get a sense of how much work you need to do to get the results you want.

There are a variety of ways to prepare for the GRE. These methods range from full self-study to full professional classroom tutor. Each method has its pros and cons. The structure that will bring you the most success depends on several factors, such as time, cost, and how you best learn.

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Top Three Test Prep Books

Several test preparation books have a proven track record of substantially raising student scores for those who want to fully self-study. Although this method requires the most self-motivation and is the least hands-on, it is undoubtedly the most cost-effective and flexible way to study. If you are looking to take this test on a budget or are working a full-time job and cannot dedicate hours of continuous time to test preparation, this may be the best option for you.

1. ETS

What better way to study than from the book of the test-makers themselves? ETS, the official distributor of the GRE, makes a test preparation book called The Official Guide to the GRE General Test. This book is arguably the most authoritative guide to the GRE General test, precisely because of who developed it. There are sections devoted to the various test’s sections, with explanations of the test question types. Also included are two real, full-length GRE practice tests and two simulated, computer-delivered PowerPrep Online practice tests. There are also GRE questions with answers and explanations included. The book is roughly 600 pages. You can purchase it here.

Cost: $40.00

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2. Kaplan

Kaplan is an incredibly well-established and reliable test-preparation company. They have preparatory content for various tests (LSAT, GMAT, etc.), but they specialize in GRE test preparation. The most recent version is the GRE Prep Plus 2021. The Kaplan book’s benefit is that it is updated every year, which allows you to ensure you are receiving the most up-to-date practice questions and explanations. ETS provides the information included in their updates, meaning any changes incorporate adverse student outcomes. The book consists of time-tested strategies designed to post your score. It also has six full-length practice exams and in-depth explanations for each GRE section, with practice questions. With the book comes one-year access to additional online practice. After studying with the online resources and the book, you can request a refund if your score does not improve. You can purchase it here.

Cost: $79.99

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3. Princeton Review

Princeton Review is another commonly used and well-respected test-preparation company. They have developed a similar explained workbook-style self-study prep book that has proven results of score improvement. Like the Kaplan guides, these books boast annual updates. The GRE Premium Prep 2021 is a self-proclaimed “all-in-one solution” for your highest possible score. The book includes six full-length practice tests and extensive topic reviews that thoroughly explain each section and question type.

Additionally, the book contains a code that grants exclusive access to online content through the Princeton Review website. The online materials include more test preparation practice questions and information about graduate school admissions timelines, financial aid, and multi-week study guides. You can purchase the book here.

Cost: $24.99

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Top Three Online/Hybrid Prep Courses

Another standard GRE test preparation option that many students choose is enrolling in an online course. Online GRE prep courses are undoubtedly much more expensive than review books. However, these online formats allow more test practice and real-time feedback for any incorrect answers.

1. Magoosh

Magoosh is not the traditional online preparatory course because it does not have delineated course dates and instructors. Instead, on, by paying for a subscription to their materials, you gain unlimited access to custom study schedules, multiple timed, full-length practice tests, expert video lessons on each topic within each section, and an accurate score predictor. You also gain access to over 1,400 practice questions, including a video explanation for each incorrectly answered question. There is also an app that you can download on your phone, which allows you to study on the go or between other tasks. Although it is an online “course,” the self-paced and economic aspect of Magoosh has made it the #1 rated GRE test prep course for several years in a row. They also include a price guarantee, such that if your GRE score does not improve by more than 5 points from your pre-test, you can get your money fully refunded. You can learn more and sign up for a subscription plan here.

Cost: 1-month premium: $149 // 6-month premium: $179 (recommended)

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2. Manhattan Prep

The live online courses at Manhattan Prep are also highly rated by students. Manhattan Prep courses are customizable to your needs; you can opt to take just a course that focuses only on Math (or the quantitative reasoning section) or a comprehensive review of all skills. These online courses occur once a week, for eight weeks. Each class lasts 3 hours, and a specialized, professional GRE coach teaches the course. Manhattan Prep keeps class sizes small to ensure adequate coaching and attention for each student. The Manhattan Prep online course is incredibly structured and ensures you will cover every topic and every question type that could come up on the exam. Enrolling in the course also gives you unlimited access to two supplemental guides, six online GRE practice tests, a standard set of class recordings, and two Manhattan Prep GRE strategy guides. Because classes involve homework and preparation for the next session, these courses are best for students who can devote 10+ hours per week to outside-of-classroom study. Learn more here.

Cost: Just Math: $799 // Comprehensive: $1,399

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3. Kaplan

In addition to their book, Kaplan also provides live online test preparatory courses. Like the Manhattan Prep courses, these best meet students’ needs who benefit from a more hands-on and structured review. With Kaplan courses, you attend real-time classes from wherever you learn best. One teacher leads the curriculum, while a team of instructors answer any questions posed in the chat. Each curriculum is seven weeks long. The classes meet once a week, for three hours each. Each lesson targets a different topic, and the specialized course instructor provides in-depth explanations for each question type. There is corresponding homework assigned in every class. Besides the structured courses, you also gain 4+ hours of additional live and recorded lessons online, plus 3 hours of 1-on-1 tutoring, a GRE Math Foundations book, and a GRE Advanced Math book. Also included are seven full-length computer-based practice exams, an online database with over 2,500 sample questions, and an e-book of the most up-to-date GRE prep book. You can learn more here.

Cost: Base Course: $999 / Advanced Comprehensive: $1,299

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Other Tips and Resources

Doing well on the GRE can be a stressful and daunting step in the graduate school admissions process. Having the right amount of preparation and finding the type of test prep that best fits your needs is critical. Whether it’s using a book, a preparatory website, or a live online course, there are numerous resources out there to help you achieve your goals. If the resources listed above don’t match your needs, be sure to look at the following companies as well:

  • Princeton Review
  • Target Test Prep
  • Momentrix
  • Prep Scholar

Remember that there many non-structured ways to begin preparing for the GRE non-specifically. These methods can include reading literature consistently to improve your vocabulary or listening to academic podcasts that might demonstrate the formulation of a well-constructed argument. A simple google search can also be your best friend! There are numerous free full-length GRE General Tests available and practice questions from previous years’ exams.

You got this! Order a book, enrol in a course, start making your test prep plan today. Graduate school awaits.

About the author

Indu has been educator since last 10 years. She can find all kind of scholarship opportunities in the USA and beyond. She also teach college courses online to help students become better. She is one of the very rare scholarship administrator and her work is amazing.