Do you remember, when you took exams in high school or college, being allowed to bring a one-page ‘cheat sheet’? I always spent days putting those cheat sheets together in my tiniest handwriting, summarizing an entire semester’s notes on a single page. The funny thing is, by the time I took the exam, I almost never needed to look at the cheat sheet I’d created. After spending all of that time creating it, I had practically memorized my notes. So, even if you can’t bring a cheat sheet with you to the GRE, you can still benefit from creating one. Synthesizing your notes and thoughts on a single page will give you the ‘big picture’ view of a topic, and will teach you what you do and don’t know. Read more
Several times a week my students ask me, “What’s the best way to study?” They’re worried that they’re doing things the wrong or slow way, or they’re working hard but not making the progress they want. I will say this: If you’re putting in the hours, the results will come, maybe not as quickly and easily as you’d like, but you’ll get there. However, I have discovered two common “types” of students who put in a lot of time and hard work with less than satisfactory results: Read more
If English is your second (or third, or fourth!) language, you might find GRE Text Completion and Sentence Equivalence frustrating. However, you can still improve your performance, and you don’t need to study thousands of flashcards to do it. Here are a few ways to address your weaknesses and play to your strengths.
Fool me once…
English is counterintuitive, but native speakers never notice most of the inconsistencies. As a non-native speaker, you’re in a unique position to notice the quirks of English and turn them into useful lessons. Read more
“When I see this, I will do this”: a GRE study tool
“I know all of the rules, but I’m nowhere close to my goal score.”
“When I study, I understand everything right away. But when I took the actual GRE, I couldn’t make it happen.”
“I never know what to do when I see a Quant problem for the first time. If somebody tells me how to set the problem up, I can do it perfectly, but I can’t get started on my own.”
“I get overwhelmed by Verbal questions. I’ll think that my answer makes sense, but then I’ll review the problem and realize that there were a dozen different things I didn’t notice.”
If any of those statements ring true for you, you’re not alone. You’ve probably been studying for a while, or you at least have a good grasp on the basic math, logic, and vocabulary. But getting a great GRE score isn’t just about knowing the content. It’s also about always knowing what to do next. That’s what the “When I see this, I will do this” technique is for. Read more
When you take the GRE, you need a strategy for percentage problems that works every time. Here’s that strategy, in four easy steps.
There’s a better way to learn GRE vocabulary, and it’s based on scientific principles that have been demonstrated by researchers since the 1800s. It’s called spaced retrieval, and the basic idea is this: Read more
Imagine that you asked a friend of yours what she got on the Quant section of the GRE. Instead of answering you directly, she said “let’s just say that 4 times my score is a multiple of 44, and 3 times my score is a multiple of 45.”
Could you tell what score she got? If not… you may need to work on your GRE translation skills! Read more
This is going to be a short post. It will also possibly have the biggest impact on your study of anything you do all day (or all month!).
When people ramp up to study for the GRE, they typically find the time to study by cutting down on other activities—no more Thursday night happy hour with the gang or Sunday brunch with the family until the test is over.
There are two activities, though, that you should never cut—and, unfortunately, I talk to students every day who do cut these two activities. I hear this so much that I abandoned what I was going to cover today and wrote this instead. We’re not going to cover any problems or discuss specific test strategies in this article. We’re going to discuss something infinitely more important!
#1: You must get a full night’s sleep
Period. Never cut your sleep in order to study for this test. NEVER.
Your brain does not work as well when trying to function on less sleep than it needs. You know this already. Think back to those times that you pulled an all-nighter to study for a final or get a client presentation out the door. You may have felt as though you were flying high in the moment, adrenaline coursing through your veins. Afterwards, though, your brain felt fuzzy and slow. Worse, you don’t really have great memories of exactly what you did—maybe you did okay on the test that morning, but afterwards, it was as though you’d never studied the material at all.
There are two broad (and very negative) symptoms of this mental fatigue that you need to avoid when studying for the GRE (and doing other mentally-taxing things in life). First, when you are mentally fatigued, you can’t function as well as normal in the moment. You’re going to make more careless mistakes and you’re just going to think more slowly and painfully than usual.
While studying for the GRE Text Completion (TC) and Sentence Equivalence (SE) questions, you naturally want to study vocabulary. After all, that’s what the test is testing, right?
Yes and no. The GRE does test vocabulary, but it also tests your ability to analyze a sentence and divine the author’s intended meaning. (And for those of you keeping score at home, did I use the word ‘divine’ correctly? Are you familiar with this less common usage?)
And so, we preach (sorry, with the word ‘divine’ earlier, I had to!) a method for TC and SE that involves identifying the Target, Clues, and Pivots in the sentence. All well and good, but how do you to this? Here’s where the following limited grammar discussion should help, because although the GRE does not directly test grammar, a little grammar knowledge can be immensely helpful!
We begin with the core elements that every sentence contains: the subject and the verb. Separating the subjecting and the verb from other elements (which I will generically call descriptors) is part 1 of my TC and SE analysis. Part 2 is matching each descriptor to what it describes.
So let’s see two examples. One is a TC example from Lesson 1, the other is a SE example from the 5 lb. Book.
Distractions are bad. Routine, concentration, and hard work are good. These all seem like common-sense rules for studying, right? Surprisingly (for many people, at least), learning science tells us that these “good habits” may actually be hurting your learning process!
When you were in college, your study process probably looked something like this: for a given class, you’d attend a lecture each week, do the readings (or at least most of them), and maybe turn in an assignment or problem set. Then, at the end of the semester, you’d spend a week furiously cramming all of that information to prepare for the test.
Since this is the way you’ve always studied, it’s probably how you’re approaching the GRE, too. But I have bad news: this is not an effective approach for the GRE!
Taking notes then cramming the night before the test is beneficial for tests that ask you to recite knowledge: “what were the major consequences of the Hawley-Smoot tariff” or “explain Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle.” You can hold a lot of facts -for a brief time – in your short-term memory when cramming. You memorize facts, you spit them out for the test… and then, if you’re like me, you find that you’ve forgotten half of what you memorized by the next semester.
Why the GRE is Different
The GRE doesn’t reward this style of studying because it’s not simply a test of facts or knowledge. The GRE requires you to know a lot of rules, of course, but the main thing that it’s testing is your ability to apply those concepts to new problems, to adapt familiar patterns, and to use strategic decision-making. You’ll never see the same problem twice. Even with vocabulary, you need a robust understanding of words, not just memorized definitions.