January 23, 2014

GRE studying tips

So…you need/want to take the GRE?

 The Graduate Record Examination is a standardized test that is an admissions requirement for most graduate schools in the U.S. I took the GRE one time, in June of 2013, and I was really happy with my scores in every category, all well above the average score. I performed best in analytical writing (predictable), second best in the quantitative reasoning, and my verbal reasoning score was a little lower than that one. Once I decided I wanted grad school to be my next step, I studied for the GRE for about 2.5 months before my exam date. 

And now, I have three friends who are preparing for the GRE and have all asked me "how was it?" I've shared my experience and tips with them, and I wanted to share them with any readers considering taking the GRE.

Find out what your desired graduate program expects for GRE scores
It's important to know what your program's average GRE scores are so you have an idea of what score range to aim for before testing. For Georgia Tech, the average math score is very high, while the average writing score is closer to the national average. For my particular program at Tech, writing is important, so my high score in writing was valued. It's also important to know that graduate programs require a GRE score, but it is not the only admission factor.

Give yourself enough time to prepare/study
When someone tells me they're taking the GRE after one or two weeks of studying, I think to myself.. "you cannot be serious." This test, like the SAT, requires preparation and time to cover all of the material. Regardless if you're studying for the GRE while finishing up your undergrad (like I did), right after your undergrad, or years after college; you need enough time to study. I think a month should be the minimum prep time for this test.

Use the resources provided by the GRE website
My first suggestion to my friends who are studying for the GRE…use the resources on the GRE test website! I made the mistake of not looking at these until a few days before my exam, but I'm glad I looked. Several of the problems on my test were super similar to the example problems on the GRE website.

Find those here.

Find a book/online program that works for you
I went to a local bookstore and flipped through a few different GRE books to see which ones were formatted in a way that I liked and understood. I also checked out some online options for studying. There are all kinds of additional resources out there for learning or reviewing the material on the GRE. I ended up using a friend's books after she finished taking the GRE, and it happened to be the set of books I enjoyed the most at the bookstore.

There are even Twitter accounts to help you review:

Study with a friend taking a similar test
One of my best friends was studying for the LSAT while I was studying for the GRE. Even though we weren't studying for the same standardized test, it was great having a standardized test study buddy. We were accountability partners, supporters for one another, and it was great having someone to celebrate with after we both took our tests!

Do a few practice tests - first not timed, then time yourself
I was really nervous to take my first practice test because I didn't want to see how much I didn't know. But, the practice test turned out to be the catalyst for me really understanding the material covered by the GRE. I took two practice tests a week. For the first few, I took my time and just tried to figure everything out at my own pace. But then I started timing myself (because the real test is timed) and I skipped a few. Read about the penalties of missing questions versus skipping questions.

Relax the night before and start fresh the morning of
I was tempted to go out the night before my GRE test, but I made the choice to stay in and relax. I did review some math material for about an hour before going to sleep, but then I did not look at it again before my test. The morning of my test, I drank some water and had a healthy breakfast before heading to my testing center. I did review a few verbal flashcards in my car before going inside the center. Before starting my test, I took a deep breath in and out.

Read the fine print rules about testing
There are lots of strict rules you have to follow on test day, depending on your test center. I took my test at another college in Atlanta, so the location was a little unfamiliar to me. It's great to map out your test center before your test date and know how parking works (if you live in an urban area). Also, read online about what to bring to your test (paperwork, ID, pencils, etc.) and what cannot be with you in the testing room (cell phone, watch, etc.). Testing centers vary from being really warm to really cold. Depending on when you take your test, be prepared for either extreme temperature.

Be confident and do your best!
By no means am I a test taking guru. But I definitely went into the GRE believing I would get the scores I was aiming for, and I did. If you take the time to study and have done well on practice tests, you will do fine! And if you're not happy with your score, you can take the GRE again after a certain number of days.

The test usually takes about 5-7 hours to complete. It took me 6 hours, and afterward I was too exhausted to do anything but sleep. Lots of time and energy went into studying, but now that I'm in my dream grad program, it was more than worth it! .

Good luck!

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