How I Boosted My GRE Score By 17 points

If you’re trying to get into SLP grad school, you need a good GRE score. You know that. What you’re not sure how to do is raise your score. Am I right?

I raised my score by 17 points with a few months of specialized studying.

My First GRE Experience:

I was in my senior year of college. My university offered to pay for the GRE as a sort of exit exam. Since at the time that I wanted to pursue a Masters in Education (MAE), it seemed like a perfect deal.

I set up a study group with two friends (one of whom is now an SLP!) who were also applying to grad school. We met a few times a week and worked from some Kaplan test prep books and with a set of Kaplan vocabulary cards. Mostly we just worked practice problems and reviewed the flash cards.

When test day came around two or three months later, I earned a 1020 (this was on the old scale). That was a 520 verbal (154) and a 500 (144) in quantitative with a 3.5 analytical writing. I was pleased with the 1020 (crossing the 1000 mark was like crossing 300 now). I was disappointed with the writing because I’ve always thought I was a decent academic writer, but eh. I wrote it off because it was more than good enough for the programs I thought I wanted into at the time.

My Second GRE Experience:

Fast forward five years. I have finally made the decision to go back to grad school. My old scores are expiring, and regardless of that fact – they’re not the best to get into grad school. I knew I needed to prep and retake the exam.

My new goal? A 300.

The real challenge (in my mind) was the fact that I’d been out of school for five years. I wasn’t too worried about verbal (I’ve always been a reader which is good for vocabulary acquisition) but I barely remembered how to add and subtract… okay, it wasn’t that bad. But you get the idea.

To make things more interesting, I was living in Mexico City, Mexico and working full time. Finding an in-person prep course would have been impossible.

Enter  Magoosh-logo-purple-800x181

Note, this post contains affiliate links, which means if you purchase a Magoosh subscription using the link I’ll receive a small commission. I recommend Magoosh because it helped me raise my score by 16 points, but the comission is a nice bonus (learn more here).

How I Used Magoosh

I’m not going to go over all the reasons I picked Magoosh. If you’d like those, check out this blog post. 

After I made the decision to sign up for Magoosh, I decided to follow one of their study plans. I’m sure they work for some people, but it was way too in-depth for me. I felt like I was spending a lot of time on material that I didn’t need to learn, and after several weeks I still wasn’t sure what my weaknesses were.

So, I came up with my own system.

For the Math Section

I started doing 20 math practice questions per day. I didn’t use the “Practice Math” which jumps straight into practice. I would go to the menu bar at the top and setup a custom session in “Practice Mode” limited to 20 questions.

I limited it to 20 questions because that’s how long each section is on the actual exam. Sometimes I used a time limit (to get in practice), and other times I did not.

After each question, I would do two things.

First,always watched the video explanation of the question (even if I got it right). Sometimes the video would show me what I did wrong, something I didn’t know, another approach to solving the questions, or finally (if I got it right) it might boost my confidence in my skills.

Always take the time to watch these explanations. If you still don’t understand it, message Magoosh. They respond quickly. Then right down the question and find someone to explain it to you!

Second, I would look at the little tan colored box that appears above the video explanation and below the purple info bar.

GRE Magoosh

It tells you something like “You will see up to 1 question on Percents and Ratios in each Math Section.”

I would take note of the subject or concept of the question (even if I got it right) and the frequency of the concept. Then, I would keep track of how often I missed questions about that subject area.

Strategic Studying

I used this information to be strategic about what to study. What I did might seem counterintuitive, but let me explain. For example, I found I was missing nearly all the questions about “Percents and Ratios.” Then, I would see if this subject was a frequent one or not. If I’m only going to get one question on it, should I spend two hours learning it or should I spend two hours learning something that represents 3 or 4 questions?

Obviously I wanted to maximize the return/value on my study time. So I focused on things I was “good” to “okay” at that appeared frequently. It was easier for me to improve my mastery of those topics (requiring less study time) and it was more valuable.

I spent time on more difficult and less frequent subjects as well, but even here I tried to focus on things I knew I was “okay-ish” at. Often, I would think about what topics I sort of remembered from math class when looking through the Magoosh library of lessons. It seemed easier and more effective to refresh my skills (like in the case of mental math or fractions) rather than completely rebuild my knowledge on topics I couldn’t remember at all (like square roots).

For the Verbal Section

I took the time to watch most of the Magoosh lessons on the verbal section. They don’t contain a lot of content that you can soak up, but what is valuable is being walked through the thought process of how to attack the different types of questions.

The videos (despite being a bit boring), break down the questions very well. I was already pretty familiar with how to break down verbal questions, but these explanations were amazingly detailed and very step-by-step.

Also, the videos are mostly made up of practice questions.

After watching most of the lessons, I knew that vocabulary building was the most important thing. If you have a lot of prep time, Magoosh has an amazing blog on building vocabulary.

Their vocabulary builder app is also great. I used it to learn about 25 words per day. I practiced in the bathroom, on the subway, while waiting in line at the bank, or in any other setting where I could get five minutes.

Also, I started listening to the GRE Prep Podcast: “Victor Prep” which focuses on building vocabulary words. I’ll be honest, the podcasts are super dry, but since I have a daily commute average 2+ hours, it was a great way to spend a few extra minutes practicing each day.

Apart from those direct strategies, I’ve always been a reader. I pushed my self to start reading the news from some “higher level” sources like The Economist (which also has lots of charts to work on data analysis).

Practice Tests (aka one of the best ways to prepare for the GRE)

While that subheading might seem a little dramatic, it is true. The practicing and learning is probably the most important thing to prepare for the exam.

After that, I think it is taking a practice test (or 2 or 3 or 4). If you can make it a realistic experience, DO IT! The pressure of answering question under a time limit is important so you can measure your pacing. You’ll also want to know what it is like to answer 20 questions without getting any feedback.

Finally, the GRE is a LONG test. You need practice sitting and staring at the computer so long in order to build up your test taking stamina.

Taking the Test: Round 2

After a few months of practice, I took the test again. Here are some things I did during the exam that helped me a lot…

  • I got a good night’s sleep (eight hours) for several days before the exam
  • I ate a high protein breakfast to stay full all day
  • I used the scratch paper FOR EVERYTHING
    • On math, I used the paper to work out equations, keep track of numbers, and so much more. The benefit here is obvious.
    • On multiple choice questions (in Verbal or Math) when I was stuck, I would often write the possible answers in order (or just A, B, C, D E). Then I would literally cross off any answer I knew were wrong. This small act (I think) has a huge impact mentally; it helps declutter your thought process.
  • I wasn’t afraid to ask for more scratch paper (seriously, shoot your hand up when you’re close to running out).
  • I used the breaks to stretch
    • This is so important to keep your blood circulating and oxygen flowing to your brain. Who cares if you look weird doing squats in your cubicle or making arm circles? You’ll be thankful when you’re hitting the end of the test and you still have plenty of energy.

In the end, I scored a 160 on verbal and a 155 on quantitative for a total of 315 (a whopping 17 points above my old score!). My new writing score was a 4.5. I was very content with my score, but also a little bit disappointed with myself for two reasons.

1 – I ran into some test-day troubles with my registration which resulted in me literally sprinting across Mexico City at 6:30am in the cold. Talk about stress!

2 – I wished I’d spent another week or two on preparing. I dedicated roughly an hour per day to preparing, but I know that I could have made myself work an extra 30 minutes per day.

Some Final Thoughts

  • The discipline to study everyday for a set period of time is more important than fancy preparation tools or the latest prep books.
  • If you suffer from test anxiety, practice tests under realistic conditions are especially important for you.
  • Give yourself plenty of time to prep! One week of prep isn’t going to have much of an impact. You probably need a minimum of 2 to 3 months
  • This is how raised my score by 17 points. Hopefully it will work for you too, but it might not. Everyone is different. Find what works for you.


Credits: Featured Image base from

Disclaimer: I am an "affiliate" of Magoosh. What does that mean? I like their product so much after it helped me boost my GRE score by 17 points, that I recommend it. If you click on a link to Magoosh from my website and purchase from them, I'll receive a small commission.

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