11 Tips for GRE Preparation

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Sawyer HeadshotThis week we will feature guest blogger Sawyer Baker, a graduate student at The George Washington University and intern for Pathways to Housing D.C. Sawyer began her education at Iowa State University, earning degrees in Political Science and Sociology.

The strength of your application to a graduate program is multi-faceted: statement of interests, writing samples, GPAs, extra-curricular activities, past research projects, etc., and the list goes on. There is one component, however, that attempts to capture your writing skills, grammar, vocabulary, math and reading skills in a pesky number–the Graduate Record Examination (GRE). So, how do you get into the percentile required or suggested by your first-choice school? Unfortunately, there is no sure-fire way to accomplish this, but here are some tips and tricks that helped me:

1. Set the date. For me, there was no way I would have been motivated to study if I did not have this set in stone and paid for. I also tried to have something fun planned for the evening following my test. On test day you will not only be relieved to have the test complete, but you will have something to look forward to upon completion.

2. Take a practice GRE to assess your strengths and weaknesses. I found that I Have A Plan Iowa offers a free practice test through their online course curriculum open to the public. College campuses may also provide these to current students. If those are unavailable, GRE workbooks contain practice tests and/or prior administered GREs.

3. Block off time in your schedule to study. Treat it like a college course and create a study plan based on your practice GRE. Look at your current class schedule if you are an enrolled student and plan around other exams/papers. Avoid cramming the night before the exam.

4. Determine what materials will be needed to improve your score. Should you pay for a prep course? (I did not.) Should you get a tutor for math? (I did.) Should you purchase flashcards? (I did and didn’t use them.) I was told that the best way to prepare for the verbal reasoning section is to just read, read, read.) Find what is right for you and your budget!

5. Take a trial run to the testing location. You do not want to get lost on your way to the testing center the day of your GRE as it is already a stressful day! On the day of, make sure you arrive early and bring proper identification.

6. Make sure the GRE is not the first thing you read on test day. Read the morning paper, a chapter from a non-academic book, etc.

7. Accept the fact you may have to take the GRE twice. Yes, I was the student who initially planned on taking the exam once and ended up taking it twice. Make sure you allow enough time between your first GRE and admission deadlines to take it again if needed. (Note: you can only take the GRE once a month!)

8. Understand how the GRE is scored. The year I took the GRE, the scoring scale/percentiles had recently been altered. Knowing how you are assessed and how your test questions translate into a raw score is important to know. For example, if a vocabulary question has two blanks, you will need to get them both correct to receive credit for the question.

9. Find support from friends and family. There was a running joke that no one was allowed to read my tweets on Twitter unless it contained a GRE-level vocabulary word! Share your study schedule and ask others to help keep you on track.

10. Know where you need your scores sent. Immediately following your test, you will need to know where you want your scores sent. On test day, it’s free for up to four schools. Following the test day, there is a fee. I was told that I should send my scores even if I felt I could have done better. You not only paid for the exam and spent a whole day taking it, not to mention hours of studying, but you will be able to resend new scores to the same institutions if you re-take the test.

11. Eat a good breakfast. Bring a snack for your break time. Decide what to wear (for example, if you take off a jacket during your timed test, you may have to leave the room to put it in a locker, causing an undue break) – just be prepared and plan ahead. See http://www.ets.org/gre/revised_general/test_day/.

But, most of all, do not let the GRE send you into a panic. It is only ONE component of your admissions package. It is important to meet percentile requirements and compare yourself to what the recently admitted class’s mean score was. However, not applying for your first-pick school because you barely missed cut offs will leave you with the burden of ‘what ifs’. Own the GRE. Own your score. Good luck!


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