Guest Post by Jason
1. Practice Makes Perfect
As a teacher, the most frustrating thing for me to see is a student who has the potential to do very well on an exam but doesn’t dedicate an appropriate amount of time to practicing. More often than not, students have great fundamental skills in areas such as arithmetic, algebra, and writing, but underperform on the test because they don’t practice enough. If they could find the discipline to apply themselves to the “practice makes perfect” principle, most could improve their scores significantly by themselves. Seeing these students was a daily reminder that I needed to dedicate time to practice — ultimately, all of the practice I did ended up being an important factor in improving my score (especially in the verbal section).
So why is practice so important? Practice improves speed, minimizes careless errors, augments problem solving abilities, and increases familiarity with tests — all important factors in succeeding on the any standardized exam, including the GRE.
2. Know Your Enemy
Being a teacher has forced me to become extremely close with the tests that I teach, including the GRE. Of course, not everyone can be a teacher, but everyone can benefit from studying the test itself. Know what is going to be on the test, what content, what kinds of questions — immerse yourself in the GRE. Read solutions manuals so that you can get more perspectives on how to solve a problem. As a teacher, it’s extremely important for me to know how to solve a problem many different ways so that I can explain it to different students — this helped me immensely on the GRE because I had many different strategies on hand to solve many different problems. If I was struggling with trying to solve a problem one way, I could take a step back, reflect on similar questions I’d seen in the past, and devise a new approach. The better you know the test and its questions, the easier it will be.
So how do you know your enemy? First, make sure you know exactly what topics will be on the GRE. Nothing is worse than coming across a question that you weren’t prepared for. Second, read solutions manuals. I can’t stress this enough — the more ways you know how to solve a problem, the more weapons you have in your arsenal against the GRE. Spending my time with students doing hundreds of problems in several different ways was definitely the main reason I was able to get an 800 on the math section.
3. Confidence is Key
A large part of success on any standardized test is confidence. Confidence will help you maximize speed and minimize careless errors, and approaching the test with the right attitude will allow you to approach every problem with the belief that you can solve it, which is the first step to solving any problem. Many of my students spend an unnecessary amount of time worrying about whether or not they’re doing the problem correctly (they always stop in the middle of the problem and look at me for confirmation).
Over the past several years that I’ve been teaching, I’ve gained an enormous amount of confidence in my ability to solve any problem on any standardized test I teach, including the GRE, which has allowed me to do the problems faster and with fewer careless errors. With enough practice and preparation, anyone will gain the ability to attack the GRE with confidence!
Jason is a prospective computer science graduate student, a teacher, and a blogger. He took the GRE in November 2010 and got a 1510. Currently, he works as a teacher and tutor for Testmasters, a test preparation company based in Houston, TX. Visit their blog at It’s Not GREek!