How to Study for the GRE: Your Guide to Success

Preparing for the GRE can feel like climbing a mountain, but with the right strategies and mindset, you can reach the summit successfully. Whether you’re aiming for a high score to get into your dream grad school or simply want to do your best, this guide will walk you through every step of the way. So, grab a cup of coffee, sit back, and let’s dive into how to study for the GRE!

What is the GRE?

The Graduate Record Examination (GRE) is a standardized test that is an admissions requirement for many graduate schools in the United States and other countries. The test measures your verbal reasoning, quantitative reasoning, and analytical writing skills. The GRE is important because it helps graduate schools assess your readiness for advanced study. Your GRE score can also impact your chances of receiving scholarships and other financial aid.

Before you start studying, it’s essential to determine your target GRE score. This score should be based on the requirements of the programs you are applying to and your own academic goals. Research the average scores of admitted students in your desired programs. Then, consider your strengths and weaknesses in each section. Finally, you should set a realistic and attainable goal, allowing for some flexibility.

How Long Should I Study for the GRE?

Most experts recommend studying for the GRE over a period of about 2-3 months, dedicating around 2-3 hours per day to your preparation. However, the exact duration of study can vary significantly depending on your familiarity with the test material and your personal schedule. For instance, if you are already comfortable with certain sections of the GRE, you may need less time for review. Conversely, if you have a full-time job or other commitments, you might need to extend your study period to ensure you can balance your responsibilities without feeling overwhelmed.

Adjust your study duration based on your initial practice test scores. If your scores are far from your target, you might need to allocate more time to your preparation. Conversely, if you’re closer to your goal, you might be able to study more efficiently with shorter, more focused sessions.

If you have significant commitments, such as a demanding job or family responsibilities, consider extending your study period. Spreading your preparation over a longer period can help you manage your time better and reduce stress. It’s also crucial to include breaks and leisure activities in your study schedule to avoid burnout. Regular breaks can improve your productivity and help you retain information more effectively.

Creating a GRE Study Plan

Start by taking a practice test to gauge your current level. This initial assessment will help you understand your strengths and weaknesses and provide a baseline for your study plan. Based on your initial score and your target score, create a study timeline that includes daily or weekly study goals. Make sure to allocate sufficient time for reviewing all test sections and taking practice tests periodically to monitor your progress and adjust your strategies as needed.

Break down your study plan into manageable weekly goals. This approach can make the preparation process less overwhelming and help you stay focused on specific tasks. Use a calendar or planner to keep track of your progress. Writing down your goals and checking off completed tasks can provide a sense of accomplishment and keep you motivated.

Be flexible and adjust your timeline as needed based on your performance. If you find certain sections more challenging than anticipated, don’t hesitate to spend extra time on them. Conversely, if you’re progressing faster than expected, you can move on to other topics or take additional practice tests to further hone your skills.

Gathering Study Materials

Recommended Books

Invest in some high-quality GRE prep books. Popular choices include the “Official GRE Guide” by ETS and “Manhattan Prep GRE Series.” These books provide comprehensive reviews and practice questions that mimic the actual test.

Tips for Using Prep Books:

  • Start with the basics and gradually move to advanced topics.
  • Use the practice questions to test your understanding.
  • Review the explanations for all answers, even the ones you got right.

Online Resources

Online resources like Khan Academy, Magoosh, and the GRE section on the ETS website offer valuable practice questions, videos, and tips. These resources often provide interactive content that can make studying more engaging.

Tips for Using Online Resources:

  • Take advantage of free resources before investing in paid ones.
  • Follow online study plans that align with your timeline.
  • Participate in online forums to discuss questions and strategies with other test-takers.

GRE Prep Courses

If you prefer a structured approach, consider enrolling in a GRE prep course. These courses offer expert guidance, practice tests, and study plans to help you stay on track. Many courses also provide personalized feedback on your practice essays.

Tips for Choosing a Prep Course:

  • Research different courses and read reviews from other students.
  • Consider whether you prefer in-person or online classes.
  • Look for courses that offer a money-back guarantee if you don’t improve your score.

Understanding the GRE Format

Analytical Writing

The Analytical Writing section consists of two tasks: the Issue Task and the Argument Task. You’ll have 30 minutes for each. The Issue Task requires you to present a well-reasoned argument on a given topic, while the Argument Task asks you to analyze an argument’s logical soundness.

Verbal Reasoning

The Verbal Reasoning section measures your ability to understand and analyze written material. It includes questions on reading comprehension, text completion, and sentence equivalence. This section tests your vocabulary, critical reading skills, and ability to interpret complex texts.

Quantitative Reasoning

The Quantitative Reasoning section tests your mathematical skills. You’ll encounter questions on arithmetic, algebra, geometry, and data analysis. This section assesses your ability to understand and solve quantitative problems, interpret data, and apply mathematical concepts.

Analytical Writing Section Tips

Issue Task

In the Issue Task, you’ll write an essay responding to a prompt. You’ll need to present a clear and coherent argument, supported by examples. Practice brainstorming ideas and organizing your thoughts quickly to improve your performance on this task.

Tips for the Issue Task:

  • Outline your essay before you start writing to ensure a logical flow.
  • Use relevant examples to support your argument.
  • Practice writing under timed conditions to build confidence and efficiency.

Argument Task

In the Argument Task, you’ll critique an argument provided in a short passage. Focus on identifying logical flaws and assumptions. Practice identifying common logical fallacies and structuring your critique clearly and concisely.

Tips for the Argument Task:

  • Focus on the reasoning and evidence presented in the argument.
  • Avoid introducing new arguments; instead, critique the provided one.
  • Practice writing concise and well-structured critiques.

Additional Tips for Success

  • Practice brainstorming and organizing your thoughts quickly.
  • Write practice essays and seek feedback from knowledgeable sources.
  • Review sample essays and scoring guides to understand what graders are looking for.
  • Review grammar and style guides to improve your writing clarity.
  • Practice using transitional phrases to enhance the flow of your essays.
  • Seek feedback from peers or mentors to identify areas for improvement.

Verbal Reasoning Section Tips

Reading Comprehension

Reading comprehension questions require you to read a passage and answer questions about it. Practice by reading diverse materials and summarizing the main points. Focus on understanding the author’s intent, tone, and main arguments.

Tips for Reading Comprehension:

  • Practice skimming passages to identify key points quickly.
  • Highlight or underline important information as you read.
  • Practice answering questions without looking back at the passage to improve retention.

Text Completion

Text completion questions involve filling in blanks within a passage. Focus on improving your vocabulary and understanding context clues. Practice by completing sample questions and reviewing word definitions and usage.

Tips for Text Completion:

  • Practice identifying the overall tone and context of the passage.
  • Eliminate clearly incorrect answer choices to narrow down your options.
  • Use process of elimination and consider all possible answers before making a choice.

Sentence Equivalence

Sentence equivalence questions ask you to select two words that complete a sentence and give it a similar meaning. Again, a strong vocabulary is essential. Practice by identifying synonyms and understanding sentence structure.

Tips for Sentence Equivalence:

  • Look for pairs of words that create similar meanings in the sentence.
  • Practice using vocabulary flashcards to build your word knowledge.
  • Review context clues to help determine the best word choices.

Quantitative Reasoning Section Tips


Review basic arithmetic concepts, including properties of numbers, basic operations, percentages, ratios, and simple probability. Practice solving arithmetic problems quickly and accurately.

Tips for Arithmetic:

  • Memorize basic arithmetic rules and formulas.
  • Practice mental math to improve speed and accuracy.
  • Use GRE-specific practice problems to get used to the question formats.


Brush up on algebraic expressions, equations, and inequalities. Make sure you understand how to solve linear and quadratic equations, work with functions, and manipulate algebraic expressions.

Tips for Algebra:

  • Practice solving equations and inequalities of varying difficulty levels.
  • Familiarize yourself with common algebraic functions and their properties.
  • Use graphing tools to visualize equations and their solutions.


Study the properties of shapes, angles, and coordinate geometry. Focus on understanding theorems and formulas related to triangles, circles, and polygons. Practice solving geometry problems and visualizing geometric concepts.

Tips for Geometry:

  • Memorize key geometric formulas and theorems.
  • Practice drawing diagrams to better understand geometry problems.
  • Solve a variety of geometry problems to build your skills.

Data Analysis

Familiarize yourself with interpreting data from graphs, tables, and charts. Understand statistical measures such as mean, median, mode, range, and standard deviation. Practice analyzing data sets and drawing conclusions from graphical information.

Additional Tips for Data Analysis:

  • Practice interpreting different types of graphs and charts.
  • Review basic statistical concepts and calculations.
  • Solve GRE-specific data analysis problems to improve your skills.

Healthy Study Habits and Test Anxiety Management

Maintaining healthy study habits and managing test anxiety is crucial for performing well on the GRE. A balanced diet and regular exercise can significantly improve your concentration and energy levels. It’s important to avoid excessive caffeine and sugary snacks, and instead, aim for balanced meals. Incorporate brain-boosting foods like nuts, berries, and fish into your diet. Additionally, taking short breaks to stretch or walk can keep your mind fresh. Practicing mindfulness or yoga can also help reduce stress and improve focus.

Getting enough sleep is equally important, especially in the days leading up to the test. Lack of sleep can impair your concentration and overall performance. To ensure you’re well-rested, establish a regular sleep schedule and stick to it. Create a relaxing bedtime routine to unwind before sleep, and avoid screens and caffeine before bedtime to improve sleep quality.

Practicing relaxation techniques such as deep breathing, meditation, and visualization can help you stay calm and focused during your study sessions and on test day. Set aside time each day for relaxation exercises and use guided meditation apps to help you stay on track. Practicing deep breathing exercises during study breaks can also be beneficial.

Building confidence through consistent reviewing and practicing can reduce anxiety. The more prepared you feel, the less anxious you’ll be. Celebrate your progress and stay positive about your abilities. Set small, achievable goals and celebrate when you reach them. Keep a journal of your progress to see how far you’ve come, and surround yourself with supportive friends and family who encourage you.

On the Day of the Test

On the day of the test, it’s important to know what to bring and how to prepare mentally. Ensure you bring your admission ticket, a valid ID, and any approved items. It’s helpful to pack your bag the night before to avoid last-minute stress. Also, bring snacks and water for breaks, and dress in comfortable layers to adjust to the test center’s temperature.

Arrive early to the test center and take a few moments to relax before the test begins. Staying calm and focused throughout the exam is crucial. Review a few key concepts or flashcards before the test to warm up your brain. If you start to feel anxious, use relaxation techniques to stay calm. Manage your time carefully during the test to ensure you complete all sections, and remember to pace yourself to maintain focus and accuracy throughout the exam.

Studying for the GRE IS very grueling and tiring (we get it), but with a solid plan and the right resources, you can achieve your target score. Remember to stay focused, practice regularly, and take care of your mental and physical health. Good luck on your GRE journey!