As I’m sure you know, the GRE consists of three sections:
quantitative reasoning, verbal reasoning, and analytical writing. And, if you
want to go to graduate school, you have to take it. Of course, depending on the field you’re
going into, you might feel like this test is an unfair assessment of your
skills. What does quantitative reasoning have to do with your ability to write
poetry? Of course, not every program weights the different sections equally.
But no matter how a specific program may view the sections in comparison to one
another, the GRE serves as one metric by which admissions decisions are made.
That means that if you want the best shot of getting into your dream grad
school, you’ll want to make a GRE study plan.
The right GRE study plan will give you the best strategy for
improving your score in the most important areas. It will also give you a
timetable to ensure you put in the right number of consistent hours between the
day you start prepping and the day you actually take the GRE.
5 Key Considerations
1 and 2: How Much Do
You Want to Raise Your Score?
You can actually interpret this question in two ways.
- By how many points do you want to raise your
score? The only way to reliably answer this question is to take an actual GRE
practice test, approximating test conditions as closely as possible. Make sure
the practice test you take is an actual past test, made by the ETS corporation
that designs & administers the official GRE. This will tell you where you
stand before doing any prep. After assessing your starting point, look into the
scores of admitted students at your top programs. This will tell you how much
progress you’ll want to aim for.
The answer to this question will also tell
you how much time you’ll need to allot for studying between now and the test
day. Every student is different, but as a ballpark estimate you can assume that
every 5 points of improvement on test scores requires about 40 hours of
- How great is your desire to increase your score?
This might have an impact on the kinds of resources you’ll want to apportion to
your study plan. If it’s deeply important to you to improve your score, you
might consider investing in an online GRE tutor
or else a GRE class—expert tutoring and test prep coaching can make a
significant difference in boosting your score.
3: Which Section
Many graduate programs pay far more attention to one section
of the GRE than the other. Often this is fairly straightforward—mathematics
departments are more interest in quantitative scores than verbal reasoning, as
literature departments are more interested in verbal than quant. If your
department is closely aligned with one section of the test, then you should
consider this as you create your study plan. Aspiring engineers, for instance,
will want to spend considerably more time on the quant section than the verbal,
even if this is where they are naturally strong.
But don’t make the mistake of ignoring one section of the
test if there’s a chance your department will pay some attention to the score.
It might not seem obvious why an anthropologist would need quantitative
reasoning skills, but a lot of an anthropologist’s research might actually
involve some amount of statistical competence.
4: Where Do You Need the Most Improvement?
Many quality practice tests will enable you to assess your
skills not just by section but by sub-section. For example, on the quantitative
section, you might be strong in geometry but weak in interpreting graphs.
Drilling down on your weaknesses is the most effective way to target your study
efforts and improve your overall score.
The most reliable practice model follows a pattern of
review, assess, review. You should be consistently doubling back to persistent
areas of weakness, using the assessment portion to determine where you still
need the most work.
5: When Do You Want
to Take the Test?
We recommend signing up for an actual test as soon as you
can determine the time you want to take it. Signing up early will ensure you
have a spot available when you need it. It will also help you commit to a study
plan. Without finalizing a date, it can be easy to postpone your goals
Once you know when you want to take the test, you’ll know
how much time you have to put in the work of studying. Combine this information
with the average rate of improvement (5 points/40 hours) as well as the
appropriate section weights for the programs you’re applying to based on your
field as well as your baseline skills. Synthesizing all this information, make
a weekly study plan breaking down how much time you’ll devote to each
section and how regularly.
Maybe you, like many students, found the standardized test
process to be difficult and stressful when you were in high school. But you’ve
had years of education and experience since then. The GRE does not have to feel
like some insurmountable obstacle to achieving your goals. With an intelligent
study plan and persistent effort, you can significantly improve the ease of the
prepping process and you can increase your odds of getting the score you want.
About the Author
Mark Skoskiewicz is the founder of MyGuru, a boutique provider of 1-1 and
small group GRE test prep tutoring (and many other types of tutoring and test
prep). MyGuru is also the official GRE
Prep Club Test Editor.