Do-it-yourself guide for online GRE prep

The DIY revolution has come to college test prep. With so many free and online GRE prep resources available today, it's possible to study for GRE by yourself. Just follow these steps to do your best on GRE exam day:

Gre Graduate Record Examination

1. Know the exam.

When that timer starts, you want to make sure you're using the time to demonstrate your abilities, not to read the instructions and ponder strategy. Understanding the mechanics of the GRE--what types of questions you'll encounter, how they are structured and how the scoring works--will help you cruise through the exam, from start to finish.

If you think you know the GRE, make sure you know the right GRE. As of August 2011, there's a new test in town, with new question types and a revamped online format. The GRE Revised General Test shifts the emphasis to reading comprehension in the Verbal section and real-world data analysis in the Quantitative Reasoning section.

The original computer-adaptive test (CAT) format has been replaced with a new, flexible online format, which allows test takers to complete the exam in any order. This new online format allows you to apply your own test-taking style. For example, you might circulate through a section multiple times, to answer the easy "low-hanging fruit" before revisiting the stumpers.

ETS publishes The Official Guide to the GRE Revised General Exam, as well as specific strategies for the Computer-based GRE Revised Test to help you study for GRE by yourself. The Princeton Review's Cracking the New GRE outlines a strategic approach to the new exam format.

2. Go to the source for free GRE prep materials.

The best source for free do-it-yourself GRE prep materials is the GRE website. ETS, the publisher of the GRE, offers downloadable exercises and instructions for each section of the exam.

Check out these areas sooner than later:

Quick View and A Closer Look sections. Learn more about each of the GRE's major sections--Verbal Reasoning, Quantitative Reasoning and Analytical Writing. Get advice for answering questions and review samples with explanations.

Math Review and Math Conventions. These two guides go over the mathematical skills, concepts and terminology you'll encounter in the Quantitative Reasoning section of the exam.

3. Log into online GRE prep tools

The World Wide Web features a wealth of online GRE prep tools, from tutoring sessions to discussion groups and classes. Log on for these do-it-yourself GRE prep resources:

  • Online study groups such as Grockit Test Prep offer a platform for connecting with other GRE prepsters, including discussion boards and shared study plans.
  • Online tutoring lets you reach out for help when you need it. GrockIt broadcasts live group tutoring sessions, while test preparation companies like The Princeton Review and Kaplan offer private tutoring online. Sites like WyzAnt can connect you with local tutors certified in GRE coaching.
  • Online lessons offer targeted training in a specific GRE skill. For example, YourTeacher.com provides math instruction tailored to the GRE; and it's affordably priced by monthly subscription at $69.50 for a month pass.
  • Mobile apps let you keep up your do-it-yourself GRE prep, wherever you go. There are more than 50 GRE prep apps for the iPhone, including math and vocabulary drills. Keep in mind that some of these, such as analogies practice, may no longer be relevant to the revised exam.
  • Online GRE prep courses can be more affordable and less time-intensive, offering a middle ground between do-it-yourself test prep, and a full-featured classroom course.

4. Practice makes perfect with practice GRE tests

As with most skills, practice can get you as close to perfect as it's possible to be. ETS offers books and software practice tests, which allow you to simulate the test-taking experience. PowerPrep II Software lets you try your hand at the new computerized Revised General Test, complete with a timer and on-screen calculator. ScoreitNow! Online Writing Practice lets you hone your writing skills for the new Analytical Writing section and assess your skill with an immediate, confidential score. You'll also find books of previously administered GRE tests; these tests can help you practice. Be advised that the new exam will depart from the originals you encounter in practice books.

5. Read, read, read

Reading comprehension is top priority in the GRE Revised General Test, both in the Verbal and the Quantitative Reasoning section. Even math problems require reading, as they are presented in the context of real-life scenarios. Practice for the GRE by reading all you can: Newspaper and magazine articles, books as well as past GRE reading comprehension passages are all fair game, as you study for GRE by yourself. As you read, practice analyzing the content as you'll be asked to do on the exam. Take note of the main theme of the article, the author's take on an issue, and whether the content is fact or opinion.

With books, software, online GRE prep sites and mobile applications on your side, there is no reason why you can't study for GRE by yourself. Do-it-yourself GRE prep simply requires initiative and consistency. Aside from building familiarity with the new exam, the key to mastering the GRE is regular practice.


About the Author: