Study Resources for the GRE

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I recently did a post about why the GRE is required for PA schools, so now I want to discuss some resources that you can use to make sure you get the scores necessary to impress the admissions committees and score an interview. One thing is for sure, you need to study for the GRE! Don't write it off and waste your money on the test without taking the time to prepare. I'll discuss things I used, what I wish I used, and recommendations for what you should use to study. This post includes some affiliate links. 

Let's start with my technique. The first thing I recommend doing is taking a practice test to gauge where you're at and what areas you need to focus on. This will also help you to familiarize yourself with the testing software so you're more comfortable on test day. I have good news! There are two free practice tests offered on the GRE website. There are also two full-length practice tests that you can purchase for $40 each. Once you have targeted your weak areas, you can tailor your studying more specifically. 

Now for the actual studying! My technique consisted of using 2 different books - one that focused on strategy and one that had practice problems. to save some money, these books can often be found at the library, Goodwill, or other second hand book stores. Just make sure that you're using a book for the most recent GRE because the format was changed in 2011. Anything older than that may be inaccurate. 

Here are some options for strategy books: 


And the practice problem books: 


I would go through and study the strategy in one book and then immediately do the relevant practice problems. This helped me to see if I was really understanding the techniques. The GRE is not a knowledge-based test. If you have the basics down, then you need to focus on the problem-solving part of the test by understanding the various question types and how to address them.

After you've put in the time to actually study, I recommend taking a second practice test. Hopefully, you should see some improvement from the first test, and then you'll be able to determine what areas you need to revisit. 

I'll be honest and say that I did not do the best job of planning out my studying for my GRE. I finished finals, and then I had 1 week to study. I locked myself in my room at home and crammed for 12 hours each day. (Try to do better than me and plan at least a month to study.) Traditionally, I know that I do pretty well with standardized tests, but the one part of the GRE that is impossible to learn last minute is all of the vocabulary. If you know the GRE is in your near future, start studying vocab ASAP! There are a lot of different options: flashcards, apps, podcasts, etc.

If you feel like you need more structure or a set plan, you may want to use an organized program. Although I didn't personally use one of these, I've heard great things about Magoosh. You can try their GRE program free for 7 days and get 25% off with this link! (You should see a pop-up if on a computer, or use the code SAVE25GRE at checkout to save on the 6 month plan through January 2019!) The Magoosh prep includes video lessons, practice problems, and practice tests (basically everything I recommended in this post). 

The GRE + PA School

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While not a requirement for all programs, it's not uncommon for the GRE to be a part of PA school applications. I want to answer some of the common questions that come up in regards to the GRE. Keep in mind that these are my recommendations and there have certainly been success stories of students accepted without stellar GRE scores. 

Why do I need to take the GRE for PA school?

For most programs, the GRE Is not going to make or break your application, but is more of a checkmark for the program. Since the majority of PA programs are Master's level (and this will be a requirement for all programs soon), they need some type of standardized testing to justify this level of education. 

It is important that you're able to show an ability to perform well on standardized tests because ultimately at the end of PA school, you'll be required to pass the PANCE. Granted, these are very different tests. The GRE is a strategy test, and the PANCE is a knowledge test (with some strategy involved). 

Another reason PA schools require the GRE is that they must have some way to screen applicants and essentially weed some out. It's not feasible for a school to evaluate thousands of applications thoroughly so they have requirements to minimize the amount of applications that actually need evaluated. 

What is considered a good score on the GRE? 

This is a very subjective question because many programs don't necessarily have a stated requirement or minimum. If a program does advertise a specific desired score, you need to at least hit that number or percentage or your application will likely be discarded from the beginning. 

As a rule of thumb, shoot for a total combined score of 300 across the Verbal and Quantitative sections. The Writing portion doesn't really matter for PA schools. You also want to try to get higher than the 50th percentile for each section. 

One way to determine if your score is "good" for a particular program is to see if they advertise their class averages. Sometimes programs will put the average scores or percentages of what their most recent incoming students had on the GRE, so you would want to try to make yours comparable to be considered competitive. 

Does it look bad if I need to retake the GRE? 

One of the good things about the GRE is that you can take it as many times as you need to and they will essentially look at the highest scores. The worst part about having to retake the GRE is that it is expensive! But this is one part of your application that you can improve on much easier than something like GPA, so if you don't do as well the first time, I say try again. 

How much does a GRE score affect my application?

Like I mentioned above, the GRE is typically more of a "checkbox" than anything else. It doesn't really tell the program much about you in regards to how you'll perform in PA school or even on the PANCE. That being said, it's not going to be the first thing programs look at when evaluating your application. A low score may get your application thrown out, but a high score isn't going to make a huge impact. 

Can a high GRE score make up for a lower GPA or lack of healthcare hours?

To a degree, it may be helpful to have a solid GRE score and use that ability to test well as a strength, but ultimately your GRE score is not going to completely counteract a discrepancy in other areas on your application. For example, if your GPA doesn't meet the minimums, but you have a great GRE score, your application will likely still be disregarded because of the GPAs. Same goes for healthcare hours. Do well on the GRE, but don't put all your eggs in that basket. 

Why should I take the GRE for PA school? 

This is a question that I actually get a lot. While there are plenty of schools that don't require the GRE at this point, by taking it you increase your chances of being accepted significantly by minimizing your competition. Think about it this way - if a school requires the GRE they may get 1000 applicants who took the test. If a school does NOT require the GRE, they may get 1000 applicants who did not take the test, as well as those 1000 who did take it. The more specific the requirements a school has that you can meet, the higher your chances of landing an interview. 

Programs that do NOT Require the GRE


For the majority of programs, the GRE is required, but there are the occasional few that don't have a standardized test requirement.  A few schools are even accepting the MCAT now as well!  But anyways, this is not an all-inclusive list at this point, but thanks to Christina K., here are some of the schools that don't make you take the GRE!

Emory University - Georgia
Stony Brook University - NY
Drexel University - Philadelphia
Thomas Jefferson University - Philadelphia
PCOM - Pennsylvania
Hofstra University - NY
New York Institute of Technology - NY
Rutgers - NJ
MCPHS University (Boston)
Mercy College - NY
Loma Linda University - California
Arizona School of Health Sciences
University of South Dakota
Western University of Health Sciences - Oregon
Eastern Virginia Medical School
Howard University - Washington DC