How to prep using full-length tests: getting ready for the GRE

Davis: Hey, everybody! Welcome back. This is GRE Bites. I’m Davis, an educator with over 10 years of experience.

Orion: And I’m Orion, the founder of StellarGRE.

Davis: We’re here to bring you your weekly bite-sized episode on GRE prep and grad school admissions. Check out our top-rated GRE self-study program at You can use the code “BITES” for 10% off all memberships.

Alright, let’s get to the topic of the day. We know that, to prep for the GRE, you’ve got to study the material, and you’ve got to run through actual practice problems. Maybe even, you know, taking whole sections – entire quant and verbal sections at a time – and practicing on the essay. Well, I want to ask you, Orion, specifically at what point in your study process and how many times over the course of your prep do you want to engage in taking the full four-hour test?

Orion: That is an excellent question. And it’s something that is very important for all students to do. The GRE, in its current form, is an endurance test. It takes about four hours to complete. If students are just doing one-off questions, if they’re grinding through thousands of disconnected problems using some of my competitors’ resources, they get a very disjointed experience of the test. It’s not enough to just be able to solve a problem. Obviously, each problem is a little puzzle. It’s very satisfying to be able to solve it. But if you can’t solve that problem in 90 seconds or less, you kind of can’t solve it. And if you can’t solve that problem in 90 seconds or less, 100 of them in a row, you’re actually not really preparing for the test that you’re going to be forced to take, whether you like it or not.

So it is very important to gradually move in the direction of sitting for full-length mock tests as your prep progresses. So it’s a good idea. We do this in this Stellar product, as well. You start by reinforcing specific strategies and techniques. And then you rehearse specific types of problems: there’s a time and a place for that. And then you move into full problem sets: i.e., completing 20 quant or verbal problems within the indicated time limit. And then you string those sets together into longer and longer sequences – finally culminating in the full-length test with the two essays and the five sections. So far, so good?

Davis: Yeah, that makes sense. So you said there’s a certain time for each of these different modes of study. And so at what point do you want to embark on…

Orion: Yeah, you want to do it later on in your prep. And there’s a couple of good reasons for this. Practically speaking, unfortunately, there’s not a lot of good full-length practice tests available. You can download two for free at, called the PowerPrep tests. Those are obviously the gold standard, because they’re created by the publishers of the test. They’re adaptive, and the sections are curated by question. Like, they’re very intentionally constructed.

We do that at Stellar, as well: you have an adaptive test, and each section is curated. I put the questions in each section intentionally to create certain difficulty levels. A lot of my competitors don’t do that. What they do is just randomly populate these sections with questions more-or-less of a certain difficulty level. It mostly works, but it isn’t exactly the same experience. So we want to save the full-length practice tests for later on in our prep. Because if we use the good stuff too early, we kind of lose the validity of that experience too soon. So we have five through Stellar and two through ETS. That’s seven, and that’s probably more than enough for students to do.

The other good reason why you should do it later on in your prep is that it’s important not to reinforce the wrong thing. You cannot do something over and over again, and get worse at it. So if you’re doing these full-length tests at the beginning – before, say you’ve learned about skipping. or you’ve learned about diagnosing, or you’ve learned certain time efficiency techniques – what you’re going to be doing is reinforcing maladaptive approaches to the test. What we want is for students to reinforce and rehearse what they should be doing on the test before they actually take the test. And that generally means you have to spend some time learning what you should do o the test first. That makes sense, right?

Davis: No, that makes total sense: not, you know, drilling in or solidifying bad habits or bad practices. That makes sense. I do want to ask though: is there any place, for example, for taking something like a practice test, right at the beginning of studying for the GRE, to get a baseline, and then going into this specialized course of study?

Orion: That’s a good point, Davis. It’s really important to collect a baseline on your current abilities before you even start your test prep journey. Best case scenario: you’re already scoring at or around where you need to with respect to your target schools, and you can bypass the test prep ordeal entirely. That would be great. It would be very frustrating to learn that you put in two or three months of effort unnecessarily. That’s fairly rare, to be honest, but it is a case that’s worth exploring.

So it’s a good idea to collect a baseline. You don’t necessarily have to do that with a full-length mock test. I think you can get a pretty decent idea of your baseline by completing a single quant problem set and a single verbal problem set. Just do 20 problems of each within the relevant time limits. And that should give you a pretty decent snapshot into your current ability. I don’t think there’s a dire necessity to take a full-length test when you first start out.

Davis: No, that’s great. And that’s what I remember: just one section of each to get that baseline, but within the appropriate time frame. And so, you know, you said seven tests total: that’s probably more than enough for a given person. So, let’s say, you know, just projecting out: you’ve got eight weeks. You take your baseline when you start, week one. Maybe by week four, you’ve gotten some of these strategies, you’ve gotten individual sections down within time, you know? And then how close to week eight? I mean, is that the last thing you’re doing before you take the real test: taking a full-length test?

Orion: Well, you definitely don’t want to take a full-length test the night before you take the real test. That’s not a great idea. In the three-month study plan that I have delineated in the Stellar program, as I mentioned, there are five full-length mock exams, and they come in around week eight. I think that you do one a week until the final week, when there’s not a lot of new material and it’s just about consolidation of your system at that point. And then there’s two. But you definitely want to practice for that sustained endurance and concentration necessary for a top-percentile score.

Davis: No, great. And just a clarification: I’ve been using eight weeks as a framework, a two-month thing, but you’re right. So in that case, if someone was doing it in eight weeks, it would come in around week six. But in a three-month, in a 12-week course, you’re saying?

Orion: Yeah, around two-thirds of the way through, something like that. That’s right.

Davis: Okay. That’s great. Thank you for that question and response.

Thanks, everybody, for tuning in. We’ll be back next week with another bite-sized episode of GRE Bites. If you have a topic you’d like discussed on a future episode, let us know at And if you’re ready to take your prep to the next level, check out our top-rated GRE self-study program at You can use the code “BITES” for 10% off all memberships there. Talk to you soon.

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