Passing the GRE Without Studying – Is It Possible?

by Emmanuel Carita
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Passing the GRE Without Studying – Is It Possible

Getting ready for the GRE is a huge time investment – so much so, that many people wonder if passing the GRE without studying is possible. It is not the easiest of tests, and it is renowned for overwhelming candidates with a lot of information and question types in a short amount of time – so is it really possible (or desirable) to do the GRE without preparation?

Why Would You Take the GRE And Not Study?

First of all, let’s look at why you might find yourself in a position where taking the GRE without preparation is your only option.

You Haven’t Finished Your Undergrad Studies

Let’s be real – your undergrad has to come first. If you’re looking at business schools – or post-grad jobs – that require or prefer the candidate to have passed the GRE, but you haven’t finished your major yet, then there’s no question of what your priority should be. The GRE isn’t exactly cheap, but it’s much cheaper to retake the GRE than it is to retake a university degree. This one’s a no-brainer – focus on your undergrad studies and worry about the GRE later. Either you try passing the GRE without studying, or you delay the GRE until you have some time to prepare.

You’re Too Busy With Work

Many candidates for the GRE aren’t simply sitting around waiting for their test date – they have to support themselves, and in order to do that they’re going to have to work.

If you’re one of these, and you have a heavy workload weighing you down in the run-up to your GRE, then it’s time to make some tough decisions. The GRE isn’t an easy test to get a good score on, and the fact is that you will do better if you study for it. In addition, it’s not the cheapest test – can you afford to fail and have to re-take it again?

On the other hand, it may simply be the case that you can’t drop any hours, and you can’t devote too much time to studying for the GRE. You may have dependents, or you may barely be making rent or covering your essential bills. If that’s the case, then it may be necessary for you to sit the GRE without preparation.

You’ve Made A Last-Minute Business/Grad School Application

It’s possible that you’ve changed your mind or made an eleventh-hour decision that business school is right for you. If this is the case, you’ll only have a limited amount of time to prepare – and possibly not enough time to adequately study for the GRE.

It happens, and it might not necessarily be a deal-breaker. Taking the GRE without studying is tough – but that’s not to say that you can’t employ some strategies, tips and tricks to try to give yourself an edge prior to test day.

Are There Are Any Disadvantages To Not Studying For The GRE?

It almost goes without saying that of course there are disadvantages to trying to pass the GRE without studying. It’s a difficult test, and those who are unprepared will obviously have more trouble than those who prepared.

The one slight silver lining here is that you’ve likely come across a great deal of the concepts that appear in the GRE before. Whether in school or just in the course of doing your job, thinks like quantitative analysis and verbal reasoning are bound to crop up. Thus, you should have a passing familiarity with many of the concepts tested, which may stand you in good stead.

However, if you’re taking the GRE without preparation, then the fact of the matter is that you’re not going to do as well. You won’t be operating at the peak of your potential without prior study, and there’s no getting around that simple fact.

Your Skills May Be Rusty

While the skills you require for the GRE – specifically, the Quant section – may ostensibly be simple things like high-school-level maths, that doesn’t mean that you’ll be able to tackle them without studying.

Firstly – how long as it been since you reviewed basic math or algebra? Sure, you could do it when you were 15 – but does that mean you can still do it now? It’s easy to think that you can, but the fact is that you’re bound to have forgotten a lot of stuff in the interim. That will make passing the GRE without studying tricky.

GRE Questions Can Trick The Unprepared

Let’s say you remembered all your high school algebra perfectly, and your mental arithmetic is tip-top. That still doesn’t mean that you can just walk into that test room, take the GRE without preparation, and ace it. Passing requires a thorough understand of how GRE questions work, and more often than not, that means actually sitting down and prepping strategies for such questions.

It can be pretty easy, for instance, to come across a Quant question that seems pretty straightforward, choose the obviously correct answer, and move on. But is it always so straightforward? The GRE features a fair few questions that, while not outright trick questions, are nevertheless designed to separate those who’ve properly prepped from the careless and unthinking.

It Can Increase Your Anxiety

Taking an important test causes trepidation in the vast majority of us; that’s just a fact. One of the best ways of handling pre-test jitters is to make sure you’re adequately prepared for it – and, like it or not, that means sitting down and studying.

This is particularly true for the GRE. As we’ve seen, the test contains a fair few pitfalls for the unwary, and that anxiety we all feel during a test can intensify once you’ve sat down, written your name, started the test, and realized that you have no idea what you’re doing. This can have a snowball effect, as your lack of confidence in your ability to pass becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Tips For Passing The GRE Without Prepping

So you’re fully committed to taking the GRE without studying, and not even our stern dissuasions above can change your mind. If that’s the case, then it still pays to engage in a little preparation. Not studying per se, but a few hacks that can possibly give you an edge before you walk into that test room.

Note that these tips all do involve at least some preparation, and so it’s important to try to find a little time and put it aside in order to maximize your chances of passing the GRE without preparation.

Tips for Passing the GRE without Studying
Tips for Passing the GRE without Studying

Make Sure You Understand The Section And Question Formats

If nothing else, you should try to ensure that you’re familiar with the way the various sections of the GRE work – and the different types of questions to be found therein.

Verbal Reasoning

There are three kinds of question in the verbal reasoning section of the GRE: reading comprehension, sentence equivalence, and text completion. In order to have a shot at passing the GRE without preparation, it’s still necessary to understand these.

One thing that is really worth bearing in mind with verbal reasoning is that the GRE uses purposefully inaccessible and esoteric language. This means that if your vocabulary isn’t particularly broad, a good way of prepping without prepping is to up your reading game. Read some texts, books and articles pitched at a college student level, and enrich your vocabulary. A lot of the verbal reasoning section revolves around semantics and difficult words, so the better your vocabulary, the better a chance you have of passing the GRE without studying.

Quantitative Reasoning  

The math-focused section of the GRE, this part has three types of question: quantitative comparison, multiple choice (single-answer or multiple-answer), and numeric entry. These can generally be answered by anyone with a high-school knowledge of math and algebra, but as we said earlier – how confident are you that you’ve retained that knowledge?

On top of that, it’s important to know the difference between the types of questions – particularly when it comes to quantitative comparison questions, as these can be the trickiest and can trip up the unwary easily. If you want to pass the GRE with no prep, at the very least make sure you’ve read (or better, tried to solve) some of these kinds of questions.

If even this isn’t possible, then brush up on your math skills. Find a good elementary math site and go over the basics again. Make sure you’re clear on what all the different math symbols are, because the GRE isn’t going to tell you. If you don’t remember how to find the square root of something, then that’s likely something you’re going to have to re-learn.

One thing that’s worth bearing in mind on algebra questions is that if you’re given a formula, use a simple number (or simple numbers) in the equation in order to make things simpler for yourself. Don’t use decimals if an integer will do. By keeping things as simple as possible, you’ll make your life easier and have a shot at passing the GRE without studying.

Analytical Writing Assessment

Possibly the easiest part of the GRE without studying, the AWA is comprised of two questions. In one, you’ll be asked to analyze an issue, and in the other you’ll analyze an argument.

Since these are long-form essay questions, why are these the easiest parts? Because irrespective of whether or not you’ve written an essay recently, academic essays tend to work in the same way: you agree or disagree with a premise, and then you support your argument in proceeding paragraphs. Since you’re always asked to disagree with the premise, that’s half the battle. The other half is figuring out how to demonstrate your disagreement. The information that you need to do this is contained within the opening issue/argument, and so it’s just a matter of exploiting that information as much as possible.

It’s worth brushing up on basic essay skills and how to structure a good essay. As mentioned, they follow the same basic structure: assertion, supporting argument, [additional supporting arguments], conclusion. If you can stick to this pattern and write clearly and fluently, then chances are you’ll be able to do quite well on the AWA section of the GRE with no prep.

So, you’ve got an idea of the basic structure of the GRE and its questions, and you’re feeling pretty confident that you can, at the very least, take a shot at doing the GRE without preparation. What else can you do to (not) prepare?

Take A Practice Test

We know what you’re thinking – this sounds an awful lot like studying. But taking a practice test – even if it’s just a one-off diagnostic test to get a feel for how you’d do on the real thing – isn’t really studying for the GRE, and even if you’re tight on time, just a single practice test can really help you get your head in the game.

For one, a practice test can help you figure out which sections you’re likely to do well on – and, more importantly, which ones you’ll struggle on. If you’re not going to do as well as you’d like on Quant, for instance, then it’s a good idea to try to fit in a little math practice before the big day. If you’re struggling on AWA, take a look at answers that scored really well on that section. If Verbal Reasoning isn’t your thing, it might be an idea to do what was suggested earlier and try to broaden your vocabulary.

This also means that you won’t waste any of your limited time worrying about parts of the exam that your practice test suggests you’ll actually be fine on. You can identify your weakest points quickly, and then prepare accordingly.

It can also help you spot any question types that you struggle with. Did you find quantitative comparison questions difficult, for instance? If so, review the questions you got wrong and try to figure out why you got them wrong.

Finally, it will help you to avoid those test-day jitters we mentioned earlier. Taking even one practice test can obviate that stage fright factor and make sure you give it your best shot.

Practice Your Essay-Writing Abilities

This one may involve more time and effort than you’re willing to give, but if you’re able to, it’s a great way to flex some academic muscles you likely haven’t used since high school. While this isn’t exactly passing the GRE without studying, it involves only very limited prep time.

The best approach is, as above, to answer a few actual AWA questions (many of which are available online for free). Stick to the same time constraints you’ll be under during the real thing, in order to develop your ability to write under pressure and with a time limit.

It’s a great idea to develop a technique for answering essay questions like this. That way, even if the question itself throws you, your mental ‘muscle memory’ will be able to carry you through the question. Such a technique might involve doing the following:

  • Reword the statement in your own words, so as to be sure that you understand it.
  • Write out two arguments that agree with the statement, and two that disagree. This will help you see both sides of the coin and, accordingly, strengthen your retort either way.
  • Pick three of the arguments you wrote and sketch out an outline for each, developing the argument and supporting it with evidence.
  • Explain why the last argument was weaker than the other three.
  • Jot down a few ways you would improve the original statement.
  • Take your three paragraphs and structure them into an essay, with introductory and concluding paragraphs bookending them.

If you can get into the habit of doing this, you stand a much better chance of producing a quality essay in the actual GRE.

You Don’t Need Any Specialist Or Exogenous Knowledge

If you know what ‘exogenous’ means, then congratulations! You’re well on your way to acing the Verbal Reasoning section. If you don’t, it simply means “from outside” – ergo, exogenous knowledge is knowledge that is not on the test.

The GRE doesn’t do this. All the information that you need, whether in a quant or verbal question, is within the question or statement itself. There is no special knowledge required nor presumed.

This is good news for people planning on taking the GRE without studying, because it means that you don’t need to study Brazilian coffee exports or the speed of the latest Tesla car or any other esoteric field of knowledge in order to have a shot at passing. Everything you need is written down in front of you. All you need to do is make use of it. Can’t say fairer than that.


Can you not study and pass the GRE? We have to be honest (and we hope we have been) – your chances aren’t great. But there are a few options on the table, and by taking advantage of them, you increase your chances of getting a score you’re happy with. Just work on basic test-taking skills, broaden your vocabulary, and make sure that high-school math is nice and fresh in your mind, and you’ll be in a position to give it your best shot. But honestly, you should probably just study for the GRE if you can – because while passing the GRE without studying is possible, you can definitely do better if you put in a little prep time.

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