How To Prepare For The GRE

August 27, 2019 2 Comments

How To Prepare For The GRE

August 27, 2019 2 Comments

Greetings, Earthlings! I never thought I would pass the GRE. No, really. I really didn’t think I was capable of passing the test. Today I am going to share with you my study strategy and approach to tackling each section of the GRE. If you are about to take the test, and fear that you aren’t smart enough, relax. If you can sit down and study for at least a month beforehand, and the GRE doesn’t test your intelligence. It tests how well you take the GRE.

I’m not going to really go too in depth on how the test is set up. ETS has already made a very helpful video series that will prepare you for the real structure. I will simply go over the best study habits that helped me prepare.

The GRE Is A Ninja Test

Have any of you seen Naruto? Of course you’ve probably heard of it. Well, there are a couple of episodes that deal with passing a written test in “Ninja school”…or something. And Naruto, the stereotypical clown who hasn’t studied, has no idea how he’s going to pass the test.

Until he realizes that it’s not about knowing the answers to the questions. The questions themselves were made to be almost impossible to answer. The point of the test was to use their ninja powers to cheat. Once Naruto figures this out, it becomes a piece of cake.

So consider the GRE a ninja test. It doesn’t test how smart you are or how capable you are of getting into graduate school. Throw logic out the window. The GRE question creators have a very specific way they want you to think about the questions.

Verbal Section

Let’s start with the Verbal section. I thought for sure this would be the easiest part, since I am better at English than Math. Well, I was wrong. I actually scored higher on the math section. Why? Because math has preset rules. If you memorize your math rules, you should be pretty ok on the quantitative section.

But the verbal section can be tricky. I found myself trying to logic my way through the questions. I knew the best answers, I was so certain I was right, until I checked my answers and kept getting every single one wrong.

The reading comprehension was especially difficult because I understood the passage a certain way, which was also perfectly logical based on my assumptions about other key factors in the text, but it was not the way they wanted me to comprehend it. You can’t assume anything!


It was so difficult for me as a reader and writer to not assume things about the text. Reading comprehension is all about what is presented to you in the passage. Nothing more. So don’t apply the logic you’ve learned about taxidermy or indigenous tribes of North America. They don’t care what you actually know. They only want you to read what is in front of you and determine the best answers from what you’ve just read.

This means that you need to understand tone, emotion, and what the author meant when they wrote certain sentences. For this reason, it can be incredibly difficult to study for this section, but don’t worry. Once you know what to look out for, you will most likely be able to scrape by.

Sentence Equivalents

These are the pesky things that have you fill in blanks and find words that mean the same thing. I will start with the synonyms.


For these questions, you may be tempted to read the whole question before looking at the answers, but there is a trick here. If you know from reading the instructions that you are looking for two words that mean the same, you don’t really need to read the passage unless there are two pairs, which is unlikely.

So in this instance, you can skip reading the question and jump straight to the list of words. Pick the two that mean the same and move on. This is the fastest way to save time answering questions during this section.

Filling In The Blanks

These questions are often the most difficult simply because you need to know your vocabulary. There will be multiple words that fit each blank, depending on the tone of the sentence (I.e. Positive or negative). So you really need to pay attention to the keywords given to you in the sentence. There will always be a clue in the sentence.

If you can’t find the key words, check the question and come back to it. You don’t lose points for skipping a question to answer later. This will give your brain time to process the question and you may be able to better see the answer.


My advice for studying is simple. There is an app and website called Galvanize. It was the singularly most helpful tool in studying. You can use it on your phone or computer, so even if you’re in bed you can catch a quick 10 minute vocab run before bed.

Galvanize offers free tests, and tells you how well you are doing by gauging your correct answers to the total number of questions answered.

As mentioned above, as long as you know your math rules, equations, and meanings, you should be fine. There’s a printable study guide for this offered for free on the ETS site. So I won’t go into any more details on that. You need to create an account to access the free study aids.


Dun dun dunnnnnn. Everyone’s most dreaded part of the test. In my understanding, this section is always presented first before the verbal and quantitative sections. That’s how it was for mine. There are two essays you need to write. They don’t need to be too long. Just an intro, three bodies, and a conclusion.

The trick here is that one will ask you to defend the issue being presented, and the other will ask you to either pick to defend or oppose the issue being presented. You must clearly make your case, no matter which option you choose.

It can be easy to run over on time during the essays, so be careful you don’t outline too much before writing. I just jumped right in and started writing, making it up as I went. As a writer, I found this easier, but I still ran into some issues of being rushed towards the end.

Other GRE Tips

  1. Test day: When you get there, there will be lockers to store your belongings (cell phone, keys). I recommend bringing a snack. Even if you don’t take your break like I did, you will still want it as an option, or for after you’re all finished. I ate my banana in the car after, while having anxiety attack about actually passing.
  2. They will give you the option of seeing your score and sending it to your schools. I didn’t have my schools picked yet, so I couldn’t do that, but they are also available on their website.
  3. Headphones and scratch paper will be supplied.
  4. The only thing you will take in with you is your key to your locker.
  5. Testing can take from 2 hours to 6 hours, depending on what you are taking. Remember to eat a good breakfast.
  6. Buy a used GRE prep book. You can find them for cheap online.

And don’t worry too much. As long as you study the suggested amount of time, you will be able to pass. Trust me. I’m a solid C student who had major anxiety about it. You just need to pay attention to what they are asking you and answer in the way that they want. I’m not going lie and say it’s simple, but it is doable.

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I am a freelance writer living in Pittsburgh, PA. I have a passion for writing fantasy/horror fiction and when I'm not writing or blogging, I enjoy photography, yoga, and reading tarot cards.

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1 year ago

That test was a BEAST. I HATED the way it was adaptive. I took it a long time ago, but I was not a fan.

Judith Foppiano
Judith Foppiano
1 year ago

Great post! I especially like this line: the GRE doesn’t test your intelligence. It tests how well you take the GRE.” No truer words as it relates to ANY standardized test. It doesn’t matter how much of a subject matter expert you are, it’s all about beating the test! I deplore any and all standardized testing.



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