Getting The Most From Those GRE Practice Tests
You may have heard that there is no better way to practice for the GRE than by taking a mock exam, especially ones written by the Educational Testing Service (ETS), the makers of the GRE.
The extent to which this is true depends on how you use the exams. Taking a test once, figuring out your score, and then hoping that your brain will avoid the same kinds of mistakes on the test is wishful thinking. Following the steps below will help you get the most out of a practice test.
ETS (the best source for the most accurate practice material) offers a few resources:
- A free PDF practice test (1 practice test)
- The Official Guide book for the Revised GRE (practice questions and an exam overview as well as 1 practice test)
- A CD that comes with the book above (1 practice test)
- Free Powerprep II software (1 practice test)
The tests written by ETS are the best in terms of preparation. ETS creates the GRE you will see on test day, so it provides the best indicator of your score test day. However, some of the material on these tests overlap.
Here’s a quick guide to keep track:
- Powerprep and the CD are identical, with 100% of the same material (neither work on Mac computers, unfortunately!)
- The material on the PDF test is a subset of the material found on both Powerprep and the CD. That means you will see all of the questions on the PDF in Powerprep/CD material, but you won’t see all of the Powerprep/CD material on the PDFs.
- Completely separate is the one practice test at the of the Official Guide book, which does not have any overlap with any other material.
Confusing, right? It’s best to do as much practice as possible, so you shouldn’t worry about overlapping material too much, but you should keep the above distinctions in mind because if you see a question that you’ve seen previously, you may get the correct answer not because you knew how to do it, but because your brain may just have remembered the answer from last time!
Mark the questions you get wrong
After figuring out your score, put a mark next the questions you missed. However, do not look at the answer. See if you can figure out why you got the question wrong. Sometimes this mistake can be attributed to carelessness. Other times there is a conceptual issue. If you are still unsure look at the correct answer and then see if you can figure out why it is correct.
Figure out the question on your own
Looking at an explanation can be harmful in a few ways. First off, many explanations seem more confusing than the actual question. Secondly, by relying on an explanation, you do not force yourself to really think through a question.
With the ETS practice test, there are no explanations given. Again, this will force you to really think through a problem. Of course the reality is you will sometimes be stumped. If that happens…
If you can’t figure out a problem after trying to work it out on your own, check out my video explanations for each question in the PDF or the ones for the ETS Official Guide Book.
Take the tests multiple times
The PDF file is static so you the questions will not change. The Powerprep II test, however, differs slightly so that you will see a few new questions when you retake the test. Either way, if you space out enough time between tests, you shouldn’t remember too many questions. While the score will not be valid (it will probably be slightly inflated), taking an ETS test under timed conditions is the best way to prepare for test day.
Be sure to review questions, both mistakes and lucky guesses, the way enumerated above.