Monday, November 4, 2013
How to study for the GRE
You may have noticed I've been a bit MIA on the blog recently and I wanted to tell you why:
I recently retook the GRE. And I want to share with you some tips for doing well and raising your score.
I first took the GRE a few years ago before I was admitted to my Master's program. When I finished my M.Ed I felt like I was so DONE with school. A doctorate? Five years? No, not for me.
And then, about a year later, I started missing school desperately. And I found an incredible doctoral program at an ivy league that only required three years and covered full tuition.
I decided to apply for next Fall 2014.
However, aside from my writing score, my GRE scores were not close to the average of the previous incoming class that the university's graduate website reported. I was going to be applying to one of the most selective schools in the world, and thus I knew I was going to have to prepare for a standardized test like I'd never prepared in my life.
I learned a ton throughout the process these past two months (and was able to raise my scores to the ivy league level for the first time in my life!), and I wanted to pass on that knowledge to you as I get so many e-mails from many of you who're interested in going to graduate school.
So below are the things I did that helped me raise my scores and (hopefully) qualify to get into the doctorate of my dreams. I hope some of these things can help you do the same.
1) Research GRE requirements: Every graduate program has different requirements; some don't even require the GRE! Do your research first and identify your target score. The best way to find out for sure is to talk to an admissions counselor for the program you're interested in.
2) Register for the test: Ask the admissions counselor when the GRE scores are due for your application and then register to take your test at least a month or two before that date. If you are ahead of the game, try to take it as early as possible to give yourself room to retake it if needed (keep in mind you have to wait a few weeks between retakes). Also leave yourself at least a month or two to study.
3) Buy study materials with practice tests: This is the time to invest and I think it's absolutely worth it. The ETS website offers some great free resources, but I also recommend getting other resources or perhaps signing up for a class if that's right for you. I purchased and loved the Kaplan GRE book, the ETS GRE book, and the Kaplan vocabulary flash cards.
4) Schedule A LOT of time for studying: Studying for a standardized test requires a lot of time because you have to study a lot of things that may not be on the test. Since you don't know exactly what is going to be on the test, you have to study everything. That takes time, and the time spent will pay off. Dedicate time into your schedule; it will require making some short-term sacrifices in your schedule to find the time. (I probably studied about 75 hours.)
5) Divide your studying into manageable chunks: I dedicated the entire month of October to studying for the GRE (I scheduled my test for October 31, for an application due December 13). With about 30 days to study, I divided the 5 practice tests I received with my books throughout the week and scheduled them in my calendar. I also took the 500 words, divided them by 30 days, and memorized just those words each day.
6) Tell people: I was nervous to tell people at first, for fear I would fail. But I knew I had to take the advice I give students, so I started telling people, and while it was scary, I knew I had to be accountable; it encouraged me to stick with my study plan.
7) Take practice tests: I learned the most by taking practice tests and then going over the answers I missed. Take as many as possible and dedicate the time to go over the answers.
8) Identify your strongest area: After you take your first practice test identify your strongest area and focus on studying to improve your weakest areas. My strongest area is writing, so all I did to prepare for the essay portion was read the sample perfect-score essays to get an idea of tone. I focused 65% of my time on math and the other 35% on vocabulary.
9) Meet with a tutor/friend for help: Ask for help in your weakest areas. I'm lucky to be married to a math whiz so I was able to get free tutoring. Find someone who can help you figure out the problems that the book alone can't explain well. If writing isn't your strongest area, have people read your essays to get help.
10) Be strategic: Think about what your graduate program requires; for example, I know the one I'm applying for isn't focused at all on math, which was good for me because my math scores were still struggling. I knew that while I could get my math scores to the bare minimum, they weren't going to be impressive. That is why, though I was very good at the Verbal section, I still focused heavily on studying for it. I decided if I could get almost perfect scores in Verbal and Writing it would overshadow my average math score. This paid off big time as I was able to take my verbal score from a percentile rank in the 70's to the 90's.
11) Get creative: Have fun with your studying as much as possible and find ways to work with the material; staring at a book alone will not work. I entered the vocab words I kept struggling with into Quizlet, as well as found GRE flash cards others had made. I loved playing Scatter with them and doing the practice tests.
12) Relax: Do not study the night before the test or the day of. Plan to have a nice dinner, a healthy breakfast, and then relax. Listen to your favorite music on the drive to the test. Wear a comfortable but nice outfit that gives you confidence. Breathe. Know that all of your studying will pay off. And that, in the end, it's just a test. It doesn't define you.
Please share any of your tips on the Facebook page, and best of luck in your graduate plans! It's quite an adventure.