Whenever you do practice GRE problems, you should spend significantly more time reviewing each problem than you spent doing it. Many students have asked me this very reasonable question, though: “What am I supposed to actually do when I review?” Here’s the answer. This review process will help you squeeze more out of every problem you do. Read more
GRE high-scorers might not be smarter than everyone else, but they do think about the test differently. One key difference is in how high-scorers do algebra. They make far fewer algebraic mistakes, because, either consciously or subconsciously, they use mathematical rules to check their work as they simplify. Here’s how to develop that habit yourself. Read more
There’s a better way to learn GRE vocabulary, and it’s based on scientific principles that have been demonstrated by researchers since the 1800s. It’s called spaced retrieval, and the basic idea is this: Read more
They found the course to be so informative that they published a nifty piece featuring a decision tree for prospective b-school students grappling with the age-old (or 2-years old, as it were) GMAT vs. GRE quandary; check it out below!
Imagine that you asked a friend of yours what she got on the Quant section of the GRE. Instead of answering you directly, she said “let’s just say that 4 times my score is a multiple of 44, and 3 times my score is a multiple of 45.”
Could you tell what score she got? If not… you may need to work on your GRE translation skills! Read more
So, you’ve taken a practice test! Maybe you’re closing in on the score you want, or maybe you still have some distance left to travel. Regardless of which scenario applies to you, “reading” your practice test data is an incredibly crucial element to GRE progress!
I write this assuming I don’t need to discuss looking at your score, comparing overall quantitative to overall verbal, etc. Everyone looks at the ‘big’ numbers. The question is, what eureka moments can we gain from a deeper analysis?
There are three components to analyzing a practice test: analyzing timing, analyzing accuracy by question type, and analyzing accuracy by topic tested.
You can’t analyze your timing until you know what your timing should look like.
Does anything stand out to you in image above? Why do some questions take you less than one minute, while some take more than three? We expect some variation across different questions – Reading Comprehension should take longer than Text Completion or Sentence Equivalence, and Data Interpretation questions (especially the first DI question) will usually take longer than Quantitative Comparison. But why are there such wide swings in question time within the QC question? And I can’t help but notice that the two Discrete Quantity questions both took less time than the vast majority of the QC questions. Perhaps this is someone who is skilled in math, but doesn’t yet truly grasp the logic underlying the QC questions.
A review of QC as a question type is probably called for from this practice test.
Another element of timing is more fundamental (and the above image captures this concept also). Do you know when to let a question go, guess, and move on to the next question? Any time you spent three minutes on a question, you had a problem letting go. Right or wrong, that question hurt you.
Bottom line, when you analyze timing in a practice test, you want to see two things: 1) question by question timing – were you able to let a question go when needed, and 2) question type timing – do you have the desired timing for each question type?
Now it’s time to Generate an Assessment Report!!! (It’s exciting because it’s got three exclamation points )
Analyzing Accuracy by Question Type
Take a few moments and see what you can find in the image above. Don’t worry, I’ll wait
Seriously, there’s a lot you should consider here. If you haven’t been looking for at least 5 minutes, you haven’t spent enough time. And although I *said* this is the Accuracy analysis portion of this post, we’re not done with timing.
First, let’s talk good decisions vs poor decisions. Good decisions – on TC, you know when to get out of a question. Look at the Average Time Wrong vs Average Time right for the Harder and Devilish TC questions. That’s what we want to see! This indicates you recognize when more time will/won’t pay off. (Maybe… more on this in a moment.)
So why aren’t you making the same decisions in SE?
Finally, why, why, why are you spending five minutes – on AVERAGE across three questions – in RC? What’s going on here? There’s some leeway in RC, because of the time needed to read and process a longer passage, but not five minutes leeway.
On the Easier RC question that you missed, you missed it in one minute. This indicates you were confident in your answer. Confident in the wrong answer – somewhere in this question is a trap that you fell for, and you need to figure out what that trap was!
Back to the TC timing: one possibility is you know when to get out of TC, and that’s why your wrong answers take less time than the right answers. Another, more disturbing possibility, is you’re cheating yourself on TC time. How do I know this? Look at the variation between TC and SE accuracy – it’s not huge, but the discrepancy is there. Why is TC accuracy lower?
Finally, the most obvious element of this analysis is that RC is your lowest accuracy. Time to go back and study!!!
Analyzing Accuracy by Topic Tested
This issue cannot be addressed by looking at one image – you will generate an assessment report, and view the Analysis by Content Area and Topic. There are a few things you’re looking for here.
First, and foremost, are you seeing accuracy and speed in topics you’ve studied? If you haven’t studied Geometry yet, who cares if your Geometry accuracy is 20%! But you’ve spent two full weeks reviewing algebra, so why are you missing 2 out of 3 function/formula questions? Bright side though, your accuracy in Quadratics is through the roof!!
Obviously that paragraph is a hypothetical, but notice two things: first, you need to decide which area(s) deserve your analysis; second, you need to look not just at the overall topic, but also at the subtopics.
You’re looking for improvements and discrepancies. Which areas are strong? Which are weak? Do you have a mix of strong and weak areas in one major topic? These are all question you need to ask yourself.
BUT you need to take this with a grain of salt – don’t neglect to consider the difficulty of the individual questions! Yes, maybe you missed 2 function questions. But they were both Devilish difficulty! You’re not weak in this area, you just got hit by some of the worst questions.
Finally, don’t neglect to examine timing in this area of analysis. Yes, you were accurate in Rates questions. But you spent 4 minutes on them. Time to study!!
I hope you’ve found this helpful. If you go back and look at my previous GRE blog posts, I think you’ll notice that this post contains many, many more rhetorical questions. That’s the point of practice test analysis. In the test, and when you’re studying, the computer, or the book, or whatever study source you’re using is asking you questions.
Analyzing your practice tests is the time for you to ask the questions. What are the weak areas? Strong areas? Why am I performing differently in Word Problems vs Geometry?
And there’s one question you must ask, which I haven’t addresses, simply because of how much space it would require – Are you seeing improvement???
Every time you take a practice test, from the second practice test on to the last, look at the most recent test, do all this analysis. Then look at the test prior – what’s changed? What has stayed the same? Have you improved in your weaknesses, and have strengths remained strong?
A practice test doesn’t teach you anything in and of itself – but it tells you where you are, and where you’re moving, and what you *should* be teaching yourself.
This is going to be a short post. It will also possibly have the biggest impact on your study of anything you do all day (or all month!).
When people ramp up to study for the GRE, they typically find the time to study by cutting down on other activities—no more Thursday night happy hour with the gang or Sunday brunch with the family until the test is over.
There are two activities, though, that you should never cut—and, unfortunately, I talk to students every day who do cut these two activities. I hear this so much that I abandoned what I was going to cover today and wrote this instead. We’re not going to cover any problems or discuss specific test strategies in this article. We’re going to discuss something infinitely more important!
#1: You must get a full night’s sleep
Period. Never cut your sleep in order to study for this test. NEVER.
Your brain does not work as well when trying to function on less sleep than it needs. You know this already. Think back to those times that you pulled an all-nighter to study for a final or get a client presentation out the door. You may have felt as though you were flying high in the moment, adrenaline coursing through your veins. Afterwards, though, your brain felt fuzzy and slow. Worse, you don’t really have great memories of exactly what you did—maybe you did okay on the test that morning, but afterwards, it was as though you’d never studied the material at all.
There are two broad (and very negative) symptoms of this mental fatigue that you need to avoid when studying for the GRE (and doing other mentally-taxing things in life). First, when you are mentally fatigued, you can’t function as well as normal in the moment. You’re going to make more careless mistakes and you’re just going to think more slowly and painfully than usual.
In a way, the environmental movement can still be said to be _________ movement, for while it has been around for decades, only recently has it become a serious organization associated with political parties and platforms.
The above sentence is a SE example from the 5Lb Book of GRE Practice Problems, #89. Today’s discussion explores a third element of sentence structure that is easily overlooked – pronouns! They can greatly help you clarify the meaning of a sentence. (And if you didn’t notice already, do you see what I did in the previous sentence? They – did this pronoun catch your eye?)
The challenge with pronouns isn’t that they are difficult to address, it’s that they are nearly invisible to us, because we have spent our entire adult lives ignoring them when we read and speak. As a test, how many pronouns have I used just in this short paragraph?
Here’s one way I want you to ‘see’ the earlier SE example:
In a way, the environmental movement can still be said to be ________ movement, for while it has been around for decades, only recently has it become a serious organization associated with political parties and platforms.
Stop mid-sentence, and address those ‘it’s. This mental exercise is not about finding the target, clues, and pivots, although you should be aware a pronoun could certainly be the target. This is about making sure you understand the sentence. Mentally, you should read the sentence as
So, in my last post, I discussed finding the core sentence, using punctuation to help us break a sentence into manageable chunks. We looked at two sentences; I’ve re-copied one of them below.
The director’s commercially-motivated attempts to (i)_______ the imperatives of the mass marketplace were (ii)_______, as evidenced by the critical acclaim but low attendance garnered by his film.
We focused on how the comma breaks the sentence in half: one half is the actual core sentence, and the other half describes how the director’s attempts were critically, but not commercially, successful.
This time, let’s dive into what’s happening with that first blank, and now I’ll give you the answer options:
Many, many students in my classes choose ‘secure’, and that really puzzled me. If a class doesn’t know the answer, there’s usually a fairly even division among the choices. What I saw wasn’t students guessing; they thought they had the correct choice in ‘secure’. Somehow, the third option was a trap. How?
I have a theory: ‘secure’ is a trap because students link the first blank to the wrong element, the wrong target. I think many students link that first blank to the word ‘marketplace’, and then think about how someone would want to ‘secure’ a ‘market’ for a product (in this case, a film).
While studying for the GRE Text Completion (TC) and Sentence Equivalence (SE) questions, you naturally want to study vocabulary. After all, that’s what the test is testing, right?
Yes and no. The GRE does test vocabulary, but it also tests your ability to analyze a sentence and divine the author’s intended meaning. (And for those of you keeping score at home, did I use the word ‘divine’ correctly? Are you familiar with this less common usage?)
And so, we preach (sorry, with the word ‘divine’ earlier, I had to!) a method for TC and SE that involves identifying the Target, Clues, and Pivots in the sentence. All well and good, but how do you to this? Here’s where the following limited grammar discussion should help, because although the GRE does not directly test grammar, a little grammar knowledge can be immensely helpful!
We begin with the core elements that every sentence contains: the subject and the verb. Separating the subjecting and the verb from other elements (which I will generically call descriptors) is part 1 of my TC and SE analysis. Part 2 is matching each descriptor to what it describes.
So let’s see two examples. One is a TC example from Lesson 1, the other is a SE example from the 5 lb. Book.