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The Ultimate Guide to the GRE

International students preparing to take the GRE have nothing to worry about.

That’s because the GRE (Graduate Record Examinations) can be conquered with preparation. The GRE is what’s known as a standardized test. That means whether you take the test today, tomorrow, or next month, it’s designed to give you the same score. Even with different questions and any new knowledge you may gain in a short amount of time, your score should be very nearly the same each time because the GRE tests your capacity for general skills, not specific facts.

That’s why studying more math or reading more books won’t improve your score alone. The key to improving your score is taking timed practice tests then focusing on your weaknesses until you get the score you’re seeking. If you find a concept, word, or idea that confuses you, make a note of it and research it after you take the exam. In addition to these study guides and practice tests we’ve collected a few insights into the GRE, section by section, below:

Analytical Writing

This is the most intimidating section of the test for non-native English speakers. Our advice: make a plan.

Outline It — Every plan starts with a good outline. It’s simple: choose your topic, create a thesis statement, and write out three to five sentences that each build on your thesis. Each of these sentences represents a paragraph of your essay. Now you have an outline!

Prove It — If you say it (“Football is unpopular with younger students.”), prove it (“According to the coach, no student below 15 enrolled in football last year.”) Give evidence to strengthen your argument. Provide at least one piece of solid evidence for each paragraph.

Focus It — Everything you write should relate to your topic. You may be tempted to insert a story that you find interesting or an idea that shows off your insight. But if it’s not relevant to your argument, you’re better off leaving it out.

Edit It — Never submit anything that you haven’t reviewed at least once. You will always notice some very simple errors (and perhaps some major ones!) Editing, like outlining, only takes a few minutes and is always worth it.

Verbal Reasoning

Create a strategy for the verbal and reading comprehension sections: eliminate obviously wrong answers for challenging questions to improve your odds. Don’t spend too much time on a single question—skip it in favor of easier ones and return to the ones you skipped when you have time. In general, the best way to improve your verbal score is the two Rs:

Read Everything — Read as much as you can. Read what’s known as primary sources — well-known works of Western literature, philosophy, and history. The more you can read the better. Need a place to start? Try Plato and Herman Melville.

Research the Unknown — Anything you come across in your reading that is unclear should be researched either in a dictionary or a verified text. Access to a proper encyclopedia (not Wikipedia!) is helpful. World Book encyclopedia is only $30 for students.

Quantitative Reasoning (Math)

Your math score may be the easiest to improve on a test like the GRE. You will never encounter anything as challenging as calculus or even trigonometry on the GRE; these subjects can be ignored completely. The GRE emphasizes four basic categories: arithmetic, geometry, algebra, and data analysis. Here’s our advice:

Review the Basics — Revisit fundamental math concepts like geometry and algebra (and their formulas). The ETS offers a review guide that will give you a solid foundation in the skills you’ll need for this test.

Strengthen Your Weakness — Take one practice test then break down your strengths and weaknesses by category. If most of the questions you miss are in the geometry category, focus on that. Remember, standardized tests are designed to be consistent. If you’re strong in other categories now, you’ll be strong in them on test day as well.

Test Strategically — All right answers have the same value so don’t waste too much time on challenging questions. Move your way through the easiest questions quickly but carefully, mark tough questions for review, and eliminate obvious wrong answers to improve your odds. It’s always worth guessing.

Good luck on test day! And don’t forget: you can always take the GRE again if you’re not happy with your results.