Best Ways to Study for the GRE

Best Ways to Study for the GRE

Craig OCallaghan

Updated February 20, 2020 Updated February 20

To get into graduate school or some business schools, you need GRE scores to demonstrate your readiness for post-graduate education. As the test requires a considerable investment in time and money to sign up and prepare for, you want to be prepared when you eventually take it.

While you will find several study options available, the best way to study for the GRE depends on you. To decide which method could be the best option for you, read up on the available techniques, and how you can integrate them into your prep time before the test.


GRE preparation books are one way to get ready for the test. While these books are everywhere from libraries to online stores, they shouldn’t be the only method you use to prepare.


GRE prep books are ideal when you have a tight budget. In some cases, you can find these books in your local library for free or online for under US$100. Because books are cheaper than other study options, they are an excellent tool to start studying.

Prep books allow you to learn more about the test and try practice problems for a low investment. While you get dozens to hundreds of practice problems – depending on the book publisher – this shouldn’t be the only way you study for the GRE as there are inherent disadvantages with self-study from books.


The downside to only using books to prepare is the lack of feedback you get from study. While most books offer solutions to the practice problems, you may not understand the solution presented.

If you've ever seen GRE study books, you will notice their massive size. Unless you know what parts of the test you need to study the most, you can get lost in the hundreds of pages of information. Too often, students feel overwhelmed by the size of the books and give up on studying at all.

Yes, you should use prep books, but use them with another study method to achieve the best results.


If you weren’t already aware, the GRE tests your vocabulary. Participants must prove they have a college-level handle of English on the test, which makes flashcards appealing. But, like books, flashcards shouldn’t be your only study method.


Flashcards make it easy to study for the vocabulary portion of the GRE anywhere. You can have flashcards on your phone and go through them on your commute, while waiting in the doctor's office or anytime you have a few free minutes. For an on-the-go study method, flashcards are an ideal solution.


Yes, flashcards can help you  drill in some vocabulary knowledge, which is critical for getting a high score on the GRE verbal section, but what about the math portion? On the flipside, flashcards don’t help you with critical reasoning or reading comprehension. If you want to use flashcards, make them a part of your studying method, not the only way.


Private tutoring gives you one-on-one instruction for the GRE. Although you get private teaching, it may not be the most effective way to prepare for the GRE for everyone, especially if you want to save money.


In an ideal situation, the tutor will customize teaching to the parts of the test you need to focus on. They should also give you GRE study tips to help you practice outside of tutoring sessions. With an online or in-person tutor guiding you, you may have more motivation to study than working on your own.


The level of experience attained by tutors is wide and varied, meaning, you could find someone with no experience or specially trained test experts. Unless you have thoroughly vetted a private tutor or sought assistance from a GRE test prep company's trained tutors, you could find yourself getting poor advice and wasting your money.

The monetary aspect is a big disadvantage for some; private tutoring is one of the most expensive test prep options.

Online courses

Online courses give you an overview of the GRE as a comprehensive study option.


The advantage of taking an online course is the flexibility to study anywhere you have access to a computer. These classes cost less than private tutoring, making them better choices for those on a budget. Online courses also give you a complete package of practice, information and study tips. Depending on the service, you can even find online study courses that offer a score guarantee, such as the Princeton Review.


Unless you practice on your own outside of the online class, you may not get the full benefits from the course. Additionally, online learning doesn’t give you interaction with your fellow students or teacher that you get from in-person classes.

In-person courses

In-person courses require physical attendance in a class with other GRE students. Among the ways to study for the GRE, this is one of the most well-known, but is it the best?


In-person courses are ideal if you need interaction with other students and the teacher. You can ask questions and collaborate on problems or form study groups with classmates. Since the classes happen on a pre-set schedule, you must keep up with studying and practice to avoid falling behind.


In-person classes can feel tedious, especially with large amounts of information to learn. Additionally, depending on the class size, you may not get any personalized instruction during the course. Like tutoring, in-person classes can be expensive. However, some people find the investment a driving factor, to study harder and put more effort into participating in the class.

Don't wait to start your GRE preparation

Regardless of how you study for the GRE, you can’t wait until the last minute to begin preparation. As soon as you decide to take the GRE, start your search for the best study methods for you.

What are good study methods for the GRE? That depends on you. Think about how you study best. Do you need individualized tutoring, or can you motivate yourself to study through an online course? You will need many methods to get the desired results regardless of whether you take a class – you still need practice outside the class to reinforce what you learned.





This article was originally published in October 2019 . It was last updated in February 2020

Written by

As editor of, Craig oversees the site's editorial content and network of student contributors. He also plays a key editorial role in the publication of several guides and reports, including the QS Top Grad School Guide.

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