How I Got a Perfect GRE Score

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Manhattan Prep GRE Blog - How I Got a Perfect GRE Score by Chelsey Cooley

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I’ve actually written about this before! In that article, I focused on how I studied for the GRE in 2015. I decided to put my money where my mouth was and use the same study tactics that I always tell my students to use—and it paid off with a perfect GRE score.

But there’s more to the story. I’m not a GRE teacher because I just happen to be good at the GRE. I’m good at the GRE because I’m a GRE teacher. And even if you have zero interest in teaching test prep, you can learn to take the test like a teacher does and hopefully get a perfect GRE score as a result.

Turn Off the Anxiety

The number-one thing that makes me different, compared to non-teachers, is that I don’t feel nervous on test day.

When I take the GRE, I’m usually just trying to learn from it, not get any particular score. So, I have no reason to be nervous! Weirdly enough, that actually helps me score higher than I would otherwise. When I’m relaxed and calm, I’m able to really focus on the problems and make rational decisions.

For you, the GRE is higher-stakes, so it’s harder to turn off the anxiety. But you can still do it, and staying calm can have a massive impact on your score. This article has some tips for staying relaxed on test day, and this one has some great ideas about preparing yourself beforehand. Even if you don’t feel anxious, meditation, breathing exercises, and positive self-talk can improve your ability to think.

Getting a Perfect GRE Score Isn’t About Doing a Lot of Problems

In one three-hour session of my GRE class, we almost never do more than fifteen problems. In most weeks, those are the only GRE problems I do. But those problems are why I’ve been able to get a perfect GRE score.

Meticulously dissecting fifteen problems is way more valuable than mindlessly blasting through a hundred problems. When I prepare to teach a problem in class, I have to learn it inside and out. I have to know what the problem is testing, what the keywords and clues are, and every possible way to solve it. I have to know which mistakes someone could make while solving it, and why, and how to avoid those mistakes. I have to know why every wrong answer is wrong, and why the right answer is right. I have to know which other problems are similar, and which ones are different. In short: I spend a very long time with every single problem I teach, even the ones that seem clear to me when I first try them.

When you study, slow down. It’s not a race to get through the most problems. Instead, imagine that you’re going to have to teach each problem to someone else. What would you share with them? What mistakes do you think they would make? How could they avoid those mistakes?

Get Out There and Teach

For each topic on the GRE, you have a “level of mastery.” Check out this article for more about the concept. To succeed on the GRE, you have to take some topics to a very high level of mastery—not just to the “I get it” stage, but way past that, to the “I can do this in my sleep” stage.

So, how do you know that you’ve really, totally mastered a concept? When you can teach it to someone else. Get a study buddy, or even a willing friend or family member who isn’t taking the GRE. In a pinch, you can teach it to a rubber duck. Explain something that you’re learning yourself, and encourage them to ask tough questions. Teaching forces you to go past just “getting it”—which is exactly what you need to do to master the GRE.

GRE Teachers Really Aren’t that Special!

Don’t tell my coworkers I said that, but it’s true. It’s not like we were born with a perfect GRE score. The test feels easier for us with time, and that happens because we go through problems carefully, spend a lot of time talking about them with students, and then stay relaxed and confident on test day. And those things aren’t limited to GRE teachers—you can do them too. 📝


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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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