One test, many prospects

Here’s your primer to the GRE — the first step to a successful academic stint abroad

August 06, 2017 05:00 pm | Updated 05:00 pm IST

Prep time  Get set for GRE.

Prep time Get set for GRE.

The Graduate Record Examination (GRE) helps thousands of students every year to get admissions in eminent graduate and/or business schools across the globe. It is the key to unlock the doors of master’s or doctoral programmes at foreign universities.

What is GRE?

GRE is a yardstick to measure a student’s readiness for advanced studies. With an average duration of 3 hours 45 minutes, it is an ideal medium to evaluate one’s critical thinking, analytical writing abilities, English language skills, and problem solving abilities through its verbal reasoning and quantitative aptitude sections. Moreover, the registration process is flexible and easy to understand; one can enrol at any point of the year.

How to prepare

It is strongly recommended that preparation for the GRE begins six months before the commencement of the admission process. This might appear to be an exaggeration, but in reality, you will need as many as three months for GRE preparation and three months to get your documentation in place (letters of recommendation, statements of purpose, transcripts and resume), given the multiple times you’ll have to work and rework on them. To give you an idea, if you’re targeting the fall admission season, the application process will start from December 2017 and last till January 2018. So, you need to pull up your socks and start planning your exam strategy beforehand.


If you vocabulary is good, you’ll definitely have an edge over other students, especially when it comes to the Analytical Writing Assessment (AWA) and verbal reasoning sections. One sure-shot way of improving your vocabulary is by using mnemonics. This is a system of memorising words by associating them with other words or concepts that may or may not match the meaning of the word, but will definitely help you learn them in an entertaining way.

Pareto principle

Reading Comprehension is one of the most time-consuming sections in the GRE. One way to master it is by adopting the Pareto principle (also called the 80/20 principle). Try to identify the critical 20% of information that will help you answer 80% of the questions. Moreover, remember this golden rule: Never read a passage for the facts; always read a passage to find the main idea. Look out for sentences with transition words, such as “therefore,” “thus,” “however,” “but,” “moreover,” and so on, because these lines will typically give you the main idea of the passage.


Getting used to the type of questions and answers will decide your success in the quantitative reasoning section. Your ability to answer a question accurately and on time will depend on how familiar you are with the kind of traps in the answer choices. You need to practise GRE-level questions and take mock tests to build the familiarity quotient. One way of doing this is by maintaining a log of all the errors that you have committed during the practice sessions. Doing this will help you identify the plausible traps in the questions and go a long way towards improving your performance in the test.

Mock tests

These are an integral part of the GRE preparations. Attempting mock tests will boost your confidence and give you a fair idea about the exam pattern. Also, you will be able to identify your weak and strong subject areas through these tests. It is advisable to take at least five mock tests before the GRE exam and on a regular basis.

For systematic GRE preparation, test-takers should follow official GRE preparation material offered by ETS at

The author is Head of International Exams at BYJU’S - The Learning App.

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