Distractions are bad. Routine, concentration, and hard work are good. These all seem like common-sense rules for studying, right? Surprisingly (for many people, at least), learning science tells us that these “good habits” may actually be hurting your learning process!
When you were in college, your study process probably looked something like this: for a given class, you’d attend a lecture each week, do the readings (or at least most of them), and maybe turn in an assignment or problem set. Then, at the end of the semester, you’d spend a week furiously cramming all of that information to prepare for the test.
Since this is the way you’ve always studied, it’s probably how you’re approaching the GRE, too. But I have bad news: this is not an effective approach for the GRE!
Taking notes then cramming the night before the test is beneficial for tests that ask you to recite knowledge: “what were the major consequences of the Hawley-Smoot tariff” or “explain Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle.” You can hold a lot of facts -for a brief time – in your short-term memory when cramming. You memorize facts, you spit them out for the test… and then, if you’re like me, you find that you’ve forgotten half of what you memorized by the next semester.
Why the GRE is Different
The GRE doesn’t reward this style of studying because it’s not simply a test of facts or knowledge. The GRE requires you to know a lot of rules, of course, but the main thing that it’s testing is your ability to apply those concepts to new problems, to adapt familiar patterns, and to use strategic decision-making. You’ll never see the same problem twice. Even with vocabulary, you need a robust understanding of words, not just memorized definitions.
Manhattan Prep offers instructors flexible hours and great pay ($100/hour for all teaching and $116/hour for all tutoring). As a Manhattan Prep instructor, you will have autonomy in the classroom, but you will also be joining an incredibly talented and diverse network of people. We support our instructors by providing students, space, training, and an array of curricular resources.
Our regular instructor audition process, which consists of a series of videos and mini lessons, usually takes weeks, even months, to complete. Through this process we winnow an applicant pool of hundreds down to a few people each year.
We are offering a one-day event on March 9th for teachers interested in working with us. Candidates who attend will receive a decision that day. The event will take place at our Boston center at 140 Clarendon St., Main Fl (Back Bay), Boston, MA 02116. It is open to candidates who live in the Boston area, have taught before, and are experts in the GMAT, LSAT, or GRE.
The day will include several rounds of lessons, as well as other activities. Each round will be pass / fail. The day will begin at 10:30 am. It may last as late as 5:30 pm for those who make it through the final round. Candidates will need to prepare lessons for some rounds; we will send more detailed instructions to candidates when they sign up for the event.
To register, please email Rina at firstname.lastname@example.org by Thursday, March 5. Please include in your email a resume including your teaching experience and a score report.
Manhattan Prep is holding a two one-day auditions for new GRE, LSAT, and GMAT instructors in Dallas and Fort Worth! Come join us February 7th in Dallas or February 8th in Fort Worth at 10:00 AM and transform your passion for teaching into a lucrative and fulfilling part-time or full-time career.
Manhattan Prep offers instructors flexible hours and great pay ($100/hour for all teaching and $116/hour on all tutoring). In addition to teaching classes, instructors can work on other projects such as curriculum development.
Our regular instructor audition process, which includes a series of video, online, and in-person mock lessons, usually takes weeks, even months, to complete. However, we are offering one-day events on February 7th and on 8th for teachers interested in working with us. All candidates who attend will receive a decision that day.
The events will take place in Dallas and Fort Worth at the locations listed below. It is open to candidates who live in the area, who have teaching experience, and who are GRE, GMAT, and/or LSAT experts.
The audition will include several rounds of lessons, as well as other activities. Each round will be pass/ fail. The day will begin at 10 AM and may last as late as 5:30 PM for those who make it to the final round. Candidates will need to prepare lessons for some rounds; we will send a more detailed instruction packet to those who sign up for the event.
Dallas, TX (Saturday, February 7, 2015)
Meridian Business Center
6060 N. Central Expwy
Suite 560, 5th Fl.
Dallas, TX 75206
Fort Worth, TX (Sunday, February 8, 2015)
Courtyard Fort Worth at University
3150 Riverfront Drive
Fort Worth, TX 76107
To register, please email Rina at email@example.com. Make sure to include in your full name, an attachment of your resume detailing your teaching experience, and an official GRE, GMAT, or LSAT score report. We look forward to meeting you in February!
So, at the risk of boring you with some personal information, my girlfriend is planning on taking the GRE this spring. And, of course, she wants my advice. While thinking about how to best help her, it occurred to me that many of the things I’m telling her apply to everyone who is beginning her GRE preparations.
- Vocabulary is much more than just flash cards.
So you will, of course, be studying vocabulary. And one of the most effective ways to create a base vocab level is to create flash cards. Let’s be honest, some of this is just memorization, pure and simple. But if you stop at flashcards, you’re not preparing yourself for the GRE. The test will ask you to use your vocabulary in context, so why not study that way? Take a deck of 10-20 cards, and use each word in a sentence (bonus if you can get more than one in the same sentence!) to make a story. Anything you can think of that will push your vocabulary studies beyond flat memorization is helpful.
- The quantitative sections test strategy selection, not math.
And nowhere is this more apparent than in the Quantitative Comparison questions. Do you need to know math? Of course. Will math by itself get you a great score on the GRE? A resounding, definitive NO.
Think about it for a moment: you need to do some of these math questions in 60 seconds. There is no such thing as a challenging math question that can be answered in one minute; the GRE can’t be testing math, because the math simply isn’t at a terribly high level. There is no calculus, no trig. So what is the GRE testing, if not math?
It’s testing your ability to quickly and accurately analyze an abstract problem (in a mathematics context) and select a method that will supply an answer. Many times, if not the majority of the time, application of pure mathematics to arrive at an exact answer is wasting your time. So what other methods are there? Sometimes you’ll just want to throw numbers at a problem; other times, you may want to estimate a “close enough” answer.
The key is to REVIEW the questions you do, and identify exactly WHY a particular strategy is the best! While there are some general guidelines, the key is to identify why you like a particular strategy for a given problem.
What follows is the reason I wrote this post. The above is important, but I left the best for last!!
- You need a plan.
After all, it’s the New Year and we’re all trying to keep up with resolutions. What is a resolution? A commitment. A plan. You need one.
One challenge you may face is direct: how do you maintain the energy to study, and study well, after an exhausting day of work? In thinking of how to address this, I have tried to apply a method commonly used in a non-test preparation setting: exercise. (Again with the New Year’s Resolution theme, I guess!)
You need a plan, and you need variation in that plan. For example, many weight training programs alternate exercises by muscle group. Marathon trainers recommend switching exercises; you’re not running every day. And also, very importantly, you need REST.
So how does this apply to a GRE study plan? You can model your GRE plan on an exercise regimen; in an odd way, exercise is what you’re doing – exercising particular skills in the hope that these skills will improve. Here’s a sample plan for one week’s worth of GRE studies. (Important note: Just as you warm up before beginning an exercise routine, there is an unstated warm-up for each of these days: vocabulary. Each study session should begin with a vocabulary warm-up, and end with a vocabulary cool-down.)
Day 1: Intense Quant. Pick an area of math tested on the GRE, and push yourself to learn as much of this math as you can, both by reading and working problems (and REVIEW! Always review your work!). Maybe you’ve decided to learn everything there is to know about exponents? Or maybe you want to find out all the ways the GRE will test circle geometry?
Day 2: Text Completion. Do a set of one blank TC questions, then a set of 2-blank TC questions, and finally a set of 3-blank TC questions. What were some similarities in how you addressed the different questions? Where there any differences? Did you find a particular type more or less difficult?
Day 3: Rest. This is your day for outside reading. What novel, periodical, or journal are you reading that, while not directly related to the GRE, uses GRE level vocabulary? Or are you perhaps reading some science journals, because you really struggle with science-based Reading Comprehension passages?
Day 4: Quant v. 2.0. Dive into a particular question type. Maybe you want to focus on Data Interpretation questions, or perhaps you want to examine strategies for Quantitative Comparison questions?
Day 5: Reading Comprehension. Time to do the longest passage(s) you can find! Do you have a strategy to read effectively? And does your method for answering a RC question change based on how specific the question is?
Day 6: Vocabulary. This is the day to pull old vocabulary words into the more current studies. What words did you learn 4 days ago? 10 days ago? Note that this goes beyond just “what words will I learn today?” This is the day to create connections between words you learned in the last few days with words you learned a few weeks ago.
Day 7: Rest. Truly rest today. No GRE stress at all!
There are a few things you should keep in mind looking at the above plan:
- It’s a model, not a prescription. This is meant merely to show you the kind of plan you can create on a weekly basis; it’s not a “Do This and Exactly This!” thing.
- This is for one week; you should plan on several months of GRE preparation. Each week’s plan should change a bit – you want a plan, with planned variety!
- Just as you don’t spend 4 hours at the gym, you shouldn’t try to study for four hours. Take it one hour at a time; if you’re going to double-up, give yourself some rest in between study sessions.
- Take your practice tests, but take them purposefully! Check out this post for how that’s done.
Finally, I highly recommend you read this next!
For the first time ever, Manhattan Prep is holding a one-day audition for new GMAT, GRE, and LSAT instructors! Come join us December 14, 2014 at 9:00 AM and transform your passion for teaching into a lucrative and fulfilling part-time or full-time career.
Manhattan Prep offers instructors flexible hours and great pay ($100/hour for all teaching and tutoring). In addition to teaching classes, instructors can work on other projects such as curriculum development.
Our regular instructor audition process, which includes a series of phone, video, and in-person mock lessons, usually takes weeks, even months, to complete. However, we are offering a one-day event on December 14th for teachers interested in working with us. Candidates who attend will receive a decision that day.
The event will take place at our company headquarters at 138 West 25th St., 7th Floor, in Manhattan, New York City at 9:00 AM EST. It is open to candidates who live in the tri-state area, who have teaching experience, and who are GMAT, LSAT, or GRE experts.
The day will include several rounds of lessons, as well as other activities. Each round will be pass/ fail. The day will begin at 9 AM and may last as late as 4:30 PM for those who make it to the final round. Candidates will need to prepare lessons for some rounds; we will send a more detailed instruction packet to those who sign up for the event.
To register, please email Rina at firstname.lastname@example.org. Make sure to include in your full name, an attachment of your resume detailing your teaching experience, and an official GRE, GMAT, or LSAT score report. We look forward to meeting you on December 14th!
So you’ve just taken a practice test. Chances are, you didn’t get a perfect 340. (If you did, stop studying and come work for us!). You probably didn’t even get a score that you like yet. That doesn’t mean that you’ve failed, though. In fact, you’ve barely started, because…
REVIEWING IS THE MOST IMPORTANT PART OF THE PROCESS!!
Most people take tests, then look at the score, then click on the explanations to the ones they got wrong. Their review process takes about 15 minutes, and just involves “oh, I did that wrong. Oh, that’s the right answer.” This kind of review process teaches you next to nothing about how to do better on the next one.
So here’s what you need to do. The test gave you a score from 130-170 on accuracy, but you need to give yourself your own score on your review process. Here’s how it works…
For every single question – not just the ones you got wrong! – you should be going back and re-solving. Take yourself through this checklist for quant problems:
1) Did I fully understand the concept and the rules behind it? +1
Give yourself a point if you could tell that a question was asking about DIVISIBILITY, or understood the RATE x TIME = DISTANCE relationship.
2) Did I understand what the question was asking for? +1
Did you rephrase DS questions to pinpoint what they were really asking for? Did you notice that it asked for “Amy’s age in 5 years,” and wrote down A + 5 instead of just A? Did you understand what it means when they ask for “x in terms of y and z”?
3) Did you solve it correctly? up to +5
Give yourself up to 5 points if you solved correctly the first time and got the right answer. Subtract a point or two if you took longer than you should have, or made a mistake before ultimately correcting it. Only give yourself +1 for a random lucky guess and +2 for an educated guess.
4) … or if you didn’t solve correctly, did you make a good decision to skip? +2
You’re not aiming to get every single question right on the GRE. Some may be too hard to solve in the time given! So you should pat yourself on the back whenever you recognize that a question is too hard to solve, and you make the decision not to attempt it. Lock in an educated guess and save that extra time for a problem that is doable for you.
Of course, I certainly was NOT trying to discourage them. I used that statement to illustrate that geometry questions are often a type of quantitative question that can feel immensely frustrating! You know what shape you have, you know what quantity the question wants, but you have no idea how to solve for that quantity.
This is what I meant when I said you’ll never know how to answer these questions. That “leap” to the correct answer is impossible. You can’t get to the answer in one step, but that’s all right: you’re not supposed to!
(An important aside: if you’ve read my post regarding calculation v. principle on the GRE, you should be aware that I am discussing the calculation heavy geometry questions in this post.)
The efficient, effective approach to a calculation-based geometry question is NOT to try and jump to the final answer, but instead to simply move to the next “piece”. For example, let’s say a geometry question gives me an isosceles triangle with two angles equaling x. I don’t know what x is, and I don’t know how to use it to find the answer to the question. But I DO know that the third angle is 180-2x.
That’s the game. Find the next little piece. And the piece after that. And the piece after that. Let’s see an example.
The correct response to this problem is “Bu-whah??? I know nothing about the large circle!”
But you do know the area of the smaller circle. What piece will that give you? Ok, you say, area gives me the radius. A = pi*r^2, so pi = pi*r^2, so r^2 = 1, so r = 1. Done, and let’s put that in the diagram.
Some of you may have already read an excellent post discussing how you should study for the GRE, differentiating the application of skill as opposed to the application of knowledge. (Hint: you need both, but many people struggle to progress past pure knowledge!) If you have not read that post, you can find it here.
Today (or whenever you may be reading this) I would like to “riff” on that concept inside the quantitative section. Many, many students that I work with want to treat the GRE quantitative section as a math test: there’s an equation I should use, and a number I should solve for.
And sometimes, yes, that’s exactly what the test wants you to do. But there are other questions. Questions that don’t feel quite so … “math-y”. If you’ve taken a practice test, you probably know what I’m talking about, even if you can’t put your finger on an exact definition. You saw some questions that didn’t have an equation, or questions that had an equation but no definitive “x = 243” final answer. If you had a gut reaction of “This doesn’t feel like math?!?” to these questions, congratulations! You are well on your way to a more nuanced understanding of what the GRE quantitative section wants from you!
This is what I mean in the title “Calculation versus Principle”. Some GRE quant questions are best approached through the application of various math principles; running calculations on these questions is often too time-consuming.
(As an aside, when I use the term “calculation” I am not referring to questions you would plug into a calculator. Any questions that require mathematic manipulations to find a definitive numerical result are calculation questions.)
If I were teaching a class, this is about the point where I would get tired of talking. I’m tired of talking, let’s see an example!
Ah, yes, a lovely quant comparison question. What follows is a transcription of a hypothetical test-taker’s calculation approach. Feel free to skim the next two paragraphs; the purpose here is NOT for you to know the calculation approach, but instead to compare this approach to a principle-based approach.
***Begin hypothetical calculation test-taker.***
“I need to compare the area of a triangle to the area of a square. Well that’s easy! Area = ½ b*h , and Area = side*side. Ok, what’s the …. Uh-oh. What am I supposed to do with this? They haven’t given me numbers. No wait, when they don’t give me numbers, I’m allowed to choose numbers that fit the problem. Ok, a triangle and a square have the same perimeter. Let’s make the perimeter 12, so I can easily make a 3-sided and 4-sided figure. Ok, square with sides = 3, area is 3*3 = 9. All right, quantity B is 9. Let’s get quantity A.”
“What triangle should I make? Right triangles are easy, could I make a right triangle? Hey, a 3-4-5 right triangle has a perimeter of 12! Ok, so it’s ½ b*h, and that’s ½ (3)(4) so the triangle has an area of 6 – that’s definitely less than 9. But the problem didn’t tell me it was a right triangle; am I allowed to assume that? No, I should probably try another triangle. Well, I could make an equilateral triangle – 4-4-4. What would the area of this triangle equal? The base is 4, but what’s the height? Ok, I’ll have to draw the height. Ah, I have a 30-60-90 triangle inside here, and the 60 side is going to be . This will have an area of ½ (4)(3.7) – that will be 2*3.7, which is 7.4. Still less than 9. Ok, the answer is B.”
***End hypothetical calculation test-taker.***
Well, this person is correct. The answer is B, quantity B is always larger. But wow, that was a lot of work, and in all honesty, I tried to make this hypothetical test-taker an extremely accomplished GRE quant test-taker. The immediate jump to number testing, the recognition that we need to actively try to find the maximum area triangle to correctly compare that to the square area, the immediate recognition of easy right triangles and the immediate ability to calculate the area of the equilateral triangle, the quick estimation of … these are all possible, but to do them all in the same problem, and do them correctly? I would prefer an easier way.
So let’s see what happens when we apply a general principle to this problem.
***Begin hypothetical principle approach test-taker***
I’m comparing the area of a square to the area of a triangle. The perimeters have to be the same. Ok, I know that all else being equal, if I want to maximize the area of a shape, I want it to be symmetrical. A square has more area than a rectangle with the same perimeter. What’s the most symmetrical shape? A circle. So the closer my shape gets to a circle – the more sides I put in it – the more I’m maximizing my area. Ok, the square has more sides, and therefore the larger area. B.
***End hypothetical principle approach test-taker***
Hopefully you agree that the principle-based approach is far simpler, just as accurate, and requires much less time.
So now comes the fun part – how do we learn the principles, and how do we know when to apply them?
Learning the Principles
There is no easy answer to this, but I can provide some guidelines. Look through your GRE study sources. If they look anything like mine (which are, of course the Manhattan Strategy Guides), there are certain concepts that are in boldface. Compare the following options, all of which at least partly appear in bold in my strategy guides:
1) “Sides correspond to their opposite angles…. The longest side is opposite the largest angle, and the smallest side is opposite the smallest angle.”
2) “The internal angles of a triangle must add up to 180 degrees.”
3) “Rate x Time = Distance”
4) “For some grouping problems, you may want to think about the most or least evenly distributed arrangements of the items.”
Items 1 and 4 are what I would call principle statements. They give relationships or strategies, but don’t readily lend themselves to equations. Items 2 and 3 are calculation statements. They either state clearly defined numerical quantities (and therefore easily lend themselves to equation creation, a la “a+b+c = 180”) or literally state an equation.
Look through your study materials. The more the content seems to address relationships or ideas that don’t correspond to exact numbers or exact equations, the more you should consider applying these ideas as large principles.
There is one particular area that I feel deserves special mention: number properties. GRE questions that revolve around positive vs. negative, even vs. odd, prime vs. composite numbers are more often than not principle based. There are broad principles that define specific relationships across these types of numbers. Similarly, the GRE often asks questions that either revolve around or take advantage of what I call “trick” numbers: -1, 0, and 1; and proper fractions, either positive or negative. These numbers have special properties; learning these properties, as opposed to needing to do exact calculations, can save you much heartache on the test.
Applying the Principles
When should we apply the principles? This question relies on you closely reviewing your work. Whenever a question asks for a relationship between items without providing solid numbers, perhaps you could apply a broad principle. Whenever a question seems to rely less on solving for a specific quantity, and more on identifying what kind of quantity will result – “which of the following must be odd” – perhaps you could apply a general principle. And finally, if a question permits trick numbers, there may be a principle you could apply.
As you review your work, ask yourself the following question: “Is there a way I could have answered this question without doing any actual math?” If the answer is yes, you have found a principle question.
Good luck, and happy studying!!
From a psychological perspective, this is a fascinating phenomenon. Somehow, while a part of us thought we were reading happily along, another part was off somewhere else—ruminating on some joke we recently heard, fretting about an upcoming assignment, or planning dinner.
But whatever it is in the mind that allows us to basically be just wrong about the contents of our own thoughts (to believe we’re learning about mating practices of chimpanzees but really be hankering for spaghetti carbonara), one thing that’s certain is we can’t have this happen while we’re tackling a long reading passage in the Verbal section of the GRE on Test Day. Spacing out may be fine to varying degrees in the course of everyday life, but it can’t happen during the GRE.
Fortunately, there are some tricks and strategies you can learn now to help prevent this type of thing from happening, and to improve your overall comprehension of reading passages. The main goal, remember, is not to know the entire passage by heart—but rather to have a solid grasp of two basic things: first, the purpose and structure of the passage; second, where to find certain details in the passage should you encounter a question about them. Here are three tips to help you accomplish this:
Tip 1: Put yourself in the author’s shoes. GRE passages are often culled from, or imitations of, genuine texts from scientific, literary, or historical publications. What that means is that someone spent time and energy crafting the argument you see before you. Someone had a real-live thought, opinion, or belief that he or she wanted other people to know, and sat down in front of a keyboard and carefully deliberated about how best to convey this idea to a non-expert reader. By imagining this person’s motivations, you can often end up with a much more vivid picture of the content and purpose of the passage. What is the principal idea the author is trying to get across? If you were the author, how would you express these ideas? Visualizing a real person typing real ideas onto a real computer screen is a great way of plucking abstract notions from the ether and dragging them down to earth.
Tip 2: Engage emotionally. If someone asked you comprehension questions about what happened in the gripping last season of Breaking Bad, you would have no problem picking out the right answer. Why? Because human beings remember better things they actually care about. When something matters to us, our brain is more active, forming neural pathways that you can draw from in subsequent memory tasks. The more you can bring yourself to care about the content of the passage, the stronger your activation signal will be, and the clearer your mental picture. Many people find science passages particularly daunting, and immediately zone out at the sight of words like “electrochemical” and “tectonic.” If you imagine, though, some epic drama taking place between, say, the earth’s molten core and the hardened outer crust above it, you may find that previously yawn-worthy topics take on a certain pizzazz.
Tip 3. Know what NOT to read. The trickiest part of the GRE is timing. Many people feel like they’d have no trouble getting all the answers if they only had enough time. Unfortunately, given these temporal limitations, our job is rather to read as efficiently and effectively as possible—so get good at knowing what not to read. When you see a list of complicated terms, make a note of where it is, but just say No to laboring over each of its tiny details. See an in-depth description of some tangential topic? Just say No—and make a note of where it is. Come across a lengthy aside that seems unrelated the main idea? Again: say No. You don’t have time to get bogged down in these details. Sure—if a question comes up about them, you’ll know where to look. But for now, you’re reading Big Picture.
Overall, then, the key to your success is going to be about striking the perfect balance. Engage deeply the text, but don’t get too sucked in. The more you can cultivate these strategies as you practice, the better off you’re going to be when facing those initially unnerving—but ultimately conquerable—passages on Test Day.
Studying for the GRE take a free GRE practice exam, or try out one of our upcoming free Manhattan GRE trial classes, running all the time near you, or online. And, be sure to find us on Facebook, LinkedIn, and follow us on Twitter!
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Studying for the GRE? Take a free GRE practice exam, or try out one of our upcoming free Manhattan GRE trial classes, running all the time near you, or online. And, be sure to find us on Facebook, LinkedIn, and follow us on Twitter!