The Graduate Record Exam (GRE) is one of the most important parts of your graduate school application. Most graduate programs use GRE scores to screen applicants for further review. Score too low on the GRE and your application may not be read. It goes without saying that you should do all that you can to ensure that you earn the highest GRE score possible. Tackle the GRE with these 7 tips.
1. Know what you’re up against
The first and most obvious, yet ignored, step in preparing for the GRE is to know the test. You’re probably aware that there are three scales: Verbal, Quantitative, and Analytical Writing. But do you know what comprises each scale? What kinds of questions will you encounter? How many questions are there per section? How much time will you have to complete each section?
2. Start preparing early
An entire industry has grown around helping applicants prepare for the GRE. Consider that confirmation that it is not an easy exam. Don’t underestimate how long it will take to prepare for this exam – or the breadth and depth your studying will cover. Give yourself a few months to study and prepare so that you don’t feel rushed. As you study you might find that you need more preparation than you realized. Give yourself the time to adjust your study schedule, if needed.
3. Use the right tools
There’s no need to reinvent the wheel when it comes to studying as there are a great many study tools available.
At minimum you’ll need a few GRE prep books and some practice exams. Some applicants find online study programs useful. Others use tutors. For comprehensive prep tailored to your abilities and needs, consider a GRE prep course. Courses can be pricy but most guarantee higher scores. Whatever method you choose be sure that you are comfortable with it. Don’t choose a particular method because it’s the cheapest. Choose a method that best fits your needs and circumstances. Don’t cheap out as your GRE scores can make or break your grad school application – and lead to funding opportunities.
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4. Take practice exams and use the results
A common pitfall that applicants who study on their own fall into is that they study and study and study. But they study without a plan. Don’t waste your time studying material that you already know. Many students unwittingly fall into this pattern because it feels good to know the right answers – and they feel that they are making progress. Practice exams can help you break this harmful pattern. Take practice exams at several points in your studying. Don’t just pay attention to your score, but carefully analyze your performance. What sections gave you problems? What kinds of questions did you get wrong? What specific content did you flub? Use practice exams to assess your skills and determine what you need to focus on.
5. Focus on the foundation
The GRE taps skills and competencies that you learned in high school or in the first or second year of college. The quantitative section relies on high school level math. Before you study complex topics be sure that your foundation is solid. Pay attention to the material that you think you know – do you? Evaluate. Study, if needed. Brush up on arithmetic, algebra, and geometry.
6. Study vocabulary in context
One of the best things that you can do to boost your verbal score is to develop a healthy vocabulary. Lists of vocabulary words abound but the best way to learn new words is to learn them in context. Reading is an obvious, excellent, strategy. But if you’re studying a list of words or flash cards look for examples of how each word is used in context. Then devise new sentences with those words.
7. Know the rules and what to expect on test day
Applicants sometimes focus so heavily on test prep that they forget to look up the practical details surrounding the exam. When should you arrive to the test center? How do you get there? Where do you park? What can you bring into the test room? How long is each section? Are there breaks? Know what to expect and be prepared. It will reduce anxiety and ensure that you have what you need to feel comfortable.
In addition to following these basic tips, be sure to make time to relax before the exam. It may seem counter-intuitive but you shouldn’t study the day before taking the GRE. All of your preparation is done – you won’t add anything new to your repertoire the day before taking the GRE. Instead, your job is to rest, get a little bit of exercise, and relax as best you can. A good night’s sleep, a healthy breakfast, and early arrival to the test site will ensure that you’re prepared to show what you know and earn the best GRE score that you can.