How much preparation is needed for the GRE?

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Trying to figure out how much time to spend preparing for the Graduate Record Exam can be tricky, but there are a few steps you can take to lessen the headache.  First, it is important to take a diagnostic test (a full length version) to find out where you stand with your scores.  This will help you gauge your preparation level. In addition you can also analyze your wrong answers and determine your weak areas and where you need to improve.  Educational Testing Services (ETS) offers a free online test on their website. Very soon you will also be able to take a diagnostic test at Barron’s test prep. This diagnostic test will be free for all.

Next, research the programs you’re applying to and figure out how important the GRE score really is to your overall application.  Some schools just like to see a basic minimum score in case you’re application has some less than stellar parts to it (like GPA for example), other programs can be more competitive and the GRE score is just as important as your letters of recommendation.

If you do your research and learn that your program really only views the GRE as an added benefit to your application, then you’re in luck.  Go over some sample essays and study a few GRE practice questions, but don’t stress too much.  As long as the score on your first full length test is within the normal range for the programs you’re applying to, focus on the other, more important, pieces of your application e.g. the essay and letters or recommendation.

However, if you have a low score on your first practice GRE test, or if you’re program is very competitive, you’ll need to tackle the GRE with a real plan and purpose.  My best advice?  Really use you’re first practice test to figure out your weak areas and focus primarily on the section of the test that reflects the program you’re applying to.  For example, if you’re applying to an engineering graduate program, you score on GRE Quantitative Reasoning is probably more valuable than the GRE Verbal Reasoning score. But the opposite will probably be true for a liberal arts program, verbal is more important.  Focus on the areas of the test where you aren’t as strong and knowledgeable and improve those scores, but also work on the section your program will highlight the most.

Online GRE Prep courses like Barron’s can help you get familiar with the format of the GRE test and also give you the vocabulary, reading and math skills that you need to score high on the GRE.  Barron’s GRE Prep also allows you to go over your wrong answers and see the area’s you need to work on most.  I cannot stress enough the importance of taking at least one practice test and going over your wrong answers and taking note of your weakness areas.  Finding the average scores needed for your intended graduate program can help you write a great GRE study plan and decide how much time you need to devote to your GRE prep. Following these tips can insure a less stressful GRE experience.