Make Your GRE Practice Test Experience Like the Real Test

By Ron Woldoff, Joseph Kraynak

When you prepare for the GRE, you should make your practice sessions as close as possible to what you’ll experience on test day. You can set the stage by doing the following:

  • Write your essay on a computer rather than by hand. Typing on a computer more effectively simulates the actual test-taking experience. You’re more likely to make typos and other careless errors when you type compared to writing by hand.

  • Turn off your word processor’s spelling and grammar checking features. The word processor you’ll use during the actual test features undo, redo, copy, and paste functionality but nothing else. It doesn’t correct or even check for grammar and spelling errors or typos. You can turn these features back on after writing your essay to identify any errors. (If you have a Windows PC, Notepad is similar to the program the GRE uses.)

  • Set your timer for 30 minutes per essay, but if time runs out, go ahead and finish the essay anyway. You still have to practice writing the end of the essay, and the practice will help you write faster next time. Keep track of how much extra time you need so you know how much faster you need to work on test day.

Don’t skip ahead and read the essays or evaluations before writing your own essay. Doing so gives you an unfair advantage and an unrealistic experience. Read the directions followed by the issue or argument and then immediately write your essay. If you’re not very impressed with your own essay after reading the samples and commentary, go ahead and rewrite your essay. The changes you make in your rewrite will build your skills for the actual essays.

Take a practice test under normal exam conditions and approach it as you would the real GRE:

  • Work when you won’t be interrupted.

  • Use scratch paper that’s free of any prepared notes. On the actual GRE, you receive blank scratch paper before your test begins.

  • Answer as many questions as time allows. Consider answering all the easier questions within each section first and then going back to answer the remaining, harder questions. Because you’re not penalized for guessing, go ahead and guess on the remaining questions before time expires.

  • Set a timer for each section. If you have time left at the end, you may go back and review answers (within the section), continue and finish your test early, or pause and catch your mental breath before moving on to the next section.

  • Don’t leave your desk while the clock is running on any section. Though technically you’re allowed to do this, it’s not conducive to an effective time-management strategy.

  • Take breaks between sections. Take a one-minute break after each section and the optional ten-minute break after the first Verbal section.