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!