Graduate School Crunch Time:
Preparing for the GRE Fast
Smart Steps and Tips to Get Ready in a Hurry

Meet the Expert

Arvin Vohra Read bio

The GRE is a standardized test used to get a sense of prospective students’ readiness for the rigors of grad school. Not every program requires GRE scores, but those that do typically have strict deadlines for when they must be sent in. Students find themselves short on time when it comes to studying for and taking the GRE for a variety of reasons. This guide provides a truncated study schedule, checklist for getting organized, and expert advice from an examinee who got perfect score.

Getting Organized

Prepping for the GRE in a hurry means getting everything organized – and quickly. Use this handy checklist to make sure no important steps fall through the cracks.

GRE Fees

Standard registration for the GRE costs $205 (2017), while additional fees such as late registration ($25), rescheduling ($50), or changing the testing center ($50) can tack on extra costs. Examinees register for the computer-delivered GRE exam via Educational Testing Service’s website. At the time of registration, examinees should ensure they have easy access to a form of payment, understand rescheduling and cancellation fees, and request any needed accommodations.

Study Fast, Study Smart

What should you focus on?

With a short amount of time to prepare for the GRE, the most important thing examinees can do is quickly take a practice test to ascertain their strengths and weaknesses. Students who already have a robust vocabulary or thorough understanding of grammar want to focus less on these sections, while quantitative reasoning may require more of their limited time.

General hacks for quick studying include:

Take time to memorize common math formulas, as this will save you precious time and will undoubtedly make an appearance on the exam. Examples include Pythagorean triples, laws of exponents, slope of a line, probability, and circumference.

Even when you aren’t studying, you can engage in activities that allow for passive learning. While preparing for the exam, try to read more academic-style writing, look up words that are unfamiliar, and don’t reach for the calculator every time you need to do math.

Read the first and last few pages of each chapter of the study guide. Books like these tend to provide overviews of material covered within the chapter at the start and end of each, making it easier to pick up on the most helpful tips without covering so many pages.

Sample One-Month Study Plan

The four-week schedule shown below incorporates “Official Guide to the GRE” (OGG) study guide published by ETS as part of the learning plan. Other study guides should have the same information contained within, so students don’t necessarily have to buy another book to follow along.

Analytical Writing

The GRE is made up of three sections: verbal reasoning, quantitative reasoning and analytical writing. Most study guides tend to focus heavily on the first two sections, but analytical writing is not to be ignored. Attaining a perfect score on analytical writing isn’t impossible, but far too often students forget to review this section until only a few days out, causing the worldwide average score to be 4.0 out of a possible six points.

So what exactly is the analytical writing section? Made up of two essay questions, examinees are allowed 60 minutes to respond to the writing prompts:

  • Analysis of an Issue

    This essay ascertains an examinee’s ability to evaluate a specific issue, understand its complexities, and respond with a developed, well-reasoned argument that uses examples and evidence to support any claims made.

  • Analysis of an Argument

    This essay calls on examinees to evaluate the nuances of an argument and, rather than taking a stance on the argument’s position, use the information to determine its logical unassailability.

Preparation for the analytical writing section is less concrete than the other two sections as there is no formula or vocabulary words to memorize. Officials look for seven specific elements when grading the two exams: clarity, structure, sentence variety, vocabulary usage, language and grammar, reasoning abilities, and evidence. Essays receiving the highest scores bring all of these elements together in a seamless way.

Analytical Writing Hacks

Research shows that longer essays receive higher grades, and the sweet spot for word averages is between 500 and 600 words.

Create an outline before beginning the essay prompt to stay on topic and ensure all points are made.

Spend some time reading a few short essays or a book before taking the test. Seeing how others put together arguments can be inspiring.

Getting GRE Scores

After taking the GRE, waiting for scores can feel like watching paint dry. While students are able to view unofficial verbal reasoning and quantitative reasoning scores directly after taking the computer-delivered exam, official scores for all three sections including analytical writing aren’t available for another 10 to 15 days. Test-takers provide a list of the schools to which they have applied and ETS will send the final score report to each of the schools once they become available.

Scores for verbal and quantitative reasoning are each given out of a possible 170 points, while the analytical writing section is scored on a zero to six scale. Upon completing the exam, students have the option of to report or cancel their scores, depending on whether or not they meet the requirements of prospective schools. If a school requires a 325, for example, but the student only managed a score of 310, sending scores would be inadvisable and the examinee should consider retaking the exam. Examinees who are pleased with their score but in a time crunch can report their unofficial scores to prospective schools as a way of giving the institution a sense of the final score report.

Little-known Tips and Tricks

Day of Test

All the hard work put into preparing for the big day will be all for naught if students aren’t mentally, emotionally, and physically prepared for the rigors of sitting for the exam. Rather than stressing about what’s to come, examinees should try to use the hours leading up to the GRE to get in the right mindset.

In order to be ushered into the testing room, examinees must present a valid photo identification and a confirmation email or authorization voucher. Pack these items first. Other items allowed in the room include a sweatshirt or any other layers needed incase the room is cold and a bottled water. Students may also bring snacks and a cellphone, but the phone must not be used at any point in the duration of the exam, including breaks. Other items such as jewelry (except for engagement or wedding bands) must be removed. Don’t bring a calculator, paper, or pencils as all of these materials are provided.
Use the 24 hours before the exam to disconnect from the study guides, prep schedules, apps, and other tools used to prepare for the GRE. Don’t even look at them. Try to clear your mind and do things that help you relax. Consider going for a long walk, spending time with friends or family, or taking a bath. If you can’t bear the thought of not studying at all the day before, set a strict time cut off, ideally no later than noon, to stop studying.
The evening before testing is not the time to stay out late or catch up on the new season of your favorite TV show. Set a strict bedtime and stick with it. A full night’s rest will provide mental clarity and help tremendously when you’re trying to recall a specific formula or exactly what a malingerer is.
Testing day is also not the time to hit the snooze button. It takes time for our brains to fully engage in the morning, so try to be up at least one full hour before you need to leave for the testing site. Use this time to have a balanced meal with protein to keep hunger at bay and healthy carbs to keep energy up.
ETS encourages students to report to their testing center at least 30 minutes before the exam is scheduled to start. Examinees who arrive late may not be able to join the classroom and their fees and expenses will not be reimbursed. Upon arrival, exam administrators assign each test-taker a designated seat.

Expert GRE Advice from a Perfect Scorer

Arvin Vohra is a GRE perfect scorer who attended Brown University. Upon completion of his degree, Arvin founded Vohra Method, a live online program that offers GRE classes and tutoring.

If a student has only a few weeks or a month before testing day, what should they focus on?

The GRE is a test of math problem-solving ability, logical analysis, and critical reading skills. These skills are usually developed over years, so improving them significantly in a few weeks is no easy task. We usually see that, after four years of college, many students have forgotten pretty much all of algebra. The good news is that they knew it at one point, and so those skills can generally be rebuilt very quickly – within a week or two, if the student is motivated. Rebuilding those core algebra skills will give you the fastest score increase. Work with a real math tutor on the GRE math problems – don’t waste time with plug-in, backsolve, and other silly gimmicks.

GRE reading is much harder. The only thing that makes GRE math hard is that most people have forgotten all the algebra they ever knew, but the actual math is about as hard as SAT-level math. GRE reading, on the other hand, is much harder than SAT reading. For the first to weeks, do the GRE reading passages slowly, taking time to fully understand each passage. The first passages might take a few hours each. That’s fine. Over the next two weeks, your speed will improve.

In your opinion, what’s the best study resource in this situation (e.g. tutor, study guide, class, apps, etc.)?

In a short time frame, your best option is total immersion. That means combining vocabulary apps or flash cards, practice GRE sections, and an intensive GRE training program that instills the tests skills that are normally developed over a decade. If you have a month, you need to live and breathe the GRE.

Don’t worry if you’ve forgotten algebra – you can learn it faster than you think. It takes kids over a year to learn algebra, but it takes adults a few weeks to relearn it. A good math tutor can help you rebuild algebra skills in a week or two. For reading, take your time to find the subtle points in each passage. Every passage has one to three key, non-obvious, subtle points. If you find them, you’ll be able to get pretty much every question right.

Having taken the exam and earned a perfect score, what insider knowledge can you provide about what to expect?

Most of the hardest GRE passages have subtle, central ideas. If you find them, that will let you crack that passage wide open. As long as you’re prepared for SAT-level math, you will be find. Once you’ve mastered the math portions, try to spend as much time as you can working on verbal reasoning. You cannot rely on the process of elimination, as many questions have more than one right answer and you need to mark all of them. Focus on learning real, direct solutions.