GRE Overview: Study Guides, Books, Prep Courses & Other Resources

We cover what you need to know about the GRE exam, including what the different sections consist of and how to properly study for it. 

By Riley Stoltenburg, Masters Degree in Public Health

What Is The GRE?

The GRE stands for “Graduate Record Examination”. It is an exam administered by the Educational Testing Service to assess a candidate’s readiness for graduate school. The GRE is often required by graduate programs as one main components of a candidate’s application.

What Kind Of Test Is The GRE?

The GRE is a computer-based, standardized exam that consists of multiple-choice questions. The overarching goal of the exam is to measure an individual’s ability to evaluate data, think critically and solve problems. The GRE exam is split into three different sections:

  • Analytical writing

  • Verbal reasoning

  • Quantitative reasoning


The analytical writing portion of the exam consists of two, thirty-minute tasks. Individuals will essentially be asked to write two different essays during the exam. One essay will focus on analyzing an issue and the other will center around analyzing an argument. The analytical writing section is scored on a 0 to 6 scale, with the average score equaling 4.

The verbal reasoning portion of the exam is composed of two, 20 question sections. Individuals will receive 30 minutes to complete each individual section. Of the 20 questions, 10 relate to reading comprehension, six relate to text completion and four relate to sentence equivalence.  The verbal reasoning portion of the exam is scored on a 130 to 170 scale, with the average score equaling 151.

Like the verbal reasoning portion of the exam, the quantitative reasoning portion consists of two, 20 question sections. Test takers will receive 35 minutes to complete each section. Of the 20 questions, 12-13 will relate to problem solving and 7-8 will relate to quantitative comparison. The quantitative reasoning section is also scored on a 130 to 170 scale. The average score for this section is 153.  

How To Study For The GRE

Most people take anywhere between one to three months studying several hours per week to prepare for the GRE. Therefore, on average, we’d say expect to set aside 20 to 100 hours in total to ensure you’re ready for the exam. Naturally, the next question is how you should spend those allotted hours studying? Below is our five-point plan to ensure you’re preparing efficiently.

  1. Take a practice exam – this should be the first thing individuals do so they can get a feel for the test and discover what areas they need to improve upon.

  2. Review the results from the practice exam – Take an hour or two and closely examine what types of questions you missed, what types of questions you rushed through and what types of questions you nailed.

  3. Set a study plan – After analyzing the results of your practice exam, you’ll be able to identify the exact areas where you need additional assistance and allocate study hours accordingly. Depending on which section you need the most help with, we’d recommend purchasing a prep book, online program or prep course, which we discuss in more detail below.

  4. Imitate actual GRE test conditions – It’s important that you study under the same conditions that the test is administered. This will help calm your nerves and make your more focused come test day.

  5. Take another practice test & repeat – You should take practice tests regularly so that you can measure the effectiveness of your studying. After each test, repeat the steps above so you can continually improve upon your weak areas.


Best GRE Prep Courses

Online prep courses are an excellent way to quickly improve your GRE score. These types of courses include instructor-led lessons, personalized study plans, flashcards and more. On the downside, prep courses tend to be expensive. For example, prep courses from reputable companies like Kaplan and Princeton Review range anywhere from $300 to $1,800. With that said, if you’re serious about improving your score and getting into a top graduate school program, a GRE prep course is likely your best bet.

Best GRE Prep Books

A cheaper alternative is to purchase prep books and study on your own. This route is obviously more cost-efficient, but that doesn’t necessarily make it more effective. Prep books help but they’re not as rich in resources as online prep courses. Still, if you’re working with a tight budget, it’s the best option you’re left with. You can purchase prep books on Amazon for as cheap as $20. Even the higher-end prep books only get up to $50-75 in price. These prep books include general test taking strategies, practice problems and detailed answer explanations. We recommend taking a look at the books from Manhattan Prep, Kaplan and ETS.

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