To work this study guide, I am going to come up with a hypothetical student named Charlie. For some, Charlie’s background and predicament will resonate on several, if not many, levels.
This is a weekly schedule– if you’d prefer a more detailed schedule with day-by-day instructions, check out one of these other 6 month study guides instead:
Charlie has been out of school for a couple of years, and is now hoping to get into a competitive program for a Master in economics. Because he took mostly math and science courses in college, Charlie has not had much opportunity to develop his vocabulary and critical reading skills.
Currently, he is weak in vocabulary, as he took mostly math and science classes in college. He rarely reads outside of class. Indeed, if he doesn’t get a headache from critical reading, it just makes him fall asleep.
That doesn’t mean his math skills are where they need to be. After all, the GRE math tests fundamentals most students haven’t seen since early high school. Charlie hasn’t found the area of any shape in almost a decade, feels stymied by the rules of exponents, and believes, erroneously, that 1 is a prime number.
Charlie takes a test: his verbal ends up in the upper 130′s, and his quant score is below 150. If Charlie wants to have even a slim chance of getting into his program, he will need to increase both his math and verbal scores by at least 10 points.
Clearly, Charlie needs a comprehensive, aggressive, and, above all, efficacious study plan. Charlie needs the 6-month GRE study guide.
- Magoosh GRE Prep (Includes lesson videos, practice quizzes, mock tests, score predictor)
- Easy magazines: Time, Newsweek, Scientific American (start low…but not too low; these magazines are still filled with vocabulary and relatively challenging prose)
- Difficult magazines: Atlantic Monthly, The New Yorker, The Economist
- wordnik.com, dictionary.com (for definitions and, more importantly, example sentences
- ETS’s PowerPrep 2.0 Software
Mac users can’t use ETS’s Powerprep 2.0 but can print out ETS’s practice test PDF (video explanations found here). Take note that the Powerprep 2.0 software and the paper-based test have overlapping material, so it won’t be of much help to do both, unless you space them out far enough so that you won’t recognize the questions and answers! I recommend using the Powerprep 2.0 software if you can, since taking the test on a computer is a better simulation of exam day conditions.
- Flashcards (Quizlet.com, Word Dynamo (dictionary.com))
- ETS’s 2nd. Edition Official Guide to the GRE book
- Barron’s 1100 Words You Need to Know
- GMAT Official Guide
- Manhattan GRE Guides (8 guides total; you can choose just the ones in the areas in which you struggle)
- Manhattan GRE practice tests (comes with the purchase any one of their 8 books)
- LSAT practice tests (for verbal scorers in the top 10%)
- Old ETS GRE Book (AKA Big Book)
- Strengthen reading ability and vocabulary recognition
- Nail math fundamentals and become adept with numbers
Each week Charlie reads articles from Time and Newsweek. Indeed, he tries to finish every article that doesn’t relate to Justin Bieber’s new haircut, or the latest electronic gadgets. After each issue, he writes half-page summaries for three articles from each magazine. These summaries strive to incorporate vocabulary and varied sentence structure. The latter will especially help with the Analytical Writing Assessment (AWA).
Charlie has also picked up Barron’s 1100 Words You Need to Know. He works through a couple of lessons a day, making sure to use the words he is learning as often as possible (for word that just don’t seem to stick, Charlie uses Word Dynamo/Quizlet).
Charlie picks up the old ETS GRE guide and begins doing Sentence Completions from this book. He, of course, has watched the Magoosh Text Completion Modules. For each word he doesn’t know, he enters them down in Word Dynamo/Quizlet.
Charlie watches all of the math video lessons from Magoosh. He practices using McGraw-Hill Conquering the GRE Math. He also becomes comfortable manipulating percentages and fractions. By the end of the month, he is practicing with Magoosh easy math problems.
- Challenge reading abilities even further
- Move out of comfort zone in math and start tackling harder problems
- Finish watching all the Magoosh lesson videos (make sure to do practice quizzes after each lesson type)
- Strengthen weak areas, such as Data Interpretation in math or Paragraph Arguments for verbal
Something has happened to Charlie’s brain. He no longer falls asleep as soon as he starts reading an article. A part of his mind is already anticipating how he going to craft a summary around whichever article he happens to be reading. Now, he is ready for the Atlantic Monthly and The New Yorker. He is also ready to start practicing some GRE questions.
Charlie finishes watching all the verbal module videos, and works his way through the easy and medium level questions. He also finishes the first three tests in there (he ignores the analogy section).
Finally, for vocab, his tally is up to 500 words in two months. The words are also starting to stick in his brain a lot more. And, with his diet of three magazines a week, he is constantly seeing words that are part of his 500 words.
Charlie feels he is getting the math fundamentals. He shouldn’t become complacent, however, but instead attempt to do problems that are at the medium level in Magoosh. In the Official Guide to the revised GRE Book he works through the “Medium” set of math questions at the begininning of the book. After completing these problems he watches the video explanations to make sure he understands everything.
- Work on actual New GRE material
- Focus on areas of weakness (Use Magoosh.com or Manhattan GRE books)
- Learn from mistakes
- Seek out more challenging reading
- Track progress using Magoosh’s score predictor
- Watch Magoosh AWA video
Charlie is finally able to take a full mock exam on Magoosh. He checks his answers, and goes over his mistakes. For both Math and Verbal, he tries to complete all the hard questions on Magoosh. He finishes the remaining tests from the old Big Book.
Charlie has also bought the Reading Comprehension guide from Manhattan GRE. He is struggling with reading comp so knows that both the extra practice, and the useful tips and strategies, will help him turn this weakness into a strength. He also purchases a math volume from Manhattan GRE to help him in the area in which he struggles most.
For outside the prep-o-sphere reading, Charlie also adds The Economist to his reading schedule, and has dropped Newsweek and Time.
While not part of the overall score, the AWA still counts for something, and Charlie wants to score in at least the top 50%. He watches the Magoosh AWA video and begins a 5 minute brainstorming session with a variety of different prompts.
- Branch out with ever more challenging content in both math and verbal
- Continue to use Magoosh score predictor, identifying weak areas
- Do timed questions
He buys a copy of the GMAT OG. He works through all of the Problem Solving Questions in Math. He also finishes all of the Reading Comprehension questions, and half of the critical reading questions. For extra practice, he buys Barron’s New GRE Guide and completes all the questions from there. This mostly helps with his vocabulary, but also gives him reading comprehension practice.
Now Charlie breezes through magazines. He is able to identify words, and see how they are used in context. He can also make word maps in his head, grouping as many as ten synonyms for certain words. He has now learned over 1,000 words, many of which pop up in his summaries (the AWA will now be a lot easier, too).
He has also taken 2 Manhattan GRE tests – both to gauge his progress and prepare him for the Powerprep test he will take in month 5. Charlie also sedulously (a good GRE word!) reviews the questions he missed or answered correctly, but was still unsure.
Charlie also writes a full-length essay as part of his practice test.
- Figure out score based on Powerprep
- Do timed practice sets from
- Use the practice questions in the 2nd. edition Official Guide to determine areas/concepts in which you struggle
- Work through practice questions from the essential and secondary sources mentioned at the beginning of this post (should be aiming to complete between 75-100 quant questions and 75-100 verbal questions a week. Don’t just answer questions but sedulously review mistakes).
For Math, Charlie has now worked his way through the OG book and most of Magoosh’s problems.
For Verbal, he finishes all the problems in Barron’s, and the rest of the pertinent questions in the GMAT OG.
Charlie takes all sections of the Powerprep to make sure he understands the problems. He also does his best to understand why the wrong answers are wrong, not just why the right answers are right.
Charlie uses the Magoosh customized tests to work on his weaknesses. He also takes the 3rd Manhattan GRE test and does one mock test from Magoosh.
- Take timed sections constantly, customized the problem types that give you the most difficulty
- Do mock tests to better improve your test taking ability
- Reviews copious list of vocabulary words, focusing on word usage (using wordnik and dictionary.com)
Charlie focuses on The Official Guide to the New GRE. He works his way through all the problem sets in the beginning. Two weeks before his test date, he takes the test at the back of the book.
One week before the test, he takes the sections from the online test one more time (just to make sure he really understands the material). He finishes the Manhattan GRE tests, practices old problems – both verbal and math – from the Old GRE Guide, and makes sure he knows all of the vocabulary that comes up in both texts.
For Math, he practices with Magoosh questions (even those he has already done), creating timed practice sessions a couple of weeks before the test. After reading so many articles, his in-context vocabulary his excellent, his writing has improved markedly, and he is now able to choose many pertinent examples for whatever AWA question the test throw at him.
After the Exam:
Months later, when Charlie is admitted to the program, he is undaunted by all the reading he had to do, and unequally undaunted by all the twisted syntax the texts throw at him. He is also much faster at calculating restaurant tabs, doing discounts in his head, and figuring out how long it will take him to drive a certain distance at a fixed speed (though he has yet to employ the area of a triangle formula).
As for you, the user of the 6-month study guide, focus on those areas in which you differ from Charlie. No two individuals are the same, but keep Charlie’s general approach in mind: study from a variety of quality sources, constantly read from periodicals, refresh your vocabulary while you enlarge it, focusing on word usage, and return to material you’ve done before to make sure you understand it. Doing so helped Charlie, and I’m sure it will help you.