Chapter 7

GRE Test Taking Strategies and FAQs

GRE Test Strategies

Alright. You are stressed about your GRE. So what? So are thousands of other students. It’s okay to be stressed. But you should keep it under control. Why? Because no matter how well prepared you are,

your composure during those 4 hours decide where you will study your Master’s.

Conquering the GRE is more than just about conquering Math and Verbal. If you want to score higher, you will have to take care of other things as well. If you have the knowledge, however, of everything that concerns the test; and if you know exactly when to do what, then there won’t be any hassle on test day.

Here are a few tips and strategies that will definitely help you through the GRE with ease. We have written these strategies in a chronological order, starting from a week prior to the test, until the test day. These things have to be taken care of in the same order, so there’s no chance for confusion.

One Week To Go

Take a Practice Test

Since by now you must have been thorough with most of the test syllabus, it would be the right time to take one final practice test so you know how far you have come, and where you need to improve upon during the last few days. Download the Official PowerPrep software from the ETS website and take it in a real testing environment; meaning, you shouldn’t take unscheduled breaks, talk to others, relax for a bit, etc. Doing these will give you an inflated score, which often misleads students to think that the GRE is actually a lot tougher than PowerPreP. So shut the doors, switch off the mobile, disconnect from the internet, and take the test properly.

Review Using Error Log

Now that you have the results of your practice test, find out where you have gone wrong, using an error log. You can prepare your own error log, but we have already given details on how to make a perfect error log for the GRE, in our eBook Assessment and Study Plan. Review the questions that have gone wrong using the metrics provided in the error log, and learn where you are going wrong most often. Check what’s going wrong: Is it a silly calculation mistake? Or is it a concept based error? Or is it a blunder made out of ignorance? See what you can do to rectify those mistakes, and if you need to revise those topics again, take a full day to do so, and revise everything you need, leaving no stone unturned.

Don’t Study Any New Concepts

Many students make a mistake of learning something new during the last couple of days, in the hopes of getting that one or two extra points on test day. This isn’t a great idea. Studying something new in the eleventh hour will only lead to more stress and confusion, and there is a great chance that you’ll forget what you already know. So, even if you realize you’ve left out one or two topics – while talking to a friend or reading on the internet – don’t let yourself bother much. Stay calm, have confidence in yourself, and review what you already studied and hence are confident of. New concepts are more a foe than a friend, at this point of time.

Stick To One Source

Also, avoid studying from multiple sources at this point. If you have been studying from a particular source/company/study material, continue doing the same. Different companies use different explanations, methods, and shortcuts, and it will be difficult to acclimatize yourself to new circumstances when the test day is fast approaching. There isn’t much you are missing out on, though, because although their ways of approach are different, all companies stick to the same concepts and topics. So, try and avoid last minute hassles by studying from more than one source.

Revise Flashcards

If there is one thing that can significantly raise your verbal score on test day, it is vocabulary. Even if you haven’t practiced the verbal section much, learning only GRE words and their meanings can get you a higher score on test day. Flashcards are a great source of vocabulary, and even if you already mastered every single word on the flashcards, it wouldn’t harm to revise the high frequency words again and again. There are about 100 words that appear on the GRE very frequently, and learning the meaning and the context of these words will save you those extra 10-15 seconds per question on the verbal section. You can use this time to solve RC questions, and hence score higher, instead of staring at the wall trying to remember meanings.

Make a list of target universities.

Before you begin your test, you will be asked to choose four universities to which you can you’re your test scores for free. The computer shows you a list of universities according to countries and states. Normal people start thinking of universities then. But because you are a pro, you must have already figured these out before entering the test center. This won’t take much time, and you can do it on the morning of the test day during breakfast. You already know your target universities. Search for them online, and remember the country/state they are in. If you do this, it won’t take a minute during the test to give your list to the computer. However, contrary to what most students think, you don’t have to remember college codes. Names will do.

One Day To Go

Visit the test center the previous day.

Unless your test center is in another city, in which case you can’t really help it, we recommend that you visit the test center a day before, so you’ll not only save time, but also know when to start to reach in time. Student usually underestimate the power of traffic. And you wouldn’t want to end up late at the test center. So, it better to figure out how far the test center is from where you live, and how busy the traffic usually is, and when you need to start off so you can reach on time. If you’re taking the bus/metro/subway, better check schedules and avoid hurrying in the last minute.

Stop Studying!

Don’t study at all, on the previous day. This isn’t your regular college exam, so you can’t cram things. Studying now will only increase the pressure. You have done enough practice till now, and even if you haven’t done enough, one more day won’t help you much. So, it is time to relax and have fun. Listen to some music, watch TV, play an outdoor game, take an ice/steam bath. Stay calm and composed before the D-day.

Read the Rules.

Use the ETS GRE PowerPrep II software to go through the tutorial guidelines. These will be the exact same guidelines you will see on the test the next day. So, it is better to get acquainted with the tutorial section, as well as the software. Get a feel of how the software works, and learn some shortcuts through the tutorial, so it won’t be new to you during the test. Learning something new just before the test may also add to the tension.

Pack up!

Get all the things required ready the night before the test. Don’t start packing right before you leave the house. Make a note of the things you will need for the test, i.e your ID, any printouts, snacks, bag, etc.

Keep the alarm busy.

Set your alarm to at least one hour earlier than normal. You know how lazy you are, and you don’t want to be late for the test. Also, set multiple alarms. Just in case.

On The Test Day

Travel with a friend.

Don’t plan to travel alone. You will be bored, and hence start thinking about the test. It is better if you ask a friend to drop you at the center. A small random chat or a funny discussion will do you a world of good. It will act as a necessary distraction so you won’t be thinking of the exam. Also, it is better if you ask your parents to not accompany you to the test center, because well, they are parents. They are sometimes more worried about the test than you are, and this will definitely affect your mental composure. If you’re asking your friend to go with you, ask them a day or two before. Don’t ask them ten minutes before you start. They may have other plans.

Stretch your body.

Do some physical exercise or yoga on the morning of the test day. Go to the gym, if you have a membership. Stretch your muscles, but not until you get exhausted.

Healthy food = Healthy performance.

Eat healthy. You can take your revenge after the test, but this is not the time to gorge on. You don’t want to yawn and feel sleepy during the test. Have some salad, and some fruit juice.

All play and no work.

Warm up your brain by solving a puzzle like Sudoku or any logic based game. This will help you put your thinking cap on, without worrying about going wrong. Some might choose to practice a few questions by randomly choosing from books, on the morning of the exam day. Do this if you want to, but it is usually not recommended, because if you cannot solve a question or if you get it wrong, it might upset your mind, which is exactly what we’re trying to avoid before the test.

Good students don’t cram.

don’t study or try to memorize anything on the test day.

Leave your books at home. Don’t bring them along to the test center. If you see someone else studying at the test center, which you will, don’t start to panic. Maybe they aren’t as confident as you are, or maybe they didn’t read this article.

Dress in layers.

Wear layered shirts/tops. The test centers maintain very cold temperatures inside, and you would want to feel warm and comfortable. Since you don’t know how you’ll feel, dress in layers, so it is easy to adjust. Wear a shirt and a turtleneck/jacket over it. If you are feeling warm, you can remove the jacket.

No turning back.

Check if you have all the things you need to take for the GRE. See if you have forgotten anything, because you don’t want to go back running once you’re out of your home.

Punctuality is the best policy.

Reach at least 45 minutes prior to your appointment. The test center needs you to undergo a few processes, which will take some time, depending on the number of test takers. So, it is better if you are in time. If you are done with the processes quickly, you will have some buffer time to relax. Use this time to find out where the nearest bathroom and water cooler are.

Banish the books!

Don’t bring any books to the center. The anxiety will compel you to study at the last moment, which is bad for you. You are not allowed to open books inside the testing area, and if they find books in your locker, your scores might be cancelled, even if you haven’t opened them. So, be careful with the books. They are your friends when you’re studying but enemies when you’re giving the test.

Speak up!

Talk to the proctor if something isn’t right and if you can do something about it. If you need any special medical attention, or if you need something, ask the proctor before the test begins. Get all your doubts clarified, and enter the testing room with a clear mind.

Deep Breathing Helps.

Relax. It is okay to feel stressed when you are at the computer, and the test is about to begin. Do some breathing exercises, and meditate for a minute before the proctor begins your test. Weed out all your negative thoughts. Imagine yourself attending your dream university and feel confident about it.

Skipping is bad.

Use the tutorial. Do not skip the tutorial section, even if you know everything about it. Yes, you have already gone though it on PowerPrep the day before, and you are aware of everything about the software. So, why not use the time to relax? The tutorial section is about five minutes long. Five priceless minutes that you can use to relax. Also, a very important thing you must do during the tutorial is, to type something on the keyboard. The keyboard at the test center may be different from what you are normally used to, so it won’t hurt to get used to it. You know how difficult it is to type on your friend’s laptop just because the keys don’t feel right to you? Exactly, my point.

AWA doesn’t affect you.

Also you already know, you will face the AWA section first. Don’t let the AWA section set the tone for the rest of the test. Sometimes AWA goes great, and you’ll feel extremely confident (or overconfident) about the remaining sections. Sometimes, you may not do well on the AWA and feel gusted about yourself, which affects the other sections. So, stay unaffected by the result. Remember; You are the one who sets the tone, not the AWA.

Focus on your test.

Don’t compare yourself with other students. The guy next to you may be typing like there’s no tomorrow or somebody may have taken an early break, or another guy may quit his test and walk out crying (Don’t laugh! Such things do happen). Don’t let such things bother you. Stay focused and think about the test. If you think you are disturbed by the noise around you, you can use the earplugs at your desk and block off the noises around you.

Don’t be a hater.

If you hate Math/Verbal and it is your first section, don’t get disheartened. Think that the worst will be over first, and the best is saved for last. Keep your focus. Also, this is exactly why we ask our students to start off their practice with the section they hate the most. It prepares you for the worst.

Time’s worth a dime!

Contrary to popular opinion, all questions on the GRE are of the same value. It doesn’t matter if it is an easy question or a very difficult question, they all carry the same mark. So, if you come across a tough one and are not able to figure out how to do it, guess the answer, mark it for review, and move on. Don’t waste time trying to solve a tough one, when you can easily score with the easier ones.

Ask for additional paper.

Use the scratch paper to the fullest. Your effectiveness on the GRE depends on how well you use the scratch paper. We have some valuable techniques that you could use, in our article How to Use the Scratch Paper on the GRE? Request for additional paper, if needed. Don’t hesitate.

Learn to move on.

pace yourself and don’t keep staring at that one troubling question.

Here’s a good strategy for time-management: Because you can mark questions and review them later, devise a proper answering strategy. Set yourself a threshold time, beyond which you should mark and skip that question and move on. For example, if you are struggling with a particular question, and even after spending 30-40 seconds on it you are not able to come up with a possible strategy, mark it for review and move on. Do this for all questions that you cannot crack within the first few seconds, and later, when you are done with the entire section, come back and review each question.

The idea is that your thought process generally changes from question to question, and your approach to the same question may not always be the same. Because you’ve dealt with the other questions in the section, and probably might have forgotten what this question is about, you’ll start afresh, and you may get a different idea or a solving strategy that will lead to the answer. Plus, unlike previously, you won’t have the pressure of solving the remaining questions before the time runs out, because you’ve already finished the entire section. This releases your tension, and helps you think with a calm mind. If you follow such a process, you won’t find yourself wasting time on difficult questions.

Use the break.

Yes, it may not seem like a great advice, but some students simply don’t want to take a break, especially if they’re doing well on the test. This however, does more bad than good to you. The scheduled break is a necessary respite from the tedious testing environment. There are so many factors about the test that make you feel tired. Test anxiety, prolonged concentration, continuous exposure to the computer screen, the cold temperatures, not to mention some of the questions. So, use the break effectively, visit the bathroom, wash your face, have a quick bite or drink some liquids, and come back afresh. The bottom line is, don’t skip it, and get stressed out.

Don’t Rush!

There are no brownie points for finishing the test early. So, there is no point in rushing yourself to the finish line. You can, and hence should stay inside the testing center for the full 3 hours and 45 minutes. You can only get the best bargain from the test if you sit through the exam. Don’t leave early.

Don’t cancel scores!

Do you want to cancel scores? You’d be irrational if you do. At the end of the test, you will be shown the final score, and then you will be asked if you would like to cancel the score. Most students tend to cancel scores if they don’t get their expected scores. That’s not a good idea at all. You’ve paid a lot of money to prepare for the test, it’d be a shame if your score is not even registered officially. You can always write again, and send that score to your target schools. If you get a low score, so be it. Leave it at that, and don’t choose to send score reports. You can come back home later and think about it. But if you cancel the test outright, you may regret later on. So, don’t cancel your score unless you are really sick.

After The Test

Relax and Sleep

The GRE is a grueling, 4 hour endurance test, and you will most likely be exhausted by the end of it. Therefore, regardless of your scores, go home and get yourself some sound rest, so you’ll be back to normal soon. Many students start analyzing their answers, scores, and their performance, and keep regretting that one or two silly mistakes they should have avoided. This is a bad idea, because your brain are already drained out and is incapable of making sound judgments, and you will probably end up with a bad headache if you keep thinking about the test even after reaching home. Give yourself some break, eat some carb-rich food, drink lots of water and get some decent sleep. Self-assessment can wait.

Party Hard

In an attempt to achieve a high score on the GRE, you must have sacrificed lots of stuff during the few weeks prior to your test. You might have missed some of your favorite movies, concerts, and birthday parties among others. So why not take a few days off to do some crazy stuff, and get back to your everyday social life? Go out, watch movies, play an outdoor game or two, boast about your GRE score with your friends, but most importantly, have fun. Even if you did not end up with the score you wanted, don’t be hard on yourself, take it easy, and look forward to what you can do further, to go to the university of your dreams.

Help Others Out

You know for sure that you got a good GRE score, not just because you worked hard, but also because someone else was kind enough to help you with your doubts and to assist you whenever you were struggling. So why not give it back? What if you can spend a few minutes every day to just pay it forward?

Many students forget the fact that the GRE community is like a family; a group of people with a common dream. There are thousands of GRE aspirants struggling with their GRE prep, asking numerous questions on GRE forums, and Facebook groups. Now because you’ve already been there, done that, you could be of great help if you could just spend some time attending to their worries. It can be anything from solving a question that they have been struggling with for a long time, to giving them some exam tips that you found helpful. Or you can do something as simple as giving them confidence, saying everything’s going be alright and the GRE isn’t a thing to worry about. Also, being an active forum member introduces you to a wide range of people from across the world. You could make new friends, and meet people who are interested in the same college or program as you are.

Figure Out What’s Next

Now that the party time is over, it is important that you focus on what’s important to you next – admission. Find out what programs you want to apply for and which universities you want to attend and if they are in your score range or not. Visit college websites, find out all information you need, from tuition fee to housing, from facilities to student clubs, from application deadlines to scholarships, etc. If you have any questions about the information or if you would like to know more, feel free to call or send an email to the admissions department of the respective universities. If you are applying to a university abroad, start learning about visa regulations, part time employment, loan policies, and other applicable laws pertaining to the respective country.


How is it like writing a computer-based exam?

The GRE only requires that you have a basic knowledge of computers. Knowing how to operate the mouse and the keyboard will get you rolling. The PowerPrep software is the exact replica of the real test, and you can get acquainted with the test interface while practicing at home. In addition, the GRE test starts off with a tutorial session, where you can try out all the computer functions, and follow instructions so you can save time during the test.

What is the test center like?

Cool, if you are lucky. Very cold, if unlucky. No one can predict the temperatures inside the test center. So, it is in your best interest to wear two layers of clothing. Prefer long sleeves, and bring along a sweater or a turtleneck, so you won’t end up climactically challenged.

There will also be lots of scope for diversion. You will see people typing, scribbling and solving questions. This is something that you cannot control, and also something you cannot simulate at home. Don’t worry. Be mentally prepared. Try to focus on your test, and if that is not possible, or if the noise is too distracting, you should use earplugs to block off all sounds. Also, try not looking at others or their screens. You will not only become more tensed, but you will also draw the proctor’s attention, which you would really want to avoid.

How long does it take to receive the score?

As soon as you finish the test, you will receive an unofficial score report at the test center. The official score report along with AWA will be reported to you within two weeks from the test date.

Can I take the GRE more than once?

You can take as many as five tests a year, but you have to wait for 21 days from the previous test date, before you can take it again.

Where to take the GRE?

Most graduate school applicants take computer-based version of the GRE, but a paper-based version is administered in countries where computer-based testing is not available. The computer based test is conducted throughout the year at test centers in 180 countries across the world. For the list of countries, and test centers, refer ETS website.

What should you take to the test?

The GRE centers adhere to strict rules, and without a valid identification, which in most countries is a passport, you will not be allowed to take the test. Along with the I.D, you also need to produce the official appointment letter (you will receive this letter in your email as soon as you register for the test).

Apart from these, we suggest you bring some snack, water or energy drink, to help you keep up your energy levels and withstand the strenuous test conditions. You can rejuvenate yourself during the ten minute break. If you need any medication, you should bring them along as you are not allowed to leave the test premises till the end of the test.

What should you not take to the test?

We advise that you avoid last minute cramming as it leads to anxiety and increased stress levels, which is why you should avoid any study material or books to the test center. Keep in mind, the GRE is not an open book test, but you can go with an open mind.

Also you are not supposed to bring along electronic devices, mobile phones, calculators, wrist watches, weapons, precious ornaments, etc. However, if you do bring them, you will be provided with a locker at the test center, so you can store them.


So, that’s about it. We have come to an end of this epic journey and are now ready to dive deeper into the GRE. Infact, this is by far the most comprehensive guide in the world, to help you kick-start your GRE preparation. If you think this is very helpful, or if you really loved it, share it with your friends right now! Our goal is to help as many students as we can. So what are you waiting for? Go share the living daylights out of this guide!

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