knowledge-vs-skillFor me, the material you need to study for the GRE can be divided into two groups. No, not verbal and math. Knowledge and skills. Differentiating these two groups is important because they are learned in very different ways.

Learning Knowledge

So far, I would bet that most of your study time, from elementary school through college, was devoted to learning information. The skill of remembering facts is something that most of us have practiced quite a bit in the school realm. And sure, some of us are better than others at doing so, but mostly we at least have an idea where to start.

The knowledge, or information and facts, tested on the GRE would include vocabulary words, properties of numbers, mathematical definitions, and mathematical formulas.

I’ve written in the past about lots of unique ways to learn vocabulary, but ultimately I think that the techniques for learning knowledge fit into four categories:

(1)   Drill. This would include writing words and definitions, making and reviewing flashcards, listing out numbers that fit a certain property, and writing and re-writing formulae. All these methods have their place.

(2)   Explain.  It’s generally easier to remember something if you understand it. For that reason, trying to explain a fact is a good way to learn it. This category would include studying with a partner, defining a word using its roots, and proving a mathematical formula.

(3)   Link. Tying new information to information you already know is a good way to remember it. This would include finding a vocabulary word in a TV show or song, linking a word to its antonym, using one math formula to remember another, or building more specific geometry rules from the rules you already know.

(4)   Use. I find that the saying “use it or lose it” is pretty applicable to learning. This category would include using new vocabulary in conversation or emails, writing sentences with vocab words, and doing practice math exercises.

There’s probably not that much new here so far. But that’s the key: we’re only halfway done.

That’s not enough!

Many students feel frustrated with the GRE because they feel like they know and understand the underlying math or vocabulary, but still aren’t seeing their scores improve as much as they would like. If you’re in the boat, don’t panic!

If you feel like you understand the underlying material but aren’t seeing your score improve as quickly as you’d like, or even at all, it might be that you’ve only worked on the knowledge and haven’t yet worked on the skills. Or, you’ve worked on the skills, but in the wrong way.

It’s not that your time has been wasted – you need that underlying knowledge to succeed on the test. But on its own, it won’t be enough.

So, what are the skills we need, and how do we learn them?

Learning Skills

Skills are learned differently than knowledge. You didn’t make flashcards to learn to play the piano. You didn’t learn to ice skate by writing the names of ice skating moves over and over in a book.

If you want to know the capital of Maine, and you don’t know, there’s no way to figure it out on your own. You have to look it up, and once you look it up, at least for that moment, you know the answer. That’s knowledge, and it’s often learned in that way: don’t know, give up, look at the answer, know, repeat.

Skills don’t work like that. If you show up at a piano lesson, and the teacher asks you to play a song for the first time, you’ll probably try it and make a lot of mistakes. What then? Well, what you don’t do is ask the teacher to play it for you and then say, “Oh yeah, that sounds right – I got it now!” and then move on without ever looking at it again.

I hope that piano lesson scenario sounds crazy to you. And similarly, I hope you can see why doing a math problem, getting it wrong, reading the answer, understanding it, and moving on is equally crazy. Being able to solve a math problem requires some underlying knowledge, but ultimately, it’s a skill, like playing the piano or running a marathon.

Because of that, you have to practice it like a skill. The skills on the GRE would include things such as solving a multiple choice geometry problem, solving a quantitative comparison question, guessing on a quantitative comparison question, solving a sentence completion question, staying calm during a timed exam, and deciding when to move on from a question.

How do you practice skills? Generally, I would employ a 4-part process:

(1)   Try it timed. Just like the piano student in the above example, you should give the problem a try from the beginning. This lets you practice your own set of testing skills: assessing the problem, timing, guessing, and moving on.

(2)   Re-work untimed.  What do you think that piano teacher would have the student do next? Most likely, go back and try to work on the parts of the song that were hard. Similarly, you should go back and try to work on the problem on your own. See if you can get unstuck and get yourself to the right answer.

At this stage, the piano teacher might also interject some tips or reminders. You can do the same for yourself by using resources such as your strategy guides, other problems you’ve done, or definitions you don’t remember if you need them.

(3)   Use the answers (sparingly). If that piano student is really stuck, the teacher might show him or her what to do – but only until the student gets unstuck. You should do the same with your answers. If you need to, start reading the answer, but only until you come across something you did wrong and didn’t recognize. Then, stop, and go back to working on your own as far as you can. Repeat this process as needed.

(4)   Record a take-away. When you’re playing the piano, you create muscle memory that lets you reuse what you’ve learned in other contexts later. Recording a take-away has a similar effect. This is the chance to look back at the problem and say, “Hmm, what could I have seen/known from the beginning that would have let me get this problem right the first time?” Then, write down a sentence that takes the form of, “When I see _________ in a problem, ____________________,” where the first blank tells you what trigger to look for, and the second blank tells you what to remember, what rule to apply, what to think about, or what you can expect to happen in the answer.

It’s not that most of us have never learned a skill – all of us have. Even if you haven’t played a sport or a musical instrument, you probably know how to drive, use a computer, and do all kinds of unique things at your job. It’s just that we don’t often apply those skill-learning skills to academic tasks – but for the GRE, they will make a big difference.

gre-words-vocabularyI have a confession: I really don’t like learning vocab. I’m also not particularly good at learning it. So to score in the 99th percentile on the GRE, I really had to pull out all the stops.

Sometimes you’ll see a GRE word that you recognize, but won’t know what it means. If you recognize it as a brand name, but don’t know what it means, chances are it means something good: most brands don’t want to be named after something bad. (There are certainly exceptions: the website Gawker comes to mind.)

Here are 15 GRE words that are also brand names. Sometimes the brand name comes from the definition, and sometimes not. But maybe associating them with their brand will help you remember what they mean!

1.     Kindle. To kindle something means to spark it, or light it on fire. You probably already know the word “kindling”, but if not, think of the Kindle e-reader, designed to spark your imagination with all your reading at your fingertips.

2.     Hedonism. A hedonist is someone who seeks out pleasure. It’s often associated with the ideas of being overly focused on pleasure, particularly in relation to physical pleasure. A quick glance at the web page of Hedonism Resorts, an adults-only all-inclusive Carribbean resort with devil horns on its logo, might help you remember this word.

3.     Lampoon. National Lampoon mocks things. It makes fun of them. The magazine has spun off movies such as “Animal House” and “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation”. Hopefully that will help you remember that to “lampoon” something means to make fun of something with sarcasm.

4.     Intrepid. Intrepid means fearless. It describes an adventurer. So it makes sense that Dodge would want to name a car after that characteristic, considering other Dodge models include the Avenger, Challenger, Charger, and Journey. (The name Dodge itself is a family name – otherwise it would be a pretty odd choice for a company so interested in naming things after bravery.)

5.     Amazon. Probably everyone knows Amazon as an online marketplace (and, of course, as a huge forest in South America). Jeff Bezos has said that he chose the name Amazon in part because he wanted his store to be “exotic and different” like the Amazon itself. The word Amazon refers to a strong, statuesque woman, as it was the mythological name of a group of women warriors. The forest is named Amazon because of the women who fought in battle there, but thinking of the website Amazon might help you think of something powerful and strong.

6.     Balderdash. Balderdash is a pretty well-known board game where players must make up definitions of words and try to trick other players into voting for their definition over the real one. It’s well-named, as “balderdash” means nonsense. That’s exactly what the game has everyone writing!

7.     Fiat. Another car makes the list. A fiat, by definition, is a decree. It’s often applied to an authorization of power. Fiat is a large Italian automobile manufacturer, and while the name wasn’t intended this way (it’s actually an acronym for Fabbrica Italiana Automobili Torino), I use the brand name to help me remember that the word means a decree. Maybe your fancy Italian car is a decree of your power, and your ability to do what you want because you say so.

8.     Bazaar. Bazaar is a popular women’s fashion magazine, showcasing the best products from around the world. That may help you to remember that a bazaar is a large market with all kinds of eclectic and interesting offerings.

9.     Fidelity. Fidelity means faithfulness and loyalty. What better name would you want for a bank? Even better, Fidelty’s advertisements use the full name, “Fidelity Bank and Trust”. Getting the word trust in there really helps cement the link in your brain.

10.  Pedigree. Even if you’ve never purchased dog food, you probably know that Pedigree is a brand of dog food. It’s also a way of marking an animal as purebred through its ancestry records. Your pedigree is your lineage – in layman’s terms, a measure of how fancy you are. What a good name for a food product that’s marketed as a high-quality item for beloved pets.

11.  Prudential. Here’s another well-named “Bank and Trust”! Prudential, like prudent, means making good and careful decisions, particularly relating to money or business. Who wouldn’t want a bank that does that?

12.  Hallmark. Hallmark has worked very hard to remind us, with its gold crown stamp, that Hallmark is the type of card you send “when you care enough to send the very best.” A hallmark is technically a stamp on something showing its quality, but has evolved to mean any literal or figurative mark of quality. In other words, that gold crown stamp is the hallmark of an overpriced greeting card.

13.  Finesse. Do you have finesse? I don’t, in life, but I do under my sink. Finesse is a brand of shampoo and other hair products designed to be delicate on hair and create beautiful results. To have finesse means to have a delicate, subtle, or refined manner in doing something.

14.  Nirvana. Some of you didn’t go to high school in the 1990s, but for those of us who did, the word “Nirvana” is more synonymous with Kurt Cobain than Buddhism. Cobain reportedly picked the name because he wanted something “kind of beautiful or nice or pretty”. Nirvana is a transcendent state free of suffering, free of worldly worries and is often used on the GRE as a synonym for peace. When Nirvana frontman Cobain committed suicide in 1994 after a long battle with depression, the name took on an eerie meaning for many fans.

15.  Essence. Our second magazine on the list, “Essence” is a magazine for African-American women. The essence of something is the indispensable quality that determines its character: the abstract or special quality that makes something what it is. It makes sense that a women’s magazine which set out to empower, inform, and entertain might want to remind its readers of the intrinsic, unique quality that makes them who they are.

What other brand names help you to remember GRE definitions? Share them in the comments — and be sure to like us on Facebook for more GRE fun!

test-anxietyI want to preface this article by saying that I’m not a psychiatrist, psychologist, therapist, or expert in test anxiety. I’m simply a tutor who has helped students prepare for standardized tests for the past 15 years.

Studying math is important. Studying verbal is important. Studying the test itself is important. But what about when you’ve done all that, and you can’t overcome the anxiety that holds you back from achieving your dream score? What about that panic that makes your brain fuzzy? What about the flustered feeling that stops you from showing what you know?

Everyone feels some pressure during the test, but test anxiety may be having a negative impact on your score if any of the following are consistently true for you:

  • Your real exam scores are significantly lower than your practice test scores.
  • When the timer is set, you feel unable to answer a question that is easy for you once the timer is off.
  • You find yourself unable to move forward through a real or practice test and resort to panicked guessing.
  • Many of your practice tests remain uncompleted because you are overwhelmed by pressure during the test and find that you need a break.

Everyone experiences anxiety in different ways. But the good news is that there are many strategies you can use to mitigate test anxiety and improve both your comfort level and your store. Here are a few strategies you can try.

1.     Work small to big. Many times students do their homework one question at a time, and then take a practice test. That’s like going from finding your golf grip to competing in a tournament. No wonder it makes you anxious!

Instead, think about increasing the amount of timed questions in small intervals. Start by timing one question at a time, then two, then four, and slowly increase the amount until the test doesn’t feel so daunting.

2.     Focus on calmness, not scores. We know that the GRE score is important, but math and verbal aren’t the only areas you need to study. So is staying calm, keeping your mental focus, and honing the ability to work quickly and effectively in mental “crisis” mode instead of hurried and frazzled in “panic” mode.

How can you practice such a thing? Try practicing a full test (or a smaller problem set) with your only goals as staying calm and staying on time. Those are both things that need active practicing, and it can help to experience the exam while calm, when the focus is off the score. You might even find that your score holds its own… or goes up!

3.     Mix topics slowly. If all your studying has been one topic at a time, it can be overwhelming to take a real exam. Not only are many topics mixed, but also it can be the first time you’ve had to actively identify what is being tested in the question.

You can help remove anxiety caused in this way, and also increase your score significantly, by mixing topics slowly. When you study one topic, force yourself to identity how you can tell what topic is being tested just by looking at the question. Once you’ve done that with two topics, try mixing them together. Then add one more topic at a time.

4.     Make a plan, take a break. This seems simple and straightforward, but it really can help. I know that every second is precious on the GRE, and many of us feel time pressure during the exam. Sometimes, that time pressure can put us in panic mode, where we feel like any second we aren’t “doing something” is a second wasted, so we rush into working without a plan.

Generally, making a plan is worthwhile. Taking a moment to figure out why type of question you’re doing and how to attack it will generally be faster than jumping right into solving, which may send you down the wrong path and not allow you to pick up key signals.

In addition, you may find that a short break, just 10 or 20 seconds where you close your eyes and take a deep breath, helps you to refocus and ends up saving you time.

5.     Study for question recognition. This suggestion applies whether you have test anxiety or not, because it’s the clearest and most direct way to improve your score (after learning the underlying basics). When you get a question wrong, you don’t just want to learn what the right answer is. At least as importantly, and I would argue more importantly, you want to answer the question, “What did I need to recognize or know to get this question right?”

Asking this question forces you to learn from each question in a way that can be applied to future questions. It pushes you to recognize patterns and to learn how to notice what’s being tested in a question, which can help you make a plan, use what you’ve studied, and avoid common traps.

6.     Meet with a test anxiety specialist. Yes, there is such a thing as a test anxiety specialist. And while most students won’t need one, if you find that your mastery of the material can’t shine because you are paralyzed in the face of the real exam, working with a specialist may help you get through the roadblock that’s holding you back.

Studying for and taking a big exam such as the GRE is an inherently stressful process. But when that stress gets in the way of your success, try taking active steps make it more manageable. After all, you want to show off all the stuff you’ve learned as best you can!

gre-word-quotesI’m always on the search for fun and new ways to learn vocab. Well, “fun” might not be the right word, but learning vocabulary is easier when it is tied to things you already know and integrated into your daily life. If you can tie vocabulary to movie clips, song lyrics, other words you already know, or anything else that’s already stored in your memory, you can often remember the definition forever in a quick and easy way.

Here are ten famous quotes, either that you may already know or that you may find easy to remember, that can help you remember GRE vocabulary words.

  1. Alacrity. Ambrose Bierce famously said, “He who thinks with difficulty believes with alacrity.” It’s an astute observation, concisely put, and makes quite a beautiful and poetic insult. It also helps you understand that alacrity means “brisk and cheerful readiness.” Try recalling this quote to describe someone it fits, whether to yourself or to someone else. It might just stick.
  2. Prosaic. You probably know the phrase “poetry and prose”; where something poetic is beautiful and flowery, something prosaic is practical and direct. When Stendhal said, “It is better to have a prosaic husband and to take a romantic lover,” he was setting up a great vocabulary learning sentence that not only shows that “prosaic” and “romantic” are opposites, but helps us understand the nuanced meaning of each word.
  3. Loquacious. “Loquacious” is in the GRE’s rather large toolkit of words that mean “talkative. Here’s a quote for reflection: Lucius Annaeus Seneca wrote, “Light griefs are loquacious, but the great are dumb.” Another great vocabulary learning sentence, as it clearly sets “loquacious” as the opposite of “dumb”.
  4. Veracity. Veracity means truth. “Truth in spirit, not truth to the letter, is the true veracity,” wrote Robert Louis Stevenson. This is a great quote to have on hand when you get in trouble for not-quite-following the rules. It’s also a good one for remembering the definition of “veracity”.
  5. Paucity. Because paucity isn’t a word we often use, it’s often hard to envision it in a sentence. Consider Norman Miller’s quote, “The horror of the twentieth century was the size of each new event and the paucity of its reverberation.” It’s a thoughtful point, and it helps us remember the structure “paucity of     (usually some good quality in noun form)  ”.
  6. Maintain. Sure, we encounter the word “maintain” pretty much every day. But as the GRE is wont to do, it often tests the second definition of maintain, which is to assert. Think of Dostoyevsky’s words, “What is hell? I maintain that it is the suffering of being unable to love.” That statement was his assertion, and whether you maintain that it’s true, it might help you remember the definition of “maintain”.
  7. Contrition. Here’s a word that’s mostly used today in religious contexts, for it means a feeling of remorsefulness and penitence. Its adjectival form is “contrite”, which is tricky because it sounds like it might mean “not trite”. I find it easier to remember the noun form of contrition. Here’s a helpful quote: “To err is human; but contrition felt for the crime distinguishes the virtuous from the wicked”, said Vittorio Alfieri. This quote helps convey the seriousness and meaning of contrition.
  8. Extant. “Extant” is a GRE favorite that I think I can confidently say I’ve never heard a person actually use when speaking, except in GRE class. Extant means existent, which is the word most of us would use in its place. Thoreau famously said, “There is always a present and extant life, be it better or worse, which all combine to uphold.” I find that the phrase “present and extant” sticks with me to help me recall this definition without much work.
  9. Egregious. I’m going to let Kurt Vonnegut explain this one, as he did in Deadeye Dick. “Egregious. Most people think that word means terrible or unheard of or unforgivable. It has a much more interesting story than that to tell. It means ‘outside the herd.’ Imagine that – thousands of people, outside the herd.” He’s right on both fronts. While the word “egregious” technically means “outside the herd”, it has taken on a bad connotation – standing out for doing something wrong.
  10. Capricious. The definition of this word has been with me since my mother explained that Capricorns are born in January, named for the god of Janus, who has two faces. (Maybe we just figured out why I’m a GRE teacher.) Capricious means fickle or two-faced, of two minds at once. If your mom wasn’t quite so vocabulary inclined, consider this quote from Benjamin Disraeli: “A consistent man believes in destiny; a capricious man in chance.”

Unlike Disraeli, I don’t believe that a consistent man believes in destiny, necessarily; at least not when it comes to the GRE. The consistent among us, men and women alike, know that careful study can always improve your GRE score! For these, and other GRE words, download our free GRE flashcards.

 

 

 

I know that for people who’ve been away from math for a while, the GRE requires a lot of refreshment on topics and skills. Even for those of us who’ve been around math all along, there may be topics we haven’t seen since high school on the exam.

gre-blog-postMost of getting good at GRE math is practicing your skills, learning to recognize clues and patterns on the exam, and knowing what material is being tested and how it is tested. One key step is knowing the definition of math words, because those definitions often come with important restrictions.

For example, when a question starts by specifying that x is an integer, that restriction will probably be a key to the problem. There is an infinite amount of numbers that are not integers, including fractions and radicals. It’s also important to remember that integers don’t have to be positive – there are negative integers, and zero is in integer as well.

My suggestion is that you clarify the definitions, but not simply memorize them. Let’s say that I realize knowing the definition of “integer” is important, so I decide to make a flashcard that says “integer” on one side and “a member of the set of whole numbers” on the other.

Great. That’s true, and if the test were going to ask me to define the word “integer”, that would be a great thing to know. But remember: for the most part, the quant section of the GRE is a skill test, not a knowledge test. It tests your ability to notice patterns and details, perform math tasks, plan an efficient road to a solution, and reason with numbers. So the definition of “integer” that I want to know is something that will help me.

I am not the biggest fan of flashcards for the quant portion of the GRE, but if I were going to make one for “integer”, I’d want to make sure the back of the card included:

• My own definition in my own words,
• Key trouble issues to watch out for, and
• How the concept tends to show up on the exam.

As I did additional problems, I might add information to the back of the card, so that eventually it would look something like this:

• not decimals or fractions
• Includes zero and negatives!
• When they say “non-negative integer”, think “positive OR zero”
• When they say “number,” think about fractions
• When the exponent is a positive integer, the value usually gets bigger. UNLESS that positive integer is one – value stays the same.

The key is that your definition should include all the things that tripped you up, written in your own language, and written in a way that tells you what to do, not what not to do. (Notice my card doesn’t say anything like, “don’t test only positive numbers”, because generally it’s much harder for us to remember directions given in the negative.) It’s less of a definition and more of a collection of key points that help you clarify how this topic is applied on the exam. In this way, you become a better issue-spotter and avoid common mistakes.

Thinking of definitions in this way can help you to realize their importance while also learning them in a way that’s directly applicable to the exam. The next paragraph is a big, long list of terms for which you might find a definition card useful. All these terms are covered in ETS’s math review for the GRE. You certainly don’t need to make definition cards for each of these words, but if you think it would help you, go for it!

You might find it helpful to make definition cards for the following terms: integer, even, odd, positive, negative, divisible, factor, multiple, greatest common factor, least common multiple, remainder, prime number, prime factor, composite number, zero, one, rational number, reciprocal, square root, terminating decimal, real number, less than, greater than, absolute value, ratio, proportion, percent, percent increase, percent decrease, domain, compound interest, slope, y-intercept, reflection, symmetric, x-intercept, parallel, perpendicular, line of symmetry, parabola, vertex, circle, stretched, shrunk, shifted, line segment, congruent, midpoint, bisect, perpendicular bisector, opposite angles, verticle angles, right angle, acute, obtuse, polygon, triangle, quadrilateral, pentagon, hexagon, octagon, regular polygon, perimeter, area, equilateral triangle, right triangle, hypotenuse, legs, square, rectangle, parallelogram, trapezoid, chord, circumference, radius, diameter, arc, measure of an arc, length of an arc, sector, tangent, point of tangency, inscribed, circumscribed, rectangular solid, face, cube, volume, surface area, circular cylinder, lateral surface, axis, right circular cylinder, frequency, count, frequency distribution, relative frequency, relative frequency distribution, univariate, bivariate, central tendency, mean, median, mode, weighted mean, quartiles, percentiles, dispersion, range, outliers, interquartile range, standard deviation, sample standard deviation, population standard deviation, standardization, finite set, infinite set, nonempty set, empty set, subset, list, intersection, union, disjoint, mutually exclusive, universal set, factorial, probability, permutation, combination, and normal distribution.