How to Study: Your Second Practice GRE Test (Part 1)

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Manhattan Prep GRE Blog - How to Study: Your Second GRE Practice Test (Part 1) by Chelsey Cooley

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Once you’ve studied for the GRE for a few weeks, it’s time to take your second GRE practice test. Here’s how to ace that test, and what to do once you finish it.

Watch Out for the Second GRE Practice Test Effect

Believe it or not, many people get a lower score on the second GRE practice test. If that happens to you, it doesn’t mean you’re studying incorrectly (usually). It just means you didn’t adjust your test-taking strategy as you learned the material.

If you’re following this guide, you probably didn’t know much about the GRE when you took your first GRE practice test. If you didn’t know anything about a particular topic, it would have been fairly easy to guess. After all, there was no reason to work on a problem when you didn’t even understand what it was saying. But you’ve learned a lot of math, vocabulary, and test strategy over the last few weeks. Problems that were a total mystery last time will make a lot more sense when you read them this time.

That makes it easy to get bogged down in GRE problems that you sort of understand, but still can’t quite solve quickly. You may catch yourself thinking: “but I know I know how to do this!” Listening to that voice is a good way to waste your time on problems that are too tough and miss your chance to solve the ones that you could get right.

You can avoid the “second GRE practice test effect,” but it takes some care and attention. Really focus on guessing, timing, and marking problems when you take your second GRE practice test. Remember: guessing isn’t only for problems that you don’t understand; it’s for any problem that will take more time than it’s worth. Your goal is to maximize the overall number of problems you get right, not to get any particular problem right. So, be prepared to let go and move on. Between practice tests, you can learn new things and improve your abilities. But when you sit down to take a practice test, what you know is what you know. Be realistic, and do the best you can with what you have.

How to Review Your Second GRE Practice Test

Okay, so you’ve taken your second GRE practice test! Now it’s time to review.

Reviewing a practice test is a big task! That’s one reason not to take too many practice tests. Reviewing a practice GRE should take at least 4 hours—as much time as you spent taking it.  

Start your review at a high level. Look at the results, but don’t dive into the individual problems yet. Do some introspection first. Focus on your test-taking behaviors and how they affected your performance:

  • How did you feel while taking the test? Were you anxious or confident (or both)?
  • How was your performance? Did you make the most of your knowledge?
  • Did you make good decisions about guessing?
  • Did you make good decisions about marking problems?
  • On each section, did you get as many problems right as you possibly could, given your limited time?

Next, zoom in—but only slightly. When you look at the results of a Manhattan Prep practice GRE, you can sort the problems by problem type, by timing, or by difficulty level:

Manhattan Prep GRE Blog - How to Study: Your Second GRE Practice Test (Part 1) by Chelsey Cooley

Glance over each section from beginning to end, then sort it in all three of these ways. Don’t look at the individual problems just yet! Here are some questions to ask yourself:

  • Which types of problems did you spend too much time on?
  • Which types of problems did you spend less time on?
  • Did you miss any easy problems?
  • Did you get through the entire section on time?

Your goal here is to learn about yourself as a test-taker. If you know ahead of time which problems tend to bog you down, you can avoid them next time. If you’re missing easy problems, that might point to careless errors, or it might indicate a great area to study next.

Now, it’s time to generate your assessment report. To do this, click this link on the Practice Exams page in your online Student Center:

Manhattan Prep GRE Blog - How to Study: Your Second GRE Practice Test (Part 1) by Chelsey Cooley

Follow the prompts, and you’ll eventually see a set of pages that look like this:

Manhattan Prep GRE Blog - How to Study: Your Second GRE Practice Test (Part 1) by Chelsey Cooley

These reports will tell you about the content from your GRE practice test. Here are some things to think about:

  • Which problem types were the weakest? Which were the strongest?
  • Which were the fastest? The slowest?

Based on this, set a couple of priorities for your next few weeks of studying. Note that your weakest areas aren’t necessarily your highest-value ones! If you saw two probability problems and missed both of them, that doesn’t mean you need to study probability, even though your accuracy was 0%. Balance your weaknesses against which areas appear more frequently and which areas will be easiest for you to learn.

Finally, it’s time for the last step: problem-by-problem review. That’s the most important part of reviewing your second GRE practice test, because it’s where you’ll learn the most. We’ll go over it in detail in the next article—and we’ll also look at how to address your biggest weaknesses. 📝


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Chelsey CooleyChelsey Cooley Manhattan Prep GRE Instructor is a Manhattan Prep instructor based in Seattle, Washington. Chelsey always followed her heart when it came to her education. Luckily, her heart led her straight to the perfect background for GMAT and GRE teaching: she has undergraduate degrees in mathematics and history, a master’s degree in linguistics, a 790 on the GMAT, and a perfect 170Q/170V on the GRE. Check out Chelsey’s upcoming GRE prep offerings here.

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