GRE: How to Study for the Exam and Pass the First Time Around!

Right after finishing my Bachelors of Arts degree in Social Science Education, I knew I wanted to continue to a graduate degree; I just had no idea what I wanted to pursue. There was so much stigma and negativity attached to teaching that by the time I was ready to enter the classroom, I wasn’t even sure if I still wanted to do it. All throughout my student teaching others kept questioning my decision which in turn made me question. Can anyone relate?

Anyway, I did start teaching, but I hesitated for two years before deciding to pursue a graduate degree. I constantly wondered  whether or not I should pursue another interest, you know, in case this teaching thing didn’t work out. After teaching for two years I realized that my true passion was developing curriculum and lesson planning. That was my answer. I decided to apply to a Masters program in Curriculum and Instruction.

In order to be accepted to the program at my chosen university, I had to take the Graduate Record Examinations (GRE). The mere thought of this test gave me anxiety. In preparing for it I gained a newfound understanding of the anxiety my students feel when it comes to all of the standardized testing the state shoves down their throats (I’m not opposed to standardized tests in general, by the way, I just think that there is way to much of it going on.)

There were certain scores that I had to obtain in order to be accepted to the Curriculum and Instruction program. Once I had this information, I started to research GRE Prep books online. There was one that caught my eye- so I went out and purchased a copy for myself; I spent the entire summer after my second year teaching studying for the GRE. I did not want to fail this test; I couldn’t fail this test. (Did I mention it costs $205 just to register for the exam?)


I started studying by taking one of the practice tests. My reading score was right where it needed to be, but math, oh my! I had some serious work to do. I devoted the entire summer to studying for the math section of the test. I studied until my practice test score was higher than the minimum score I needed to earn so that I would have some wiggle room and peace of mind. Let’s be real here.

A typical day of studying looked like this:                                                                                         6 am- My husband would leave for work. I would wake up, have coffee, and walk the dog.

7 am- I would review notes from the previous day. If there were any problems that I struggled with, I would revisit them and do practice problems of the same type.

8 am- Study new section, take notes, make flashcards of key terms.

8:30am- Study new flash cards until I had them down pat. After that, I would mix in flash cards from previous sections and study those until I knew them all by heart.

9:30am- Work on practice problems for new section. Complete all problems without consulting notes. Check answers. If any answers were incorrect, I would go through my notes and try to figure out where I went wrong on my own. I find that identifying errors myself (when possible) helps prevent me from making the same errors again. For some reason the information “sticks” better this way. If I couldn’t figure out the err of my ways by consulting my notes, I would reference online lectures from the Khan Academy. Usually, this did the trick.

12 pm- Lunch break

1 pm-3 pm- Between 1 pm and 3 pm I would spend time on the Khan Academy website watching lectures and completing practice problems. I would specifically look for lectures and practice problems on concepts I had already studied to reinforce my own learning and keep everything fresh.

By 3 pm, I was mentally exhausted from the day of intense studying and I would call it quits.

This method of studying worked well for me. I passed the GRE the first time around. I realize that this schedule is probably not realistic for everyone. I had the summer off and I don’t have any children so I could devote all the time in the world to preparation. The key things that you need to include in the study schedule you create for yourself are:

  1. Ample time to study, especially if you need an intense refresher for the material.
  2. A variety of practice tests to track your progress so you can see that you are learning and retaining the information.
  3. A variety of study resources so that you are exposed to different types of problems. I found that different study materials would often present questions in different ways.
  4. Materials, online or in print, that you can use to reinforce your studying. Don’t just study a section and then forget about it thinking that you have it down 100%. You might know it now, for the moment, but as soon as you go on to another concept the previous one might become a little fuzzy (This happened to me all the time. I can’t be the online one, right???).

Check out these links for resources to help you prepare for the GRE.

Register for the GRE

GRE Test Information

GRE Vocabulary

Practice Math Problems

Khan Academy

Happy studying!!



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