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The Beginner’s Guide to the GRE with 15+ Study Resources

If you’re planning on applying to PT School, you’re most likely going to need to take the GRE. I’m writing this guide based on what I’ve searched on google, and from the advice from the awesome Pre-PT Forum on SDN. I scored 160V, 163Q, and 4.5W (between 84-88th percentiles), and I’ll give a review of what worked and didn’t work for me. However, I advise you to take this as a starting point and try to find what works best for you.

This list may be overwhelming, but it’s just here to give you options. You absolutely don’t need a majority of these, and I only used about three of the resources below because they worked best for me. Just breathe, and it’ll be over before you know it!

This post contains some affiliate links, and I receive compensation if you make a purchase. This compensation helps with expenses to keep this blog up and running, at no additional cost to you. Read more 

What is the GRE?

GRE stands for Graduate Record Examination. It is required by many graduate schools as a part of your application, including a majority of PT Schools. The test is usually taken on the computer, but is also paper-based if you prefer, and is broken up into three categories: reading, writing, and math. Read more about the details of the test on the GRE Website.

When should you take the GRE?

Each school has a specific deadline by which you must send them your GRE scores. If you are applying with PTCAS, you can take the GRE and send your scores to each school after you submit your application. However, it is helpful to take the GRE several months before you submit your application. This will give you plenty of time to retake the test, if you decide that you want to try for a higher score.

Speaking of a good GRE score…what score will get me into PT school?

Again this varies by each school. Check the PTCAS website or the school’s website for their requirements and advice on what a competitive score is. When I applied, most schools required a combined verbal and quantitative score of 300, and a writing score above 3.5 or 4.0. However, the average is often higher than 300, so check PTCAS or email the department of admissions for each school if you want to know the average scores for accepted students.

How do I sign up for the test and send my scores to each school?

Sign up for a date on the GRE website! At the end of the test, you are able to send your scores to 4 schools for free. You can search for the schools that you are interested in, so you don’t need to memorize the GRE code for each school. If you need to send your scores to more than 4 places, then you’ll be required to pay a fee for each additional GRE code. When I applied the fee was $27 per school, so make sure to take advantage of the 4 free schools!

Check with each school to even see if you need to send directly to the school. Some schools will accept your score if you send it to PTCAS, while others want the score sent to their admissions department anyways. It can get expensive pretty quickly, but double and triple check that you followed the requirements for each school.

How important are your GRE scores to admissions committees?

This depends on each school, but I wish I could give a more informative answer. From what I understand, your GPA is weighed more heavily than your GRE scores, so having a high GRE might not make up for having a low GPA. A lower GRE score could prevent you from getting an interview, and higher GRE scores are definitely a positive thing. However, some schools only care if you meet the minimum requirements, and any scores higher than the minimum may not benefit you at all.

If you are worried or just curious, contact the schools you’re interested in! They should be happy to answer any questions you have.

How should I study?

Below I have listed all the free and paid materials that I could find. The list is probably not complete, and you should not feel the need to utilize everything I have included. I know this is a lot of information and it may be overwhelming, but just remember that the test is not as intimidating as it looks and many GRE practice problems can be tougher than the actual exam. The test feels more like a logic puzzle, in that there are fast ways and different techniques to solve each problem quickly. The material itself isn’t too difficult, and thankfully there’s no calculus or Shakespeare for you to decipher.

This is how I recommend that you study, but be sure to find the best option for you. It’s not necessary to buy any study materials to do well on the exam, although I do think it’s a good idea.

  • 3-4 months before you plan to take the test (earlier is always better, though!), take one of the GRE Powerprep 2 practice tests. This will give you a feel for what your score might be, what your weak points are, what materials you might need to study from, and how long you’ll need to study.
  • For me, Magoosh was essential for improving my quantitative score, and not as helpful for the verbal section.
  • Manhattan GRE books are the best GRE books currently out there, but read reviews before you buy them because some books are better than others.
  • Memorizing vocab is generally a waste of time, so I recommend reading news articles and looking up definitions of words you don’t fully understand. The GRE focuses more on how words are used within sentences, so it makes sense to understand them when they’re used in sentences.
  • I studied for around 1 month, 1-3 hours every couple of days, but I recommend studying for 2 or more months. My scores were good, but could have been higher if I was more diligent with studying.
  • You don’t necessarily need to practice the essays. I looked at some prompts and read guides on how to best answer them, and that’s all I needed. However, you should practice writing down an outline for essay prompts in 2-4 minutes would be really helpful, as you don’t have much time to plan out your essays.
  • Regularly take practice exams to measure your progress and get a better feel for how quickly you need to answer questions. No need to take more than one a week.

For more examples of how physical therapy students and applicants studied for the GRE, read these threads from the Student Doctor Network forums:

GRE Study Timeline
GRE Prep Advice
GRE Studying Help
What is the Best Way to Prepare for the GRE?

Free Study Materials

Start with these first! You may not even need to purchase any books, online resources, or test prep courses. Check out any of these before you consider spending even more money on your application. They are also not in any specific order, although Powerprep was definitely the most helpful out of all of these for me.

1. GRE Powerprep 2 – Software straight from the ETS website – download to your computer and get 2 full-length practice tests. Even if you don’t complete a full test, the software looks almost exactly like the computer-based test, so you have the chance to get comfortable with skipping between questions and marking questions that you want to return to.

The program will give you a sample quantitative and verbal score at the end (as nobody will score your practice essays), but I’m not sure how accurate it really was. My practice scores were around 153-157, but I scored higher on the actual GRE. Power prep also will not tell you how to solve each problem that you answer incorrectly. I had to google the answers, and asked a few of my engineering friends how to solve some of the math problems.

2. Quizlet – Flashcards for common vocabulary words and for parts of words (prefixes, suffixes, etc). There are a couple cool games to help you learn words, and you can compete with yourself for a high score. I used this site for anatomy during undergrad, but not for studying for the GRE. I made some flashcards by hand and decided that it was a waste of time for me, but it could work for you if you start a few months before you plan on taking the test. Studying parts of words seemed a bit more useful for me.

3. Manhattan Prep Practice GRE Test – The test is customizable (change the time limits, only test on verbal or quantitative, etc.) and each question has explanations (unlike the Powerprep software).

4. GRE Essay TopicsArgument and Issue – The essay topics that you’ll be asked on the GRE will be somewhere on those lists. That’s right – every potential essay question is already online for you to look at! Feel free to browse through and choose some at random to practice. If you don’t want to write an entire essay, try brainstorming an outline within 2-4 minutes – that’s about all the time you’ll have on the test day to make an outline, so get used to coming up with ideas quickly!

5. Magoosh GRE Complete Guide eBook – Get a complete overview of the test, and look over some strategies and sample questions.

6. Magoosh GRE Vocabulary eBook – Learn strategies on the do’s and don’ts of studying vocab, and has a list of 300 common GRE words.

7. Magoosh GRE Math Formula eBook – Helpful to print out when you practice math problems.

8. Magoosh GRE Flashcard App – Review vocab on your phone or online! The app is really cool because it reviews your most commonly missed words, and the words you know really well won’t come up as often.

9. GRE Books from your public library – No need to buy a GRE book if you can rent them for free! I grabbed 5-6 at one time to see if any were helpful to me before I decided to spend money.

10. Online news articles – Improve your vocabulary by reading challenging articles, rather than memorizing flashcards. Reading more often might also help you retain the information better and understand more quickly, which are essential skills for taking a timed test. Choose more difficult news sources, like the Atlantic or the New York Times, and pick articles that aren’t very interesting to you. Here are several articles to help you get started:

11. Student Doctor Network Forums – The forums are active and full of helpful advice from students looking to become physical therapists, doctors, veterinarians, dentists, and a whole bunch of other awesome careers. Search through them for studying ideas, reviews of books and other materials, and also feel free to ask any questions that you may have.

Paid Study Materials

1. Magoosh – Purchase verbal, math, or both sections! Over 500 practice questions for each section, video explanations for each problem, videos to explain test taking strategies, customer service if you have any questions, and you can save notes for each question or each video. Magoosh was essential for improving my math skills. I purchased both sections and practiced math problems quite a bit. The problems were overall harder than the GRE test was, so don’t worry if you struggle a bit.

2. The Official Guide to the GRE Revised Test – My public library had a copy, so check yours before you spend any money!

3. Other GRE Practice Books – There are a more than a handful of books that you can purchase, so look at the reviews and decide which you like the best!

4. Word Power Made Easy – The author encourages you to write in this book, as there are quizzes and fill-in-the-blankes for every chapter.

5. GRE Vocab Capacity – This vocab book is hilarious. The definitions are witty and crazy and really help you remember the words quickly.

Do you have any questions about the GRE? Ask me below!

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  1. KT

    Hey there!
    I just wanted to say that I appreciate this blog so much. I’ve been struggling to piece things together, finding resources, and timing. Honestly, it’s sometimes discouraging, especially with so little guidance and not many connections. I’m currently on my JR. year of undergrad so it’s finally hitting me that I feel like I don’t know enough. I feel like I can find all I need on this blog though.
    You’re a life saver!

    • Katie - My Road to PT

      Thanks for leaving a comment. I’m so glad I could help.

      Honestly, I felt exactly the same as you when I was interested in physical therapy school, which is why I made this blog in the first place! I only knew one other person who was interested in PT school, but they applied before I did. I definitely felt alone, and it’s really confusing and hard to organize everything. I didn’t start shadowing until my junior year of undergrad, and I felt SO BEHIND. I had a lot of pre-req courses left to take, I needed to retake courses, and my GPA wasn’t the greatest. I felt so behind everyone else that knew they wanted to be a PT since high school.

      However, just know that you’ll be okay. It’s okay if you don’t get everything done before you graduate, and need to take a few years off. Some of my classmates were in their 30’s and 40’s, but there were also some that were 21 years old. Everyone is on their own journey, and it definitely isn’t as easy for everyone.

      Let me know if there’s anything I can help with. If you can’t find answers on my blog, someone else’s website, or though a quick google search, just reach out! If you have ideas for any blog posts or resources that would help you, we can brainstorm. My goal is to help other pre-PTs in making this process a little easier and less stressful, so sharing your difficulties and making suggestions will likely help out other pre-PTs too!

      Good luck. 🙂

  2. Natalie Hughes

    I love your blog! Your study tips are very thorough and the format (especially the bolded words) make it easier to understand 🙂 Thank you for your help!