The GRE, or Graduate Record Examinations, is a standardized test that is an admissions requirement for most graduate schools in the United States. In recent years, some business schools have started to accept the GRE over the GMAT, and top-tier law schools such as Harvard now accept the GRE in lieu of the LSAT.
Below, we’ve outlined some of the best online GRE prep courses, free online resources, and general study tips, whether you want specialized instruction or prefer to study on your own.
But first, the basics.
What’s on the GRE?
The GRE is a 3 hour 45 minute computer-adaptive test with three sections:
- Analytical Writing: Tests your ability to communicate complex ideas in a clear and coherent manner, evaluate claims and evidence, support ideas using logical reasoning and examples, and prove an argument using standard written English
- 2 Essays: “Issue” and “Argument”
- 30 minutes each
- Quantitative: Tests basic math skills in arithmetic, algebra, and geometry; question types include Quantitative Comparisons, Problem Solving, Data Interpretation
- 2 Sections, approximately 20 questions each
- 35 minutes
- Verbal: Tests your ability to analyze sentences and passages, including reading comprehension, understanding key concepts, and vocabulary; question types include Text Completions and Sentence Equivalence
- 2 Sections, approximately 20 questions each
- 30 minutes
There are two un-scored sections on the GRE: the experimental section and the research section, both designed to help develop future iterations of the test. If your tests includes an experimental section, it will not be identified, so treat each section with equal care. The research section is identified and appears at the end of the test. Note that no GRE test features both experimental and research sections.
What Makes a Good Online GRE Course?
Online prep courses are one of the most popular ways to study for the GRE. You’ll cover relevant subject areas, develop test-taking skills, and get tailored feedback on improvement areas. Below are some specs to consider when you’re choosing which course fits your needs:
Self-Paced: Self-paced vs. live online courses is ultimately a personal preference. On the one hand, live prep may be better if you’re a student that thrives in a collaborative classroom setting. You’ll also receive more personalized feedback from your instructor, and generally have more of a traditional student-instructor relationship. Online self-paced courses forfeit some of the above for the advantage of control: decide what, when, where, and how you study, without having to worry about a set curriculum schedule. Self-paced is especially helpful if you prioritize practice time, a critical component of GRE prep. If something doesn’t make sense, go over it again; if you need to improve on a specific section, focus on that instead of reviewing material you don’t need to review.
Online Resources: No matter what course you choose, be sure to check what resources it provides. Specifically, you need full-length practice exams: 1) To know what to expect on test day; 2) To track your score progress; 3) To adapt to the nearly 4 hours of testing. Other features to look out for include quizzes, practice questions, interactive content, and more. (Also worth note: because the GRE is adaptive, ideally your practice exams have an adaptive element, as well.)
Experienced Instructor: A high-quality GRE instructor goes a long way. In self-paced delivery, this might not matter as much because student-instructor interaction is limited (elevating course material to the benchmark). But for live online classes, students need to read instructor reviews and get a feel for style. Many courses will also note an instructor’s actual GRE score — obviously an important sign of qualification — and always research teaching experience.
Our Picks for Best Online GRE Courses
Manhattan Prep: One of the industry leaders for self-paced online prep courses. Manhattan also offers several delivery packages, including section-specific courses, as well as one-day workshops. Students have access to a GRE practice test, flash cards, study tips, the discussion forums, and local events.
Princeton Review: Offers adaptive practice exams, adaptive drills, detailed score reports, video lessons, and access to course material 24/7. Princeton Review’s self-paced plan is among the cheapest online, but the live online plan is the most bang for your buck. Improve your scores, or get a full refund.
Magoosh: On average, Magoosh students score 6 points higher in each section than all other GRE takers. (Improve your score 5 points or receive a refund). The GRE course includes 200 lessons, 1000 questions, full-length tests, targeted study schedules, progress monitoring, and more. The price point is also attractive: a quarter of the cost of competitors.
What’s the Best Way to Self-Prep Online for the GRE?
Every GRE test-taker has to self-prep at some point, but some students prefer a 100% DIY approach for several reasons: 1) Complete control over the study plan; 2) Saving hundreds (even thousands) of dollars on GRE courses. Nevertheless, you still need structure, organization, and a rigorous schedule. The self-prep approach doesn’t work if you’re not self-motivated.
- Create a Study Schedule: Set a study schedule and stick to it. Even if you break it, at least the structure exists. Better yet, customize the schedule around specific emphases: If you know your strengths and weaknesses, divide your schedule accordingly. Whatever setup works for you, turn GRE prep into a habit.
- Practice Makes Perfect: This is worth repeating. Practice needs to be incorporated into every prep session, whether it’s a full-length exam or just a few practice questions. Test-taking is a skill, and the GRE rewards people who have put the time into mastering its specific quirks. Practice will also help you gauge progress and develop a score target.
- Have a Target Score: Before you begin any prep, research the average GRE score at your dream grad schools (preferably, averages for each section if possible; depending on the program, admissions might prioritize one section over another). Studying for the GRE with a score in mind will help you focus, finalize a prep plan, and give you a goal to work toward.
- Fresh Prep is Better than Stale Prep: Schedule breaks even if they’re for 5 minutes. Continuous studying eventually results in diminishing returns and GRE burnout. Change study locations if possible, and try to use multiple prep tools to add some variety.
Our Picks for Best Online GRE Resources
ETS: The Educational Testing Service, which administers the GRE, offers one of the most comprehensive prep resources for the GRE online. Free materials include POWERPREP™ practice tests; a practice book with one full-length paper-delivered test, test-taking strategies, and sample questions; a math review; a GRE Diagnostic Service to help previous test-takers understand their performance; and general advice, sample questions with explanations, scoring guides, and more. (Additional resources are available for purchase at affordable price points.) The ETS is a must for anyone serious about taking the GRE.
Khan Academy: While no GRE-specific track is available, Khan offers individual lessons that cover the Quantitative Reasoning section. For more information, the ETS has a helpful guide on how to use Khan for the GRE.
How Long Does it Take to Prepare for the GRE?
Most people spend 2-3 months studying for the GRE, but every student is different. The GRE is convenient in that the computer-delivered test is available year-round, so you don’t necessarily need to schedule studying around a specific date (as would for the LSAT). The best way to know you’re ready to take the GRE is through your practice exam scores: once you can consistently reach your target score, it’s time to register for the test.