How to Study for the GRE: The First Two Weeks (Part 1)

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Manhattan Prep GRE Blog - How to Study for the GRE: The First Two Weeks (Part 1) by Chelsey Cooley

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Not sure where to start? Here’s how to handle the first two weeks of your GRE journey.

Day 1: Learn the format.

If you’re just getting started now, take a day to learn the problem types on the GRE. There are quick descriptions of all of the problem types in the Official Guide to the GRE, and also on the official GRE website here.

Day 2: Take a practice test.

Here’s a link to a free practice GRE. If you’re pressed for time, you can skip the two Analytical Writing sections at the beginning. Make sure that you take all of the Quant and Verbal sections, though. The point isn’t to get a great score! The point is to learn, through hands-on experience, what the test looks and feels like.

Day 3: Choose your GRE study style.

At this point, you could sign up for a GRE course. One huge advantage to the course is structure: you won’t have to make as many tough decisions about what to study and when to study it. If you take a course, you’ll be able to skip a lot of the planning described in this article. But if you go for self-study instead, you’ll want to have these resources:

Day 4: Start a problem log and a study calendar.

Here’s how to create a problem log. For your study calendar, plan out one week at a time, and be realistic. Build in plenty of time to review. A reasonable target for official problems is about 10-12 problems in an hour. You’ll spend 10-25 minutes doing the problem set, then take a quick break, then spend the rest of the hour reviewing.

What you put on your study calendar will depend on your priorities. In the next article in this series, I’ll share a couple of sample study sessions for your first two weeks. You can use any or all of them, in any order (as long as you regularly return to previous topics to review!). They’ll cover a few of the highest-value topics on the GRE at a basic level and will prepare you for your second practice test.

For now, I’ll leave you with one of my favorite GRE study sessions: the ‘half-section.’

Sample Session 1: GRE Half-Sections

Each Quant or Verbal section of the GRE consists of 20 questions. (You’ll have 35 minutes for a Quant section and 30 minutes for a Verbal section.) Each section always has a predictable number of questions of each type. In a Quant section, there will be approximately 7 Quantitative Comparison problems, 10 Discrete Quant problems, and 3 Data Interpretation problems. In a Verbal section, there will be about 6 Text Completion problems, 4 Sentence Equivalence problems, and 10 Reading Comprehension problems.

A half-section is exactly what it sounds like: a simulated GRE section, half as long as the real thing (to give you more time for review and keep you from wearing out). Here’s what a half-section should contain:

  • Quant (17.5 minutes):
    • 3 Quantitative Comparison
    • 5 Discrete Quant
    • 2 Data Interpretation
  • Verbal (15 minutes):
    • 3 Text Completion
    • 4 Sentence Equivalence
    • 5 Reading Comprehension

Start by choosing your problems. The easiest way to select problems for a half-section is by using the 5lb. Book of GRE Practice Problems. To create a Verbal section, choose the problems at random from the Text Completion, Sentence Equivalence, and Reading Comprehension chapters of the book. Jot down the problem numbers and keep them next to you.

Since most of the Quant materials in the 5lb. Book are divided up by topic, it’s a little harder to choose random problem sets. You can use the Quant Diagnostic at the very front of the book, which contains mixed Quant problems. You can also flip to random pages in the book and select random problem numbers, or use the problems from the Official Guide to the GRE, which cover a variety of topics.  

Once you have your problem numbers written down, start your timer and get working. Treat the half-set exactly how you’d treat the real GRE: don’t take breaks or get distracted, and if you find a problem that you can’t solve, guess and move on. Give yourself 17.5 minutes for a Quant section or 15 minutes for a Verbal section; feel free to add 1 minute for the time it’ll take to flip back and forth between problems in the book.

Followup: Reviewing Your Half-Section

A half-section is a good study tool for two reasons. One, it helps you diagnose weaknesses that you may not have known about. Two, it helps you prepare for some of the most difficult aspects of the GRE: time management, quickly recognizing problem types, and making smart guesses. Every time you do a half-section, review it with those two ideas in mind. At a high level: did you make smart strategic decisions? At the level of individual problems: what can you learn from each of the problems you did? If you discover a new weakness, add a study session or two to your calendar to address it.

If any of the problems from the half-section were especially interesting, mark them in your problem log. Return to those problems a week from now and try them again.

What Next?

In the next article in this series, I’ll share a few more sample study sessions for your first two to three weeks of GRE studies. Then, we’ll cover what happens during, and after, your second practice test. For now, if you’re just getting started, take some time to structure your studies! You’ll thank yourself for it later on, when you have a strong foundation and good study habits. 📝


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Chelsey CooleyChelsey Cooley Manhattan Prep GRE Instructor is a Manhattan Prep instructor based in Seattle, Washington. Chelsey always followed her heart when it came to her education. Luckily, her heart led her straight to the perfect background for GMAT and GRE teaching: she has undergraduate degrees in mathematics and history, a master’s degree in linguistics, a 790 on the GMAT, and a perfect 170Q/170V on the GRE. Check out Chelsey’s upcoming GRE prep offerings here.

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