So you wanna take the GRE? 8 Tips for prepping for the GRE

Photo:  AdobeStock

Photo: AdobeStock

  1. Simulate test day the day before.

You’ll want to go through every step of the day. Set your alarm to the time you would need for the day of the exam. Commute to the test site so you ‘re not frazzled looking for the right building and room when your anxiety is highest. Heck, while you’re there, take a practice test. Be hyper-aware of how you feel. DO you feel peckish by section 3? Should you pack a snack that will satiate you without making you sluggish (my go to was almonds and water). This all sounds neurotic now, but for someone who may be particularly anxious, having a set and tried rhythm/routine for test day will help mitigate some of that nervousness.


2. Stay off the forums (most times).

Reddit and Grad School Cafe can be very dangerous. The potential blows to your confidence are infinite. However, there are some gems to be found within those often vitriolic internet forums. For instance, very early on, I found a reddit thread where folks submitted their schedules and preferred materials, as well as a detailed list on how to use them. This helped me to structure my own study plans. Now, these helpful guides aren’t a one size fit all. And the closer you get to test day, the more reading these forums will unnerve you.


Don’t let thoughts of “why didn’t i use this resource a month earlier?” or “I’ll never get that score” plague you too close to the test. I would say if you’re someone who would benefit from a diversity of styles and guides to help model your own studying plan after, read through these threads EARLY. Extract what you can from the endless resources available in these threads, ignore the condescending trolls, and then step away. One resource I would say you can look at frequently is Twitter (whhhaaaaattttt…?) no but actually, there are a number of hashtags for folks in academia, especially from underrepresented communities, like #TrynaGrad, that hold a lot of exceptional advice, personal anecdotes, and motivation to keep you going when caffeine just isn’t enough. 


3. Take study advice with a grain of salt.

While the GRE is quite formulaic (once you’ve rehearsed using the formula, you can kind of get it), the way you learn that formula is tailored to how YOU learn. Think back on your undergraduate career. For many of us, we didn’t realize our own particular studying style until close to our junior or senior years. Don’t let all that good work and experimentation be in vain! Reflect on your learning style, and tailor your study plans to your specific goals and needs.


4. If you can avoid it, do not work on your application at the same time.

Particularly the writing sample and statement of purpose. Tthis has nothing to do with time management. I actually did work on my application while also studying for the GRE. For two months, I would study for the GRE during the weekdays, and work on my writing sample and statement of purpose on the weekends. This separation is so important and here’s why: the manner of writing for a writing sample or even a statement of purpose is so astronomically different from the type of succinct analytical and persuasive writing you’ll be practicing for the AWA. Very different audiences, purposes, and rubrics for writing. At the very least, if you are unable to parcel your time in this way, avoid your application at all costs the week before your test. That way, you can stay in the mode of AWA writing style.


5. Know that there are no perfect conditions.

You’re a perfectionist. I’m sure of it. Most folks ambitious enough to apply to graduate school often are. You probably thrive on routine and consistency, almost to the point of superstition. You’re worried if your coffee isn’t just right or your morning yoga routine is delayed the day of the test, you will surely fail. Remind yourself that there are no perfect conditions for taking a test. So don’t study that way. Absolutely make a routine or schedule if you thrive on such discipline. But don’t make your study routine so rigid that a minor change is cause for catastrophizing. Try something new each day. Study in a different cafe, listen to a new album while you work, or just leave behind your lucky pencil for the day. Anything to get you practiced in being adaptable.


6. And if nothing else, remember that not all schools require the GRE.

Thank goodness! There are schools for which the GRE is optional. If you did stellar, great! Send in those scores to those schools and flex how well you did. And if not, guess what? It doesn’t even matter. Better yet! The overwhelming advice I hear from professors and graduate students alike is that once you get beyond the 50th percentile, your scores are kind of negligible when compared to the rest of your application. These schools are looking for aptitude, not perfection.


7. Evaluate the importance of the GRE.

If you find yourself expending the majority of your application period studying for the GRE, perhaps reevaluate how important a high GRE score is to your overall application. If you’re applying to a field in which GRE scores will make or break your application OR you’re like me and want to compensate for a not so stellar GPA, then give greater credence to your GRE scores. But don’t let that extra time and energy towards your GRE be reflected in the quality of the rest of your application.


8. Lastly, be kind.

To yourself, to your mentors, and to your peers. This process is so inherently self-critical. The scrutiny with which these schools are looking at you is intense. But the amount of pressure you put on yourself is even more crushing. Being kind to the people that help you seems too obvious to mention. However, sometimes it’s hard to remember to be gracious when you’re so focused on how much you don’t want to fail. So be kind to those around you. And be kind to yourself. Take care of your body as best you can. Don’t punish it with sleepless nights and crappy foods. Include breaks and reminders within your study plans. For me, that meant scheduling in time for yoga, time for friends, and some time for a few laughs from Twitter.


Author’s Bio

Chloe 'CJ' Jones is a recent graduate from Dartmouth College with a degree in African and African-American Studies. Her research focuses on aesthetic possibilities for the captive black female subject. She is currently applying to PhD programs for Fall 2019.

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