Classes, tutoring and workbooks can help test-takers discover tricks, hints and shortcuts.
Attention, graduate and business school applicants. Whether you know your GRE revised General Test scores could be a little — or a lot — better, use these tips to up your numbers on the graduate-admissions test.
Take timed tests
Plan to take several full-length practice tests under timed conditions, one to three months before you intend to take it for a final score. “It’s one thing to take the test untimed, and another to perform under the time limit,” says Steve Sandweiss, who has been teaching GRE prep classes and providing tutoring since 1991.
You’ll discover your relative weaknesses and strengths on the GRE’s three parts (math, verbal and analytical), along with any time-management challenges.
Examine your test-taking attitude
“Relax and visualize yourself taking the test, what comes to mind first? How do you feel when studying?” suggests Mark Wahl, who offers Seattle-area GRE test prep classes and a basic math reboot class. On one end of the spectrum, a feeling of exhilaration and fun; on the other, dread and victimhood.
Recognize GRE’s game
Understand that your score doesn’t necessarily correlate to how well you’ll do in school, how intellectually able you are, and possibly, how likely admittance is for you. It’s more like a “hazing,” Wahl says, or a hurdle to leap over during the process.
“Play the GRE more like a game. Goal: maximizing your score,” Wahl says.
Classes, tutoring and workbooks can help test-takers discover tricks, hints and shortcuts. Wahl says Princeton Review study guides have an edge.
“The test makers find tricky ways to test simple concepts. It’s not enough to know how to solve the problem, but how to solve it quickly by minimizing the amount of computation needed,” Sandweiss says.
Understanding the traps offers efficiency-boosting strategies, he notes. For example, before undertaking a math problem’s computation, first review answer choices. If options are closely related in value – 1,2, 3, 4 or 5 – computational precision is necessary. If they differ by thousands, estimation and rounding are quicker strategies.
Plan your study
Focused, nightly practice may be key, Wahl says. “In a period of six weeks, averaging an hour a night of testing is a good amount,” he suggests, although that regimen may be adjusted according to individual needs.
Make time for math
“In our experience, more people need help with the math portion than verbal portion,” Sandweiss says.
“The math itself isn’t that difficult. It’s high school math,” Sandweiss says. But for those who have been out of high school for a while, the GRE skills required are new. “They need to refresh their knowledge of the math concepts tested on the exam, but they also need to learn effective techniques for answering questions as quickly as possible,” Sandweiss says.
“De-rust” your math tools, Wahl says. Don’t remember how to divide fractions? Turn to classes, individualized help or even the online Khan Academy.
He doesn’t recommend taking a general community college course, as it may fail to instruct in the GRE’s tricky techniques and overwhelm you with superfluous material.
Love your lingo
Regarding the verbal portion, Sandweiss recommends reviewing Latin and Greek word roots, using root lists. “Get in the habit of looking up unfamiliar words rather than glossing over them,” he says. If you’re unsure about a word, look it up — you may have been confusing affective and effective for years, for example.
Tricks pop up on the verbal portion as well. On reading comprehension passages, a wrong answer will often repeat a true statement from the passage — but the statement will be from a different paragraph than the one referenced by the question. “It’s vitally important to reread the relevant portion of the passage before choosing an answer,” Sandweiss says.
The GRE’s analytical portion asks test-takers to write two essays. To prepare for essays, Wahl suggests writing your best 500-word critical essay to a sample test prompt. Ask a friend with writing skills to review it, he suggests, and tell the friend to be merciless with the red pen. “The result will start you on real writing improvement,” Wahl says.
For those with high anxiety around test-taking, Wahl suggests test-takers visualize success combined with self-relaxation techniques. Any uncomfortable feelings are helpful flags, he says, adding that he’s seen students soar after tracking feelings to underlying self-defeating beliefs.