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2 Minute GRE Crash Course (At Least If You Read Fast)

GRE manuals are often as fat as the New York City phonebook—you’re put off before the first page. Wouldn’t it be good just to have all that information—or at least the most important bits—condensed in one place? Well, here is a crash course on the GRE: what is on the test, how to study for it, and what to study.

So, like, what’s on the test?

On the math side, the GRE is a test of fundamentals, which are wrapped in opaquely worded problems with numerous subtle twists. On the GRE verbal side, it’s sophisticated writing with the complex thoughts that usually attend such writing. Oh, and there is lots of vocabulary.

In addition to math and verbal, the GRE also has an essay section. It’s comprised of two essays, one that asks you to analyze a big picture issue (“To truly understand a society we must understand its major cities”) and one that has you find the logical flaws in an argument.

To recap: if you are good with numbers and read carefully, looking out for a subtle twist, you’ll do well on math. If you are strong at vocabulary and subscribe to The New Yorker, you’ll likely blow away the GRE verbal section. If you like arguing the fine points of complex issues in writing—and remember your grade school grammar—you’ll likely do well on the essay.

How do I study for this thing?

Well, there is the traditional book form, in which you get an in-depth take on the different question types and strategies for dealing with these questions. Less traditional approaches include phone apps, podcasts, and online GRE practice like Magoosh, which allow you to answer GRE-like questions on the computer—the very same medium you’ll use test day. A mixture of all these approaches is recommended if you want to max out your potential.

To get really good at the GRE, you’ll have to take practice tests. Luckily, ETS, the creators of the test, have released several free practice tests that you can take at home. Learning from your mistakes on these tests and working on weak areas will help you boost your GRE Score.

What should I study?

Given the plethora of different sources, you might easily feel overwhelmed. Are they all of them good? Are some much better than others? Are a few to be avoided altogether? The good news is I’ve reviewed many of the GRE books out there and a few of the resources. The bad news is I haven’t been able to review everything. Luckily, a good guide can be the forums (I recommend the GradTrain forums and, where you can ask other GRE aspirants about their experiences).

The key is to use a few of the well-reviewed resources to get a sense of the different strategies out there, so you can pick the one that works best for you.

How will I do?

Beyond the specific question type and actually practicing the questions, there isn’t too much more. That said, I would be remiss if I did not mention scoring. The GRE scores are broken into three parts, one for math, one for verbal, and one for writing. Both the verbal and the math sections are based on scale of 130-170, yielding a composite score of 340. The essay is graded from 0.0 to 6.0.

And at a high level that is really all you need to know to get started. Good luck with your studies, and tell us how you do on the test!

This post was written by Chris Lele, resident GRE expert at Magoosh, a leader in GRE prep. For help with GRE vocabulary, check out our free flashcards and Vocab Wednesday videos on the Magoosh GRE Blog.


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