*Original post released on 12/3/2020
Let’s face it, no one is a fan of standardized tests including myself. The Graduate Record Exam (GRE) is no exception. This exam is a hurdle in and of itself because it’s almost always a requirement for grad school and its content is not usually something we’re excited about or motivated to learn and consistently study. To make matters worse for me personally, the first (…and hopefully last) time I take this exam will have been with only 6 solid days of exam preparation. I ended up overlooking this requirement for grad school, thinking my undergraduate GPA would waive this portion of the application requirements. Now I’m stuck with a time crunch and an exam date I’m thoroughly underprepared for. My intent for this article is to not only compile tips and tricks for myself to use for the exam, but to help you all with tips that I’ve picked up while studying intensely over these past few days. P.S. I am by no means suggesting to take this exam without adequate preparation, especially since it’s over $200 to register. It’s not worth having to pay again or endure the stress and pressure associated with minimal preparation.
Without further ado, let’s get into it! In general, the GRE has three content sections: the analytical writing assessment (AWA), the verbal, and the quantitative sections. You’ll start with the AWA section and receive two different prompts to write on, each with a time limit of 30 minutes. Then you’ll take a verbal section (20 questions, 30 minutes), followed by a quantitative section (20 questions, 35 minutes), rinse and repeat again. The testing service may also throw in an additional unscored section (verbal or quantitative) at any location during the testing session or a research section which would be delivered at the end of the exam. I believe the unscored section will not be blatantly identified.
The scoring range for each prompt in the AWA section is 0-6. You’ll get two scores (one for each prompt) and then you resultant overall score is the average of these two scores. Both the verbal and quantitative sections are scored on a scale of 130-170. Most CRNA schools, if that’s why you’re taking the exam, desire a composite score of 300 (150 per section) and an AWA score of around 4 in order to be a competitive applicant.
To gauge where you sit along this score continuum, you’ll definitely want to take a full-length practice exam and use that score and feedback to guide your test preparation plans. The test maker site (ETS.org) offers two free full-length practice exams when you register for your exam, so don’t forget to add them to your cart! I also recommend adding the “Score It Now!” product, which is a $20 fee, so that you get two scored prompts. This is important to note because the free practice exams will not provide you with a score on the two prompts you practice with. I “purchased” the two free exams, one extra, and the score it now AWA prompts.
Next, we’ll move on to some general tips for the exam as a whole. Then we’ll break down each section and note the tips that I found to be most helpful or of the greatest importance. Make sure you take one full length practice exam at the bare minimum. These exams are long…like nearly 4 hours long. You need to do this in a practice setting to build up stamina for test day. That being said, when you do attempt one or more of these full length practice exams, be sure to do so in a setting that mimics what you’ll have for test day. This means limiting distractions, no available calculator except what’s provided on the screen, no phone/TV/music/etc. After you take exams or practice sections, be sure to keep a list of all the mistakes (no matter how silly) and review them prior to each new attempt. Keeping those reminders fresh in your mind will help you avoid making the same mistakes again.
Understand that there is NO penalty for guessing. It is for this reason that you need to answer every single question, even if time runs out, even if you’re not sure what the answer is. There are no excuses! Those are potentially free points you could be missing out on. If you can eliminate any of the answer options, do it! That only increases your likelihood of picking the right answer even if you guess. If you need to skip a question, be sure to mark it for review with the button at the top and save time to go back to it.
Now, let’s talk about resources for test preparation! I mainly utilized the ETS practice exams for full length review. For individual section practice and repetition, I used the 5lb Book of GRE Practice Problems to help study. Since my study time was limited and I respond well to verbal/visual teaching, I opted to watch the Magoosh GRE videos and Greg MAT review videos. Magoosh has some free videos on their app and website, but they also have additional available with a fee. Greg MAT is a site for GRE prep that costs $5 per month! I also turned to YouTube for some of the tips and tricks type of videos when I got tired of studying specific materials which is where I came across Galvanize. Kaplan I mostly used their book for memorization of the quantitative formulas. If you need a cost effective way to study, use Greg MAT and the books in the top three photos to the right.
Moving right along! Let’s break it down into the different topics now and discuss each section of the exam: AWA, Verbal, and Quantitative.
AWA Tips & Tricks: Scored on a scale of 0-6
For the best writing practice, be sure to utilize the Score It Now! feature. For $20 on the ETS website, you’ll get access to two prompts which are scored using their electronic software. What’s even better is there’s a “writer’s analysis” tool that breaks down your writing with the areas they dinged your overall score on. Keep in mind that there is no spelling or grammar check feature available when writing (typing) your essay. That means don’t use those showy GRE words that you’re not entirely familiar with or words you know you have difficulty spelling. Keep your writings clear, concise, and thorough.
When you first get your prompt, make sure you jot down a brief outline to organize your thoughts and plan of attack for the essay. In this outline and in your essay be sure to include an introduction with thesis statement, main points with supporting details, and a brief conclusion. If you’re not good at forming an introduction, just write your thesis statement for now. Finish the remainder of your paper and return to the introduction during those last few minutes. When writing your conclusion, make sure that you don’t include any new information not previously discussed in your main body of text. While writing, utilize different sentence structures, sentence lengths, and transitional words to enhance the flow of your essay.
Never let yourself finish without having a few minutes to proofread, even if this means your essay is shorter in length. Ensure that you’ve addressed the topic at hand, have convincing supporting details that you’ve articulated to the best of your ability, address at least one valid counterpoint, and meet all the required aspects of the writing prompt. If you find yourself with ample preparation time, the best way to prepare would be to review the available prompts posted on the ETS website and jot down a brief outline for each. If you’re in a time crunch, don’t even attempt doing this.
Verbal Reasoning Tips & Tricks: Scored on a scale of 130-170
For this section, you’ll need to expand your vocabulary repertoire…there’s no way around this. I used Quizlet and Magoosh for this purpose. Time management is key and time spent per question can range from 30 seconds to a few minutes depending on the question types, so pace yourself. Save yourself a little time by knowing and understanding the directions for different question types prior to the exam day. Do the simple questions (like text completion and two blank questions) first while marking and saving the more involved questions for the end. Following this strategy will help you build up your score as quickly and highly as possible early on since those questions are quick to complete and should be easier. And again, always attempt every question! Even if you run out of time, make sure every question has an answer selected. It will not hurt your score, it can only help.
When you don’t know the answer, utilize contextual clues within the sentence to help you eliminate wrong answer choices whenever possible. Every word is included in the question or the directions for a reason, so don’t skim or skip any of the words. Keep an eye out for transitional words (Ex: however, yet, although, nevertheless) which can shift the sentence meaning and alter the correct answer choice. While reading the sentence or passage, anticipate possible answers and/or questions before looking down to the answer selections made available to you. Using this method can help prevent you from falling into their word traps.
Quantitative Reasoning Tips & Tricks: Scored on a scale of 130-170
Understand what content can and will be covered on the quantitative section of the GRE exam (see photo above). Have basic formulas and mathematical concepts, as well as basic question directions, memorized prior to test day. Another key tool to have in your arsenal for this section is the ability to compute mental math calculations. Practice honing in on this skill extensively. If you find yourself reaching for the computer calculator more often than not, then you’re falling into the test maker’s trap. Many of the questions involve multiple variables, so it’s concept driven rather than calculation driven. The majority of the questions in this section can be done without a calculator.
Of course, with any type of math, practice makes perfect. Do multiple practice problems and review those questions you miss so you can avoid getting them incorrect on the exam when it truly counts. Budget your time wisely. Don’t spend more than one minute per question, and if you get stuck mark the question for review and come back to it at the end. Again, do not leave any questions unanswered! You are essentially throwing away potential points when you leave a question unanswered.
Now that I’ve shared with you the tips and tricks I’ve picked up throughout my brief time studying for the GRE, stay tuned to see how I do! My exam starts in less than 48 hours from the time I’m posting this article. If you’ve taken the GRE and have some sage words of wisdom, leave it in the comments below. If you’re planning on taking the exam or are already scheduled for it, let me know when your test day is. Sometimes telling someone the date can help hold yourself more accountable. If you’re debating on taking the exam for CRNA school or NP school, I suggest taking the exam because it opens up so many different doors for you in terms of schools to send your applications to. Some only apply to programs that do not require the GRE, but in my opinion that seems to be fewer and fewer programs as of lately. This exam is a standardized way of helping admissions team members weed through and narrow the pool of applicants. It’s definitely something you don’t want to take lightly.
Stay tuned for the announcement about my preliminary GRE scores – good or bad!