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5 Ways to Overcome GRE Test Anxiety 

July 15, 2014

1. Know The Test.

Some bad news about the GRE is it tests virtually nothing you learned in college and nothing you will work on in graduate school. So unless you’ve been practicing geometry in college or studying etymology, the GRE is going to take preparation. But there is good news: the GRE only tests a limited number of subjects, and it will test them every time. Cylinders? Yes. Pyramids? No. Make a list of the types of questions you see in your prep work – triangles, standard deviation, probability, etc. – and assess your relative level of confidence. Still struggling with permutations and combinations? Now you know where to focus. When doing your prep work, focus on the areas that need the most improvement. When doing the test, focus on the areas you score the best.


2. Practice and Review

The GRE tests a limited range of content, but knowing the range is useless without knowing how to approach the content. Think of this like Pavlovian conditioning – when you see words like “both” and “neither” in the same question, you have found a group formula question. When you take the actual test, you want your response to be automatic. The GRE is as much as knowing what to do as it is knowing how to do. Make flashcards for all of the types of math questions, how to recognize them and what to do.

Possibly the single best way to improve your score without a tutor is to do practice tests and drills, review the questions you got wrong, and ask yourself why the right answer is right and why your answer was wrong.


3. More Words = Higher Score

This might be an ugly truth, but the more words you know, the higher your score on the GRE verbal section will be. But considering that you’ve spent a percentage of your life preparing for tests and quizzes, you probably have developed methods for memorizing. Flashcards are great, but developing mnemonic devices can be a very powerful aid as well. Drilling vocab is simply the easiest and most straightforward way to raise your verbal score.


4. Start with the Questions You Know How To Do

For much of your young life, you took math quizzes by starting with question 1, ending with question 20, and doing every single question. You have been conditioned to take tests in a certain way. Do not take the GRE this way. If you know you’re shaky on circles, and question 1 is a circle question, skip it. Skip early, and skip often. The “Review” screen lets you see which questions you have yet to answer, and starting in the last 2 minutes you can go through what you have left and punch your favorite letter (it is to your statistical advantage to have a favorite letter). But if question 20 is a percent change question, and you rock at percent change, make sure you have sufficient time to do the question correctly. As a rule, the more time you spend on a problem, the more likely you are to get it wrong. It is a better use of your time to make sure the questions you ought to get right you do get right than to spend it trying to decide between two answers to a question you don’t know – which amounts to a 50/50 chance in the end.


5. Learn the Bad Answers, or Learn to Ballpark

One thing you can do to give yourself a fighting chance on questions that might otherwise be outside your range is to familiarize yourself with the way ETS constructs wrong answers. In the Verbal section, there are types of wrong answers that show up in every reading comprehension section (e.g. extreme language, bad comparisons, direct contradictions). You will know when the author feels extremely – otherwise, extreme language can be eliminated. On the math, especially on algebra questions, you can get a sense of wrong answers without a sense of how to do the question. In the math, you can eliminate bad answers without doing much math – in geometry for example, the shaded area must be less than the area of the entire figure. Eliminate accordingly.


Do you need extra help preparing for the GRE test? Find an in-person or online GRE tutor today!

Raise your GMAT Score from 600 to 700

June 17, 2014

Have you finally hit your 600 goal in your GMAT prep? Or maybe you’ve just taken your first practice test and you’re looking where to go. Chances are that if you are scoring a 600, you have already mastered a couple of strategies. For example, you can probably regularly eliminate 2-3 answers on any given verbal question. What follows are a few tips for getting the right answer more often.


General Tips

These tips should help any test-taker in the verbal section, whether your test is tomorrow or two months from now.

  1. Review Your Practice Questions. It is not enough to do drills and practice tests to monitor your results. One of the single best ways to improve your score is to go through every question you got wrong (or better: every question, right or wrong) and understand why the right answer is right, why the wrong answers are wrong, and why you chose as   you did. The Verbal section can be surprisingly formulaic, and seeing the tricks and traps from the opposite end will make you more familiar with the test.
  2. (in Reading Comp and Arguments) Predict the Answers. This is one of the biggest overall tips for working in the Verbal Section. This isn’t recommended for grammar questions, because your predicted response might not be listed. But the answers in the Reading and Argument questions are designed over a period of years, and they are intended to trick you. If you know what you are looking for before you approach the questions, you’re less likely to be led astray.
  3. Don’t Try to Figure Out How You’re Doing, While You’re Doing It. Because the GMAT is a Computer Adaptive Test, trying to work out how you’re doing based on how difficult the questions are is insidiously tempting. But 20% of the questions are experimental and will have nothing to do with how well you’re actually doing. And what’s difficult for you isn’t necessarily what’s difficult for the GMAT. Focus on the work; think about the results when you’re finished.


The Long Haul

Hopefully, your test date is still a few weeks away; ideally, you have at least a month. How can you begin improving your performance in the verbal section other than simply run through practice tests? Reading Comp is probably the section that is most difficult to simply improve.

  1. Read, read, read. And not just GMAT reading comp passages, although read those, too. Read difficult literature. Read the New Yorker or the Atlantic. Read literary criticism. Read some of Poe’s short stories. Why? Not only will this improve your reading speed, not only will this make you more comfortable with grammatical constructions we ignore in our speech, but it will also force you to think about the main idea of a passage or about the author without questions. After you read a text, try and express the main idea or what you learned about the author in your own words.
  2. Work Every Day. Test prep is a bit like preparing for a swimming meet. You want to be in the water every day. While this passage might be about ants and that passage is about the Industrial Revolution, the questions follow certain patterns. Practice. Practice and practice. By the end, you want to be breathing this stuff, completely familiar. Do a practice test at least one a week, but no sooner than 3 days before your actual exam.


The Short Term

  1. Memorize the Most Commonly Tested Grammar Errors. There are a billion rules of English grammar. Fortunately, the GMAT does not test all of them. In fact, it tests the same 6-8 errors far more often than it does the others. Design a strategy of what to look for and how to know what’s right. For example, start with pronouns. They are easy to spot and easy to check that they agree with their antecedents and are not used ambiguously. After that, move to subject-verb agreement, etc.
  2. Learn the Wrong Answers. GMAT uses a few formulas when it designs the wrong answers in the reading comprehension. Answers tend to recycle language directly from the passage, or take correct ideas from the passage and make them more extreme. You can get rid of these early, allowing you more time to work on the remaining answers, or at least raise your chances for the random guess.
  3. Practice Argument Patterns. The cool thing about argument patterns is after you learn them, you begin to see them everywhere. Advertisements and newspapers abound with analogy and sampling arguments. Memorizing the patterns allows you to trust your thinking and move through the patterns faster. And again, learn the wrong answers.


Next Step Test Preparation provides you with a one-on-one GMAT tutor  for the price of a crowded lecture-style prep course. Email us or call 888-530-NEXT (6398) for a complimentary consultation.

An Introduction to the GRE Webinar Recording

May 15, 2014

This is a recording of a webinar we recently conducted.  Rich Carriero leads the session and discusses everything a student needs to know about the GRE.  Rich has over 10 years of experience teaching the GRE and has worked with well over 500 students to help them achieve their GRE goals.  Watch this recording if you want to learn:


  • What the GRE is really testing.
  • How to approach questions on test day.
  • How the GRE is scored.
  • What a CAT is.
  • How to effectively prepare for the GRE.


Next Step Test Preparation provides one-on-one GRE tutoring programs nationwide.

GRE Math Test-Day Tips

April 1, 2014

Or — How to manage time on the GRE math section

Many students simply do not know how to approach the GRE quantitative section without attempting to solve the problems mathematically.  Although the quantitative section does require some math knowledge, attacking each question mathematically using causes a huge time deficit and the test taker does not complete the quantitative section.  This is lackluster to state the least.  There are many ways to approach GRE quantitative questions without getting embroiled in disorder and confusion.  Here are a few GRE quantitative tips to help you on Test Day.

Consider looking at the answer choices BEFORE reading the question to have a better understanding of how to approach the problem.  Although this sounds unconventional, it helps many GRE test takers not get frustrated and flustered when tackling  a math question.

TIP ONE:  If a question has integers (whole numbers) in the answer choices, then start with answer choice C and plug the value into the problem.  Here is a fundamental, non GRE example to make things easier.

2x = 10

a)      2

b)      3

c)      4

d)      5

e)      6


Begin with answer choice (C) and plug it into the expression.  So, (2) (4) = 10.  This statement is not true because (2) (4) is equal to 8.  You can now determine not only that answer choice (C) is too small, but also that answer choices (A) and (B) are also too small and can be eliminated.  This fundamental example is not a true test day showing, but allows you to see how you don’t have to use algebra to solve any test day problem if you don’t want to.  This technique is extremely helpful on more difficult math problems.


TIP TWO:  If a question has percents in the answer choices, always start with 100 to offer a more realistic approach to a difficult question.  Here is an example to support this:

A car increases its initial speed by 30 percent and then decreases by 10 percent.  What is the percent increase or decrease of the vehicle?

a) 15 %

b) 16 %

c)  17 %

d)  18 %

e)  Cannot be determined.

Where you tempted to pick (E)?  Most GRE test takers would be because they do not have the original speed to work with.  Next Step Test Prep teaches a savvy GRE test taker to start with 100, so the vehicle’s initial speed is 100.  The vehicle then increases 30%.  This means we multiple (100) (.3), which equals 30.  So the car’s new speed is 130.  Then the car decreases its new speed by 10%.  This is where a lot of GRE test takers make a huge mistake.  Many people would simply subtract 10 from 130.  This is wrong because 10 percent of 130 is not ten!  However, in a timed test environment many people make this exact error and cost themselves a lot of valuable test day points.  (130) (.10) = 13. So we subtract 13 from our new speed of 130 and see that the correct answer is 17.  This is a very common GRE quantitative question type and one worth revisiting many times before test day.


TIP THREE:  When there are variables in the answer choices, pick number instead of doing the math!  Many people want to dive to and attack questions algebraically and ends up with an answer choice that isn’t even offered!  This promotes frustration and vexation that is unnecessary.  Picking numbers makes the math much more manageable. For example:

A company charges as follows:  a dollars per day for the first b days and then (a +1) dollars per day for each day over b.   How much will the cost be for a journey of

c days if c>b.

a)      (a + 1)(c –b)

b)      c(a+1) –b

c)      ab +bc – b

d)      b(c-a) +ab

e)  (ab -2) + (abc – 10)

Taking a deep breath and thinking this problem through in simpler terms makes your test day experience a much better one!  Pick manageable numbers so you can quickly notice any simple math errors.  Don’t make the math harder than it needs to be.  Let a = 2, b = 3, and c = 5.  Be sure to follow the constraints of the question!  So, ask yourself “is c>b?”  So is 4 > 3.  It is, so we are ready to tackle the question.

This company charges a dollars per day for the first b days.  So that means this company charges $2.00 per day for the first 3 days.  This means for the first three days, you spent (2) (3) = $6.00.  Then, the company charges (a +1) dollars per day for anything over b days.  So you will pay (2 + 1) or $3.00 per day for any days over 3 days.

Your total journey is 5 days because we arbitrarily selected c = 5.  So we spent $6.00 for the first 3 days.  However, we traveled 5 days total.  This means we traveled two extra days (5 total days – the 3 days we already calculated).  The two extra days we pay a premium price of $3.00.  So our total money spent is 6 from the original three days and another 6 for the additional two days at the premium price.  Our total amount spent is $12.00  Great!  Then you look at the answer choices and plug in the same numbers to see which answer yields 12.  This is not an integer question, so we need not start with answer choice (c).

Let’s begin with (a).  (a +1) (c – b).  Remember, a = 2, b = 3 and c = 5. Don’t change your numbers when testing the answer choices.  (2 +1)(5– 3).  So, (3)(2) = 6 not 12.  This is an incorrect answer.  Now let’s try (b).  5(2+1) -3,  so (5)(3) – 3 = 12.  This answer is correct and you completely avoided setting up an algebraic expression.  This is a much easier and manageable approach for Test Day.

TIP FOUR:  One must know number properties to master the GRE quantitative sections on Test Day.

Understanding the behavior of numbers will save you a lot of time on quantitative questions.  If you understand the behavior of numbers, you can plug appropriate choices in to any equation.  For example:

If x and y are prime numbers, such that x > y, which of the following cannot be true?

a)      x ^y is even

b)      x + y is always prime

c)      yx is always odd

d)      x – y is always prime

e)      b(b-a) is always odd.

You must know a quick set of prime numbers for the test.  The definition of a prime number is a positive integer with exactly two distinct positive integer factors, which are 1 and the positive integer itself greater than 1.  In other words, the number 1 is NOT prime. This is very important for the GRE!  Next Step encourages students to use 2,3,5, and 7 as their prime number sets whenever possible.   Prime numbers cannot be negative and 2 is the only even prime number.  Let x = 5  and y = 3 because these are prime numbers that are easily manageable and fit the constrant x > y.  Now plug these numbers in to each answer and find which CANNOT be true or must be false.

However if you know your number properties then you don’t’ need to do the math.   For this problem x always must be odd because it always must be greater than y.  Y could be odd or even depending on which prime number you select.  So y could equal 2 or y could equal an odd number.  This means you cannot state that raising x to y power is always odd, answer choice (a) must be false and it the correct answer.  For example:  if y = 3 and x = 2 then (a) would equal 9 and that is odd.  However if y = 5 and x = 3 then (a) would equal 125 and that would still be odd.  The number property you must know for test day is an odd number to a power will be odd regardless of whether it is raised to an even or to an odd power.  If you know this, then you would need to plug and chug numbers for each answer and get yourself confused.  Timing counts on the GRE and number properties can save you a lot of valuable time!

We at Next Step Test Preparation have tons of Test Day tips to help your GRE preparation be much easier. We hope you perform well on Test Day!

Next Step Test Preparation provides one-on-one GRE tutoring programs nationwide. 

GRE Math Basics: Circles

March 31, 2014

Circles:  knowing that all measures of a circle are related through the radius is very helpful for Test Day.  In circle problems, we should always mark the radius and write down the relevant formulas.  There are only a few formulas to memorize for GRE circle geometry.  However, being able to apply these formulas and switch from one to the other will make all the difference on our Test Day performance and timing!

Every circle problem on the GRE comes down to using the radius to find some other measure!

An arc is simply a part of the circumference, and a sector is part of the area of a circle which is formed by two radii, and the arc they intercept.  If we know the radius of the circle and the degree measure of the arc or sector, we can calculate the

Length of arc   =  inscribed angle  =  area of sector

Circumference      360 degree            area of circle

For example:  To find the area of the sector with a central angle of 90 degrees, given a circle area of 64 pie,  simply multiply by the measure of the central angle over 360 degrees.

64 pie ( 90/360)  = 64 pie (1/4) = 16 pie

Join us next time when we’ll discuss translating words into mathematical expressions on the GRE.

Next Step Test Preparation provides one-on-one GRE tutoring programs nationwide. Contact us for a free GRE consultation. 

GRE Math Basics: Triangles

March 17, 2014

Mastering Triangles on the GRE

Understanding the basic properties of triangles can be an amazing savings of time and frustration on the GRE. Once you’ve mastered triangle properties, you’ll find that many geometry problems become quite simple. But — you must invest the time and energy to internalize the properties!

These are the most common triplets and combinations on the GRE.  Instead of having to toil through the Pythagorean triplets to understand the relationships of triangle side lengths, have these memorized.  Your ability to simple plug in numbers instead of calculating saves will save you a lot of time and leaves less room for error.  These triangles are consistently tested on the GRE.

 GRE 3:4:5 triangles

6:8:10 (multiplying all the numbers by 2)

9:12:15 (multiplying all the original numbers by 3)

12:16: 20 (multiplying all the original numbers by 4)

15: 20: 25 (multiplying all the original numbers by 5)

 GRE 5:12:13 triangles

10: 24: 26

15: 36: 39

GRE  7: 24:25

14:  48: 50

These are some of the more uncommon Pythagorean triplets that may be used on the GRE.  However, you might want to memorize them instead of working out a^2 + b^2 = c^2.





1 0 1
3 4 5
5 12 13
7 24 25
9 40 41
11 60 61
13 84 85
15 112 113
17 144 145
19 180 181
21 220 221
23 264 265



GRE Specialty right triangles


45 degrees      45 degrees      90 degrees

X                      X                      X radical 2



30 degrees      60 degrees      90 degrees

X                      X radical 3       2X


There is a lot of stuff that needs to be memorized here, but it is well worth it.  It will translate directly into points on Test Day!  Practicing triangle problems will help many of us commit these formulas to memory.  Being able to see the connection between the different shapes makes memorizing much easier!

GRE Math Basics Part 2: Factors, Multiples, and Prime Numbers

March 2, 2014

There certainly is a lot to know when preparing for the GRE.  However, it is imperative that you are studying highly tested facts versus ambiguous material that rarely shows up on the test.  It’s easy to think that you simply need to focus on high school math concepts such as geometry, algebra, proportions, fractions, percents, decimals, and the order of operations (PEMDAS ), but it simply isn’t true.  That list is not exhaustive and it is extremely difficult to revisit four years of high school math plus a few university courses in the limited time you have to prepare for the GRE.  So, we made things easier!  Despite the fact that everyone’s exam is distinct, there are commonly tested concepts that will help rack up valuable Test Day points.  These are must know facts that are commonly tested on the GRE.

Here are some must-know math facts that will help you navigate the GRE.

  • A factor of a number is any positive integer that can be multiplies by an integer to equal the number.  For example, the factors of 12 are 1,2,3,4,6,12.
  • A multiple of a number is the product of that number and any other whole number.  For example, some multiples of 12 are 12, 24, 36, 48 …
  • Remember that there are few factors and many multiples.
  • A prime number is a positive integer greater than 1 that is divisible by 1 and itself.

For example:  2, 3, 5, 7, 11 ….

  • The number one is NOT prime.
  • The number two is the only even prime number.
  • The number two is the smallest prime number.
  • Zero is not prime.
  • Negative numbers are not prime.
  • Every positive, nonprime number greater than 1 can be expresses as the product of a series of prime numbers.

Common GRE percent conversions

You are permitted to use a calculator on the GRE.  However, knowing common percents, decimal and fractions conversions can save a lot of time.  It is very helpful on Test Day to be able to convert fractions to decimals and percents and vice versa.  Here is a chart with commonly used percents:

5%                   .05       1/20

10%                 .1         1/10

12.5%              .125     1/8

16 2/3%           .167     1/6

20%                 .2         1/5

25%                 .25       ¼

30%                 .3         3/10

33 1/3%           .33       1/3

50%                 .5         1/2

 GRE Ratios

The GRE can describe ratios in various forms.  For example, the ratio of X to Y can be written as X/Y or X:Y.  If you are given a ratio and an actual number of items that corresponds to one of the components of the ratio, you can determine the number of items represented by each of the other components of the ratio.  Consider the problem below:


      Column A                                                              Column B


The ratio of boys to girls in a classroom

is 2:5 and there are 35 girls in the class.


The # of boys in the class                                               14


First translate boys and girls into a fraction and plug in the numbers.  So boys/girls = 2/5.  Then plug in the variable over the total amount of girls and set the two fractions equal to each other.  So:   2/5 = B/35. Then cross multiply to get (5B) = 70, so B = 14.  These columns are equal so the correct answer is (C).

Join us next time for GRE triangle basics. 

Next Step Test Preparation provides one-on-one GRE tutoring programs nationwide. 

GRE Divisibility Rules: Math Fundamentals Part 1

February 20, 2014

A GRE Math Cheat Sheet

There certainly is a lot to know when preparing for the GRE.  However, it is imperative that you are studying highly tested facts versus ambiguous material that rarely shows up on the test.  It’s easy to think that you simply need to focus on high school math concepts such as geometry, algebra, proportions, fractions, percents, decimals, and the order of operations (PEMDAS ), but it simply isn’t true.  That list is not exhaustive and it is extremely difficult to revisit four years of high school math plus a few university courses in the limited time you have to prepare for the GRE.  So, we made things easier!  Despite the fact that everyone’s exam is distinct, there are commonly tested concepts that will help rack up valuable Test Day points.  These are must know facts that are commonly tested on the GRE.

Divisibility rules are a must know for the GRE.  Although you are permitted to use a calculator on the GRE, knowing these divisibility rules will help make you calculations faster.  They also will help you pick the correct numbers when manage word problems and for many that is a huge time saver.  You may be familiar with some of these already, but these are definitely worth reading.

Dividing by 2

  • All even numbers are divisible by 2. E.g., all numbers ending in 0,2,4,6 or 8.

Dividing by 3

  • Add up all the digits in the number.
  • Find out what the sum is. If the sum is divisible by 3, so is the number

For example: 12123 (1+2+1+2+3=9) 9 is divisible by 3, therefore 12123 is too!

Dividing by 4

  • Are the last two digits in your number divisible by 4?
  • If so, the number is too!

For example: 358912 ends in 12 which is divisible by 4, thus so is 358912.

Dividing by 5

  • Numbers ending in a 5 or a 0 are always divisible by 5.

Dividing by 6

  • If the Number is divisible by 2 and 3 it is divisible by 6 also.

Dividing by 7

  • Take the last digit in a number.
  • Double and subtract the last digit in your number from the rest of the digits.
  • Repeat the process for larger numbers.

Example: 357 (Double the 7 to get 14. Subtract 14 from 35 to get 21 which is divisible by 7 and we can now say that 357 is divisible by 7.

Dividing by 8

  • This one’s not as easy, if the last 3 digits are divisible by 8, so is the entire number.

Example: 6008 – The last 3 digits are divisible by 8, therefore, so is 6008.

Dividing by 9

  • Almost the same rule and dividing by 3. Add up all the digits in the number.
  • Find out what the sum is. If the sum is divisible by 9, so is the number.

For example: 43785 (4+3+7+8+5=27) 27 is divisible by 9, therefore 43785 is too!

Dividing by 10

  • If the number ends in a 0, it is divisible by 10

Another commonly tested concept is positive and negative number properties.  For some of us, it has been awhile since we worked with multiplying or dividing positive and negative numbers.  You must understand the various properties of numbers because many GRE quantitative questions will use these concepts within algebraic expressions.  Making flashcards helps a lot of potential GRE test takers remember these concepts.

  • When multiplying or dividing two numbers with the same sign, the result is always positive.  When multiplying or dividing two numbers with different signs, the result is always negative.
  • Subtracting a negative number is the same as adding a positive number.
  • When a negative number is raised to an even exponent, the result is positive.  When a negative number is raised to an odd exponent, the result is negative.


Column A                                                                    Column B



x^2 + y^2                                                                     (x-y)^2


Foiling column B yields (x-y)(x-y) = x^2 -2xy + y^2

Since y is negative, -2ab must be positive and even.

Column B is bigger.

Understanding the properties of negative numbers will save a lot of time on the GRE.  You can rack up points faster without doing a lot of math.

Another commonly tested GRE concept is odd and even number properties.  These abstract concepts are a great way to be able to simply read a math problem and understand the overarching properties of the correct answer.  This save a lot of time and avoids making math mistakes.

  • Even x even = even
  • Odd x odd = odd
  • Even x odd = even
  • Even ^positive integer = even
  • Odd ^ positive integer = odd
  • Even + even = even
  • Even – even = even
  • Odd + odd = even
  • Odd – odd = even
  • Odd + even = odd
  • Odd – even = odd

The product of a series of integers will always be even, as soon as at least one single number is even.  This is true because any even number is a factor of 2, and whenever multiplying by the number 2 the result is always even.  There aren’t comparable, consistent rules for dividing.  The result can be odd or even as we divide.  For multiplication, subtraction and addition the rules are consistent.  If you have a difficult time remembering the rules, then you can always pick numbers to recall the math properties.  For example:  2 ^ 2 = 4 and 2^ 3 = 8.  You will always yield an even number is the base is even.

Example:  If a, b, and c are consecutive odd integers, which of the following must be true?

A)      (a + 1)(c – b)

B)      A(b + c)

C)      Abc

D)     A + 2b + 7c

E)      2bc

The correct answer is (c).  Odd numbers multiplied by odd numbers will always yield odd numbers.

Join us next time for Factors, multiples, and Prime Numbers.

Next Step Test Preparation provides one-on-one GRE tutoring programs nationwide. 


When To Submit Your Business School Applications – Advice From a Former Admissions Officer

February 7, 2014

Today’s Guest Post is By: John Lyon, MBA Admissions Expert at inGenius prep; Former Director of Admissions: Wharton & Stern; Former Assistant Director of Admissions: Stanford Graduate School of Business

A lot of people ask me when they should submit their applications to business school. Almost always, the answer is: “as soon as you can submit a high quality application.” If you haven’t been procrastinating, this will mean submitting your applications in the first round. However, there are a few wrinkles to this simple piece of advice, which are the focus of this article.

In case you are new to business school applications, it is important that you understand the unique multi-round application system. Rather than have a single deadline for all applicants, business schools have three distinct “rounds” during which applicants may submit their applications. Needless to say, this causes a great deal of worry among applicants.

While numbers vary year-to-year and school-to-school, most business schools tend to get around 30% of their applicants in Round 1, slightly more than half of their applicants in Round 2, and a small proportion (usually around 10% to 15%) in Round 3.

As you’ve probably guessed, applying in Round 3 (or “R3”) is not the wisest decision if you’re applying to a competitive business school. At that point, much of the class has already been filled, and admissions officers are just trying to “fill in the pieces.” Thus, unless you are a truly unique and standout applicant – more of a rarity than you would think – chances are pretty good that R3 is not for you. Even if you were such an applicant, you stand to gain very little by putting off your applications until that final round.

What about R1 vs. R2? Well, here is where it gets a little more complicated. For a long time, admissions offices stuck to the hard-and-fast line that R1 and R2 were roughly equal. Recently, they have started expressing a slight preference for R1, which is probably consistent with reality. That is, while R2 is perfectly fine, R1 is probably your best bet if you want every advantage you can get.

You might be wondering, “Why is R1 better?” – this is a good question. A colleague of mine who worked in admissions at Kellogg and Booth put it bluntly: “When your application is assessed, you are compared to the applicants in your round. Thus, if you apply in the second round, there are more applicants to compare you to. If you are a strong candidate but not an obvious “shoo-in,” then you run the risk of fading into the crowd if you apply in R2.”

If you work in banking, consulting, or finance, these words are especially salient. The truth is that the “big hitters” of R1 are typically individuals applying from jobs in consulting and finance. After R1, there are only so many spots remaining for another McKinsey consultant or Goldman i-banker. Thus, if you are one of the many applicants applying from these jobs, you would do well to apply as early as possible.

Bottom line? If you are a strong but otherwise unremarkable candidate, R1 is your best bet. This is especially true if you’re applying from jobs in finance and/or consulting. Unless there are some highly extenuating circumstances, it’s almost always best to avoid R3.

Good Luck!

John Lyon is a counselor at inGenius prep, an admissions counseling company that helps students improve their candidacy and perfect their applications for college and professional schools. To learn more about how inGenius can help you with your business school aspirations, you can visit their website or facebook page.

GRE Timing and Strategic Guessing Strategies

February 4, 2014

How can you use test-taking strategy to improve your GRE score?

The GRE is not just about testing your verbal and math skills.  A huge part of the exam is based on your critical thinking ability and how quickly you can answer the questions correctly.  If the GRE were an untimed exam, scores would be much higher. The GRE challenges you to get the most right answers in a very short amount of time.  Work as quickly as you can without making mistakes on the initial questions so that you’ll have time to carefully work through the hard questions. Don’t feel like you should be timing yourself on every single question. Ultimately, what matters is that you complete the sections, answering as many questions correctly as you can, within the time allotted.   Each question requires a distinct amount of time.  For example, if you understand how number properties work then you may quickly be able to determine the correct answer without doing any calculations.  The time you save on one problem permits you to spend additional time on a higher difficulty problem.

GRE Verbal Strategy

There are two scored verbal reasoning scored sections on the GRE.  They each offer twenty questions that must be completed in thirty minutes.  Some might assume this means that a test taker should use about 1.5 minutes per question, but this is entirely incorrect.  One reason that supports this statement is that 1.5 minutes per question does not take into account that one must read dry, dense reading comprehension passages and then answer several questions based on that material.  In terms of the GRE reading comprehension portion of the verbal reasoning sections, you can expect to see one 3-question passage, three two-question passages, and one one-question passage.  About 50% of the questions will be related to short or long passages; however this is an estimate of the GRE verbal reasoning sections’ minimum requirements.  The one one-question passage is the argument structure passage which usually consists of strengthen, weaken, inference, parallel reasoning, or flaw questions.  Clearly, you must allocate some time to read the passages and arguments before answering the questions.


Also, reading the questions first and then reading the passages is a huge mistake. You might feel it could be beneficial because if you read the questions first, then you will know what concepts to look for when reading the passages.  Unfortunately this is wrong because you will first read the questions, then read the passage and then reread the questions to be sure you understand what the GRE is testing.  After that, you will have to go back and research the passage again to be sure you understand what the passage is stating.  This is simply too much duplicity and it is unnecessary and you will waste valuable time.

The verbal reasoning sections will also include text completion and Sentence Equivalence questions.  It is important to note that some of these question types will have more than one correct answer.  This means the test taker will have to select more than one answer to get the question correct.  If a question has three correct answers and a test taker only selects two of the correct answers, then the test taker will not receive any credit for the question whatsoever.  This is especially important to note when tackling text completion questions. They may have one or two or even three blanks to fill in.  There is no partial credit on the GRE.  Also, sentence equivalence questions ask you to select the two answers that best complete the sentence and provide similar meaning.  Hence, if you try to answer each question in approximately 1.5 minutes then you will not complete the section.

 GRE Quantitative Strategy

There are two scored quantitative sections on the GRE.  They too offer twenty questions but they must be completed in 35 minutes. The math section will be a combination of multiple choice problems, data interpretation, quantitative comparison questions (compare the columns), numeric entry, geometry and problem solving questions. You must be able to make sense of graphs and charts filled in nonessential information and extract the necessary data to answer the quantitative questions correctly.   The reason this is important is because a smart GRE test taker can save time by answering some GRE quantitative questions quickly in order to use more time to answer other more difficult problems.  It is imperative to know number properties and mathematical terminology to ensure you pick the correct set of numbers when tackling GRE math questions.   For example, if you understand how exponents work, you will be able to solve some quantitative comparison questions in less than thirty seconds.  This allows you extra time when tackling data interpretation questions that require you to use multiple charts and tables.

Some people believe that not completing a section but answering most of the questions correctly is better than guessing and completing all twenty questions in the section.  This egregious idea is unacceptable and detrimental to your GRE performance.  It might be true for the SAT, but the GRE is a completely different exam with a distinct scoring system.  The GRE questions vary in difficulty level throughout each section.  Do not believe that the most difficult questions are at the end of each section.  This is also untrue and cost GRE test takers a lot of valuable percentage points.  The exam is not section-level adaptive.  This means your performance on the first verbal section determines the difficulty level of your second verbal section.  To ensure you receive the most difficult sections in both math and verbal, then you must complete all the questions in each section and get the majority of them correct.

Unfortunately there are some questions on the GRE that you might not have any idea how to approach.  You might be working on a text completion question and not know what the definitions of some of the words are.  There are several approaches to help you make an educated guess versus an arbitrary one.  For example, when dealing with esoteric vocabulary use your knowledge of prefixes, suffixes and roots to try and grasp a fundamental understanding of what the word means.  If you are reading a sentence in one of the verbal reasoning sentences and you can predict that the correct answer must have a positive tone, then you can eliminate incorrect answers with “mal” or “dis” in them.  The prefix “mal” usually means bad and the prefix “dis” usually means not.  These could be negative charged words so they could be eliminated.  Again, this technique is flawed because there are examples where the word is a positive one.  Despite this fact, making an educated guess when you have no idea what the words mean is still better than simply picking an answer on a whim.

Another technique to help you make better guesses is to pit the answer choices against one another.  Sometimes four answers will be words that are synonymous with one another.  If that is the case, you can eliminate all four synonyms and find the correct answer simply by the process of elimination. The GRE will never require you to select an answer between synonyms.  However, if a word is more extreme than another, elimination must be based on the extremity of the question.  For example, the word “hungry” and “ravenous” both refer to your appetite, but “ravenous” is much more extreme than hungry.  Understanding the difference between synonyms and extreme wording are other ways to help you make better guesses on the GRE verbal reasoning sections.  No matter what, pick an answer.  Leaving blanks in a section does more damage to your percentile ranking than guessing incorrectly.

Also, when taking the actual GRE, you must be aware of the clock.  You must keep in mind how far along you are in a section and how much time remains.  If you only have ten minutes left to complete a section but you are only on question six, then you literally need to make some arbitrary, quick guesses on difficult looking problems without even trying them.  Sacrificing difficult looking questions will at least buy you more time to work on some of the more manageable ones with hopes of getting them correct.  You can always flag the questions you guessed on and go back if time is left in a section.  You need to secure your baseline score but getting a certain amount of questions correct.

To avoid this scenario, you should be incorporating timing techniques during your GRE preparation.  So, about three or four weeks before your test you should start working on timed section practice and full length GREs.  If you are working in a timed environment and have no idea how to approach a question, guess and move on.  You can always revisit the problem once you have secured the majority of the questions in a section. This is especially important in the first verbal reasoning section as well as the first quantitative section.  Your performance in the first sections affects the difficulty level of the second sections.  One question in any section cannot make your score, but wasting valuable time on one question can break your score.  It simply isn’t worth it.  Remember the GRE is also testing your time management abilities and being able to move on to another question is exactly the type of behavior you will be rewarded for.

Taking the GRE is not simply about understanding difficult vocabulary or managing taxing math problems.  The GRE is testing your critical reasoning skills under significant time restrictions.  Knowing how to manage your time appropriately and knowing when you simply move on to another question is imperative.  These techniques must be utilized to achieve your test day goals.  Digging your heels in and being stubborn is detrimental behavior and will cost you valuable points.  Once you have mastered the fundamental concepts of the material, then timed section practice, full length exams and full reviews of the material are the keys to Test Day success.

Next Step Test Preparation provides one-on-one GRE tutoring programs nationwide.