Section-wise Preparation Tips for GRE


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Updated on Jul 31, 2022 17:09 IST

The first section on the GRE is always the Analytical Writing Assessment (AWA) section. This section comprises two analytical writing tasks -- an analysis of an issue task and an analysis of an argument task. These two tasks are timed separately and you get 30 minutes to complete each task. This section is followed by two Verbal Reasoning sections, two Quantitative Reasoning sections, and an unidentified unscored section which may be either a Verbal Reasoning section or a Quantitative Reasoning section. These five sections may appear in any order after the Analytical Writing section. You may also get an identified Research section in place of the unidentified unscored section, and, in that case, the Research section will always appear at the end of the test. Here is a quick summary of the sections on the GRE along with the time (duration) and scores associated with the various sections.


# of Sections

# of Questions

Analytical Writing


  •            Analysis of an Issue
  •            Analysis of an Argument

Quantitative Reasoning


20 per section

Verbal Reasoning


20 per section

Unidentified unscored Experimental



Identified Research






Analytical Writing

30 min per task

0-6 (half-point increments)

Quantitative Reasoning

35 min per section

(1-point increments)

Verbal Reasoning

30 min per section

(1-point increments)

Unidentified unscored Experimental

30 or 35 min (can be Quant or Verbal)

Not scored

Identified Research


Not scored

Tips for the AWA Section

In most of the cases, the AWA score may be a tad less important than your Verbal and Quant scores unless you are looking for a course in English Literature or Journalism or some other course of that sort. However, a below-average score in the AWA section may be detrimental to your admission prospect for any course whatsoever. On the other hand, a good AWA score will certainly be impressive, and you should, therefore, try to do your best in the AWA section too.

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I would also like to look at it from a different angle. Reckon that this is the first section of your test. It's not only your section to warm up but also the section that can psychologically affect your performance in the subsequent sections. You shouldn't have to struggle to write your AWA essays so that you have enough energy in store to give your best in the following Verbal and Quant sections. Here are your tips:

1. Note that your AWA tasks will be selected from the pool of tasks, which has been published by ETS at However, don't even think of practicing writing your responses to all the topics and tasks. Writing your responses while taking the full-length practice tests should be enough, but do get the essays scored and review them.

2. Refer to the Official Guide to know the specific instructions one of which will accompany each AWA task. There are only six instructions relating to the issue task and eight instructions relating to the argument task. You must address the issue and the argument according to the specific instructions accompanying each task.

3. Do practice writing the AWA responses while taking every practice test.

4. Do have a template in mind for writing your AWA responses; that will help you sail through the AWA section with ease so that you are able to tackle the subsequent verbal and quant sections with full energy and zeal.

5. Do not forget that in the argument task you are not supposed to comment or discuss whether the statements in the argument are true or not. You should not state whether you agree or disagree with the position stated. In other words, you must not express your own views on the subject. You are just required to evaluate the soundness of the argument according to the specific instructions accompanying the argument.

Tips for the Verbal Reasoning Section

1. Appreciate the importance of vocabulary in the verbal section of the GRE remembering that the words that you should know must be the sort of words that are likely to appear on the GRE. At the same time, no set of words is ever enough for your GRE prep. Keep learning words till such time you take the GRE exam. Learn the secondary meanings of the words as well.

2. Don't use only just one technique to learn all the words. Do maintain a vocab journal (register), use flashcards, use etymology, use mnemonics, use vocab games, and also do use online apps and tools to learn words.

3. Along with words, do learn how to answer the Sentence Equivalence and Text Completion questions. Just learning words will not suffice; you must also know the techniques that you should use to solve the Sentence Equivalence and Text Completion questions.

4. Never plug in the answer choices in the blanks to solve Sentence Equivalence and Text Completion questions. Focus on clues and triggers (if any) to come up with your own word or phrase and then use the process of elimination.

5. Remember that the two credited responses in a sentence equivalence question need not necessarily be synonyms.

6. Remember that in a multiple blank text completion question, it may often be difficult to come up with your own word or phrase for the first blank without considering the second or the third blank.

7.  Develop the skill to understand complex sentence structures. Of late we find that a difficult Sentence Equivalence or Text Completion question is difficult not because of difficult words but because of intricate sentence structure.

8. A good reading habit is always useful for GRE Reading Comprehension. Keep reading good material (preferably non-fiction) that deals with history, sociology, economics, commerce, natural sciences and the like.

9. Learn how to get to the GIST (General Idea, Structure, and Tone) of a passage. This will enable you to answer the general questions that often ask for the main idea, the primary purpose or the organization or structure of the passages.

10. Remember that the answer to every specific question (except the critical reasoning questions based on reading comprehension passages) will be supported by the passage. Do not use your external knowledge to answer any reading comprehension question.

11. Learn the tricks to solve critical reasoning questions. Remember that critical reasoning questions are of limited types and arguments often (but not always) fall under a few limited patterns. Although you must have a basic approach to solve the critical reasoning questions, learn to fine-tune your approach according to the question type and the argument pattern.

Tips for the Quantitative Reasoning Section

1. Do not ignore Math fundamentals. Although there may be very few questions solely based on math fundamentals, it may be impossible for you to solve several maths questions unless you are thorough with math fundamentals.

2. Give due importance to the math topics that are tested more extensively on the GRE rather than the topics from which there are likely to be fewer questions. For example, give more importance to the number system, averages, percentages, and ratio-proportion, etc. rather than to permutation-combination and probability. You can start paying more attention to the latter topics after you have mastered the former more commonly tested topics.

3. Refer to the Official Guide and take a look at the list of all the math topics that may appear on the GRE; make sure you master each and every topic.

4. Keep in mind that although GRE doesn’t test you on esoteric math concepts, questions are often tricky. You should, therefore, learn to identify and avoid trap answers.

5. While you do have a (drop-down) calculator to use in the quant section, remember that it provides you only basic mathematical operations such as addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division (and square-root). Further, the calculator is not very easy to use, but you must use it when necessary. Therefore, start using the calculator from the very beginning for practice, but remember that very often the moot point to determine is whether or not to use the calculator. 

6. Note that there is a 'Transfer Display' feature available along with the calculator and you may use it in juxtaposition with numeric entry math questions (with single answer boxes). Use it whenever necessary.

7. One area of concern for most of us is charts. However, you do not need to learn any new concepts to solve chart questions. Many of us find the chart questions very time-consuming. However, most of the time it takes too much time just because we want to do the complete calculation while it may not be necessary to do so. Many a time, an important point to decide upon is to whether or not to use the calculator.

8. Another topic that many of us find very challenging is geometry because there are several geometry related formulas and concepts that you need to remember. However, here too, give more importance to the more frequently tested topics such as triangles and circles. Pay deeper attention to the other topics after you have mastered the more commonly tested topics. Do take note that even within these topics there are concepts such as special triangles and Pythagorean triplets that are more frequently tested on the GRE.

9. Some test-takers also often struggle with "word problems". The way to become comfortable with such questions is extensive practice. That way you will become familiar with the various common expressions and that will help you understand the problems better. Another way to cope with word problems is to translate English into Mathematics. Do not read a question completely and then come back and read it once again and start taking notes. Start taking notes from the very beginning.

10. Very often students come to us and say that they are not able to solve harder questions relating to Permutation-Combination and Probability and, therefore, need to master these topics. It's not that these topics are not important, but it's found that a poor score in the quant section is often because of getting a few questions relating to common math topics (such as averages, percentages, etc.) wrong rather than getting Permutation-Combination and Probability questions wrong. Focus on what matters most and whatever is easier to handle, although your ultimate aim should be to get all the questions right and get a 170 in the quant section.

11. While reviewing your performance in practice tests and the drills, for every question that you got wrong and every question that took you longer than usual to solve, figure out what do you learn from that question and note it down to review all such points before your next practice test and/or the GRE.

General Test-Taking Tips

It is just not enough to know how to approach each section; the overall test-taking strategy is equally important. Here are a few tips for your overall test-taking strategy.

1. The GRE is adaptive by section; you must, therefore, give due importance to the first section of the test because depending on your performance in the first section your second section will be easy, medium, or hard. To get a high score on the GRE it's important to get a second section that is hard and for that, you must perform well in the first section. However, there is a possibility that the first section may be the unscored experimental section. For that reason, you should give your best to every section and avoid careless mistakes.

2. Pace yourself wisely: do not get stuck on killer questions. Use the "mark and review" feature of the test even while taking practice tests so that you get used to it. Use it whenever necessary while taking the real GRE. All questions carry equal marks; it makes no sense to spend too much time on any particular question and run out of time.

3. Since an unanswered question and a question that you get the wrong count the same, do not leave any question unanswered.

4. Never try to guess which one is the unscored experimental section. Treat every section as a section that would count towards your overall score.

5. Take a diagnostic test, in the beginning, to get familiar with the test format and the different quant and verbal question types. Take full-length practice tests during your GRE preparation but take care not to take all the tests in the beginning and also not to take all the tests near the end of your preparation -- pace the tests over the entire duration of your preparation.

6. Do not just solve questions while preparing for your GRE, do practice the techniques and strategies and also apply the techniques and strategies while taking the GRE.

Wish you all the best from Team Maya-The Princeton Review.

About this Author

Over 16 years of experience in guiding students for tests such as GMAT, GRE, SAT, ACT, LSAT, IELTS, and TOEFL at Manya. Subhajit Bandyopadhyay, Academics - Head (Emeritus), started as a dual certified trainer for Quant and Verbal. At present, he is a Princeton Review Certified Uber Trainer for Math and a Master Trainer for Verbal. Has been certifying and training new teachers for the organization. Has also been looking after course design, content development, and quality control.

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Ramesh Batlish

4 years ago

This is a very interesting article

Reply to Ramesh Batlish

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