My GRE Experience

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iStock_000017932394XSmallI thought I might share my GRE experience and the lessons it taught me about the GRE prep process.

I’ve always been a test girl. My favorite two days of first grade were taking the IOWA exams, which I used to try to write at home to administer to my class of stuffed animals. I wish that were a joke. I got into a car crash on the way to the LSAT, pulled myself out a ditch, hitchhiked to the exam, and still scored in the 98th percentile. I left the bar exam for a few hours in the middle to go shopping for a sweater because I was cold. I love tests. I own them. That is, until I took the GRE.

I was pretty cocky rolling into the GRE. I bought a pack of vocab flashcards and looked them over for a few weeks. I took a few practice tests. I read over the math. I showed up feeling like a boss. And then I got my score. And then I cried.

I did badly. What the heck? Tests are basically the one thing I can do!

Lesson one: The GRE must be studied.

The GRE really benefits from familiarity with the test. If you want to max out your score, you can’t just know the underlying material “ you have to be familiar with how it shows up and the best methods for handling it when it does.

I was daunted for a while, but I decided the GRE wouldn’t beat me. So after hiding from the exam for a few months, I got some study materials and got back on the horse.

Lesson two: The vocab must be learned.

For me, the vocab was key. You can have all the testing strategies you want, but there’s only so much you can do to compensate for not knowing the words. Learning the vocabulary most commonly tested on this exam is a huge task, but it’s a doable task. Everyone can learn words. Some of us learn slower than others, but we can all learn what words mean “ the living proof is that you’ve known the meaning of every word in this article so far. So you absolutely can learn the words. You just have to put in the hours on this one. It pays off.

Lesson three: The math must be applied.

I feel pretty confident that I actually knew most if not all of the underlying math when I first approached the GRE, but it just wasn’t enough. I was competing against people who knew not only the math but also the ways in which the math would be tested. They were on the lookout for the tricks and traps, and they were familiar with the question types.

It put me at a huge disadvantage, and I wasn’t having it the second time around. So the second time, I brushed up on the underlying math, but I really focused on noticing question types and the issues they most commonly tested. That really helped!

Lesson four: The GRE tests your spirit.

I don’t know how, but it does. It’s a long exam. It adapts, so it’s always difficult for you, no matter your skill level. It tests lots of different topics. It moves very quickly. If you let it, it will crush you.

The second time I took the exam, I felt ready. Half-way through, I actually started crying. Not reminiscent-single-tear crying. More like panicked sobbing. I’d worked so hard, and I couldn’t do any of the questions! I felt like I had no idea what was going on! I almost pressed the cancel button before seeing my score. And I ended up getting a 1600 (when the test was out of 1600).

You can’t let the test crush you. You have to approach it as a conquerable task. You can learn the words and the math on this exam. You can improve your score. Will the test still feel hard, and bad, and mean? Definitely. But don’t let it beat you.

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