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Test prep: How to study for the GRE

Tuesday, August 28, 2018
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Test prep: How to study for the GRE
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You've barely tried any practice questions and the butterflies are already fluttering away in your stomach. Test jitters are real, but the better prepared you are, the less intense they'll be.

With plenty of studying hours under your belt, you'll have the skills and knowledge to succeed on the Graduate Record Examination. Along with the official prep materials, follow these tips to study for your upcoming exam:

Determine your target score
The first step to prepping for the GRE is determining what score you want to earn. The best way to narrow this number down is to consider the graduate programs you're interested in. Check out school websites to determine the average GRE scores of accepted students and set your sights on a similar number. With this important target in mind, you'll have a tangible goal to work toward.

To get an idea of where you stand in regard to meeting that target, take a full-length GRE practice test to determine your baseline score and design your study plan accordingly. From there, your score can only go up.

Create your study timeline
You certainly need more than a couple weeks to properly prepare for the GRE, but the exact timeline will be dependent on what's realistic for your study habits, lifestyle and additional commitments. In general, aim to give yourself three to four months to study for the exam. However, Kaplan recommended a realistic two-month study plan, in which you divide your studying into one month of focusing on question types and vocabulary and the remaining time on quickening your pace during timed practices.

The focus of your study plan may also depend on the results of your baseline score. If you have more room for improvement in certain areas of the test than others, you may want to plan your preparations accordingly. Make sure you have all the resources and plans in place to follow your timeline efficiently, such as enrolling in an online program, purchasing test prep materials or arranging time in your schedule for studying.

As you work out your study schedule, avoid limiting your study sessions to just the weekends. For starters, these precious days off are filled with distractions and other commitments. Plus, it's easy to push off studying until a Sunday evening cram session. Instead, study in manageable chunks, fully immersing yourself in GRE content consistently throughout the week. Not only will preparing for the exam feel more feasible, but you'll also be more likely to remember the information. 

woman studying for the GREGive yourself plenty of time to prepare for the GRE.

Practice - and practice again
One of the most effective ways to study for the GRE is to practice the types of questions you'll encounter on exam day. When you take practice exams, remember that you can learn more than what's reflected in the score you earn. Compare your answers to the correct ones and their explanations to understand where your thinking was correct. Don't bypass the ones you got right to solely focus on those that you answered incorrectly. You may have just guessed correctly, which means you still have some learning to do.

As you practice, you'll begin to pick up on the kinds of questions you typically struggle with, the ones that are often no-brainers for you as well as the ones that tend to stump you and eat up precious time. Eventually, you can develop your own effective approaches to each question type, improving your test-taking skills on a deeper level.

Enhance your GRE vocabulary
It's incredibly irritating to lose points on an exam simply because you don't understand what the question is asking. That's why it's time to get out the tried-and-true flashcards to make sure complex vocabulary words don't trip you up on the GRE.

If you come across words you don't know while completing practice tests, add them to your list of vocabulary to learn. Read academic journals, newspapers and magazines to engage with the kind of vocabulary often included in the exam. The Princeton Review suggested more ways to build your GRE vocabulary, including:

  • Don't just master one definition, but rather focus on all of the meanings.
  • Say new words out loud to help you remember them.
  • Learn word roots to make better educated guesses about definitions.
  • Remember to review math vocabulary, too.

Believe in yourself
While studying does wonders for your exam preparedness, the right mindset can also lead you to success. Jaime Potter, a graduate student who scored in the 99th percentile of GRE test takers, shared her reasoning for this simple attitude shift with The Economist:

"Once you truly believe in yourself, you'll be excited for the test because you know that you'll be able to do well," Potter said.

Don't freak yourself out unnecessarily - there's a reason you completed all those hours of studying. You're ready for the exam, so try to think positively about the experience. Take deep breaths and head into the test center with your head held high.

Now there's only one thing left to do: Go crush that GRE!

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