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How to Study for the New GRE

The inevitable is looming and you can’t put it off much longer. But now the pressing question becomes, how to study for the new GRE? How you answer this question – and by extension how you put your answer into practice – can be as important as the prep materials you use. Below are five important points to keep in mind when studying for the new GRE.


Beware of Some Prep Books

Nowhere is caveat emptor – or let the buyer beware – more apt than when it comes to GRE prep material. At least these days we have, a site that allows us to make purchases based on user feedback.

Nevertheless, more than a few of my students, before coming to me, would purchase a book by the publisher REA. After all, REA had the glossiest covers and our eyes are attracting to glossy things. Unfortunately what lay between the glossy covers was content and questions so poor that they would only hurt your performance (basically questions had multiple possible answers and the explanations were so abstruse that many would blame themselves and think that the GRE was simply over their heads).

Sadly, the REAs of this world are still with us – most have moved on-line. So before you rush out to purchase some software, with some stock photos of some dude in a suit smiling and giving a thumbs up, make sure you remember caveat emptor. Research the company. Are they liable? Do they offer a free trial? Will they let you contact any of the “students” who have score perfect using their software (of course, most cheesy stock photos usually reek of scam).

Despite increased consumer awareness, there are still some rotten apples amongst books. REA continues to peddle their abysmal stuff. McGraw is only slightly better and Gruber’s makes the new GRE feels more like the SAT.

Read my New GRE Book Reviews here.


Have a Prep Cocktail

So you have steered clear of the shoddy publishers. But does that mean that there is one book, which you need only to read from start to finish, that can guarantee a great score? Well, there may be plenty of publishers who claim so, but that simply isn’t the case.

Your best score will come as a result of combination of the best GRE books, on-line prep (Magoosh of course!), and a reputable class and/or highly recommended tutor. Don’t limit yourself to just one medium, instead of taking advantage of this prep cocktail.


Become a Scholar, Not a Student

A student studies for a test. A scholar studies to learn. While this may sound idealistic, even quixotic (a good GRE word!), if your attitude is “I have to study for this stupid test,” you are going to have a potentially miserable time prepping (and a score to reflect this sentiment). On the other hand, if your attitude is “I am going to develop critical reading and thinking skills (as well as numerical reasoning skills) that will potentially help me in my graduate work,” you are far less likely to want to give up around the 300th vocabulary word.

By donning the scholar’s thinking cap, you will also be far more amenable to learning vocabulary in-context, as you read magazines such as the New Yorker, The Atlantic and The Economist. And it’s stretch, but you may even look back fondly on your GRE prep.


Train for a Marathon (one which requires frequent sprints)

Unless you are fresh out of college, an English lit degree under your belt, and have a penchant for math puzzles, scoring in the top 10% is going to take more than a week of study. Depending on how long you have been out of school, the amount of reading you do in your free time and the quality of your math education, the time you spend prepping for the GRE can very widely. How competitive the program you are applying to also plays a major role.

All that said, most will spend between six weeks and six months prepping. So do not think of this as a test you can easily prepare with a weekend of cramming. The new GRE tests not only cumulative knowledge but the way in which you reason. Thinking in GRE-speak (yes, that includes all those polysyllabic words) will take a fair amount of time.


Take Timed Tests Frequently

In the previous paragraph, I mentioned bursts of metaphorical sprinting as you prep for the marathon that is the New GRE. Specifically, you should take practice tests about once a week to determine whether you are improving and where you should be focusing your study efforts. Taking a full-length test can be taxing and, in some cases, induce as much sweat as sprinting, but forcing yourself to sit for an entire exam will prepare you for test day.

By the way, students who use Magoosh GRE improve their scores by an average of 8 points on the new scale (150 points on the old scale.) Click here to learn more.

21 Responses to How to Study for the New GRE

  1. Sadaab June 17, 2015 at 7:53 pm #

    I have my GRE after 3 months. I have two books – NOVA and Barron but I dnt think they have enough difficult questions. Please suggest me the right book for Quant which would reflect the actual difficulty level of GRE ? Also I’m worried for my Verbal skills , i can speak decent english but a bit weak on vocabulary. I can’t remember words for long time. Please suggest me something.
    Also, from the previous comments I felt MANHATTAN is the right book. So shall I go for it ?

    • glen July 10, 2016 at 9:58 pm #

      I remember REA books. I used an REA chemistry a long time ago. It was riddled with errors, and not just typos.
      The GRE prep cocktail idea seems sound. How daring.

  2. Lis May 15, 2014 at 9:01 am #

    Hello, I am a little bit overwhelmed by all of the information that is out there on where to start studying for the GRE. I plan on taking it in the fall; I took a practice test this past spring and need a lot of help in the math area, and I need to brush up in the vocabulary area as well. I would like a couple of pointers on where to start. I plan on buying books but there are just so many I do not even know where to begin. Are there any tips you could give me on where to start?


  3. Nevin January 23, 2012 at 2:38 am #

    Hi Chris,

    I’ve Completed the Magoosh lessons and practice questions, planning to review the questions i got wrong, my exam is on 1st feb, my vocab is not great, haven’t learned a lot of words(around a 1000 words), any suggestions of how to proceed from here on?

  4. Eve January 21, 2012 at 9:42 pm #

    Hi Chris,
    I was wondering, does the power prep have all the 4 sections? Is it the one offered by ETS as free POWER PREP II?

  5. Niti January 21, 2012 at 8:08 am #

    Hi Chris

    As per your suggestion, I took the Powerprep test today and scored a horrendous 300-400 in Verbal and 600-700 in Quant! So now I need to really work on my verbal skills, mainly vocab and RC’s and also on quant.

    I have already started studying from ETS official guide. Additionally, I have Princeton Review and the supplement. Which sections should I study from PR? Also, I am confused b/w Barron/Kaplan, for a 3rd book. I have also been taking online sessions on Magoosh, really helpful. Based on my weak areas, which book would you likely suggest to buy (Barron/Kaplan)? or any other book. I need to work on my timing and strategies. Thanks a lot for your inputs!

  6. Tulasi January 20, 2012 at 6:40 am #

    Hi Chris

    I am studying my final year B TECH and decided to write the new GRE in May, my old GRE score was 1150 ( Q 740+410); my analytical score was just 2.0 . I worried a lot about that score . Now I am very interested to learn tips from you after seeing your posts . Please help me to prepare for the VERBAL section and ANALYTICAL WRITING… I brought New Barrons. Please suggest a schedule to fit my daily preparation – I have college from 9-11 AM but I’m free the rest of the day. Eagerly waiting your reply.
    Thank You

    • Chris Lele
      Chris January 20, 2012 at 3:29 pm #

      Hi Tulasi,

      I think you will find the 30-day study guide helpful. It may be too much to handle if you only have time to study two hours a day. But you can adapt it as necessary.

      As for the AWA, Barron’s book is good. You may also want to consider Magoosh for verbal, esp. if you learn from videos (our lessons and questions are all computer based). Our AWA section is also very helpful.

      Let me know if you have any more questions!

  7. Abdullah January 16, 2012 at 5:09 pm #

    Hi Chris,

    Upgrade this site with sharing icon so I can show your awesome post to some of my friends. Facebook,twitter,LinkedIn is a must for your good work. Thanks

    • Chris Lele
      Chris January 17, 2012 at 4:10 pm #

      Actually, we are just working on that now – it should be up very soon! thanks for the rec.!

  8. Niti January 16, 2012 at 10:02 am #

    Hi Chris

    I am planning to give GRE by April end and just bought the official ETS GRE book. I have been reading about other alternative books to buy – Kaplan/Princeton/Barron but no idea which one to zero down on. I am fairly ok with verbal but not very good at Quants. To apply to univ, I need a min of 50% in Verbal, 90% in Quant and 4.5/5 on AW. Which additional book should I buy and how do I start studying? Should I start directly from the ETS book? Also, I installed the Powerprep software, when is the right time to practise the papers online? I have also signed up for 1 week trial on Magoosh. Apologies for the numerous questions, but would love to get clarity on all the points above. Thanks!

    • Chris Lele
      Chris January 17, 2012 at 4:10 pm #

      Hi Niti,

      No problem – I am always happy to answer questions :).

      As for a 90% in Quant, Kaplan/Princeton/Barron’s don’t have much to offer.

      Try out Manhattan GRE. Buy any of their eight books and you have access to six tests. I don’t think their questions are as difficult as Magoosh’s, but the questions are a far more accurate reflection of the test than anything offered by those other publishers.

      Take a Powerprep test now. See where you score. Then devise a study plan to help you break 90%. A couple of weeks before the test, take the Powerprep again – you shouldn’t remember too many of them.

      Also, there is a practice test in the Official Guide. I have recorded answers for every question in the book and on the Powerprep test. They are offered free on you tube!

  9. Chris Lele
    Chris January 12, 2012 at 12:30 pm #

    Great! I am happy it was so helpful!

  10. Ayush Sangani January 12, 2012 at 8:27 am #

    Hi Chris,

    This is really an awesome post and worth reading it. Thanks a lot.
    As this post mostly helps a student like me who wants to prepare for the New Gre but don’t know how to prepare for it. Keep posting something like this to ecourage us. 🙂

  11. Nevin January 11, 2012 at 3:22 pm #

    “And it’s stretch, but you may even look back fondly on your GRE prep” –
    Its indeed quite a LONG stretch, I have nearly completed the Magoosh GRE Lessons, it has been enlightening but I am still worried about my verbal sections specially writing, I am always stuck for 5 to 6 mins before i get a proper sentence to start writing, i did try writing the body of the essay first (after the thesis) but it gives me a feeling that something is missing.

    • Chris Lele
      Chris January 11, 2012 at 3:32 pm #

      Hi Nevin,

      Good to hear that you’ve nearly made it all the way through the product!

      For the essay, try outlining. If you know what points you will be discussing in each paragraph, writing the paragraph becomes much easier. A good exercise is to go to the question bank at and practicing coming up with outlines.

      Developing this skill will help you begin the first sentence and should definitely get rid of that feeling that something is missing. In the essay, the intro is just a flourish. It is the analysis in the body paragraph that counts.

      Please let me know if you have any more questions. And good luck test day!

  12. Eve January 10, 2012 at 1:41 pm #

    Sounds great

    • Chris Lele
      Chris January 10, 2012 at 1:47 pm #

      Great! I am really happy to see people are finding this post helpful.

  13. Vaisnavi January 9, 2012 at 10:32 pm #

    Awesome post.

    • Chris Lele
      Chris January 10, 2012 at 1:46 pm #


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