If the standard classroom exam wasn’t stressful enough, try to stomach the GRE — a test that will help determine which graduate schools a student can get into. But the process doesn’t have to anxiety-inducing.
After all, studying the material for hours on end isn’t always the best approach when it comes to doing well. Sometimes, it's all about the strategy.
We spoke with John Fulmer, national content director for the GMAT and GRE at the Princeton Review for some tactics to help students take on the test with confidence.
Get the easy points first
In the GRE, questions aren’t arranged in order of difficulty. “Question five might be significantly harder than question six, and so one of the things that works really well is trying to tackle the easy questions first.” If you understand the concept, and think you can answer the problem in a reasonable amount of time, then go for it, says the expert. But if something seems automatically tricky— say, a math equation that requires using a formula you never learned— it’s important to simply skip it and move on.
At the end of the day, “it’s really all about building up as many points as you possibly can,” explains Fulmer.
Make use of the scrap paper
Test-takers have a bad habit of trying to solve problems in their head, says Fulmer. And while it might seem like a time-efficient strategy, it’s often more harmful than helpful. Without any setup work to refer to, “there’s no way to trace what you may have done wrong [in an equation], and you actually wind up taking more time than if you had just gotten into the habit of writing things down,” says Fulmer.
And that doesn’t mean students should jot down their work for just math problems. “Even for reading comprehension, doing something as simple as writing down a,b,c,d,e for the answer choices and crossing them off, as you decide that they’re wrong can really be a big time saver.”
Reread the questions
“The GRE makes problems hard in a lot of different ways,” says Fulmer. It may trot out a rule that not many people know, add some extra steps to an equation or include an obvious-looking answer choice that turns out to be wrong— and that’s only a few of the tricky maneuvers. Sometimes questions are worded in a way that makes them easy to misinterpret, he explains. So how can test takers avoid falling into these hidden traps? By “making sure they get into the habit of rereading the question before picking an answer,” says Fulmer.
If you’re solving a geometry question, don’t automatically assume that you’ll need to find the area of the figure. That’s what the test-makers want you to do, “and sure enough, there is going to be an answer choice that gives the area,” he explains. Your job is to get rid of those preconceived notions and instead focus on what’s on the page.