How I studied for the GRE.

I’m not an expert test taker. Actually, to be honest, I suck at taking standardized exams. It’s just not my thing.

I had just over two weeks to study for the GRE. I think most people study for one or two months. If you know anything about me, you know that I make all important life decisions fast and based on intuition. My method has never lead me awry.

I bought several GRE prep books and a set of flashcards. The only thing I actually did with these items was review the flashcards, review the book word banks, and look at the math problems after the exam to see if any of the math problems on the exam were similar to the math problems in the books; they were not. Maybe I just bought terrible study materials. Not sure!

Anywho, after a total of 90 minutes looking over the math in the study books, I realized that the biggest favor I could do for myself was to not use the books! The books and I didn’t speak the same math language and they made me cry. I’m not bad at math, so the fact that I was crying over math was my indication that my books were not suitable for me.

So, I scrapped studying from the books and instead I used to review fractions, fraction equations, everything in geometry, percents, percent word problems, pie charts and bar graphs, line stuff, and decimal stuff. That’s it. I knew all of my basic math inside and out.

The only math I reviewed from the book was “business math” (profit margins, etc).

This sounds like a stupid plan for the math portion, right? A few days before the exam, I cracked one of the books again and I was able to complete two or three pages of math problems correctly – I got every single problem correct. So, I felt like I had prepped enough.

The verbal and written portions were not a stressor for me, and I did use the books and flash cards for these sections. I reviewed approximately 4000 words. I did a once-over and found that I already knew about 87% of the words. I did one more once-over and then used the flashcards for the 200 or so words that I thought I could memorize in time.

The written portion was a cake walk, as it should be for anyone who writes frequently. The only prep I did for that portion was to review what to expect. If you have a fantastic vocabulary and/or read a lot of classics (think Jane Eyre, Gone With the Wind, The Sound And The Fury, etc), you may not have to study for the verbal section at all (well, unless you’re trying to get a super high score). I don’t know why I bothered because I don’t think any of my studying helped there.

Truly, I there is one piece of advice I can give to anyone who plans to take the GRE, it’s to write at least one or two short essay per week based on random writing prompts (quotes, scenarios, review business or political arguments, etc). Do that for as any weeks as you’re studying. Practice the skill of writing through writers block. I never have writers block because my blog has me trained to write on demand.

I stopped studying about 36hrs before the exam because I reviewed two practice exams and knew most of the answers; my feeling was that if I didn’t know the material 36hrs before the exam, I wasn’t going to know it.

I certainly can’t guarantee my method will work for anyone else, but it worked for me. I scored higher then the GRE requirements at the two programs I’m applying to, so I’m all set.

Remember: you CAN take the exam again and study using different methods the 2nd time 🙂

Edit 1: I did two things that especially helped me during the exam: 1. I didn’t take any breaks because I didn’t feel like taking them. 2. I worked backwards on several math problems when I couldn’t figure out the answer working forwards. Those two things helped me A LOT.

Edit 2: I took the exam on a computer. I opted for the computer-based exam because I had prepped for the NCLEX (the nursing professional exam) on the computer, and that was the last standardized exam I had prepped for. Choose the method that you’re most comfortable with. The HUGE advantage of taking it on a computer is that you instantaneously get your score. I knew my score (minus the essay portion) within 2 minutes of finishing the exam!!

Which reminds me … I should probably check my final score on the GRE online now …

Happy prepping!


  1. I’m sure you are happy it’s over! I’m so glad I never have to take that test again, it’s exhausting! Even if you are well prepared, it’s fought to take a test for that long in one sitting.

    1. Ohmygosh, isn’t it?! My brain was mush afterwards! I’m so glad I got the score I wanted on the first shot. Had I not, I just can’t imagine putting myself through that for a 2nd time. It wasn’t, like, awful or anything, but it was a huge pain in the ass and brain! 🙂 Did you have to take the GRE for your Masters program? I think you did your masters at your undergrad institution? And, I think you attended the same school as my husband 🙂 I took my GRE in the student testing office on your campus! 🙂 It’s so beautiful there.

      1. I would never take it again either! It’s not that it’s crazy hard, it’s just so draining!

        Yep, I took mine at SDSU; where I did my undergrad and my Masters. I think the campus is a lot fancier now then when I went, they redid the entire front building last year. It’s so beautiful now!

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