How to Prepare for the General GRE

The best recommendation I can give for taking the GRE is to buy the Princeton Review’s study book and read their strategies as well as take as many practice tests as possible. I used both the Kaplan and the Princeton study books and felt the Princeton helped me more, but that may just be the way I learn. The GRE is a test that prays upon test “over thinkers.” The best thing you can do if this describes you is to prepare by taking practice tests. These will help you go into the test with more confidence and trust your instincts when in doubt.

Analytical Writing

GRE

Breakdown:
– 30 minute “Analyze an Issue” essay
– 30 minute “Analyze an Argument” essay

Scoring:
– Scale of 1 to 6, in half-point increments
– 5.0 is in the 93rd percentile, while 4.5 drops to the 78th percentile

Strategy:
– Plan before you write, logical organization is everything
– Go with your gut answer to the question and don’t take time to contemplate the question too deeply
– Make sure your examples clearly illustrate your point, now is not the time to get too theoretical
– Consider a counter example that is easily dismantled and refute it
– These prompts are meant to be highly debatable, the “best” answer is the one that you can articulate clearly with supportive examples the fastest

Verbal Section

Breakdown:
– Two 30-minute sections
– 20 questions per section
– Mean score of ~100,000 examinees: 3.61

– Types of questions:
reading comprehension – read a passage and answer the analytical questions
sentence equivalence – picking two words that both give the sentence the same meaning
text completion – fill in the blank with the word that makes contextual sense

Scoring:
– Scale up to 170
– 163 is in the 91st percentile
– Mean score of ~100,000 examinees: 150.75

Strategy:
– Memorize the definitions of as many GRE words as possible
– Don’t over think and convince yourself of an answer that is theoretically possible, but not “provable” based on context
– Take as many practice tests as you can

Quantitative Reasoning Section

Breakdown:
– Two 30-minute sections
– 20 questions per section

– Types of questions:
Comparisons – pick whether one of two sums is greater, smaller, equivalent, or not enough info to tell
Problem solving – answer a standard math problem (i.e. solve an algebra problem for a variable)
Data interpretation – analyze the implications of a graphic, table, etc.

Scoring:
– Scale up to 170
– 165 is in the 91st percentile
– Mean score of ~100,000 examinees: 151.91

Strategy:
– Review common equations such as the area of a circle and geometric principles
– The multiple choice answers are purposefully given to trick you if you make a common mistake, so when make sure your answer makes sense in terms of the problem
– If a problem takes you more than 2 minutes, pick your gut answer and come back to it only if you have extra time

4 thoughts on “How to Prepare for the General GRE

    1. kathleen Post author

      What program are you applying to? My goal was to score above the 90th percentile for the programs I was applying to, after which point I figured studying and preparing more weren’t worth the time or money. I reached that goal my second time taking the GRE with a 163 Verbal (91st %) and a 5.0 writing (93rd %). Since my program is the English lit PhD, I was advised to prepare minimally for the math section. I took a couple practice tests of the math, one of which I got a perfect score on, but I didn’t time myself at all and allowed myself to look up formulas and geometry rules I didn’t remember off the top of my head. The time was a huge deal breaker for me on the real GRE since I hadn’t prepared for that, and I didn’t finish at least a quarter of the section. Ended up with a 154 on the Quant, which was enough that no English program would question that I lacked basic computing skills, but not what I would have tried for had I been apply to a more technical program. Hope this helps!

      Reply
      1. J. S. Owens (@drivingthoughts)

        Thanks. I am currently working on my M.Div with a concentration in theology. I plan on pursuing either a ThD or a PhD (depending on school) in moral theology/ethics with a focus on political theology. As such, I definitely need 90th percentile or higher in well, all the categories. I think my initial goal is something high like 165v, 160q, 5.5aw. My biggest trick, I think, is going to be learning how to take a standardized test like the GRE. I’ve only ever taken the SAT before, and that was 15 years ago (I took some time off working in between undergraduate and starting my M.Div).

        Reply
        1. kathleen Post author

          Good luck on your applications! My philosophy on the GRE (as well as most standardized tests) is that just being intelligent can only get you part of the way. For better or for worse, preparing for the format of the test is what will get you the rest of the way. Unfortunately, I’ve found that getting that experience is very costly. Books, classes, paying to take the actual test… I tried to balance doing the best I could with giving ETS as little money as possible.

          P.S. my writing sample, although for lit programs, had a theological/ethical theme to it. I wrote it on the ethics of love in Marie de France’s lais and Heloise’s letters to Abelard, both from the 12th century.

          Reply

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