Planning for GRE Studies is Critical
Many potential GRE test takers have difficulty initially crafting a realistic GRE study schedule. It takes time to learn how to study effectively. Every test taker wants to save time and energy but still produce desired results. It is imperative that target a realistic goal in the time you have to prepare for the GRE. Some test takers claim they need to score in the 99th percentile, but can only study ten hours per week for four weeks. This is simply an unrealistic goal unless the baseline score is phenomenal to begin with. Contact the schools you want to attend and see what their preferred GRE percentile ranking is. Then take a preliminary GRE practice test and see where you stand. From there you should be able to have a fundamental understanding of how long you need to prepare for the GRE.
Now, fill in a calendar beginning with the current date to the appropriate Test Day date. If you are unsure of your GRE testing date at this time, then estimate the month you wish to take the exam to ensure you have a reasonable deadline. In between, indicate any class schedules if you are still in school. Also include your work schedule to the extent you know it. Do not forget to include any holidays, vacations and business trips. Include every event that impacts sitting down, day after day, to prepare for the GRE. Also include any Next Step Test Prep dates and activities as well. Workshops and presentations do not constitute GRE study time.
Be realistic when crafting your study schedule: Assess the number of weeks/days available, the amount of time each day to devote to preparation and practice, and other life obligations. Many GRE test takers initially promise themselves that they will study constantly and put forth their best efforts. This is not realistic unless you have a structured schedule that allocates time away from your GRE preparation. You must take on or two days off when preparing for the GRE. A steady diet of GRE practice is necessary, but so is time away from the material. Set up a weekly schedule and stick to it. There’s room for flexibility, but a disciplined preparation schedule is necessary to ensure you are truly trained and confident on Test Day. If possible, make your study sessions around four hours, just like the actual GRE. This helps you build some endurance for the test. If this is not possible, then try to make the sessions as long as possible without suffering a diminishing return. Meaning, if you try and sit in front of a book for three hours per evening from 8 pm until 11 pm after working a full day, you might not be able to concentrate during the last hour as well as you did the first hour. This is not realistic and will only cause frustration. An alternative practice that should be considered is start with the highest priority GRE concept and pick a time slot when you know you are the most alert and focused. For example, some people like to study after exercising because they are energized and can focus better than after eating a large meal. Do this for each of your GRE commonly tested concepts so you are studying them during your hours of greater alertness.
Start in all areas of the exam
Initially it is imperative that you work in all GRE subject areas, not just areas of weakness. Crafting a balanced study schedule is critical because GRE skills rust quickly when not consistently used. Strengths do not remain so unless you practice the material. Remember that unless you are scoring 100% in a subject area, then there is always room for improvement. Many of us have a natural inclination to gravitate to our weaker areas as the test gets closer. You must give attention to your strengths to make sure they don’t get rusty and to build confidence.
Do not simply take test after test. Taking exams alone is not sufficient for Test Day success. It is imperative that you work on skill building material before you try to pace yourself. Trying to work on material that you have not mastered in a timed environment is a recipe for disaster. Be sure that some days you work on your best areas first to help build a positive mental attitude. Constantly working on material that you are weak in simply makes you feel weak. It’s important that you remember you do already understand a lot of concepts that are tested on the GRE.
It is imperative you practice on actual GRE material whenever possible. You must use a variety of materials to master the GRE. Do not focus on one subject solely. A steady diet of all GRE material is necessary to ensure your best GRE showing. Some students believe they need only focus on the quantitative section or the verbal section to achieve a quick score increase. This is a mistake and will cost you valuable Test Day points. Remember the GRE is still an adaptive exam, although each section is static. Your performance on the first section will determine how easy or difficult the second section is. A steady diet of all the GRE material is the best way to safeguard your Test Day approach.
For your first week of preparing for the GRE, you should focus on the mistakes you made after taking a practice exam. Review every single question on the exam, not just the ones you got wrong and ask yourself “How could I have answered this question faster/better?”. Once you have identified key areas to study, commit to working on math concepts one study session and then verbal concepts during another session. Skill building material is necessary to build confidence. It is wrong to think “Once I get a great score on a practice test, then I will be confient.” That is actually faulty logic. The truth is that once you are a confident test taker your score improves dramatically. You no longer panic during the exam or freeze on a question. After you have mastered a skill set, then take a timed quiz to be sure you are utilizing your Test Day strategies consistently. Then move to another concept for a few days, and when you take another quiz incorporate not only the material from week two but also the material from week one. Continue this process until two weeks before the exam. At that point, you should be proficient in all of the GRE concepts and can take full length practice exams with full reviews.
Don’t wait until Test Day to try a new strategic approach. Know which strategies yield you the greatest dividends, before you enter the testing center. Genuine skill comes from patient efforts over time. Therefore, you shouldn’t expect immediate results. Sustained practice on key material will be what helps you master the GRE. Getting a question correct today is not the most important thing. What matters is whether you can get a similar question right on the test, and whether you employed a method that you can rely on for Test Day.
The best and most strategic test takers know which questions to attack hard and attack quickly. Your focus should be qualitative. It’s not important whether you get 10, 20, or 30 questions right on one topic in one practice session. At the outset, what matters is determining whether you are approaching the GRE in the most strategic and productive way. Coherent practice is key to mastering the GRE. Set up a weekly study plan and stick to it.
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