How I Passed the GRE (The First Time)

So, I’ve had the intention of writing this blog post for over a year now. (Procrastination sucks) However, today felt like I should finally get around to it.

I took the GRE (Graduate Record Examination) in February of 2017. I’d just applied to a graduate school that offered a nice program for what I wanted to study. Also, I’d just graduated from Florida A&M University 2 months prior with a degree in Business Administration and minor in Public Relations. My final GPA wasn’t enough to set me apart from the pack when it came to enrolling in graduate programs. I’d failed an Intermediate Accounting class at FAMU twice and that really put a damper on my overall grade point average.*note: My GPA wasn’t terrible. It just wasn’t what I’d have wanted it to be for graduate school applications* Needless to say, if I wanted to get into my dream program, I needed to buckle down and study hard for the GRE.

I’d heard so many horrible stories about the test so my initial thoughts were not great. Many people told me that they’d taken the test 2 to 3 times before they were able to receive a decent score, but I was not accepting that as my fate. (Applications cost too much to be retaking a test.)

So, I did some research via Google and found some of the best GRE workbooks I could find. On a trip to Barnes & Nobles one evening, I picked up two books. The first book was the 5 pound Book of GRE Practice Problems (it really does weigh 5 lbs.) and the second book was Barron’s GRE. Initially, I felt overwhelmed flipping through the pages of the book. There were problems I couldn’t understand and some I hadn’t seen since high school. I had a lot of things to catch up on so I decided to visit my local Starbucks everyday until test day. I didn’t make it EVERY time but for the most part, I did. I’m sharing this with you so you can get a feel for my experience but let’s get into the tips when it comes to studying for the GRE:

  1. Have an accountability partner. At the time, I was sharing an apartment with my best friend Jasmine and she knew that I had to study. This came in handy because she would ask me if I’d studied that day and if I hadn’t she would ask me when I was going to study. Having someone to stay on you about the test is extremely helpful when you’re a procrastinator like me.


2. Make a schedule and stick to it. I visited my local Starbucks because I concentrate better with the sounds of white noise and the smell of coffee. If you can’t, find a place that works for you but it has to be outside of your home. At home it’s too easy to get distracted or “lay down for a quick nap”. Get out of the house and set a time frame to study. Once you’re there stick to the time you dedicated to studying and don’t leave before time is up.

3. Study smarter, not harder. Both books came with pre-tests for me to get acquainted with the language and wording of the questions. Complete the pre-tests first and see what your weakest section is. Mine was math so naturally, I studied the math portions of the book more than the others. Each day you study, choose a subject and only practice that the entire day. I found that concepts stuck better when they were the only thing I studied that day. For example, you may use Mondays to focus solely on math, Tuesdays verbal reasoning, and so on.

4. This one is more of a note to remember but for the GRE, there is a section that won’t be scored. However, you will not know which section it is. Try your absolute hardest on each section because regardless of what people say, the section that isn’t scored looks and sounds just like the other sections. To this day, I still don’t know which section of my test wasn’t scored.

5. Vocabulary will help you but won’t save you. In the Barron’s book, there is an extensive list of vocabulary words for the GRE. Of all of the words, I probably saw 20 on the test. But it was still beneficial for me to study them because by learning them you become familiar with their roots and context so if you run across a word on the test that may have the same prefix, you can use clues to figure out what it means. I dedicated about 4 days to write individual sticky notes for each word along with its definition. I posted the stickies above my headboard so that even in bed I could look over them. Once I’d gotten a word down, I then placed a colored tab on the sticky so I knew I didn’t have to focus on that word much more. (see pictures below)

6. Dumb it down. The GRE can be confusing mainly because of the way in which it asks a question. Instead of asking a straight forward question, it’ll ask in a round about way. Don’t let that confuse you. Read the question and then ask yourself, “what is this REALLY asking?” I also found it helpful to use sites normally for high school students because alot of the math information is based in things we learned from high school. Don’t be afraid to throw it back to the old days. You may be able to contact your old high school teacher for some help as well. Which brings me to the last point…

7. Use your resources. The books are great and they should be the foundation in which your studying is grounded but use the internet as well for additional information. Below I have attached some links I found helpful and I think may be beneficial to you as well.

Remember that the test is just that, a test. Study as hard as you can and allow yourself an adequate amount of time to prepare (I recommend 2-3 months in advance). You’ll feel drained afterwards but as long as you’ve tried your hardest, that’s what truly matters.

Helpful Links:

Barrons Book:

5 Pound Workbook:


Free Sample Tests:

ETS Preparation:

Shaakira White

One thought on “How I Passed the GRE (The First Time)

Leave a Reply