Happy 2016! This is the year you get an awesome GRE score and are accepted to the graduate school of your dreams. Even if you’re reading this well into the year, or you’re half-way through your GRE prep, you could probably use some guidance, motivation and focus. Here are some New Year’s resolutions to get you started or re-started on your journey to a great GRE score.
1) Resolve to Motivate Yourself
- Research your top 3 schools.
- Take a diagnostic test.
- Pick a test date.
First, you need to know whether the GRE is even a factor for you, and if it is, what score you need. Some programs don’t care about your GRE score at all, and some programs want something intimidatingly high. However, you won’t know how much to prep unless you find out. So go do your research. You never know—you might not even need the GRE at all.
If you do need the GRE, take a test. You can find a free one here.
Again, if you’re scoring well above the score you need to get accepted, you’re done! Go take the real thing and use the extra time to focus on the rest of your application.
If you need to increase your score, the most motivating thing you can do right now is sign up for the real GRE—pick some date 9-12 weeks from now. Don’t wait to sign up. Trust me on this. Without a looming deadline you’ll never pick up a book. Want to start jogging? Sign up for a 5k. Want to lose weight? Pick a wedding date and weigh yourself (I know this from personal experience, by the way).
2) Resolve to Make Specific Action Goals
Make sure your goals are both realistic and tied to specific actions. Resolving to study for 40 hours a week is unrealistic and a good way to doom yourself to burnout. Resolving to “get a great score” is fine, but unless you break that goal down to specific actions (finish one Strategy Guide every weeks) you’ll never achieve it. To continue the losing weight analogy: a realistic and specific goal (if you’re not working out right now) is to show up to the elliptical machine for 20 minutes 3 times a week. The weight will take care of itself.
Also, make sure your goal is under your control. You can control the work you do, not the actions of admissions departments. Therefore:
- 170q/170v (Both unrealistic and nonspecific)
- Full scholarship to Yale (Not under your control)
- Make flashcards for 100 words per week
- Master quadratics by doing every problem in the quadratics chapter.
- Spend half an hour a day reading before bed.
- Memorize times tables by quizzing yourself for 5 minutes a day.
3) Resolve to Make a Schedule
Most students who tell me they’re “too busy” to study are lying to me or to themselves. Fine: their days are completely filled, but how much of that day is spent on Facebook or binge watching Netflix? The reason most well-intentioned students don’t get work done (and the reason I fail to show up to the gym) is that GRE time isn’t scheduled in the datebook.
So, schedule it with a pencil or your iCalendar – now! Pick 20 minutes every day and put it in the calendar (Later, build up to 25 minutes twice a day and then more). Write it down and you’re ten times more likely to shut off the TV or turn off the phone and get work.
4) Resolve to Get Help
You could do it on your own, but if you need more guidance and motivation, you’ll do way better with a coach. Sign up for a 9-week course with ManhattanPrep. Hire a private tutor. If you’re self motivated enough to do self-study, great! There are lots of structured online options to give you concrete, actionable goals.
Don’t forget peers and study-buddies. Find someone else who is working on the GRE and set up weekly check-in sessions.
There are lots of free resources out there. You’re already on our awesome blog, so check out our online forums here. Every other Monday I run a very cool free workshop called Mondays With Neil. Check it out! Reach out to the online world for whatever else you need. It’s amazing what’s out there.
By the way: Do you suffer from severe test anxiety? Do you have a diagnosed or undiagnosed learning difference or ADD? Please reach out to a licensed professional to get the help you need. Many of my students have done amazing, life-changing work with professional psychologists, helping their futures in ways far beyond the GRE.
5) Resolve to Get Smarter
The best way to make yourself smarter is to read real books every day (the ones made of paper and ink are better than their digital versions). If you’re not a regular reader right now, start with something fun, light, and entertaining: Hunger Games, Harry Potter, Gone Girl, or whatever your friends recommend. Once you build some reading skills after a few weeks, check out the non-fiction aisles to find interesting well-researched books (I love Malcolm Gladwell, Jared Diamond, Michael Pollen, and Yuval Noah Harari).
On the math side, get back to your basics. Quiz yourself on your single-digit times tables. Watch YouTube videos for math tricks. Get math games for your iPhone. Online, there is great stuff here:
6) Resolve to Start Today
Reread this list and find ONE thing you can do in the next 5 minutes: Google a school. Sign up for a class. Block out some GRE time in your calendar. Don’t get up from your desk until you’ve done it. Sometimes getting started is 90% of the battle.
Just do one thing and you’re well on your way!
Have fun and have a great year.
When not onstage telling jokes, Neil Thornton loves teaching you to beat the GMAT and GRE. Since 1991, he’s coached thousands of students through the GMAT, LSAT, MCAT, and SAT, and trained instructors all over the United States. He scored 780 on the GMAT, a perfect score on the GRE, and a 99th percentile score on the LSAT. Check out Neil’s upcoming GRE course offerings here.