06/05/2013 12:25 pm ET Updated Aug 05, 2013

How to Prep for the GRE General Test

For students pursuing an advanced degree in a master's or a doctorate program, the GRE (Graduate Records Examination) will be a significant element of any graduate school application they submit. A great score on the GRE can open the door to many outstanding programs, while a poor score may dash your possibilities of admission into your top choice schools. The pressure is on for this exam, and making sure you prepare in advance will set you up for success on the day of your test.

So, what do you need to know to do well on the GRE? Here are some tips to help ready yourself and raise your score.

1. Take a practice test.
No matter which standardized test you are preparing for, take the practice test. You can find sample questions on the Education Testing Service website (ETS, the company that creates the GRE), download a test for free from a plethora of websites, or take a practice test from a study book you can rent from the library or buy from a bookstore. Create test-like circumstances for yourself by adhering to the time limits of each section, taking only the breaks allowed during the actual exam, and finding a quiet place in which you won't be bothered while you take the test. Practicing under normal exam conditions will aid in your comfort level for all aspects of the test, including the style of the test, what's on it, and how long you have to answer each section.

2. Grade your practice test.
After taking the test, go through and grade yourself; this practice test can be used as a diagnostic to assess where you currently are and what segment you should hit first to improve the most. Maybe your verbal reasoning score was abysmal but you rocked the quantitative reasoning section. Maybe you noticed that you do really well on the geometry topics, but your data analysis skills leave something to be desired. Maybe you felt rushed during the 30-minute "analyze an issue" task. No matter what your results, be cognisant of your strong and weak areas to hammer out a solid plan for studying.

3. Formulate a plan.
Once you know the areas on which you need the most work, you can outline a plan to tackle those tough sections. The GRE consists of three parts, each of which is broken into subcategories. The first section is Verbal Reasoning, which is broken into Reading Comprehension, Text Completion, and Sentence Equivalence. Second is Quantitative Reasoning, which will test you on Arithmetic, Algebra, Geometry, and Data Analysis. Finally comes the Analytical Writing section, which consists of a 30-minute "Analyze an Issue" task, followed by a 30-minute "Analyze an Argument" task. Make sure that you allow yourself time to master each of these components, allotting the greatest amount of time to your problem sections. Compile a list of helpful study aids, including websites, practice booklets, and even a study buddy or a tutor; all of these resources will help you round out a comprehensive study plan.

4. Know the scoring.
As listed above, the GRE has three sections. Verbal Reasoning and Quantitative Reasoning are each scored from 130-170 in 1 point increments, while the Analytical Writing section is scored from 0-6 in half point increments. You receive a separate score for each of these three sections. You may be wondering what constitutes a satisfactory score, and the answer varies. A good rule of thumb is to know the scores that the schools you would like to attend require; this information should be readily available on the universities' websites.

6. Pay attention.
The GRE requires you to analyze and synthesize information to choose the best answer. For the Verbal Reasoning section, this means that sometimes more than one answer will be possible, but *in context* there will be a "best answer." Ensure that your choices all make sense in context. For the Quantitative Reasoning section, watch out for the details. Look at scales on the graphs for the data interpretation portion, make sure you carry the negative all the way through your algebra problems, etc. Be sure you are answering the correct question: if a question asks you infer, the answer will not be explicitly stated, but you should be able to extrapolate.

Seeing many types of GRE questions beforehand will aid in your understanding of the test's format, which brings us to the final tip of the day...

Practicing over and over is crucial to your success on the GRE. Through practice, you become comfortable with the types of questions you will be asked on the test, and you learn what strategies work best for you to successfully answer questions. You improve your speed in identifying correct answers, and you brush up on those dusty high school subject skills you will need to utilize on the test. That saying "practice makes perfect" definitely applies here, and to every other standardized test for which you might eventually prepare.