How to Study for the GRE

Preparing for the GRE is partly about mastering the content and partly about your pacing and test-taking skills. While some standardized test-taking skills may transfer over, it’s best to work on strategies specific to the GRE.  Learn the GRE format, question types, directions, and the techniques to approach each type of question if you want an exceptional score on the GRE. It pays to invest and learn how to study for the GRE.


Online preparation courses include everything you need in one place. They offer text-based content review lessons and interactive practice, as well as strategies.  An excellent online program can help identify your strengths and weaknesses, assign practice based on that information, and track your progress.

Some online programs are just online prep books with little to no personalization to the program. Make sure to get a well-reviewed course. See our recommendations for the Best GRE Prep Courses.

Another great resource is the Free GRE practice tests we offer. These resources are up to date for 2020, and the practice exams include automatic scoring and explanations for all answers. Understanding what you got wrong, why it was wrong, and what the response should have been is crucial to being prepared for the GRE. 

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See our review of the best GRE Prep Courses.

GRE Prep Courses

Best GRE Prep Courses

Prep books are a great addition to any GRE study resource. Prep books are an affordable option and great for students who want to learn on a budget. Check out some of our favorite GRE prep books to help you learn how to study for the GRE. 

Whatever resources you decide to use, taking a practice test before you begin studying will help you create the best study plan. Having a study plan is one of the best ways to achieve the highest score possible on the GRE. 

Determine your Baseline

Your baseline score is what you would receive if you took the GRE today. Take a GRE practice test to get a good baseline.  The results should show you which content areas you need to focus on the most.

Create a Study Schedule

Plan to devote between 4 and 12 weeks to GRE preparation.  Dedicate at least three to four hours per day, a few times a week to studying.  Make sure to budget online practice into your study schedule to prepare you for the computer-based test experience.

Use Recommended Study Strategies

Study Strategies for the Verbal Section

  • Build Vocabulary With Flashcards

Many online resources provide vocabulary lists of some of the most-seen words on the GRE general test. 

  • Practice Using the Process of Elimination on Vocab Questions

Use the process of elimination to strike out answers you know are not correct. You will probably have to rely a lot on the context for this. Does it seem like a positive or negative word belongs here? Which words don’t fit?

  • Read Complex Texts

Try to read various texts from many disciplines if you can. You can try publications like the Atlantic, the New York Times, the Economist, and Nature. 

  • Practice Focusing on the Relevant Parts of the Passage

Read the questions first and try to find and hone in on the part of the passage that is responsive to the question. You’ll save time, and it will make the answers easier to find.

Study Strategies for Quantitative Prep

  • Review your High School Math Concepts 
  • Use the Calculator Sparingly

While you can use an on-screen calculator for the GRE, you don’t want to rely on it too much. 

  • Practice Figuring Out What Word Problems Are Asking You To Do

Don’t look at the information given for a word problem and assume you know what it’s asking. Read the question closely. Double-check that you are delivering the solution in the format that’s being requested.  

Study Strategies for Analytical Writing

  • Examine Real Analytical Writing Prompts

ETS has released the question bank for Analytical Writing. Look through the prompts to get a sense of the topics covered and the patterns that emerge.

  • Practice Writing An Outline 

Don’t just start writing on the Analytical Writing section of the test without an outline. You will waste time figuring out what you want to say, and your writing will be disorganized.

  • Practice Writing a Clear Thesis

Analytical writing is primarily about intelligently presenting a clear, well-supported argument. You need to have a clear thesis. What’s your main argument? What’s the easiest way to express that? That’s your thesis. 

Work Through Practice Tests

Think through how you approach each question while taking practice tests and drills. The techniques you use and how you solve a problem are what help you get better at taking the GRE.

Be sure to review your performance after taking practice exams. What kinds of questions do you usually miss? What types do you tend to do well on, and which ones slow you down?

You’ll see the most significant point improvements by focusing on topic areas and question types that you struggle to answer. Utilize our directory of free GRE practice tests to prepare.

Employ Effective Test-Taking Strategies

Read the Question Carefully

Make sure you know what’s being asked because even a slight misreading of the question could lead you astray.

Do the Easy Questions First

All questions are worth the same points within a section. Equal points mean that it makes sense to answer all the questions you can tackle relatively quickly and efficiently first. 

Mark & Return

When you’re going through questions, and encounter one that seems confusing or too hard, skip it! Just use the marking function to mark the ones that you didn’t finish it. Once you’ve completed all the easy questions, go back to your marked items, and complete them. 

Answer All Questions

The GRE does not assign penalties for guessing. Even if you’re not sure of the right answer, guess. If you have one minute left and five blank questions, skim them and quickly guess as best as you can. If you’ve got 30 seconds left, just pick some answers! If you’re lucky, you’ll add a few points to your raw score this way.

The difference between getting an average score versus an exceptional score comes down to knowing what and how to study for the gre - and lots of practice.  

Understand the Test Format

The GRE General Test takes about three hours and 45 minutes and is divided into three parts.

 Task Time  # of Questions 
 Biographical Information  +/- 10 Mins  -
 Issue Essay  30 Mins  1
 Argument Essay  30 Mins  1
 Verbal Reasoning (2 Sections)  30 Mins Each  20/Section
 Quantitative Reasoning (2 Sections)  35 Mins Each  20/Section
 Experimental Section (Unscored)  30 or 35 Mins  Varies

Issue and Argument Essays

The GRE begins with two essays. For the Issue Essay, you’ll make a case for your position on a topic.  For the Argument Essay, you will analyze the logical soundness of an author’s argument. You have 30 minutes for each essay. 

Multiple-Choice Sections 

There are five multiple-choice sections, but only four will count in your GRE score. The fifth is an “experimental” section. The quantitative reasoning, verbal, and experimental sections may appear in any order. You have 30 minutes to complete each multiple–choice section. 

Understand what content is on the GRE

Before you review any content, familiarize yourself with what is actually on the test. See what’s on the quantitative reasoning section and what’s on the verbal section. 

GRE Verbal Reasoning Section

The GRE Verbal Reasoning section is a test of your high-level reading and language skills. It consists of 50% vocabulary and 50% reading comprehension.

Vocabulary Questions - There are two types of vocabulary questions:

  • Sentence Equivalence questions provide you a sentence with one blank, and you choose two words from six selections that could both complete the sentence and give the sentence the same general meaning.
  • Text Completion questions provide you a sentence or short passage missing up to three words. You will select the word(s) that best completes the passage.

Reading Comprehension - There are three types of reading comprehension questions:

  • Multiple choice
  • Multi-answer multiple choice questions will provide three answer choices, of which two or all three will be correct.
  • Select-in-passage. You will select the sentence that best fulfills particular criteria. Then you will click the sentence in the passage on your screen to select your answer.

GRE Quantitative Reasoning Section

The GRE Quantitative Reasoning section focuses primarily on critical thinking and problem-solving skills. In each 20-question subsection, you can expect to see the following question type distributions:

  • Quantitative Comparison Questions. On these questions, you’ll be given two values and have to choose if: quantity A is bigger, quantity B is bigger, the quantities are equal, or if there’s not enough information to know which is bigger.
  • Problem-Solving Questions. These questions present word problems, equations, or geometry questions. Problem-solving questions appear in multiple-choice or numeric-entry formats.
    • 5-option multiple-choice questions.
    • Numeric entry questions have you enter your response into a box. 
  • Data Interpretation Questions. On these questions, you’ll need to interpret the information given in a graph or chart. Data interpretation questions appear in multiple-choice or numeric-entry format. These are multi-answer multiple choice questions where you select all that apply from some number of answer choices.