Applying to a master’s or PhD program? It’s time to prep for the GRE! The GRE (Graduate Regent’s Exam) is an important part of any MA/PhD application. While many people compare the GRE to the SAT/ACT, the comparison is not exact, and it’s important to know what you’re getting into as you prep for the GRE. Here are some key points to remember:

What is the GRE?

The GRE is the standardized postgraduate admissions exam. Unlike the other graduate school exams, such as the GMAT, LSAT, and MCAT, the GRE is a generalized exam that’s meant to be taken by students in a wide range of fields. The GRE is broken into two sections of Verbal Reasoning, two sections of Quantitative Reasoning, one section of Analytical Writing, and one “research” section, which is unscored, but is useful for the test administrators to plan future adjustments to the test. The GRE is taken by computer at specialized test centers and is offered throughout the year.

How does your program of choice weigh your GRE score?


Unlike college admissions, grad programs are specialized—your school of choice already knows what you want to study. Because of this, they may care more about how you do on a particular portion of the GRE than your overall score. An engineering program will likely be most interested in your Quantitative Reasoning score, while an English Literature department will want to know how you fared on Verbal Reasoning. Knowing what your program is most interested in when it comes to your GRE score will allow you to focus on studying for that section and boosting your score in the way that will most help you.

What’s your GRE target score?

Obviously, the higher the better! But while your GRE ambitions may be limitless, your prep time isn’t, and you’ll also be thinking about your application essays, sourcing your letters of recommendation, and managing any work or school you have outside your grad school applications. With all of that in mind, it’s good to have a “target” score, to help you create a more focused prep schedule. Look for the average range of scores that students accepted in your top-choice grad program have received — that’s an ideal target to set.

Practice, practice, practice!

This is one thing that’s exactly the same as the SAT/ACT! The best way to prep for the GRE is by practicing. This can include focused prep for different sections of the test, or taking full-length practice tests—ideally both. In the case of a full-length practice test, it’s also helpful to practice in an environment similar to the one where you’ll be taking the test—on a computer, with no distractions, especially as you get closer to test day. With focused prep, and plenty of practice, you should be ready for the GREs with less stress and more confidence!

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