What Does the GRE have to do with Grad School, Anyway?

What Does the GRE have to do with Grad School, Anyway?

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Our friends at Magoosh talk about how the GRE can prepare you for grad school in more ways than you may think.

Sometime around midnight, as you turn the word ‘apotheosis’ over and over again in your head, you might naturally wonder: does this have anything to do with my future? It might be the formula for an equilateral triangle, or it might be a passage about discrepancies in isotope dating for the most recent ice age, but the reaction will be the same.

In these extreme cases, you wouldn’t be faulted for thinking that the GRE is little more than an excruciating and sadistic ritual you must perform before you can enter grad school. But to throw out the proverbial baby with the bathwater would be a mistake. Rather, you should think of the GRE as a mental workout for grad school, with many skills that are directly—if somewhat generally—relevant to the next few years of your life.

Reading dense stuff

If you’ve been out of school for a while, and, like most people, you don’t use your leisure reading time on opaque texts, then the GRE reading is a good way to jolt your synapses back into shape. The reason that’s important is that you’ll be doing a good deal of that (‘that’ being trying to penetrate opaque texts) in grad school. Prepping intensely for the GRE, thereby augmenting your ‘reading brain,’ will actually make reading less of a chore once you are confronted with the onerous workload that is sure to await you. 

Not only do you want to understand what you read, but you also want to be able to make valid inferences about it. If you are currently having trouble doing so, prepping for the GRE, including online GRE practice for those who’ll do much of their reading on computer, will make you a sharper reader. That’s not to say that all reading is of the GRE variety (it’s not) or that the GRE accurately measures engagement with texts (it doesn’t—just ask a poet). But much of the grad school-type reading you’ll be doing (boring studies contrasting multiple viewpoints) does fall neatly into the GRE niche.

Statistics and numbers

OK, this one might not be relevant to some students (yes, literary theorists and history scholars: I mean you). But improving your “number sense” can only help in grad school. If you are shaky at statistics, something that can be a liability in some fields, the GRE will allow you to familiarize yourself with this important topic. So it’s good to know that strong GRE scores can actually translate to grad school know-how.


Unless we are forced to do so—and that often entails anything from corporeal punishment to our future being at stake—many of us don’t like to write. Unfortunately, both the GRE and grad school require you to write (though, to the best of my knowledge, no corporeal punishment is involved).

To score a 5 or higher, which many grad programs like to see, you’ll likely have to fine-tune your writing. Some may argue—and in some cases rightly so—that the GRE writing is something that can be easily gamed and doesn’t truly measure writing aptitude or the writing you’ll be expected to do in college. After all, many of the coveted 5-level essays may come across as contrived. Yet, there are some things that can’t be gamed: good grammar, coherent sentences, and logical flow. Spend a couple of months working on these, and you’ll be happy you did so.


This post was written by Chris Lele, resident GRE expert at Magoosh, a leader in GRE prep. For help with GRE vocabulary, check out our free flashcards and Vocab Wednesday videos on the Magoosh GRE Blog.