Preparing for the GRE

This first step in crushing the GRE is hearing what those closest to the exam have to say about it. In the sections below, you'll find in-depth information from an expert from the Princeton Review on how to master the GRE and some ingenious tricks and hacks from a student who has taken the test successfully.

Who takes the GRE?

Students who are interested in pursuing education beyond a bachelor's degree will most likely be required to take the GRE. Most graduate schools in America require students to submit graduate test scores, regardless of the subject they intend to study. While some business schools requires applicants to complete the GMAT, many will accept GRE scores. More than 1,200 business graduate schools accept the GRE.

Why is the GRE required?

The GRE can be seen as a supplement to undergraduate transcripts and letters of recommendations, providing acceptance review panels with insight on potential scholar's levels of intrinsic knowledge. The reasoning, critical thinking and analytical skills tested by the GRE offer schools the information they need to ascertain if candidates will be able to succeed in a challenging post-graduate environment.

When should you take the GRE?

While opinion on this question varies, Kaplan suggests taking the GRE during the third year of undergraduate studies for students who plan to move directly into a graduate program. While the GRE is offered throughout the year, experts suggest trying to schedule test day when other academic responsibilities are light. Perhaps the most important consideration is when graduate applications are due. For most schools, this tends to be the December or January before fall classes begin. Students unsure how they will fare can take the examination up to five times, one test per month. Students who may want to take the exam more than once should take this timeline into consideration when planning their first testing session.

Where can you take the GRE?

GRE examinations are administered at Prometric test centers, a subsidiary of Educational Testing Services (ETS), the organization overseeing the GRE. These sites are located throughout the United States and can be found using the company's testing center locator.

How is the GRE taken?

Aside from countries where there is not readily available Internet, in which case a paper test is administered, the test is taken via a computer. Lasting approximately three hours and 45 minutes, the verbal reasoning and quantitative reasoning portions are adaptive. Each section is divided into two levels, with the first level spanning a range of difficulty. The second level adapts to the test-taker's ability, providing more difficult or easier questions depending on the number correctly answered.

GRE In-Depth

Section Time Given/Number of Questions Type of Question Ability Measured Scoring Scale
Analytical Writing 30 minutes; two essays Essay Critical thinking; analytical writing skills; articulation of complex ideas effectively; provision of focused responses 0-6, in .5 point increments
Verbal Reasoning 60 minutes, 40 questions Single, Multiple Choice, Numerical Understanding of reading; application of reasoning skills; analyzing and evaluating written material; range of vocabulary 130-170, in 1 point increments
Quantitative Reasoning 70 minutes, 40 questions Single, Multiple Choice, Numerical Interpreting and analyzing quantitative information; understanding of basic math; interpretation of data 130-170, in 1 point increments
Unscored Varies Varies Varies Unscored
Research Varies Varies Ability to relay research Unscored

Note: the unscored and research sections may or may not be included on the GRE; neither is counted as part of your score and are generally used by ETS to test out new questions for future examinations.

The GRE: Your Questions Answered

What fees are associated with the GRE?

The test costs $175 within the United States. Depending on how many learning tools an applicant chooses to utilize, extra costs could include:

  • $20-$40 for a single study book. ETS offers an all-in-one guide.

  • $150-$200 for a set of subject specific strategy guides, such as those offered by Manhattan GRE

  • $0-$4,000 to attend a preparatory GRE class

  • Up to $150 per hour for a private tutor

How long does the GRE last?

For the computer-tested version, allow three hours and 45 minutes for the actual test, plus a couple of short breaks throughout.

How is the GRE graded?

As shown in the table above, the GRE is graded on point scales, with verbal reasoning and qualitative reasoning offering a possible 170 points each and the analytical writing scored on a scale of zero to six.

Both the verbal reasoning and qualitative reasoning are considered adaptive tests, meaning the computer bases questioned offered in the second sections off test-takers performances on the first section. A trained reader, using a holistic scale, scores the analytical writing portion. Readers are taught to review the overall quality of an essay based on the question-at-hand. ETS also has a program known as e-rater that reviews the essay as well. If both the human and e-rater scores are in agreement, this is the final score. If they vary, a second human score is obtained, and the final score is the average of the two trained readers.

What do GRE scores mean?

After scores for each section are tallied, the overall test score is reported alongside a corresponding percentile ranking. This rank is used to identify the percentage of others who took the exam and received a lower score. For instance, if a student scores in the 98th percentile, only two percent of other examinees scored higher. From an overarching perspective, GRE scores are an indicator of how well students will be able to synthesize and understand graduate-level academic materials.

Which institutions require the GRE?

While a specific number is not available, ETS reports the GRE is the most widely used academic examination for graduate-level admissions in the world. Most graduate programs accept the GRE, along with thousands of business schools throughout the world. ETS provides a list of current business schools across the globe that accept GRE scores.

How does an institution use GRE scores?

GRE scores are used by admissions and fellowship applications in concert with undergraduate transcripts, recommendation letters, and other supporting documents to determine if a student is prepared to undertake graduate-level coursework. By providing a common measure for evaluating students, these boards can get a better sense of whether or not the student has the skills needed to be successful at this level.

Educational Testing Service

As the official administrator of the GRE, ETS has a variety of resources to answer students' questions about preparing for and taking the examination.

Manhattan Prep

Students can purchase study guides for the GRE and other exams.

My GRE Tutor

This free resource has a variety of helpful tools, including over 800 practice questions, 3,500 vocabulary words, and four full simulation exams.

Mometrix Test Preparation

Mometrix provides students preparing for the GRE helpful video reviews and a variety of quantitative reasoning and verbal reasoning practice questions.


Students can search for a testing facility near them.


This organization offers a variety of resources for GRE prep, including both free services, materials for purchase, review courses, and private tutoring.

Princeton Review

A comprehensive site offering test prep courses.


Other students preparing for the GRE have uploaded thousands of flashcards to help students review vocabulary and common types of questions on the GRE, all for free.

GRE Study Advice

Go back to high school

No, not literally, but reviewing materials covered in high school, especially math, can be very helpful when it comes time to take the exam. Many of the mathematical questions are related to algebra and geometry; for students who weren't math majors in college, it's likely they haven't reviewed these types of problems since high school.

Read! Read! Read!

While many study plans include thousands of vocabulary words to review and memorize, being well read can go a long way, both in recognizing words and understanding context.

Out with the old, in with the new

Test-takers should be aware that the exam was overhauled in 2011. If purchasing any used study guides, it's important to make sure they were printed after the revisions; otherwise the materials could be irrelevant.

Give yourself time

Most testing organizations suggest students block off an average of 8-12 weeks prior to the exam to properly prepare. While any amount of time reviewing materials will help, those who plan properly and manage their time can review much more than those who decided to take it last minute.

Mimic exam conditions

When taking a practice test, try to create a similar environment to become comfortable and familiar with what to expect on testing day. Students should try to stick to the actual time limitations, get used to using a calculator, and turn off autocorrect when writing sample essays.

GRE Study "Hacks"

While it's not really possible to hack the GRE, there are some tips and shortcuts that can help organize and focus your preparation efforts.

  • Make the material enjoyable.

    Studying large vocabulary words or math equations for hours on end rarely send joy into the hearts of anyone. Instead of studying the material as presented, try to relate them to your favorite television shows or books.

  • Learn the building blocks.

    As mentioned, the GRE is testing skills and critical thinking. By learning a few foundational things such as the Pythagorean triples, you can save valuable time on the exam.

  • Learn the test.

    As important as it is to review common materials, knowing the actual test and being familiar with the format, the sections, and the time constraints will go a long way in making you feel comfortable and confident.

  • Develop stamina.

    When including breaks, the GRE lasts for a solid four hours. This is a significant amount of time, both to sit still and to be using your brain at such a high level. Train yourself to be productive for this amount of time, and try to mimic the real test conditions during every practice test.

  • Practice with a calculator.

    There will be an onscreen calculator during the test, so try and become comfortable with using this device in effective and efficient ways.

  • Speaking of practice tests…take as many as possible

    There are tons of both free and paid practice tests available, and you should try to complete as many as possible. These will not only expose you to a broad range of possible question, but also make you more comfortable with the exam in general.

  • Use ETS practice tests as bookends.

    While many companies provide practice tests, ETS is the only company with actual access to the exam. Two practice tests are offered online, so consider taking one at the start to see where you are and one just before the GRE to see how far you've come.

  • Know the best study materials.

    There are hundreds of books and study materials available for the GRE, but all are not created equally. Most recently, Kaplan and Manhattan Prep have provided the best resources and glimpses into the actual test.

  • Be confident!

    Your mental state will have a huge effect on how you do on test day. Try to arrive early, get a lay of the land, and think through anything that might make you feel flustered. Being confident in yourself and your abilities will go a long way.

  • Don't over pack.

    Testing centers are weird about security, so expect to go through a metal detector each time you enter a room and to have your pockets patted down. While you will be provided with a locker, we recommend simply bringing your ID, water, a snack, and a sweater.

GRE Study Plan

Rather than suggesting a particular test preparation company or series of books to purchase, this study guide is focused on breaking down the main focus areas of the test into a manageable eight-week schedule for studying. Additionally, we've included lots of practice test times to familiarize you to the format and even given you a day off each week.

  Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday
W1 Diagnostic Test

VA: Text Completion

QA: Number System

AW: Analysis of an Issue

VA: Vocabulary

QA: Basic Calculation

AW: Writing Basics

Practice Test

VA: Sentence Equivalence

QA: Basic Arithmetic

AW: Analysis of an Argument

VA: Sentence Equivalence

QA: Basic Equivalence

AW: Writing Basics

VA: Critical Reasoning

QA: Calculation Speed

Practice Test

VA: Critical Reasoning

QA: Calculation Speed

AW: Practice Issue Essays (2)

VA: Reading Comprehension

QA: Algebra Basics

AW: Writing Basics

VA: Reading Comprehension

QA: Algebra

Practice Test

VA: Reading Comprehension

QA: Algebra

AW: Practice Arguments Essays (2))

VA: Vocabulary

QA: Geometry Basics

AW: Writing Basics

VA: Vocabulary

QA: Geometry

Practice Test

VA: Vocabulary

QA: Geometry

AW: Practice Issue & Arguments essays (1 of each)

VA: Concept Revision

QA: Data Analysis

AW: Writing Basics

VA: Concept Revision

QA: Data Analysis

Practice Test

VA:Concept Revision

QA: Data Analysis

AW: Practice Issue & Arguments essays (1 of each)

VA: Vocabulary

QA: Misc. topics

AW: Practice Issue & Arguments essays (1 of each)

VA: Vocabulary

QA: Misc. Topics

Practice Test

VA: Vocabulary & Sentence Equivalence Review

AW: Analysis of Issue & Argument Review

Practice Test

QA: Algebra & Geometry review

AW: Writing Basics Review

Practice Test

VA: Vocabulary & Text Completion Review

AW: Practice Issue & Argument essays (1 of each)

QA: Data Analysis Review

Practice Test Practice Test REST

Tutoring for the GRE

For the student who feels he or she may learn best under the professional eye of a tutor, there are numerous points to consider before selecting the best fit. With experienced tutors costing upwards of $150 per hour, students should ensure they find one who understands their learning style and can provide individualized preparation activities tailored to their needs. Some of our top tips include:

Find out what is included.

From the start, it's best to be clear what you are paying for. Does the tutor supply review materials and practice tests or will you need to purchase these in addition to their hourly costs?

Ask for references.

Speaking to students who have engaged a tutor's services will give you a good sense of their success rates. Did the student feel the tutor understood their needs? Did they provide personalized learning initiatives? Did their actual test scores rise after working with the tutor? These insights will go a long way in understanding the effectiveness of a particular tutor.

Look for longevity.

Some tutors may simply be students who took the test and did well and are now looking to make some extra cash. Ask any potential tutor how long they have been offering their services professionally. In addition to ascertaining their commitment, it will also help to know how attuned to student needs they are. While those who haven't been at it long likely won't understand the different needs of students, tutors who have spent years helping students will likely have come across a variety of learning styles.

Ask the last time they took the GRE.

Ideally, a tutor should take the examination at least once yearly in order to stay attuned to the nuances of the test and remind themselves of common anxieties or pressure points. Those who haven't taken the GRE in a number of years, especially given the 2011 revisions, may be out of touch with the realities of the test and instead be relying solely on practice book materials.

Find out what makes them better than a book.

If an individual is working as a GRE tutor, they should have identified their selling point, or what makes them worth the extra cost. Whether asking about their individual approach or particular strategies utilized, it's important to ensure the tutor chosen has a strong methodology they can clearly convey.

GRE Practice Tests

Practice tests can be an invaluable resource when preparing for the GRE. In addition to familiarizing examinees with the format of the test, it also helps with time management and understanding the types of questions that will appear on the official examination.

What are practice tests?

Practice tests are designed to mimic the actual sections comprising the actual GRE test, with the same types and number of questions as examinees will encounter on the day. A large variety of free and paid tests are available, with degrees of similarities to the GRE varying. For instance, the paid exams offered by ETS are meant to be very similar, with timed sections, the ability to move back and forth between questions, and an on-screen calculator: all features of the real test.

How should examinees approach practice tests?

These practice exams can be very valuable and improve test-takers' scores if used properly. Many experts suggest the first type examinees should take is the GRE Diagnostic Test, which consists of verbal reasoning and quantitative reasoning questions. This free exam evaluates the questions answered correctly and incorrectly and analyzes the difficulty level and amount of time spent on each. This test can serve as a benchmark, helping students to recognize the areas to focus their studies.

Perhaps the best advice is to treat each practice test as if it were the real exam. Whether trying out different rituals to help calm nerves or trying to mimic the environment the actual test is administered, test-takers should focus on being both familiar and confident in their knowledge of the coursework, stick to the actual times for each section, learn how to use the calculator efficiently, and recognize the types of questions that will take more time than others.

Practice Test Resources

GRE Test-Day Tips

As test day approaches, it's normal to feel jittery. After putting so much time into studying and preparing for the examination, examinees naturally want to do their best. We've identified a few of the most common questions as well as ways to alleviate nerves.

1. What can you expect on arrival?
  • First, arrive early. ETS recommends arriving 30 minutes prior, but if it will help your nerves to leave even earlier to account for traffic or unforeseen issues, then do it.

  • Plan to wear layers so you can be comfortable and undistracted regardless of the room temperature.

  • Once arriving, you will be asked to show photo identification and your admission ticket from registration.

  • Exam proctors will provide a locker to keep extra belongings in while in the test.

  • Remember that the only things permissible in the exam room are your photo identification and extra clothing. Even watches must be taken off.

  • You'll be asked to write out a statement saying you are who you say you are as a further matter of safety and verification. Don't be alarmed: this is standard procedure.

2. What happens after you get in the testing room?
  • Be prepared to have you photo taken and sign-in to the room. This procedure is to ensure the same examinees enters and exits the room and no swaps are made.

  • Your proctor will assign a computer, which will be yours for the entirety of the examination, barring unforeseen technical problems.

  • Before starting the exam, you'll take a tutorial to ensure all the technical components of the examination are clear. The last thing you'll do before beginning the exam is provide the center the names of up to four schools where the scores should be sent.

  • Once beginning the GRE, there are one-minute breaks between the first two sections and a 10-minute break before the third section. The whole exam will take approximately four hours with breaks included.

3. What happens after the exam?
  • After finishing, you'll be asked to take the exit survey. This quiz asks questions about intended area of study in graduate school and how long you spent studying for the GRE; all information is used as data about test-takers. The computer will then ask if you want to cancel your score. Unless you became violently ill or did not answer a substantial number of questions, you should never cancel your scores. After completing these steps you'll be given your unofficial verbal reasoning and quantitative reasoning score, with analytical writing scores arriving approximately three later.

Testing accommodations/ disability services for the GRE

For students with disabilities or other health-related needs, there are a number of common accommodations available, along with further modifications.

Common health-related accommodations

Some of the most frequently requested minor accommodations are for health-related needs include special lighting, adjustable tables or chairs, extra breaks for medication or food, or a cushion.

Modified accommodations for disabilities

There are a number of modifications that can be made for specific disabilities. These include:

  • Extended testing time

  • Additional Breaks

  • Technology (touchpad, magnification, trackball, ergonomic keyboard)

  • Personal assistance (reader or scribe)

  • Spoken directions (oral or sign language interpreter

  • Note taking assistance (Braille slate and stylus)

  • Alternate test formats (Braille only, large-print, recorded audio with tactile or large-print figure supplements)

What are the rules for receiving accommodations?

Depending on the type needed, the rules vary. For minor modifications, examinees must submit a registration form, Parts I & II of the Testing Accommodation Request Form located at the ETS link below, a letter of support from a medical doctor, and the appropriate test fee.

For more significant accommodations, test-takers should submit the appropriate registration form, the full accommodations request form, disability documentation, and the appropriate test fee.

How do test-takers receive this help?

It is important to note that examinees requesting accommodations are required to submit a Testing Accommodations Request Form and register by mail via ETS Disability Services to receive approval before registering for the exam. Once this request has been approved, ETS will work with the test-taker to schedule an examination at an appropriate testing center and make the Proctor aware of all accommodations needed.