Taking a Free GRE Practice Test? Proceed with Caution!

Numerous test prep companies advertise free practice exams for the GRE General Test, but these can be misleading and even detrimental to your GRE preparation. This article will explain why you should only use official GRE practice tests, even if you have to pay a little extra.

First, we’ll delve into the official resources available to you and how each practice test has been expertly designed to help you achieve your target GRE score. 

Official GRE Practice Tests and How to Use Them

The only accurate GRE practice tests available are the ones published by the Educational Testing Service (ETS). These can be found on their official website.

ETS offers the following practice tests:

A student looking at study materials preparing for a test
Unofficial practice tests often give you a lower score than what you would achieve during a live GRE exam.

Free GRE Practice Tests

The ETS offers several free POWERPREP® products, including a Preview Tool and two free online practice tests.

The preview tool includes questions from all three sections of the GRE. It includes 2 Analytical Writing tasks, 7 Verbal Reasoning (Verbal) questions, and 11 Quantitative Reasoning (Quant) questions with answer keys for the Verbal sections and Quantitative questions.

The free POWERPREP® Online tests are full-length and timed tests, providing test takers with scores for both the Verbal Reasoning and Quantitative Reasoning measure. 

Paid Practice Tests

In addition to the free practice materials offered by the ETS, there are three more official POWERPREP® PLUS practice tests that can be purchased for $39.95 USD per test. Scores are provided on all measures. 

These GRE practice tests should not be used to build your skills or for practice, but as a way to measure your current level of GRE preparation.

How to Use an Official Practice Test

At Menlo Coaching, our expert GRE tutors’ advice depends on your previous experience with the GRE.

Some Relevant Testing Experience

If you’ve already got some experience with the GRE—for instance, if you already took the test in the last number of years or if you started with GMAT prep and decided to transition to the GRE—your tutor might advise that you hold off on using your official practice tests until the end of your preparation. After all, there are only five official GRE practice tests available in total!

First Time Preparing for the GRE

However, if you don’t have previous experience, we recommend taking one official GRE practice test around the start of your study process to help you understand how much effort you’ll require, whether you’ll be ready on test day and subsequently, to apply to the schools by your target deadline. You have to plan your test date after due consideration of all factors.

Devoting time to focused study will allow you to improve your score significantly, so don’t panic if your first score is low! It is quite ordinary to achieve large gains and make significant differences by the end of your GRE prep. 

After that, you should take an additional GRE practice test only after completing major blocks of study. If you want to check whether your GRE study has been a success, and you are ready to take another live GRE test, that’s a good reason to take another one of the official practice tests. 

But, if you know that you have NOT yet done the studying that’s required to raise your score, there is no point in taking another practice exam. They are a limited resource that should be conserved and used only when you want to test your GRE progress and validate that you’re ready to take a live exam.

After all, your live GRE exam slots are even more precious! You should not use an actual test to check your progress when you could use official GRE practice exams instead.

Did You Know Menlo Coaching Offers Flexible MBA Test Prep?

Many MBA applicants ask us “Which exam should I take: the GMAT or the GRE?” Our advice is, generally: Start with the GMAT.

However, some GMAT takers find that they struggle to achieve a competitive GMAT score even with preparation and decide that a switch to the GRE would be the right move.

Many test prep companies can’t facilitate a seamless change from one exam to the other, because the GMAT and GRE sides of their business are isolated from each other. As a result, they might encourage you to continue working on the GMAT even though your score stopped improving. If they do encourage you to take the GRE, they often can’t continue to work with you or even point out content that transfers between the exams.

At Menlo Coaching, many of our tutors are experts in both the GMAT and the GRE, so we are uniquely equipped to help MBA applicants get the best possible test score—across both exams.

Hailey Cusimano
Director of Tutoring

The Problem With Third-Party Free GRE Practice Tests

There are several third-party test prep companies out there who offer a large collection of free GRE practice test questions. However, we advise against the use of these free practice tests altogether.

There are a couple of reasons for this.

Third-Party Practice Tests Are Inaccurately Scored

Free practice tests from third party test prep companies tend to be inaccurate, often giving you a lower score than what you would be capable of achieving during a live GRE exam.

This makes sense, because GRE preparation companies have a monetary incentive to convince you that you have a very low starting GRE score and need to purchase a lot of help for the actual test.

Third-Party Test Prep Companies Hope You’ll Never Take an Official Practice Test

These companies hope you never take an official GRE practice test before taking the actual GRE exam.

If their “extra-difficult” practice test serves as your benchmark, and your GRE scores are so much higher on the live exam, you may attribute the “gain” to the study you did with that company rather than to the fact that the unofficial practice exam was simply inaccurate in the first place.

Why Are Third-Party GRE Practice Tests Inaccurate?

Even if test prep companies wanted to provide accurate practice GRE tests, they would find that it costs too much to prepare them.

Creating standardized tests that measure the desired qualities (your fundamental verbal reasoning and quantitative reasoning abilities) rather than other closely related qualities (like whether you took specific Math or English classes) is actually a science called psychometrics.

The ETS employs trained psychometricians to create and validate accurate test questions. They can afford to do so because they generate testing fees of $50M+ per year, but your GRE exam preparation company can’t afford to do the same.

This means that they’re tempted to cheat by taking the original GRE questions published by ETS, modifying them slightly, and pass them off as their own.

So these practice questions may be more accurate, but they will actually poison your ability to use official practice tests as accurate diagnostic instruments. If you’ve already seen very close variations on the problems covered by ETS’s official practice tests, you’re likely to achieve an inflated GRE score on those because of your familiarity with the questions.

Unofficial practice tests poison your ability to use official practice tests as accurate diagnostic instruments.

Official GRE Practice Questions

Understanding what the GRE evaluates, rather than what the correct answers are, will bring awareness to your own strengths and weaknesses, allowing you to more accurately prepare for the live test. 

If you want to know more, you can read about the best way to work with official GRE practice tests. Here you can find official GRE sample questions with explanations and a breakdown of how to use them in your GRE prep.

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