How SAT Prep Readied Me for the GRE

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By: Zoie Anderson Horecny

When students finally receive that coveted college acceptance letter, many think their standardized testing days are over and test scores will no longer matter; however, this could not be any further from the truth! 

Allow me to explain…

As students discover their passions, many will find that most career paths require at least a certification test. However, more and more fields require a master’s degree, which means they will, in many cases, need to take the GRE. 

“No worries,” they say, “I’ll just take the test and I’m sure it will be fine.  After all, I am about to graduate college, so I’m sure I know enough to pass the test.”  

Note: the students who say this end-up being the students who tell the horror tales of the “first time” they took the GRE.  

So, where do they go wrong?

It’s simple: they haven’t studied the type of material on the GRE test in years. 

By the time many students are seniors in college, now needing to take the GRE, it is usually at least 2 – 3 years since they were in a traditional English or Math class. If they took AP Exams like AP English Literature and Composition, AP English Language and Composition, AP Statistics, or AP Calculus, then it is very likely they haven’t taken one of these courses since high school. 

As an example, the Verbal Reasoning sections on the GRE assess reading comprehension, critical reading, and vocabulary usage. These are all skills that are obviously put to use in many college classes, but the direct instruction and practice of these skills is generally reserved for a freshman English class.  

Similarly, the GRE’s Quantitative Reasoning sections (i.e. math) are designed to assess basic high school math.  It is common for a senior who is a liberal arts major to take the GRE and, for the first time in years, encounter math questions centered around concepts such as graphing, exponential equations, and even basic fractions.  This is obviously problematic.

Because the Quantitative sections are designed to assess basic high school math, they essentially share many of the same concepts seen in the ACT Math Test as well as the SAT Math Test.

If you know this about the GRE while you are in high school (or while your child is in high school), then this information is enormously helpful.

When I was tackling studying the GRE the summer before I applied to Graduate School, I, like the above-mentioned liberals arts students, had not taken a math course since high school, so I knew I needed to focus on the math portion of the exam. I relied heavily on notes and packets from a SAT Prep class I took in high school to not only remember the type of questions that would be asked, but how to do the actual math itself. I had entirely forgotten graphing, exponential equations, and even basic fractions. Having these notes and step by step guides were life-saving for the exam.

This experience makes a clear point which is this: it’s important for high school students to know that SAT prep today can be put to good use on other tests in the future. 

I should also add that test-takers are not allowed to bring a calculator into the GRE; however, a basic calculator is available on the computer screen. 

“No worries,” you may say.  “As long as I have a calculator available, I will be fine.”

Um…. yeah, about that…

Yes, I know, everyone thinks calculators are time-savers (and in many cases, they are); however, as I learned in preparing for the SAT, test creators will knowingly write test questions that invite students to spend an exorbitant amount of time crunching numbers on a question when, using a few reasoning strategies, there’s only one logical answer that can be correct.  This SAT tip applies to many other tests, including the GRE.  Knowing test-taking strategies and tips from taking the SAT Math Test and the ACT Math Test helps saves valuable time on the exam, especially in eliminating impossible answers. 

This point is worth repeating:

SAT test prep helped me prepare for the GRE Quantitative Reasoning Test as well as perform successfully on the test.

Likewise, the SAT prep I received in high school came through beautifully in my preparation for the GRE Verbal Reasoning Test.  For this portion of the test, being familiar with SAT reading passages and how to extract important information from them really helps. Just like the SAT Reading Test, the GRE’s Verbal Reasoning Test regularly asks the same questions about main idea, primary purpose, vocabulary-in-context, etc.  

Speaking of vocabulary…

There is also a strong emphasis on vocabulary on the GRE. In high school, my SAT prep teacher placed a heavy emphasis on vocabulary (that was back when there were sentence completion questions on the test), and I made over 100 vocabulary notecards to study for the SAT. Fortunately for me, those notecards made it through 3 dorm room moves and I still had them to study for the GRE.  While I was actually taking the GRE, I remember thinking that I was glad I held on to my flashcards, notes, and handouts from the SAT prep course I took in high school. 

Clearly, SAT test prep lays a great foundation for taking the GRE later in life, but there are other important reasons why the preparation itself matters:



For seniors in college, graduate school applications loom at the end of the hectic fall semester. These deadlines really catch many off-guard. Most college students don’t sign-up to take the GRE until that fall, when it would be impossible to retake the test before applications are due. Given this timeline, a clear majority of students have far less time to prepare for the GRE than they believe they have.

I’ve heard horror stories of those who felt confident enough to take the GRE without much preparation and received scores too low to get into graduate school, so they had to take an unplanned gap year after college graduation to study for it and retake it.  


Price is also a factor: the GRE costs over $200. 

Paying this sum of money hurts the first time, but it can really add up for students who must take it multiple times. I knew I didn’t want to pay to take it twice and needed to perform strongly the first time I took it. So, the financial element to this test also added to my greater sense of gratitude that my high school SAT test prep class already prepared me in many ways for the GRE.

The financial advantage of SAT prep in this greater GRE discussion doesn’t end with saving money on having to avoid taking the test multiple times either; there’s money to be saved on GRE test prep as well.

GRE test prep can be expensive, with books and online programs oftentimes costing in the hundreds and, in many cases, thousands of dollars.  This cost, on top of a student’s already massive college expenses, is obviously problematic for many.  I know I’m grateful for having avoided this financial burden by being able to reference my materials and knowledge my SAT prep teacher gave me many years ago. 

Preparing for the SAT and the ACT can get you college acceptance, but it can also open the door to future opportunities. The skills I learned from my SAT prep teacher and the materials I saved from SAT Prep courses became invaluable in readying me for the GRE and in helping me performing successfully on it. Ultimately, preparing for the SAT is what truly prepared me for the GRE.

About the author

Zoie Horecny graduated from Chapin High School in 2015. She earned a BA with Distinction in History from the University in South Carolina in 2018. She was a Capstone Scholar, Palmetto Fellow, received endowed scholarships in Southern Studies, and was a Resident Mentor. Currently, she is a third-year PhD student in History and completing her MA in Public History in 2021 at the University of South Carolina. She is a Teaching Assistant and an intern for the Pinckney Papers, but also interned for the South Carolina Department of Education and the South Carolina State Museum and has held freelance researcher positions. 

Feel free to reach Zoie at zhorecny33@gmail.com.


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