The GRE is a standardized test that wrecked my summer in DC. Kidding, sort of.
When applying for grad school, the GRE is something you have to take if you want to attend a U.S. university. Sucks, but that’s the chops, so to make it suck less here is my guide to SLAYING the GRE!
1. Start studying early.
This one might seem obvious, but how early should you start studying? I suggest about 3-4 months before your test date. This will give you ample time to make it through all the study material and subject matter and still have time for multiple reviews and practice tests leading up to the test. This timeline also allows you to only needing to devote about an hour or two each night to studying. This means you can study and have a full time job, or be a full time student. For me, it meant I could have a full time internship the summer before senior and still take the GRE before the first day of classes in the fall.
2. Your study materials don’t have to cost an arm and a leg.
There are so many free online resources you can use! Personally, I bought two study books, one from the Princeton Review and one from Kaplan after I accidentally mailed the Princeton Review one to my home address instead of my D.C. address, as well as the Kaplan GRE vocabulary flashcards, which come with an app for your phone. In all it cost me under $50. Other than that, I used the free resources I found online. With just a quick Google search, you can find study schedules, flash cards, practice tests, and prep advice. I suggest trying a few different things and see what works for you. I was able to study my vocabulary on the Metro to and from work, so when I was at home I devoted my study time to the study books.
3. Track your progress
It is important to understand your strengths and weaknesses early, so you can prioritize your studying. Take a practice test before you start studying. Take it like you would the real exam, no notes, no phone, no computer, no calculator. This is your baseline. The GRE scoring guidelines should be in your practice book or you can find them online. After each section in my book, there was a mini practice test, which I scored. At the end of the Math part, there was another practice test, which I scored as well. I looked back to see if the questions I got wrong at the end of the Math section were part of the smaller sections I struggled with. I used these to note which sections needed more help than others and found other resources online to help me. I did this with the Reading and Writing portions too.
4. Take lots of practice tests.
The more you practice like it is the real test, the better you will do and the better you will understand what you need to work on. The practice tests are long, so make sure you block enough time out of your day to do the whole thing at once.
5. Understand what the essays want.
The two essays on the GRE are different than previous standardized tests. They are looking for more than a cookie cutter five paragraph essay, but they are not overly complex. The two different types require different writing skills. There are many free online resources that can help you and your study book should have practice essay questions and reviews.
6. Prepare for the week leading up to the test.
At this point, you should mostly be completing practice tests, reviewing vocab, and checking on a few key areas for review. Two days prior to your test should be your last study day. I do not suggest studying the day before or the day of the test. Give your brain and mind some rest. Eat well, load up on carbs like an athlete would and protein. Your brain needs fuel so it can remember all that you have learned and make it through the long test. The day before your test, try to relax, maybe have a movie night, or do yoga, something that calms you.
For the day of the test, you should have picked a time that will allow you ample time to get to your testing center and a time of day during which you work well. For me, it was late afternoon. This allowed me the morning and early afternoon to make sure I was well rested, well fed, and at the testing center with enough time before my test. In addition, I packed snacks and water.
7. Finally, make sure you are prepared for the test day of.
The testing center is required to take certain security measures, so make it easy on yourself. Dress accordingly, it can get cold in testing centers. Don’t bring too much extra stuff, just your snacks and water (left outside the testing room), and any materials you need in the testing room.
Now, breathe, relax. You know more than you could possibly regurgitate in a three hour test. You got this! Go kick the GRE’s butt.