How to prepare for the GRE: When to take it and how to study

Thursday, March 30, 2017

I see a lot of people asking when they should take the GRE and how to best prepare for it, so here are some of my thoughts on the GRE.
What’s the point of the GRE?
Since the GRE is not testing us on sciences (like the MCAT), why do some PA schools require applicants to have it and to have achieved a certain percentile? Realistically, it boils down to the school wanting the applicant to show that they can take a standardized test on a computer-based platform and pass (aka like the PANCE). This reason is also while some schools don’t require the GRE- they don’t think it showcases that much about the applicant.

What GRE score should I shoot for? Can a high GRE bring up my low GPA?
Most schools require that an applicant have at least in the 50th percentile for both the verbal and quantitative sections of the GRE. A good goal to shoot for is a score above a 300 combined (so at least 150 in both sections). I see a lot of people ask all the time about whether a really high GRE can make up for a lower end GPA, and the unfortunate answer is probably not. Most of the schools I talked to weigh the GRE a lot less than the other components of an applicant like GPA, Letter of Recommendation, or Patient Contact Hours. Which makes sense since the GRE isn’t science based and probably has no indications of how well you will do in PA school. Having a high GRE is not going to hurt you, but it won’t make up for having a lower end GPA.

When should I plan to take the GRE?
So applications for the cycle open in late April, and most programs have due dates sometime in the fall (August, September, October). Once CASPA opens, when you go to select which programs you are applying to, all of the due dates will be listed. You need to have your GRE in before the application due date for the program, so how far in advance should you take it? My suggestion is to take the GRE in February-April for a couple of reason. First off, you want to take it early enough that if you have to retake it (because of a low score), you want enough time to study for and then retake it. Secondly, you don’t want to be studying for and trying to take the exam during applying for school because you’re already under enough stress as it is.

How long should I give myself to study?
I gave myself about a month to study for the GRE, and I thought it was ample time to prepare. I wouldn’t give yourself any longer than that due to burnout. Plus, the test is honestly not that hard (it’s simple math compared to some of the science classes that we take!). And I wouldn’t give yourself anything less than 2 weeks.

How did you study?
I did a Kaplan online self-paced course (about $700, but I had a coupon code at the time). I thought it was incredibly helpful and probably the reason why I did so well on the exam. There were 8 two-hour long lectures, four for each section. They went through some very helpful tips for how to approach each problem. I also did some GRE flashcards over the month. I worked through memorizing about 10 flashcards a day. Breaking it up into small doses was really helpful and made it a lot less daunting.

What are some good resources to use for study?
This is just a compilation of the resources that I hear of people using to study for the GRE, I can’t vouch for any of them but the Kaplan Books and Flashcards.

·      Magoosh GRE Prep
·      ETS GRE Prep (these are the people who write the actual test)
·      Kaplan GRE prep
·      practice exams from the GRE website – absolutely do a practice exam!
·      Khan Academy

My name is Erin Rachel and I’m currently a first-year PA student. I started Stethoscope and Sparkle to help others hoping to enter the PA profession, and to show that it’s still possible to have a life and have fun during the insanity that we call PA school. In my spare time, I binge watch Netflix with my very fluffy, very adorable cat, Callie.

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