Study Tips For Using Official GRE Materials

Powerprep ETS GRE Practice Test - Image by Magoosh

You may have heard that there is no better way to practice for the GRE than by taking a mock exam, especially one written by ETS (the maker of the GRE). The extent to which this is true depends on how you use GRE books and resources like the ETS POWERPREP practice tests. Taking a test once, figuring out your score, and then hoping that your brain will avoid the same kinds of mistakes on the test is wishful thinking. Following the steps below will help you get the most out of your official ETS GRE practice test materials.

(And if you don’t yet have access to the major practice materials for this exam, you can access PowerPrep here or purchase The Official Guide to the GRE General Test on Amazon or at ETS’s online GRE Store.)

Tips for studying with POWERPREP & The Official Guide

Review your answers

POWERPREP has gotten a lot better over the years, ETS has begun to include the correct answers and allow you to review them after you take the exams. Yup, this didn’t used to be the case! However, unless you’re using POWERPREP PLUS, you won’t get an explanations for why the correct answers are correct.

Figure out the question on your own

In a way, ETS’s decision not to include explanations in the free versions of POWERPREP can actually benefit you. Looking at an answer explanation can be harmful in a couple ways. First, many explanations might seem more confusing than the actual question. Second, by relying on an explanation, you do not force yourself to really think through a question.

Find questions similar to POWERPREP and the Official Guide

Practice tests allow you to determine your strengths and weaknesses. Focus on your weaknesses by finding practice problems that test the concept with which you are struggling. Manhattan GRE and Magoosh are both great resources.

Take the tests multiple times

The POWERPREP tests differ slightly each time you take them so you will see a few new questions when you retake a test. If you space out enough time between tests, you shouldn’t remember too many questions. While the results of a test you’ve seen before will not be 100% valid (it will probably be slightly inflated), taking an ETS test under timed conditions is the best way to prepare for test day.

Additional ETS practice content

A few years back, ETS released two guides—the Verbal Reasoning Practice Questions and the Quantitative Reasoning Questions. Surprisingly, the book did not get much fanfare, and even now the book seems to be languishing on Amazon—at least compared to most GRE prep books (which I strongly discourage using).

Yet, these books provide pages upon pages of excellent practice questions. Though these books do not contain actual tests, they are filled with practice sets, often ranked from “easy” to “hard”. These sets will expose you to yet more content by ETS. In fact, this material is the most recent so it arguably provides the material that is best aligned with material on today’s test.

A good way to use this material is as warm-up for a POWERPREP test. That way you can get the synapses firing before you have to take an actual practice test.

Other GRE practice

No mock test is the same as that provided by the ETS practice test. Still, it is important to remember that some are better than others. Manhattan GRE provides six practice tests, all of which have challenging content.

Kaplan tests, judging from their book content, are a poor approximation of the real test. Princeton Review also contains questions that are suspect, too easy, or both. And those tests you find on-line…well, let’s put it this way. I ventured to a site that offered mock “GRE tests.” In the math section, almost every other question was a permutation/combination problem. On the actual test you only get one such question.

Magoosh has a variety of great GRE prep materials as well. We offer a free GRE practice test with answers and explanations, guided study schedules, and a GRE Prep book loaded with practice questions, answers, and a full-length test.

Anyhow, I hope this helps demystify and simplify what’s out there regarding official ETS practice material, along with other practice tests!


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