OH NO…Another Standardized Test: How to do GREat on your GRE

First off, I’m going to admit how witty I felt coming up with the title of this post at 6 AM…AND it was before I had coffee. It’s the little wins in life haha!

When I realized I had to take a standardized test to be eligible to apply to some PA schools… it made me feel a little dead inside. I had my fun in high school with the ACT/SAT…and now I seriously had to bang out another one of these puppies? Nooooooooooooo!


Hold up, though. Before you start panicking or feeling distraught about the GRE make sure you do one important step: check to make sure the PA programs you are applying to actually have the GRE as a prerequisite. Some schools are phasing out the use of the GRE, so before you go ahead and sign on up for that bad boy make sure you actually need to take it first!

If the GRE is a prereq, you can continue on with feeling panicked and distraught. JUST KIDDING! The GRE is totally do-able if you plan accordingly!  So turn that frown upside down and get ready to ace that exam!

One of the biggest things I recommend doing is checking your calendar and signing up for a date that gives you enough time to prepare and study for your GRE (common sense, right?) You can peruse information on the GRE and sign up at this website. They do a much better job than I ever can of explaining all the nitty gritty details of the exam.

Alright, so now that you’ve officially signed up and ready to roll, you can start planning your studying! When I took the GRE, I gave myself about 4 weeks to study. I am extremely guilty of becoming lazy when I have “too much” free time to do things…but I felt that 4 weeks was “just right”. It gave me enough flexibility that if something came up on a given night, I didn’t feel stressed by not studying…but it was a short enough time period where I definitely didn’t want to blow off my studying time consistently. I took my GRE at the end of August…and made sure to clear my entire week before the exam so that I could dedicate all my time and efforts to fully preparing myself for taking the GRE.

Now a big question I had prior to taking the GRE was “how the heck do I study for this thing”? It was such a different kind of exam and I really wasn’t sure how to approach it! So, after trial and error of many different study materials…here is my compiled list of GRE winners:

  1. Kaplan GRE Premier– I used the 2015 edition..but the 2017 edition is on Amazon for fairly cheap. I thought this book did a really nice job of explaining techniques to do well on the exam and had some challenging practice problems with excellent explanations. The biggest tip I have for doing well on the GRE is taking LOTS AND LOTS of practice exams!
  2. Kaplan GRE Flashcards– this is what I used for studying the vocabulary words on the GRE. These flashcards were so helpful at helping me focus on important words for the exam. In addition, the cards included definitions, synonyms, and sentences in which they are used. The only set back of this…is that there are SO MANY flashcards and it can be easy to become a little overwhelmed. My advice…break the cards into mini stacks and memorize them stack by stack! Not the most fun I’ve had in my life, but these flashcards REALLY helped when it came to knowing my vocab for the exam!
  3. Manhattan Prep: 5lbs of Practice Problems– like I said, practice makes perfect…and with 5lbs (no joke) of practice problems…you will never run out of questions! In addition, this book also does a superb job of laying out explanations to their questions! Also, if you’re like me and ride the struggle bus when it comes to math…their GRE Number Properties book helped me out a ton! Without the help of that bad boy and my extremely mathematically gifted boyfriend, Sam, I would have been SOL!


Lastly, when you sign up for the GRE they will give you access to 2 practice exams that emulate the real GRE (which is taken on a computer). I highly recommend utilizing this because it will do the best job in preparing you for what the real exam will be like…it even will give you a score when you submit! I ended up taking this practice exam 2 days before my real one…and I felt much more confident going into my real exam knowing I had already “taken” a GRE.

Once you start taking practice exams…you may find you excel in one area, and are a dud in another (orrrrr maybe that is just me haha). In any case, it is awesome that you recognize this BEFORE the exam because that gives you time to sharpen your skills in that area! I realized real quick that math was going to be my weak point (throw some calculus and physics at me and I am a-ok…but those darn word problems that haunted me in high school came back to bite me in the butt for this exam). I spent a ton of time really working on feeling confident about the math section. Everyone has their own strengths and weaknesses, and even if it does take you a little extra time to conquer a subject…know there are resources and people out there that can and will help you! In fact, some colleges even have courses or staff members specifically designated for GRE prep that you can utilize! Just remember to keep sticking with it, because it will so pay off in the long run!

So you practice practice practice and the day finally comes to take your GRE! A few things to remember for the day:

  1. Eat a really good breakfast (and lunch if you’re taking it in the afternoon). Being hangry is not a good way to conquer anything, let alone a big exam!
  2. Make sure you double check you have everything that you need for the exam (verification of ID, printed off exam confirmation receipt, etc). ETS has a checklist on their website that is well worth looking over.
  3. Bring a snack for your break (I picked Skittles…a little extra sugar never hurt anyone, right? Plus who doesn’t love Skittles? :))
  4. After the exam, the GRE program will ask you which schools you want to send your scores to and it helps to be prepared ahead of time instead trying to remember all of them after your brain ran an intellectual marathon.
  5. Relax, take a deep breath, and rock out your exam 🙂

Random miscellaneous tip: do something fun the night before! You will get to a point where there is literally no more information you can cram into your brain. I think you’re much better off doing something fun to take your mind off the exam and get a solid night’s sleep too!

Other important notes:

So let’s face it: sometimes life happens. If for some reason you’re not feeling like you did awesome on your exam..whether you couldn’t get into a rhythm of taking the exam or you were sick or you just don’t feel great when you finished the exam…you have the option to cancel your score. A prompt will come up prior to your score being tallied and if you opt not to submit your scores, they will not be documented. In my opinion, I think it would be a waste of your time and efforts not to submit it. Chances are, you did better than you think you did. Plus, you only send the highest scores to the schools of your choosing. That means if you need to re-take the exam, you can just send them the higher score and they will be never the wiser of your other lower score! Plus, you don’t get a refund for canceling your score…so really, there’s no point to not having it scored!

Wow, that is a lot of information and tips (I apologize for that reading marathon)! I’m sure I forgot to mention something, but those are my biggies for doing awesome on your exam 🙂 Yes, standardized tests are never fun and can cause some stress…but if you prepare and plan properly you’re going to rock it 🙂


P.S.: the best part of the whole post…the school I ultimately picked didn’t even need the GRE. Go me.



Pic courtesy of giphy.com



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