How to Prepare for the GRE

Published by Anirban Bose on

So, you have decided on pursuing a Masters program. You have narrowed down your choice of schools and find that you need to take the GRE. Now you need to figure out how to prepare for the GRE. There are 3 options open to you based on your abilities, the kind of time you have, and of course the amount of money you are willing to spend.

First things first, you need to know where you stand in terms of abilities before you can decide on the prep option suitable for you. Go to the GRE official page and familiarize yourself with the test format and question types. Spend a good 4 to 5 hours on this.

 Go through a quick math review if you want, click here for a guide to the basics of Numbers. Finally, go to the PowerPrep page and take the first of the 2 free mocks available. This is an actual ETS test so please use it well.

Don’t just jump into it.

Understand the test, get a little revision done and then take it in test like conditions in one sitting. You may skip taking the AWA sections and thus save yourself an hour. This is because the AWA section doesn’t contribute to the score out of 340 and you anyways can’t self-evaluate your essays.

At the end of the test you will receive a verbal score ranging from 130 to 170 and a quantitative score ranging from 130 to 170. Add the scores to get your cumulative out of 340.

This was your DIAGNOSTIC test. It tells you where you stand before you start prep. Keep the score handy, it will help your decision.

Now, let’s get back to the 3 options of prep open to you.

Option 1: Self Prep

You may want to prep by yourself using some books and/or online video based courses.

Why opt for this:

  1. Because you have scored around 290+ on the diagnostic.
  2. You are a very disciplined person and a self-starter
  3. A full fledged course (classroom or online live prep) requires a lot of time and you don’t have it.
  4. Your budget for prep is under $150 (Rs. 10,000)
  5. You have 3 to 6 months of prep time

How to go about this?

You will need to buy a few books, sign up on a few free practice sites, figure out your areas of weakness and look up online tutorials for those areas.

A word of caution: Self Prep takes time.  You will need to budget some time for self-analysis and possible wrong turns in prep. You will have to spend a good amount of time in selecting your source of preparation and then preparing.

For example, you might find a book or online resource or YouTube video has a very good approach to problems on Normal Distribution. You will, of course, go through the chapter/quiz/video but you will also need to account for the time taken to research about this best source. You might also end up reading the chapter and then finding the need for a better explanation. All in all, it will be an exciting ride as long as you plan for the detours.

Please NOTE that video based courses also fall under Self Prep. Despite the many modifications most off-the-shelf online prep courses are pretty standardized. 

  1. These courses are meant to be exhaustive and thereby exhausting. Most courses boast of 100+ hours of content!! While there might be some guidance regarding which videos to watch (based on your diagnostic score), the approach is pretty standard.
  2. This brings us back to the problem of time in self-prep. A very popular online video based course has 70 hours of videos. Pause for a moment and think about that, it’s the equivalent of watching all 10 seasons of FRIENDS! And it’s hardly going to be as entertaining.
  3. Some courses boast of AI or adaptive algorithms and tailor the course to suit your needs. This means you will get a structure and a path and some online support even. This will work for some test takers, but is probably not the best option for you if you need to jump 20 points or more.

This is NOT the option for you, if

  1. You have scored below 290 or have scored below 140 on one of the sections.
  2. If the gap between your diagnostic score and your required score is 20 points or more.
  3. You are a busy working professional or have major family commitments that make it difficult for you to take out time.

This one may sound counter-intuitive but is not, choosing self-prep means serious commitment and if you are not sure about being able to take out time for prep, you are doomed.

Most people opting for Self Prep think of it as the cheapest and most unobtrusive way of prepping. TRUE. Prep however is never unobtrusive, you will have to put in time and that must come from somewhere. So unless you can be consistently ruthless about taking time out of your leisure activities, your TV time, and even your family time, this is NOT the option for you.

Here is the complete list of the best books for GRE prep in 2020.

Option 2: Guided Prep

You may want to join a classroom course or a live online class and take the guidance of an experienced mentor. Joining up for a video based course does not come under this category, it is still Self Prep for a variety of reasons outlined above.

Why opt for this:
  1. You have scored less than 290 on the diagnostic
  2. You have scored 290+ on the diagnostic but the schools you are looking for require 320+. If the gap between your diagnostic and your target score is 20 or more then Guided Prep is the only way to go.
  3. You are a busy working professional and might not be able to put in focused prepping without external motivations.
  4. You are able to grasp concepts but need structure; you need guidance and course correction.
  5. You do not have more than 3 months before you take the GRE
  6. You don’t mind spending a little more on prep costs
How to go about this?

Join up for a classroom program near you or join LIVE Online classes. In either case, find out about the trainer, the reviews and the track record. The single most   important difference between a good course and a great one is the trainer, ask for a DEMO session.

A word of caution: Please pay special attention to the duration of the course. Most GRE classroom courses will have 30 – 50 hours of classroom coaching. And that is sufficient. Be sceptical of programs that are 60 – 80 hours long as these tend to be haphazardly thrown together and usually have everything crammed in. The hallmark of a good course is brevity; you want to score high but without having to sacrifice every waking minute in prep.

This is NOT the option for you, if

  1. Travelling to and from the classes takes up more time than the classes itself. In this case, consider Live online classes.
  2. You have scored below 140 on both sections. This might require more serious one-to-one attention.
  3. You are decent or even good in one section but terribly deficient in the other. So while you may be able to do with just self prep in one section, you will need a thorough prep on the other.
  4. You have less than a month’s time before you take the GRE. Most classroom or Live programs are 6 to 8 weeks in duration.

Option 3: Personalized Prep

You may want to hire a very good private tutor or join an institute which provides one-to-one personalized prep. Why opt for this:

  1. You have taken the GRE before and your problems are a few specific areas rather than the entire course.
  2. You have been out of touch with studies for a long time and need to comfortably ease in.
  3. Typical class timings don’t suit you.
  4. You have very little time left before you take the test.

How to go about this?

One-to-one coaching/tutoring is expensive. In India it typically ranges from Rs. 1000 to 2500 per hour, however, the good part is that most test-takers who fall into this category don’t need more than 20 hours so the cost is not that high.  

Needless to say, the tutor/trainer is the only factor in consideration here. You need someone who has expertise and experience. The trainer should have taken the GRE test and scored in at least the 95th percentile, also he/she must be willing to provide a 30 minute demo at least.

Whatever your prep choice, you can succeed as long as you create a study plan and stick to it as far as possible.

Happy Prepping!

The author has a 99%ile score on the GRE and conducts GRE batch classes on the weekends at Whitefield, Bangalore. Online LIVE Classes for the GRE are held on Weekdays late evenings. You can get in touch for batch classes (classroom or online) or special one-to-one online tutoring.

Contact Us.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

WhatsApp chat