glasses sitting with a coffee cup and a stack of three GRE prep books Image title: GRE studying

Tackling the GRE

By Brandi Mitchell
Web Content Contributor

In only 19 days I will be taking the dreaded GRE. Countless hours of studying, practice tests and occasional weeping has led me to the final stage: acceptance. This is not the standardized test to end all tests, nor is it the defining moment of my short 20 years of life. It is just a $205, incredibly daunting four hour exam that will potentially determine what graduate school I attend, and therefore it is the only thing standing between me and my lifelong dreams. No big deal, right?

So if this resonates with you, dear blog reader, and you don’t have $1500 to shell out for a prep class, then allow me to impart some of the deep scholarly wisdom I have acquired through my GRE journey.

Create A Timeline

Do you have four months to study? Three months? One month? A week? Figure out when and where you’re taking the test, book the date (they fill up fast) and then determine how long you have to study. Using this timeline, give yourself a rough estimate of how many hours a week you’ll be able to devote to this harrowing commitment. Then, stick with it. Make it a date, and don’t stand yourself up.

Find Out Your Weaknesses

Take a diagnostic test and determine where you are weakest. The GRE consists of two 30-minute writing sections, two 40-minute sections of quantitative reasoning (math) and two 35-minute sections of verbal reasoning (vocabulary and reading comprehension). If you realize, like me, that you haven’t taken a math class in five years and you can’t remember the formulas for basic algebra, use this as a launching pad. Start rebuilding those math skills, get used to crunching numbers again and don’t panic.

If you aren’t a reader and your vocabulary growth stunted in 10th grade, then pull out a stack of index cards, google the 100 most common GRE words, and start quizzing yourself. Trust me, you will uncover hundreds of words you’ve never heard of and it is never too soon to start integrating the 500 new vocab words you’re about to learn into your everyday life.

(If you are insouciant about your vocabulary practice, are an inveterate procrastinator, consider the GRE vocab section nugatory and fatuous, or you just find it abstruse and obfuscated to the point of being insuperable, then I hope this sentence is a portent of the clamant storm that will rain on you come test day.)

Start impressing your friends with your newfound word arsenal, but don’t be a pedant. Seriously though, study that vocab.

Utilize Free Online Resources

Open GRE prep books lying side by side
Look into what prep book options are out there! Photo by Brandi Mitchell.

Familiarize yourself with what is available free online. ETS, the makers of the test, have two PowerPrep full length, timed and adaptive practice tests that can be taken for free. I would recommend saving at least one of these as your last practice test taken before the real exam, as it will provide your most accurate score. Manhattan Prep also has a free online practice test, as well as one free virtual class you can attend. Magoosh is a great blog with a lot of tips and tricks.

Be sure to search around and see what is out there, as well as ordering a few prep books if you have the budget for it. The Manhattan 5 lbs. prep book has been a great resource, and I used Thriftbooks to find some books that were only a few years old for $4 a piece, rather than ordering the $30 version on Amazon.

the Manhattan 5 lb prep book, a green book
This book is an amazing way to practice common GRE questions and practice specific types of math problems. Image by Brandi Mitchell.

Build Your Stamina

Try to take between 4-6 practice tests if you can before test day, as building the stamina to excel on a four hour, rigorous exam doesn’t happen overnight. It is also crucial to perfect your pacing, as the timing is very fast-paced, especially if you are slower at mental math or math in general. Timed practice assists with determining a tried-and-true strategy so on the day of the test you aren’t left with any surprises.

Shoot High, But Be Realistic

If a perfect verbal score is within your reach, shoot for it. If math is your forte and a perfect quant score is attainable for you, by all means score that win. However, don’t beat yourself up if you aren’t scoring as high on your practice tests as you had wanted.

Carefully review your mistakes, keep a level head, learn from your weaknesses, sharpen your test-taking strategies, review your concepts, keep improving and have faith in yourself. Work hard and work smart, but remember that your application to that dream masters program is holistic, and you are more than just one score.

Get Creative

Give yourself a GRE word of the day. Get excited about your revival of age-old arithmetic skills you had left buried in high-school. Be proud that you remember y=mx+b, or that the angles of a triangle add up to 180 degrees, or the rules of exponents. Remember that hard, dedicated (or should I say assiduous?) work shapes and builds your character, so be proud of the hours you dedicated to studying while your friends went out to the square. No matter what that score is at the end of the day, it was worth the work you put in.

I am deep in the trenches with you, my friend; you are not alone. Keep grinding, keep studying, keep blocking out those four hours on the weekends to take seemingly endless practice tests (what fun!), and before you know it the GRE will be a distant, not so fond memory.

And as for Oct. 30, from 9:30 to 12:30 am, send all the prayers you have my way.

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