General GRE Strategies
0.1 GRE X-Ray
0.3 General GRE Strategies
General GRE Strategies
It’s time to talk strategy, specifically study and test-taking strategies. It’s no secret that getting a good score requires lots of time, energy, and preparation. We’ve included many strategies throughout this book, from general strategies to help you on test day to question-specific step methods that will ensure you have an effective plan of attack for very question type you face. So, without further ado, here are the general strategies designed to help you prepare for and beat the GRE:
  • Unleash Your Inner Warrior
  • Get Online
  • Set a Target Score
  • Pace Yourself
  • Remember the Order of Difficulty
  • Use the Process of Elimination
We’ll spend the rest of this chapter looking at each strategy in detail.
Unleash Your Inner Warrior
You bought this book for a reason. You don’t want to sweat through every question. You want to be an elegant, test-taking warrior, a destroyer of the GRE and all questions therein. The mistake many students make is taking the GRE cold—with no preparation, not even so much as a flip through the information booklet. By familiarizing yourself with every type of question, you can approach each one coolly and calmly, knowing in advance what needs to be done to get it right. It’s about switching from survival mode to attack mode, and it’s attack mode that will help you score high.
Everything tested on the GRE is covered in this book, so you can forget about digging out that algebra textbook or notes from Intro to English. Best of all, your confidence will continue to grow as you learn more about the exam and the specific techniques for each section.
Remember too that the test is predictable. The test makers announce in advance which concepts and skills will be covered by the GRE. A predictable test is a beatable test. We’ll go into more detail during our review of each section, and you’ll have a chance to practice on sample questions. Knowing what you’ll see on test day means you can study and prepare.
Get Online
The GRE is a computer-based test, so you’ll need to devote some time to familiarizing yourself with the mechanics of an online exam. We can’t stress this enough: Taking a computer-based test is different from taking a pencil-and-paper test. You’ll be using a mouse instead of a pencil, you’ll be clicking from question to question, and you’ll be reading a screen rather than a page.
At this PDF/testprep/gre/, you’ll find both a short mini-quiz (to provide a quick taste of what to expect) and two full-length practice tests. Note that the second test is only available to customers who have purchased this book. Use the card at the back of this book to get your access code.
You’ll also want to head to the GRE’s very own website, There you’ll be able to register for the test and download the test makers’ PowerPrep software bundle, which includes sample questions. Last but not least, you can access the pool of Essay topics at
Set a Target Score
Concrete goals are better than vague hopes. Here’s a vague hope: “I want to do really well on the GRE.” Okay. Go study everything. In contrast, here’s a concrete goal: “I want to score 600 or above on the Math section.” Concrete goals allow you to come up with a specific plan. This will make the time you spend preparing for the GRE much more efficient, leaving you more time to enjoy your life.
When setting a target score, be honest and realistic. Do some research, and contact the graduate programs you want to apply to about their score requirements or cutoffs. Unlike the SAT, you don’t necessarily have to do really well on all three sections of the GRE in order to get an acceptance letter. And lest you forget: A good score on the GRE is the score that gets you into the graduate program of your choice.
Base your target score on the range required by the schools you want to attend. Aim for a target score that’s a few points higher than the average for those schools. You can also gauge your target score by the practice tests in this book and online. If you score a 500 on the Math section, don’t set your target score at 700. You’ll just get frustrated and you won’t know where to focus your preparation time. Instead, your target should be about 50 points higher on each section than your score on the practice test. Use this new target score to set your expectations when you move on to other practice tests. You can download the official GRE PowerPrep software from ETS and take the two actual practice tests that they provide for free.
If You Reach Your Target Score . . .
Take yourself to a movie, eat some candy, go IM your friends for several hours, or do something else to celebrate. But just because you’ve hit your target score doesn’t mean you should stop working. In fact, you should view reaching your target score as proof that you can do better than that score: Set a new target slightly higher than your original, pick up your pace a little bit, and kick some GRE butt.
Slow and steady wins the race and beats the test. By working to improve bit-by-bit, you’ll integrate your knowledge of how to take the test and master the subjects the test covers without burning out. If you can handle working just a little faster without becoming careless and losing points, your score will certainly go up. If you meet your new target score again, rinse and repeat.
Pace Yourself
We advise you to pace yourself in all kinds of ways: as you’re planning your application process, as you’re studying, and as you’re taking the test.
  • Pace yourself while you’re planning. Find out the due dates for your grad school applications. The GRE is offered year-round, so make sure you schedule to take it with enough time to meet any program deadlines. You’ll also want to make sure you’re not taking it while you’re going through finals, switching jobs, getting married, adopting a cat, or doing anything that might detract from your study time.
  • Pace yourself while you’re studying. The GRE covers a lot of material, and it can seem overwhelming if you think about it as one huge block. That’s why we’ve divided this book into parts, so that you can tackle the concepts and strategies when it’s most convenient for you. To prevent cramming or burnout, structure your study time far in advance. Write up daily or weekly study goals—and meet them. Use e-mail reminders or calendar programs to your advantage.
  • Pace yourself while you’re taking the test. If the GRE were an untimed exam, scores would be much higher. The GRE challenges you to get the most right answers in a very short amount of time. As you begin studying, don’t worry about time. Practice individual questions and problem sets without looking at the clock. When you feel comfortable with the strategies and start seeing some real improvement, then start timing yourself. Eventually, you’ll want to take a timed full-length practice test to see how you’re scoring within the time constraints.
In general, you can afford to spend an average of about 60 seconds per verbal question and about 95 seconds per math question. Remember the order of difficulty (more on that below). Work as quickly as you can without making mistakes on the initial questions so that you’ll have time to carefully work through the hard questions. Don’t feel like you should be timing yourself on every single question. Ultimately, what matters is that you complete the sections, answering as many questions correctly as you can, within the time allotted. How long you actually spend on each question is up to you.
The Essay section gives you 45 minutes to plan and draft the Issue essay and 30 minutes to do the same on the Argument essay. After you’ve mastered the Math and Verbal review, you should begin doing some timed writing to get used to writing strong essays within that time frame.
As mentioned above, on test day, you’ll have an on-screen clock, which will count down the time you have to complete the sections. Although you’ll be given the option to hide this clock, it will automatically alert you when you have just five minutes to go.
Remember the Order of Difficulty
The GRE software adapts to your skills as a test taker. At the start of each section, you’ll be given a few questions of medium-level difficulty. If you answer the initial questions correctly, the GRE will automatically begin giving you harder questions. The more difficult questions you answer correctly, the higher your score. If you make mistakes on those initial questions, however, the GRE will begin giving you easier questions.
If you think you’ve got the answer to an easy question, don’t second-guess yourself: You probably do. If you’re looking at what you consider to be a difficult question, you might want to check your answer just to make sure you haven’t made a careless mistake. No matter what, don’t get hung up on trying to determine a question’s level of difficulty. Do the best you can, but once you click the answer, forget about it—and concentrate on the next question.
Use the Process of Elimination
The GRE software won’t let you skip or leave questions in the middle of the section blank, so you should always guess when you don’t know the answer. But don’t just randomly click the middle choice and move on. Instead, eliminate answers you know are wrong, and then guess from the remaining choices. If you’re stuck on a nasty-looking question, work through it as best you can to try to eliminate any of the answers. As you’re looking at the answer choices, remember to eliminate distractors, or choices that look temptingly correct but aren’t.
  • Math distractors. On Math questions, distractors will often be those numbers you’ll come to in the process of solving a problem. They’ll be the numbers you get when you’re halfway done or when you make a careless error such as mistakenly making a negative number positive.
  • Verbal distractors. On Verbal questions, distractors will be words that sound very similar to words in the question, or they’ll be words that relate to a feeling or event discussed in the question.
Think of the process of elimination like this: If you don’t know the answer to a standard multiple-choice question, you have a 20 percent chance of blindly guessing correctly. If you can eliminate just one choice, suddenly you have a 25 percent chance of getting the question right. And if you can eliminate three choices, you’ve upped your chances to 50 percent! Throughout the upcoming chapters, we’ll show you how to spot—and dodge—distractors by reviewing common GRE answer traps.
No doubt, mastering the GRE is a considerable undertaking. As you’ll soon see, however, the test is extremely systematic, coachable, and conquerable. Ready to get started? Okay, let’s do it.
Help | Feedback | Make a request | Report an error