Help me be the boss of the GRE
November 21, 2009 9:44 PM   Subscribe

I took the GRE on Veteran's Day and the results were not my personal best. How do I best gear up for a second try on Dec. 8??

I had been studying for the GMAT for about 4 months, very solidly. Then the joint program I have my heart set on (one half is an MBA/other half MPP) said they would start taking the GRE this application cycle. Since math is not my strong suit (although I have improved a lot during test prep), I decided to switch tracks and prepare for the GRE. I gave myself two additional months to do this. Fast forward to Veteran's day, after taking a prep course, 5 practice GRE tests (and scoring higher each one I took into the 700 range- two were from the official site) and two practice books back to back (Princeton and McGraw Hill) I felt pumped and ready to go on the test.

I crashed. My final score was 590 V/520 Q. Huge disappointment, but a speed bump, not cliff.

I just took a week off to rest, but am doing practice problems again and will start another practice test on Monday. I am choosing to retake on Dec. 8...I have to take it so soon to meet application deadlines.

I think I screwed up day of because my mental game wasn't where it needed to be... "Ahh I screwed up on the second question and spent three minutes, now my timing is messed" downward spiral.

Two questions:

1) What can I do between now and then to reset and get my game face on?

2) Please tell me your stories about taking the GRE a second time and give me hope for the end of this tunnel. Did you do better the second time? Worse? Did you short circuit the GRE computer with your refocused awesomeness?
posted by timpanogos to Education (8 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
My boyfriend had a similar experience with the GMAT (just a few days before you took the GRE) and is planning on retaking in late December.

He has decided to get up an hour or so earlier every weekday to study, and I think this has been a very smart approach. That way he isn't stressed about studying in the evenings when he's tired from work. He worries about it for a certain period each day, and that's it.
posted by radioamy at 10:05 PM on November 21, 2009

Take as many practice tests as you feel you need to. I felt like this was the most helpful for me opposed to any tips and tricks I might learn along the way. Just get comfortable with the style of questions, working through them, and moving on to the next.

Remember to breathe, its not the end of the world.

Since it is a computerized adaptive test, its a good idea to spend a bit more time on the first set of questions because they'll have a stronger sway. If you need to, take pause, clear your head, look at it again. Also, if you screw up majorly in the beginning, its not detrimental, you can swing back.

If you feel stuck, just try to eliminate answers. Work backwards from answers to the problem to see which ones don't make sense. This will give you a much more informed guess.

Did I mention keep breathing?

If your practice test on Monday is computerized, good. If its not, try to get the computerized versions since that's what you'll be faced with on test day.

Don't worry, you'll nail it.
posted by miasma at 10:07 PM on November 21, 2009

The biggest thing I did to prepare was to look at exactly what questions I got wrong on all the practice tests and try to identify patterns. For example, I noticed I was getting reamed on combination/permutation problems and Googled question sets, tips and tricks on that for an entire Saturday. By the time I was done, I felt way more confident.

It sounds like part of your issue was psyching yourself out. I took the GRE the same day as you did and did pretty well, and I'm convinced part of that is because I went and worked out like a crazy person before I went over to take the test. I think it helped get rid of a LOT of the stress I had about how I was going to do, because that day was pretty much as late as I could take it to get the scores back in time for my application deadline, so I didn't even have the option of retaking it.

Whatever you do to reduce stress normally, do it hard-core the couple days before the test. Working out is definitely good because it gets the blood flowing to your brain, but yoga or meditation or whatever else you normally do will almost definitely help.
posted by loudguitars at 10:16 PM on November 21, 2009

I took the Math Subject GRE twice. The first time I didn't study, and I got a 44th percentile score. Eugh. The next time, I just got serious about studying for a couple weeks and raised it to an 83rd percentile.

As far as the regular GRE goes, it seems like you know your stuff all right. The advice I always give on the verbal is to brush up on the Greek/Latin/etc root words. A decent knowledge of them let me guess very well on the words I didn't know when I took the GRE.

Beyond that, find your thing that helps you relax more than anything else. For me, it's a good video game. Be serious about studying, but keep enough of that thing in your schedule to keep your cool. In tests, just as in Street Fighter... you lose your cool, you lose half your skill.
posted by Earl the Polliwog at 3:34 AM on November 22, 2009

I would focus on studying only official past GREs. The Kaplan and Princeton tests are ok, but if you have real ones, stick with those. Kaplan and Princeton write good test taking and vocabulary guides.

One thing that helped me was to skip questions, especially the last few/hardest. I still scored in high 90th percentile on the GRE And GMAT by conceding the last 1, 2, 3 questions, giving me time to make sure I got the easier ones right.

Good luck.
posted by menevets at 6:03 AM on November 22, 2009

This may depend on your location, but my testing center offered the exam at different time slots from early morning to evening. If you schedule for the time of day when you're at your mental peak, then you'll be more comfortable and able while testing.

I took the GRE in late October, early morning, and didn't do as well as I wanted on the math portion. My fault: excess excedrin and caffeine without enough hydration led to a nosebleed/lightheadedness and not finishing the math. My retake was this past weekend at noon-thirty, and I ended up increasing my score by over 150 points on the quantitative.

Bring earplugs if you find them comfortable and useful. My first testing room was dead quiet, but the second had some ambient street noise and loud typers present.
posted by joydivasian at 1:29 PM on November 22, 2009

I took the GRE years ago and improved my verbal score by about 150 points just through memorizing words. I know it's not what most people like to hear, but the GRE verbal is a really a stupid test, requiring you to know words that you probably will never ever use. So go buy a copy of Barron's GRE Word List, or go here and make flashcards to memorize as many as you can. It's a bit tight if your exam is on the 8th, but you'll know most of these words already. Also remember to really take your time on the first three questions of the exam. The scoring is weird in that it tries to gauge your level buy adjusting the difficulty of the questions based on your responses. The first few questions determine how hard the rest of the exam is and the harder it is, the more the answers are worth.
posted by reformedjerk at 12:56 PM on November 23, 2009

If math is not your strong suit, why would you switch from GMAT to GRE? In my experience, the GRE math is harder.
posted by Jacqueline at 8:30 PM on November 23, 2009

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