If you've been scouting out potential PA programs for any length of time, you may have noticed that more schools are requiring the GRE with each passing year.
In the latest program analysis from 2017, 59.9% of all PA programs required the GRE for admission, up from 50.2% just one year prior.
The Graduate Record Examinations (GRE) is a standardized test used as an admissions requirement for many graduate schools in the United States and Canada. It is owned and administered by the Educational Testing Service (ETS).
The GRE consists of three sections: verbal reasoning, quantitative reasoning, and analytical writing, which are each scored separately.
The analytical writing section is aimed at evaluating your critical thinking and analytical writing skills. In this section, you'll encounter two types of essays: an issue essay, where you'll articulate your opinion in writing on a given topic, and an argument essay, which asks you to read someone else's written opinion and identify the flaws in their argument.
The verbal section of the GRE assesses your ability to read, comprehend, and interpret meanings of words, sentences, and passages. In this section, you'll encounter questions related to reading comprehension of short and long passages, text completion (where you fill in the blank of a sentence), and sentence equivalence (where you'll select two synonyms to complete a sentence accurately).
The quantitative section (the math segment) and will cover questions spanning arithmetic, algebra, geometry, and data (stats-related problems that may involve charts, probability, standard deviation, and the like).
So, if you're an aspiring PA planning on applying to at least one of these majority programs that require the GRE and are looking to amp up your application with your scores, these GRE resources can help to streamline your efforts.
A free starting point for everyone
Though many PA programs don't set minimum required scores for the exam, some do. And while many may not have a minimum, they are likely aware of the average scores of their accepted students.
So, while the GRE is only one part of your application, you'll still want your excellent performance on the exam to speak to your ability.
And, where you spend your energy and focus preparing for the exam may also depend on your background and recent experience.
If you're a career-changer with a teaching or writing background, you may be reasonably comfortable with the analytical writing and verbal portions of the exam and opt to spend more prep time on quantitative questions.
Alternatively, if you're a current college senior who's a natural science major, you've likely had more recent experience in math courses and, therefore, may dedicate more time to focus on other exam areas.
ETS offers two free online practice exams (POWERPREP® Practice Tests), and you can purchase three more for $20 each. But, if you'd like to hoard those until you have a bit of practice under your belt, you can start super simple with the practice questions available for each section.
From the Strategies & Tips page offered by ETS, multiple sample questions for verbal reasoning, quantitative reasoning, and analytical writing are available. Each set of sample questions includes an answer key, which can help you to quickly see if the material covered on the GRE feels familiar or foreign.
Scanning through these sample questions can help you to understand where you might be strong and what concepts will require more focus as part of your overall study plan.
Once you have a general sense of what kind of support you need, you'll be better positioned to select the products and tools that can help you.
Free GRE resources
GregMAT is both a website and a YouTube channel with simple, easy to follow videos on the concepts and questions encountered on the GRE.
The lessons are taught by the same guy, which makes it feel like he's your tutor and lends a personal touch to the exam-prep space that can sometimes feel like a headless series of companies.
There's also a very helpful 5-video breakdown of the components of the GRE. Spending a little time reviewing these simple, comprehensible videos will give you the full summary of the GRE, and you can then skip reading through the entire ETS website.
Known for their easy-to-follow, self-paced, free courses, Khan Academy has plenty of video resources to help you prep for the quantitative-reasoning portion of the GRE.
In fact, ETS even lays out a suggested math prep sequence using Khan Academy videos. When the test makers recommend a free resource that's not even their own, take it as a sign of the quality.
One of the biggest hurdles of preparing for the GRE is feeling as if you're "doing it right" or "doing enough."
If, like me, you're someone who equates unfinished with incomplete, the vast number of resources in existence can mean that you'll feel chronically behind the curve in your GRE prep.
Vince is a San Diego-based test-prep tutor who's been helping students prepare for the GRE for over a decade. So, when he advises precisely what to study and for how long to get the most out of your pre-GRE efforts, it can be trusted.
In addition to the study plans, Vince has loads of other GRE-prep resources on his free blog, and a Choose Your Own GRE Math Adventure interactive tool that I think you'll find pretty useful.
GRE prep books
If you're going to build your GRE muscles, it'll be necessary to advance your prep beyond the starting stage of learning concepts and begin to more heavily focus on working through practice questions.
After a deep dive into the world of GRE prep tools, I've found a consistent recommendation from the top GRE tutors: rely ONLY on the sample questions from the official ETS materials.
Other resources may mimic the questions that are found on the GRE, but there's only one source that creates the questions for the exam — ETS. And since ETS produces resources full of actual GRE questions, why go anywhere else?
I trust this recommendation because a) I think these tutors are legit and b) if they wanted to, these GRE experts could create their own book full of sample questions and sell it for a profit, but they don't.
And they don't because they know that the ETS-created materials are as good as it gets.
This official guide of overall GRE topics contains hundreds of ETS questions not found anywhere else.
This ETS-born resource includes 150 official verbal reasoning questions unique to this book.
For those looking for extra math practice, this book includes 150 official ETS math questions not found anywhere else.
Though not an official ETS product, I've had many students and clients who relied on this book for quantitative prep who found it useful when they needed extra practice with a particular math concept or style of question.
While several larger test-prep entities provide an online program for GRE test prep, Magoosh has been gaining in popularity over the past several years.
With hundreds of video lessons and thousands of practice questions, plenty of aspiring PA students have had great results with Magoosh. Additionally, the program interface is easy to use, you have the option of creating a study plan for yourself, and the price point is reasonable.
However, there are a couple of things to know going in.
The first is that there are hundreds of video lessons. While these are helpful lessons, actually going through all of them would take you an incredible amount of time. And, that's time you're not spending on practice questions.
If you're someone who will feel as if your work isn't complete until you've watched every video (I hear you!), be prepared to set aside some serious time to get this done — in the range of hundreds of hours.
Secondly, remember what I said about the top GRE tutors and non-ETS practice questions? Magoosh has plenty of helpful practice questions, but these aren't the actual GRE questions that are available through the ETS materials.
While there are plenty of videos and practice questions available with Magoosh, it's essential to know what you're signing up for before you do.
GRE Verbal Precision is an online course by a GRE tutor I've already introduced you to above, Vince Kotchian.
I've tested out the course, and it's already become my go-to recommended GRE resource for verbal prep for a few reasons.
First, it's an actual course (not just an online resource), which means that it guides you through a sequence of lessons.
Through the lessons, you'll receive direction on how to approach each type of verbal question and learn how to write both kinds (issue and argument) of GRE essays.
This course builds upon concepts as you go, so you don't have to guess which lessons to pick and choose from.
You'll also learn how to make the most of your study time and get help in creating your personalized study plan. And, you can get through all of the videos (which average 4 minutes) in under 4 hours. (To-do list completers, rejoice!)
I think the level of guidance you receive in this course elevates it above other similar options. Oh, and you also get the ETS Official GRE Verbal Reasoning Practice Questions book (introduced above) and Vince's GRE Prep Journal mailed to you at the time of purchase.
Additionally, if you want extra personalized guidance with the standard 6-month of course access, you can opt for the version with four office-hours sessions with Vince.
Once you've planned your approach to cover the topics included on the GRE and spent some time with practice questions, you can get a feel for the actual test environment by running through a few sample exams.
Practice tests can help you get familiar with the features you'll come across on exam day. When it comes to mimicking the test environment, it's best to rely on ETS for the simulation.
And, they give prospective GRE-takers a few options to accomplish this.
ETS provides two free practice tests that work to simulate the actual exam environment. In the practice exams, you'll be able to move back and forth between questions, change your questions within a test section, and use the on-screen calculator.
You can opt for scored exams so that you can gauge your potential performance and see where to focus further exam-prep efforts.
After your first two freebies, you can purchase up to three official practice tests (for $39.95 each), each of which includes a different set of real test questions that cannot be found elsewhere.
You'll receive quantitative, verbal, and analytic writing scores within minutes, explanations for correct answers, and a score report summarizing your performance.
Because there's a clear right and wrong with verbal and quantitative questions, it can be easier to run drills with these kinds of sample exam questions than to gauge how you might do with the analytical writing portion of the GRE.
However, ETS has a solution for that too.
With this online writing practice service (which will run you $20), you'll be able to respond to GRE writing topics created and tested by ETS authors, submit your responses online, and receive instant scores with an e-rater automated scoring system.
You'll also get access to review scored sample essay responses and, after submitting your first two responses, you'll be able to write and submit essays on six bonus topics (three for issue topics and three for argument) for free.
There's no one-size-fits-all approach, even with standardized testing.
But, if you can assess where you're starting from and better understand where you need support, you'll be positioned to select the high-quality resources most likely to help you succeed in your GRE approach.