Many people who plan on attending grad school have heard of the Graduate Record Examination, or GRE. The GRE is basically the grad school version of the ACT or SAT, except more daunting. Before taking the GRE, I heard primarily horror stories from GRE survivors. And, I’ll admit, studying for and taking the GRE is not the most enjoyable thing you’ll do. However, there are several things you can do to make the process less stressful and give yourself the best shot for success. Here are some of my tips for making the GRE as painless as possible.
First of all, make sure it’s required.
Before you start preparing for the GRE, make sure you actually need to take it! Only certain areas of study use the GRE in admissions decisions, and within those areas, only certain programs will require it. Before signing up for the test and cracking open a prep book, look at the programs you’re interested in to see if you even need to!
Space out your preparation.
I’m so grateful I took the GRE during the summer. Doing so meant I could focus on preparing for the GRE without worrying about doing any other homework or studying. Make sure you sign up to take the GRE so that you’ll be able to study regularly for a few months leading up to your test date and not cram or skimp on your studying because you have so many other responsibilities.
Figure out what type of preparation works for you.
There are many ways to prepare for big tests, so think about the ways that work for you and focus your studying based on that. Does using flashcards to memorize words or equations work for you, or do you like learning them through completing practice questions and problems? Does doing a lot of practice tests help you, or do you prefer reading mini refresher chapters or going to a prep class? With all the time you’ll spend preparing, make sure the methods you choose work for you.
Take advantage of free prep materials.
Once you know what type of prep works for you, look into all the free materials available. On the ETS website, you can find a few free, full-length practice tests you can complete. These are great, because they’re written by those who create the test and will give you the best idea of what the test will be like. Beyond practice tests, you can also find several different apps or websites for vocab flashcards that can help you prepare for the verbal section. If you want further prep materials, look closely at what the books or other materials will give you before purchasing them. Prep materials vary widely, so pick one that has the resources you need.
Know which schools you want to send your scores to.
On the day of the test, you can send your scores to four schools for free. If you want to send your scores later, you’ll have to pay $27 per report sent. Even if you don’t know exactly which programs you’re applying to, pick four you’re interested in and put those down. If you don’t end up applying to those programs, that’s fine!
Take it easy the days leading up to the test.
You’re not going to learn much more in those last few days. Just take that time to relax and make sure you’re well-rested and mentally prepared for the exam. You also should take those days to make sure you know exactly where to go for your test and what to expect when you get there. Which leads me to my final tip…
Know what to expect the day of the test.
Security for the GRE is no joke. You can’t bring anything inside – not a water bottle, a jacket, chapstick (all of which I wanted with me) or anything else. You will also likely be filmed and have several other students around you taking different tests and moving in and out of the room. If either one of these is a concern for you, contact your testing center to see if alternate arrangements could be made. To prepare for what taking the actual test would be like, I found it helpful to take a practice test under the conditions of the real thing. This meant taking each section back-to-back, with breaks only at allowed times and time limits on the sections and breaks. Preparing in these ways ensures there won’t be any surprises on test day.
While it’s important to study hard and fully prepare for the GRE, it’s also good to remember that how you do on the GRE probably isn’t going to decide whether you get into a program or not. The GRE is just one of several factors considered in admissions decisions, so don’t take it too seriously!