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It’s Better When You Have A Plan: Study Advice for the GRE General Test

So, you’re getting ready to take the GRE General Test for graduate school, business school or law school — where do you even begin? It can feel overwhelming at the start and procrastination is tempting. However, if you create a plan and give yourself the time you need, preparing for the test can actually go well and even be rewarding. These planning steps can help your work pay off on test day and beyond.

GRE taught me the most important life principles — like consistency, hard work, and discipline are key to success … Now, I’m looking forward to applying these principles in my day-to-day life so that I can achieve great results and success in the future.

Engineering student, India


How much time do you have? How do you like to learn? Your plan and the types of prep work it includes will depend on some personal factors. According to ETS research, most test takers prepare for 1 to 3 months, so try to give yourself at least that amount of time. Here’s how to make the most of it.

Take a practice test

Start by taking a free POWERPREP® Online practice test, because it’s the best way to get a clear picture of where you stand — you’ll be able to see what skills you have already mastered and identify the areas where you need to improve. If you’re considering a quant-heavy business school program, such as an MBA or specialized business master’s, taking a practice test can help you assess your verbal vs. quantitative performance with more precision.

The free practice test simulates the actual GRE General Test and it’s a great opportunity to experience the test format and helpful features. And, if you set yourself up to take it like it’s the real thing (timed mode, proper scratch paper or white board, no interruptions), you’ll get a good idea of the section timing.

Having all of this information gives you a solid starting point to help you be more efficient with your studying. If you’ve taken the test before, the free GRE Diagnostic Service can also give you insights into where to focus your preparation to better your Verbal Reasoning and Quantitative Reasoning scores.

Familiarize yourself with the test content and format

What’s on the GRE General Test? The types of questions on the test reflect the kind of thinking you’ll do in graduate programs, including business and law. You’ll see content on the test that assesses verbal reasoning, mathematical reasoning, critical thinking and analytical writing skills.

Gain an understanding of the content and structure of the test so you know what to expect on test day. How many sections are there and what skills do they cover? What kinds of questions will you encounter and how much time will you have in each section? How are the sections scored and what are some examples of correct answers? Familiarize yourself with each detailed overview here:

Set milestones

Be sure that your study plan has a clear goal to work toward. Whether it’s a specific test date or the mastery of certain skills, this will give your preparation structure and purpose. Write it down, hang it up, set reminders in your phone — whatever it takes to keep you focused!

If you can, set a test date right now. This makes your time frame real and won’t let you procrastinate. To start the registration process, search for a test center near you, or see if you are eligible to take the GRE General Test at home.

Some test takers are more comfortable preparing first and committing to a test date once they feel ready. This works too, as long as you set up specific milestones along the way. For example, setting target score ranges for your practice test. Or creating a study schedule that focuses on a test section each week and culminates in registering by the end of the month.

Download official prep materials

Once you decide which skills you need to practice, you can start working immediately with digital prep materials from the creators of the test. If you haven’t already, create an ETS account to be sure you can access the full range of valuable tools.

  • Official GRE Mentor is a self-paced, online course that includes 640 real GRE test questions, skill-building content to help you brush up, and a full-length, timed practice test.
  • The free math review (PDF) provides a great refresher on the basic math skills that are important for solving problems on the Quantitative Reasoning section, and it can be particularly helpful if you’re looking to improve your skills as a business school candidate who needs to demonstrate quantitative reasoning abilities.
  • Dive deeper into the math topics in the Quantitative Reasoning section with free instructional videos from the Khan Academy®.
  • The full POWERPREP Online Suite offers a range of options to help you prepare to do your best. From an introduction to the test’s sections and tools, to practice tests with never-before-published questions, instant scores and more, this is a pretty powerful asset to bolster your preparation.
  • All official GRE practice books from ETS are available as eBook downloads. No waiting on shipping!

Take advantage of online resources

Even if traditional study groups and resources are limited, there are still ways to connect with others and get support online.

Having friends who are prepping too boosts motivation, according to a recent ETS survey. So make it a point to gather on apps like Skype®, FaceTime® and Zoom® to work with other test takers. You may want to try to pair up with students who are pursuing the same type of graduate program or degree as you (for example, a master’s of engineering or a specialized business master’s). Reach out regularly to keep each other on task. And be sure to frequent the official GRE General Test social communities for news, advice and more opportunities to connect with others in your same situation.

Those who prepared for the GRE General Test are more satisfied with their test experience compared to those who did not prepare.

ETS Test-taker Survey

Don’t forget your final step

When you reach the end of your study plan schedule, take the second of two free POWERPREP Online practice tests to see how far you have come. You’ll see where you have improved and, most importantly, if you need to continue to work in specific areas. Taking the time to walk through an experience just like the real thing can never hurt!

You can do this. Work at your own pace and focus on your plan. Having a structure to the days and weeks leading up to test day will keep you focused and help calm your nerves — knowing you are actively getting that much closer to achieving your goals.