Never, ever take an exam cold. It is true that the GRE is designed to measure your academic abilities that you have developed over time, in school or elsewhere ... does that mean you can just walk in and take the exam? That would not be a good idea if the goal is to maximize your score. Studies from the test-maker have shown that specialized GRE preparation can genuinely help you improve your skills and abilities, while familiarization with the test itself will improve your exam-day performance and reduce your test anxiety.
Most of my students come to class with a 2-3 month preparation horizon. An accepted rule of thumb in the test-prep industry is that every five-point score increase on the GRE test takes about 40-50 hours of self-study – in other words, with most test prep, 40 study hours = +5 points. In comparison, for our students at Austin Elite Prep, 40 study hours typically translates into +10-15 points.
Why do our students usually out-perform the 5-point rule cited by the industry? Your ability to move your score upwards is based on a variety of factors, including access to high quality preparation support, such as our students have, and your ability to devote serious time to your study.
However, generally speaking, equating study hours to score points provides a useful way to think about your GRE preparation. Prepare yourself to put in those hours.
Begin by researching GRE score averages for your target graduate programs. This will allow you to set an appropriate GRE score range as your goal. For example, if you plan to apply to MBA programs with a GRE score, you will find that average GRE quant scores, both quant and verbal, typically range from 160 to 163. Most business schools require a GRE or GMAT score, and they all value a high score as demonstrating recent, demonstrable skills.
Other types of graduate programs may require more research on your part; in recent years, as some programs have gone test-optional, those schools have stopped making their classes' average GRE scores public, even though they still recommend submitting a GRE score (especially if your GPA doesn’t reflect your academic skills). If you decide that applying with a GRE score will make your candidacy more competitive, then set yourself competitive goals.
A masters in public policy, for example, may encourage you to earn a GRE verbal score somewhere between 158 to 163 and a GRE quant score between 156 to 160 (the higher end scores are from Harvard Kennedy School). To take another example, if you seek a masters of science in artificial intelligence, your GRE quant score should ideally be between 164 and 169 and your GRE verbal score somewhere between 154 and 162 (the higher end quant score is from MIT).
Your next step is to take a free POWERPREP® practice test, available on the official ETS website (www.ets.org), in the Prepare for the Test section. This test preparation software uses retired questions from past exams. Taking a practice test at the beginning of your GRE preparation will help you gauge how you would perform on the real exam, and alert you to the areas on which you most need to focus. You may be surprised.
You now have a baseline to know where you are relative to where you need to be.
Now that you have set your score goals, it's time to create aggressive but realistic study goals. My premise, based on experience, is that 40 hours of structured, guided study should better your chances of meeting and exceeding your goals.
I strongly believe that a GRE course should not just provide you with 40 hours (quantity) but strategy, a clear direction, and a better understanding of the topics (quality), accelerating both your studies and your motivation. The Austin Elite Prep course provides an effective curriculum, 39 hours of class time with ~20 hours of assigned homework problems and a scheduled practice exam (that you take out of class), and most importantly, experienced professors to lead you on your way. We also offer an additional study plan to assist you after you conclude classes and before you take your GRE test.
During these next 2-3 months, GRE prep comes first. Commit to study time at the outset, and don’t try to carve out time around competing obligations. You will have to give up leisure time and temporarily shelve some responsibilities and plans.
GRE preparation requires self-discipline and motivation. Many people take our course to guarantee that they have time scheduled each week to focus on GRE prep, and ensure that they will be surrounded by like-minded people pursuing similar goals.
Maybe you did well in certain college courses requiring math or English aptitude. Perhaps you went on to a career in which you use specific math, writing, or communications skills every day. Great! Your skills will work to your advantage when you take the GRE exam. However, you will still need to put in the time to achieve excellence.
Many people start our GRE course with the incorrect assumption that they won’t actually have to study for every section of the exam. However, in order to achieve a high GRE score, you should actively build upon your strengths.
Secondly, to impress graduate programs, you will need to demonstrate a notable proficiency in the skills related to your future studies. Look at the examples of GRE score ranges that I cited above. The scores desired by the public policy graduate programs? The GRE verbal score should be as high as you can push it. The scores for a computer science program? The GRE quant score should be formidable. The MBA programs? The GRE quant score must be strong, but schools also seek a "balanced" candidate with the high GRE verbal score to prove it.
Human nature being what it is, you may be tempted to avoid your least favorite subjects. Don't. Here again, a top-notch GRE course (such as Austin Elite Prep’s) can help you overcome mental obstacles that may hinder your studies. With great GRE preparation, you may learn not to fear disagreeable topics, improve your performance, and reduce your test anxiety. In the best case scenario, your professor may successfully spark a new love for a topic that you thought that you hated.
Please note: If math is your weak spot, you may choose our GRE Plus and GRE Premium course options, which include the Math Foundations class and supplemental tutoring hours.
Let me remind you that one or two years of a masters program, or the multiple years of a PhD program, is more of a commitment than our recommended 61+ hours of GRE preparation (classes plus homework). Focus on your motivation for starting this odyssey, and remind yourself of that reason throughout the class.
Like graduate school, GRE preparation is a challenge, but it can be an exciting and rewarding challenge. Your GRE course is not only preparation for the exam but for a successful return to academic studies in your chosen field. With the support of your professor and peers, you truly can ignite your future career.
Austin Elite Prep offers exceptional quality in-person GRE courses and tutoring to students in the Austin / Round Rock / San Marcos area.
Focused study. Teachers who care. Individualized help. We provide a structured course curriculum and experienced professors in a personalized and supportive environment – what you need to face the GRE with confidence.