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How to Improve Your GRE Score

Hire a GRE Tutor/Take a Class

The most obvious approach is to hire a tutor, if one is offered in your area, or take a class, if you find one nearby. One advantage of a tutor is he/she can help target areas where you need work, assigning practice problems and citing helping resources.

While a class does not offer as much individualized attention, concepts and strategies are neatly parceled out. Also, weekly homework assignments can keep you stay focused.

 

Change Your Prep Material

Most of my students for GRE are former Kaplan users. I know that is far from a ringing endorsement for the test prep behemoth, but many bought the Kaplan book thinking that test prep success could be had by simply opening the book.

The truth is you will want to prep with a variety of material. Some publishers offer excel in certain areas and are found wanting in others. Many are simply wanting.

So research the test prep cosmos to find the best GRE book. Actually, I’ve made this process slightly easier – read any one of my numerous reviews on the main prep books on the market.

 

Target Your Attack

When prepping for a test as diffuse and difficult as the GRE one can easily become overwhelmed. Where to prep and what to prep are just a few questions you may ask yourself.

Once you’ve found the best prep materials you will want to make sure that you become strong in all areas. Sometimes doing so means becoming pretty good in one area vs. trying to become really strong in one area while languishing in others.

If this is your second time around, make sure to come up with a study schedule that is a mix of practice questions and concept review. And make sure to cover new ground instead of becoming fixated in one area.

 

Tweak Your Strategies

Without a tutor by your side, you may find it difficult to tweak your strategies. A good idea would be to go through this blog and explore the recommended strategies for different sections. Do those strategies match up with your own? If not, you will seriously want to consider changing the way you approach certain questions.

 

Simulate the Test

Test day can be harrowing. But it can be a lot less so, if you’ve taken several practice tests under timed conditions. Make sure to simulate the test environment as fully as possible – no extended breaks. But don’t worry, you won’t have to raise your hand if you need to use the bathroom.

 

About the Author

Chris Lele has been helping students excel on the GRE, GMAT, and SAT for the last 10 years. He is the Lead Content Developer and Tutor for Magoosh. His favorite food is wasabi-flavored almonds. Follow him on Google+!

12 Responses to How to Improve Your GRE Score

  1. Prasad N R November 4, 2014 at 3:58 am #

    Dear Sir,

    My problem has been with an inability to understand and comprehend what is happening. Your awesome post has luckily been stumbled upon. My date has been fixed on 28th November 2014 and honestly speaking, my scores are vacillating. To my utter dismay, between 313 and now 302. It has dropped by 10 points (Truly a record in Graduate Record Examination). Although my aims are hitting huge colleges, things like these are just driving me insane. While at times trying to console myself feel like MS is not really necessary (which is stupid), I would suffer from nightmares regarding this as option of jobs is not feasible for me (There is a belief in me that I can never ever get that chance to ever study).
    Feeling guilty about my bad scores now (Sorry. Bad to worse. Worse scores now).
    My aim is 325 or so (Feeling like the thing is fading. But, truly, the hopes are vanishing. Feeling like my parent’s money is getting wasted)
    Completely unaware of the situation as of now. Initially when I had not prepared, I had got 312 or so. Now after preparation, it has gone down to 302. It is overwhelming though.

    You are kindly requested to guide me. Thanks for your time and consideration.

    • Chris Lele
      Chris Lele November 5, 2014 at 2:07 pm #

      Hi Prasad,

      Sorry to hear that your scores seem to be slipping. To really be able to help you though, I’ll need to know a few things:

      1) Which sources are you using to prep?
      2) How exactly have you been preparing? (Do you take practice tests and carefully review them, use flashcards to boost your vocabulary, etc.)

      3) What do you think your weakest areas are?

      Let me know the answers to those questions so I can better help you :)

      • Prasad N R November 6, 2014 at 3:50 am #

        Dear Sir,

        Thanks for your interest and your time in responding to me.

        1. My coaching centre is Manhattan Review.

        2. I was using “Essential words for the GRE” by Manhattan Review. But, now switched over to Magoosh and finding it really comfortable (very honestly. But, the scores are to be checked up now) and now gaining a very different perspective towards vocabulary. Thanks to this awesome site (in case everything else fails, I’ll atleast be left with an enthusiasm to pursue MS which seems like a necessary but, also fun and enjoyable on this site)

        3. My weakest area lies in vocabulary (particularly to the words which appear in GRE with reference to the context) and the second weakest one would be reading comprehension where sometimes multiple answers are to be answered to.

        • Chris Lele
          Chris Lele November 6, 2014 at 3:10 pm #

          Hi Prasad,

          1) I’m happy you are using Magoosh now :). If something didn’t work for you (in this case, Manhattan Review), then it is good to try something else.

          2) Great you are enjoying the site! Have you checked out our ebooks? They are basically taken from the blog but are broken up into topic so they are easier to navigate:

          http://magoosh.com/gre/gre-ebook/

          You might also want to check out our product (we still offer a trial membership). The main point is to know that there are other tools out there to help you, and that your score can and will improve.

          3) For vocab. remember to do a lot of in-context reading. Our vocab ebook elaborates on this:

          http://magoosh.com/gre/2012/gre-vocabulary-ebook/

          Reading comp. the key is to try to understand what made your answer wrong and why the test writers consider the correct one correct. I guess this goes back to our product: we have video and text explanations for each question, so you can better understand what you missed.

          Hope that helps!

  2. Abhi June 29, 2014 at 9:40 am #

    Hi Chris!

    I gave a mock today(Manhattan free practice test) and score 306 in it (Quant 157 and verbal 149). What I saw during the review of the practice test was that I scored low in Text Completion and I couldn’t attempt the long RC. These two things have become my weakness in GRE preparation and no matter how much I practice for the same, I’m unable to improve. Just FYI, I’m doing the Magoosh flashcards for Text completion and just randomly practicing RCs available online. Please help! I want to get 320 in GRE anyhow. My GRE is scheduled on 23rd Sept.

  3. Champ September 16, 2013 at 8:01 pm #

    Hello Chris,

    If I want to raise my verbal score by at least 5 points in about a month of prep, what should I do? I took the GRE and my score on the Verbal section was 155, but my goal is to get at least 160. Your advice (or any one’s from Magoosh team) would be greatly appreciated.

    • Chris Lele
      Chris Lele September 17, 2013 at 5:03 pm #

      Hi Champ,

      Well, generally speaking, I would try to assess your weaknesses. Are there any specific areas in which you are missing a lot of questions? If so, which areas are these and why are you missing those questions?

      The answers to these questions will help determine which material and question types you use. For instance, if you struggle with vocabulary, then you should definitely get Magoosh or Manhattan GRE flashcards (the Magoosh flashcards are free, btw). If you struggle in RC, then figure out why. Are you struggling understanding the passage? Are there certain types of passages you struggle with? Let’s say you struggle with science passages. Find science passages in Magoosh, MGRE, ETS material, or even GMAT or LSAT official material. Learn how to process that information more effectively.

      Of course many of these scenarios are addressed in this blog, so I would recommend going through this blog as much as possible to address your weaknesses (my guess is there are a combination of areas in which you struggle).
      Once you start becoming better at these specific areas, you can learn to pace yourself better by going through practice tests.

      I know the above is somewhat vague, but I’d be happy to give you more specifics if you let me know areas in which you currently struggle :).

  4. Tee July 19, 2012 at 6:58 pm #

    Hi Chris,
    For the past week or so, I’ve been trying to prepare and study hard for the GRE. So far, I have touched upon most of the verbal section in the Princeton Review book. I have also bought Barron’s verbal workbook (which is really good for practice!) and the 500 flashcards to go along with it.
    I’m kind of overwhelmed of how much materials, prep books, and sources are available out there. My application for the winter admission is due on September 1st. So it’s mid-July now, I’m thinking I only have about a month (maybe even less) to prepare.
    I’m a bit embarrassed to admit what my score was, based on the first EST practice test (from the powerprep software) I took. Both my verbal and quant score was very low.
    Now…this is what is ironic. I do have a bachelor’s degree in communication/journalism (graduated just a year ago).
    And yes, English is my native language. I just have a weak vocabulary and a hard time applying words in context.
    I honestly don’t think that the GRE or any standardized testing is a fair and accurate way of judging someone’s intelligence or success in graduate work.
    I’m sure you have heard that either some people are good at taking tests and there are some who aren’t….I’m sadly one of these people.
    Should I be worried about my low score? Maybe it’s because I took the practice test cold cut, and not knowing anything (format, questions) about the GRE. I just wanted to use this score as a reference to see what I knew…apparently not much lol.
    Also, I did skip alot of the questions, so that maybe added to my low score. I know now not to do that :)
    Gahh, I’m not sure if I should just give up or not…especially with the time frame that I have. Do you think that this is realistic for me to raise my score that much?
    On another note…I haven’t even touched upon studying for the math portion of the test yet….I’ll probably bomb that section as well.
    Oh, and I bought the Kaplan book unfortunately…I wish I could have read your blog sooner. Since so many people were raving on their reviews that the Kaplan online tests have helped them, I was convinced to buy it, hoping that it would be my main source for improvement and preparation.
    Please help!!! I really want to apply to my graduate school (I want to be a journalist…I know…my score doesn’t justify this lol) before September, but I am now reluctant because of this insipid, time-consuming GRE.
    What are my options and is it pragmatic for me to keep on studying?
    Thanks so much in advance!

    • Chris Lele
      Chris July 23, 2012 at 3:16 pm #

      Hi Tee,

      Whatever you do: Don’t Despair :).

      You can definitely do it. I don’t believe there is anything such as an inherently bad test taker. Often people feel they are bad test takers because of unpleasant experiences with past tests, a lack of formal test prep training, or even something as seemingly innocuous as an uninspiring high school geometry teacher.

      So first step as you embark on your GRE studies: knowing that you are capable of getting a competitive score.

      With this positive attitude in mind, you should begin with the basics. For Verbal that is understanding the question types and how the wrong answers are meant to trap unsuspecting test takers. Book-wise Manhattan GRE has an excellent approach to cracking the Verbal Section (their practice problems are a bit absurd though because they contain absurdly difficult vocabulary). The Princeton Review is also a good book to start off verbal wise. You’ll learn strategies to avoid basic traps. The questions are easier than those on the actual test, but TPR is great stepping stone for someone just starting off.

      I of course always recommend Magoosh’s product. We do a good job of discussing the basics and then allow you to apply the concepts that you learned to actual questions, which range in difficulty from easy to very difficult.

      A good place to start Verbal-wise is with our ebooks. The best part these are free. I’ve attached them below. Of note, the vocabulary Ebook will lay out an approach to help you attack vocabulary (The Princeton Review does not really do a good job of this). The general ebook, which contains study schedules, will help you create a study plan that will help you achieve the scores you need.

      At the same time, books and even Magoosh aren’t always enough. If you find an excellent tutor in your area, he or she can often times help facilitate the learning process.

      Good luck, and remember that with a little work and the right resources you can become a good standardized test taker.

      http://magoosh.com/gre/gre-ebook/
      http://magoosh.com/gre/2012/gre-vocabulary-ebook/

      Best of luck, and don’t hesitate to ask any more questions :).

  5. April July 17, 2012 at 9:11 pm #

    Hi Chris,
    I am a third time GRE taker and have major anxiety re: this “stupid test.” I have already completed my masters, and have been working in my career field, but in order to get tenure, I need that phd from at least a moderately decent school.

    My question is; in your opinion, do you think it is okay for me to mentally “skip” the math portion? The first two times I took it the best I got was a 490, and I was pretty pleased. Yes, I am that bad at math. I am a history major and find it truly unnecessary to test humanities students on math.

    I’d like to think that graduate schools will only look at verbal and writing scores, but I am not sure. I know that history students have the second highest average verbal and writing scores according to the ets, so this leads me to believe that most selection committees will ignore the math portion as it is all but irrelevant to our area of study.

    Any thoughts or opinions? Thank you.

    • Chris Lele
      Chris July 18, 2012 at 3:38 pm #

      Hi April,

      Hmm…that is an interesting question (and I never did know that about history majors, though it makes perfect sense. No shortage of examples on the Issue task :)). I’m not sure what any one history program thinks, but I doubt they’d have a uniform response to a low math score. Some may deem the quant extraneous; others may simply be unable to ignore the 140 and be wowed by the student with a 165.

      I say work on math as well so it is not an issue. Meaning if you get 150+, your math score will probably not hurt your application. You may also try contacting the departments of the schools you are interested in. See what they say.

      Hope that was somewhat helpful :).

  6. nevin January 26, 2012 at 6:58 am #

    Hi Chris,

    I have a new problem for you.

    Q. Pure spirit costing $60 is mixed with water and the mixture is sold for $75 thereby making a profit of 37.5%. Find the ratio of the mixture.

    Please help me out!


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