The difficulty level of GRE
The GRE is easy. Yes, you read that right. It has a simple, well-defined syllabus and gives plenty of opportunities to score well. Even the adaptive nature of the test works to your advantage. You are even granted extra points if you are presented with a ‘hard’ verbal section.
That said, the GRE is exhaustive in the areas it covers. And while it is not pretending to be difficult just to impress the takers, it has certain traps that you need to avoid. For instance, the first section is “Analytical Writing”. And if you’re not a good writer (most people aren’t) chances are you won’t be satisfied with what you wrote. As a result, this section is going to kill your confidence in the very first hour of your GRE test. And that’s a trap.
The Analytical Writing section is also extremely enervating. It sucks a lot of your energy. Especially if you aren’t used to writing regularly, it can be overwhelming. Thankfully, though, ETS provides a large pool of topics to prepare and assures that your GRE will ask you to write on one of these. The list can be found here:
You can mitigate the challenge posed by the Analytical Writing section by preparing the above topics. However, simply reading up on them is not going to be enough. If you are not confident about your ability to write, write a weekly essay and compare notes with another write-up on the topic.
The Verbal Section
This section tests your ability to read and comprehend in the English language. It is NOT a grammar test. What matters most to the GRE is that you are able to understand in a meaningful way any text that you’re reading. They test this ability by presenting an article for you to read and then ask you questions about it. In addition to this, there are smaller quizzes that work with the same criteria. For instance, one of these requires you add missing words to finish a sentence in a meaningful way. You’re supposed to understand what the sentence is trying to say and then fill the words that make the most sense.
That said, to do this you would need to know what the words mean. The GRE is notorious for including words that are not immediately obvious in their meaning. I lost 2 marks in my GRE simply because I did not know what few of the words meant.
There are many free and paid resources available to learn words and their usage. Your goal should be to learn and retain in memory as many as possible words that the GRE likes. You can download the Magoosh Vocabulary app from the App Store or the Play Store for a start. Many of you may already have gathered the resources you would be using to prepare for the GRE. Some of these may be paid and some may be free. What’s more important than gathering resources is using them. Many people start using a resource then abandon it midway only to start afresh with another resource. This keeps repeating and they’re never able to prepare well. When you start using a resource, take it to the end.
I scored well on verbal because I was already an avid reader. I read a lot of books ranging from science to fiction to philosophy. But if that is not you, you need to make it a goal to read on a daily basis. And follow that goal religiously. Many people start with a newspaper, which is not a bad choice. But you can also read books. Whatever gets your ball rolling.
The Quant Section
The quantitative section is generally easier than the verbal. And if you have decent math skills, it’s a joyride.
The best way to prepare for this section is to find what topics are in the syllabus and solve a large number of problems on these topics. You can find the GRE Quant syllabus here:
Go through the syllabus and figure out what you need to learn and what you need to avoid. Make the selection based on your ability to learn. Set a target to learn 85-90% of the syllabus with solid proficiency in at least 70%.
While it is necessary to solve the questions fast (since there’s a timer running), it is more important to solve them accurately. Speed without accuracy is of no importance. It is better to solve 10 questions with a 90% accuracy rate than 15 with a 50% accuracy rate. To increase both speed and accuracy simultaneously you can practice with a timer running.
It is always a good idea to start your preparation by taking a full-length test and analysing that test carefully. This will help you test the waters and will give you a starting point of your preparation. Not only that, it is highly recommended to take a full length test once every week. These tests increase your stamina that you would need to sit for the actual GRE and also serve as important milestones leading to the destination. These tests are the audit of your preparation and will constantly motivate you to push harder.
ETS also lets you purchase two free mock tests when registering for the GRE. I found them very useful although I had the time to take only one of them. In the last month of my preparation I was scoring between 315-320 on Magoosh full length tests whereas in the official mock (which I took a day or two before the GRE) I scored 332.
I hope this article helps you in your preparation. Follow me on Twitter for more: