Mom Brained
February 18, 2016 6:15 PM   Subscribe

Help me get through the GRE when I have serious mom brain, have not done math in like 18 years, and have always really hated taking tests.

I'm considering applying to a Masters program for the fall of next year (fall, 2017) that would require me to take the GRE. I know a lot of people have asked about how to do it and score well before, but still, need some support!

I don't need a great score (it's an MA in counseling), but I do need to take it, with some confidence.

I also have a 7-month-old baby, so my brain has very much been a little MEH the past year.

However, if I started slowly studying (like now), I figure I could take it in the late summer/fall. I don't have a lot of time (who does with a baby!) but I could work in 30 minutes here and there, and build up over time. (While the baby naps is actually the perfect time for me to do some studying.)

I'd love to just get 1 or 2 books that will help me build back up, from the ground up-- where I could start to work through some of the math, and then review as much vocab as possible. Definitely something that explains the strategies behind the math!

I'd also consider taking just a 4 week course if it would just save me the hassle of having to study on my own (has any one done this? Is it worth it? They are like $375 in my area.)

If you have any suggestions, let me know!! I know practice, practice, but I actually feel like I should study a bit before taking any practice tests so I don't totally freeze up.
posted by Rocket26 to Education (14 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
I got a book like this one. I took a practice test and then skimmed through the book focusing on math (but you could pick verbal). I did the practice questions along the way. I studied for about 30 minutes for a few weeks and my score went up. Score stayed up for the GRE itself. I think being a mom + student is about accepting good enough. Like 21 year old you may do 5% better but it really doesn't matter because you're still getting into this program.
posted by Kalmya at 6:22 PM on February 18, 2016

Take a practice test before you do anything. Maybe you're already doing okay.
posted by k8t at 6:25 PM on February 18, 2016 [3 favorites]

Khan Academy! I am also taking the GRE in the fall. I wanted to start from the ground up again, so that I could really understand the math instead of just applying formulas (the Masters programs I am applying for will actually use some math, so I'd like to review beyond just improving my score). Khan Academy has a school grades math track where it walks you through the American 1st-8th grade curriculum and then the high school subjects. I skimmed over the topics to find where my first point of 'huh, I don't remember how to do that' was and started there, skipping things that I already understand well.

It's really been helping me understand the basics. I highly recommend checking it out.
posted by imalaowai at 6:50 PM on February 18, 2016 [6 favorites]

If you do the practice tests, and find you need help in specific areas, I highly recommend Khan Academy. I know lots of kids who use it to supplement their high school education, and some people who have used it to prep for the GED. One of my returning-to-college-midlife friends used it while prepping for her GRE, and she overcame her math issues and did quite well enough. Clear and simple to follow videos.
posted by Nancy_LockIsLit_Palmer at 6:50 PM on February 18, 2016

Do you have a partner? If so, your partner needs to step up and make sure you have designated study time, preferably outside the home. Baby's daily nap time should be time for you to recharge. If you don't have a partner, do you family or friends who could watch the baby for you? In either case, mom brain can be helped a lot with dedicated you time. I did the whole nap when the baby does thing, but I have mom friends who found the same relief just by watching an uninterrupted episode of a TV show.
posted by Ruki at 7:24 PM on February 18, 2016 [2 favorites]

For the math part check out a great little book called 'precalculus mathematics in a nutshell' me back in the groove going back to school.
posted by sexyrobot at 7:45 PM on February 18, 2016

The most important thing is to do a LOT of problems that are similar to the ones that will be on the GRE. Even if you get most of the problems wrong at first, it will give you a clear idea of what you need to brush up on. I started studying for one major standardized test by going back to my class notes, and that was a total mistake--I needed to see what the patterns were in the question types and I was getting bogged down in little details when what I needed was big-picture stuff and pattern recognition. Once I realized that things went a lot faster.

Khan Academy is good for focused review, but you might also be fine with just renting an algebra textbook or something from Amazon. Try some different things and see what you feel you get the most out of. I'd skip a formal course unless you are not having too much success studying on your own--I think most of what they do is make sure you're focusing on high-yield stuff and just having your butt in a seat.

I studied for the GRE on the commuter train to work, 35 minutes each way, 5 days a week, for about a month. It was really good for me because it was a set, fairly short amount of time, and because there were not that many alternative things other than staring out the window that I could do with that time. If you create a schedule for yourself and stick to it you should be fine.
posted by The Elusive Architeuthis at 8:15 PM on February 18, 2016 [1 favorite]

I don't have any experience using Khan Academy to prep for the GRE, but I have a feeling these videos will be helpful.
posted by thursdaystoo at 8:35 AM on February 19, 2016

I found this study guide for GRE math (reviewed in blurker's link above) to be the best available. It is very on point about the material covered by the test and used copies are quite cheap online. I used nothing but that book and the official, free GRE materials and scored highly.
posted by reren at 10:22 AM on February 19, 2016

Use the free practice test on the college board website for a baseline (and try to block out enough time to do all of it in one go, like the test will be). I found that the practice tests in the book I got were significantly harder and had some poorly-worded questions, the college board one was just like the real test.
posted by momus_window at 10:29 AM on February 19, 2016

I took the GRE just a few months ago, and struggled with the math.

Math has always been my weakest subject, and it had been at least 15 years since I'd needed to do anything like what they're testing on the GRE. The GRE questions have a very particular style - you can't really just know the concepts and still expect to go in without reviewing exam strategy as well.

I started at the 20th percentile in math, but after working through all of the math practice questions in my study guide I bumped it up to the 60th percentile (good enough to get into my program). So, my advice is to pick a good study guide and just work through the practice sets.

I used this Kaplan book to prepare. It was great - you get access to take an online practice test that looks exactly like the real thing. That test gives you a good baseline for where to study. You can then focus on where you need the most attention.

I also downloaded a free app for my phone that promised problem sets. I flipped through many of those too, though in less detail - mostly just to keep things fresh in my mind, rather than to practice on the phone.

My biggest problem on the test date was time - each section has a time limit, and I found that it was just barely enough time to cover all of the questions. Be sure that you understand the concepts, but also give some attention to how efficiently you're moving through the questions - you don't want to leave some undone because you ran out of time.

Finally, I found the actual test experience slightly unusual - it would be good to go in knowing what to expect. My testing center (at a Prometric site) required you to come in with nothing - no phone, keys, wallet, etc. You even have to sign in and out (and go through a metal detector) to use the restroom. Don't let the process intimidate you - if you run through your practice sets now you'll be ready on the day of the exam.
posted by owls at 11:17 AM on February 19, 2016

@owl i have had the same experience and struggled with math. I have been using Barron's and Nova to help. The biggest problem for me is motivation and consistently doing it, so I am looking into a study partner that might be able to keep the motivation going. If you have the option, find one to motivate you.
posted by radsqd at 1:46 PM on February 19, 2016

I took the GRE two times and really struggled with the math. I strongly recommend Magoosh's online GRE program, especially for math preparation, and especially if it's been a while since you had to do high school math. There are videos covering every math concept on the test plus strategies for getting through the problems quickly, which is really your main goal for this test. Each video is pretty short (5-10 minutes). They have a couple online practice tests (which in my opinion helps you prepare for the real computer-based test better than books can) PLUS they have a very large bank of practice problems and solution videos to help you test your knowledge and predict how you'll do. It even times you during the practice problems to see how you compare to the average time people take on that problem.

You could easily do one or two videos and 5-10 practice problems a day and make really solid progress by summer. They also have a (free) vocab flashcard app that I used every day on the metro (~15-30 minutes a day) and I managed to get a really really good verbal score.

Magoosh's problems were, in my experience, the closest to the real GRE questions (and maybe a little bit harder than the real test). Definitely make sure they're having a sale though... you can get 6 months access for $99. They have these sales monthly, I think (seems to be on sale now through Feb 24th as well).
posted by Oliva Porphyria at 9:36 PM on February 19, 2016 [1 favorite]

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