Several times a week my students ask me, “What’s the best way to study?” They’re worried that they’re doing things the wrong or slow way, or they’re working hard but not making the progress they want. I will say this: If you’re putting in the hours, the results will come, maybe not as quickly and easily as you’d like, but you’ll get there. However, I have discovered two common “types” of students who put in a lot of time and hard work with less than satisfactory results: Read more
There’s a better way to learn GRE vocabulary, and it’s based on scientific principles that have been demonstrated by researchers since the 1800s. It’s called spaced retrieval, and the basic idea is this: Read more
Imagine that you asked a friend of yours what she got on the Quant section of the GRE. Instead of answering you directly, she said “let’s just say that 4 times my score is a multiple of 44, and 3 times my score is a multiple of 45.”
Could you tell what score she got? If not… you may need to work on your GRE translation skills! Read more
This is going to be a short post. It will also possibly have the biggest impact on your study of anything you do all day (or all month!).
When people ramp up to study for the GRE, they typically find the time to study by cutting down on other activities—no more Thursday night happy hour with the gang or Sunday brunch with the family until the test is over.
There are two activities, though, that you should never cut—and, unfortunately, I talk to students every day who do cut these two activities. I hear this so much that I abandoned what I was going to cover today and wrote this instead. We’re not going to cover any problems or discuss specific test strategies in this article. We’re going to discuss something infinitely more important!
#1: You must get a full night’s sleep
Period. Never cut your sleep in order to study for this test. NEVER.
Your brain does not work as well when trying to function on less sleep than it needs. You know this already. Think back to those times that you pulled an all-nighter to study for a final or get a client presentation out the door. You may have felt as though you were flying high in the moment, adrenaline coursing through your veins. Afterwards, though, your brain felt fuzzy and slow. Worse, you don’t really have great memories of exactly what you did—maybe you did okay on the test that morning, but afterwards, it was as though you’d never studied the material at all.
There are two broad (and very negative) symptoms of this mental fatigue that you need to avoid when studying for the GRE (and doing other mentally-taxing things in life). First, when you are mentally fatigued, you can’t function as well as normal in the moment. You’re going to make more careless mistakes and you’re just going to think more slowly and painfully than usual.
While studying for the GRE Text Completion (TC) and Sentence Equivalence (SE) questions, you naturally want to study vocabulary. After all, that’s what the test is testing, right?
Yes and no. The GRE does test vocabulary, but it also tests your ability to analyze a sentence and divine the author’s intended meaning. (And for those of you keeping score at home, did I use the word ‘divine’ correctly? Are you familiar with this less common usage?)
And so, we preach (sorry, with the word ‘divine’ earlier, I had to!) a method for TC and SE that involves identifying the Target, Clues, and Pivots in the sentence. All well and good, but how do you to this? Here’s where the following limited grammar discussion should help, because although the GRE does not directly test grammar, a little grammar knowledge can be immensely helpful!
We begin with the core elements that every sentence contains: the subject and the verb. Separating the subjecting and the verb from other elements (which I will generically call descriptors) is part 1 of my TC and SE analysis. Part 2 is matching each descriptor to what it describes.
So let’s see two examples. One is a TC example from Lesson 1, the other is a SE example from the 5 lb. Book.
So you’ve just taken a practice test. Chances are, you didn’t get a perfect 340. (If you did, stop studying and come work for us!). You probably didn’t even get a score that you like yet. That doesn’t mean that you’ve failed, though. In fact, you’ve barely started, because…
REVIEWING IS THE MOST IMPORTANT PART OF THE PROCESS!!
Most people take tests, then look at the score, then click on the explanations to the ones they got wrong. Their review process takes about 15 minutes, and just involves “oh, I did that wrong. Oh, that’s the right answer.” This kind of review process teaches you next to nothing about how to do better on the next one.
So here’s what you need to do. The test gave you a score from 130-170 on accuracy, but you need to give yourself your own score on your review process. Here’s how it works…
For every single question – not just the ones you got wrong! – you should be going back and re-solving. Take yourself through this checklist for quant problems:
1) Did I fully understand the concept and the rules behind it? +1
Give yourself a point if you could tell that a question was asking about DIVISIBILITY, or understood the RATE x TIME = DISTANCE relationship.
2) Did I understand what the question was asking for? +1
Did you rephrase DS questions to pinpoint what they were really asking for? Did you notice that it asked for “Amy’s age in 5 years,” and wrote down A + 5 instead of just A? Did you understand what it means when they ask for “x in terms of y and z”?
3) Did you solve it correctly? up to +5
Give yourself up to 5 points if you solved correctly the first time and got the right answer. Subtract a point or two if you took longer than you should have, or made a mistake before ultimately correcting it. Only give yourself +1 for a random lucky guess and +2 for an educated guess.
4) … or if you didn’t solve correctly, did you make a good decision to skip? +2
You’re not aiming to get every single question right on the GRE. Some may be too hard to solve in the time given! So you should pat yourself on the back whenever you recognize that a question is too hard to solve, and you make the decision not to attempt it. Lock in an educated guess and save that extra time for a problem that is doable for you.
Of course, I certainly was NOT trying to discourage them. I used that statement to illustrate that geometry questions are often a type of quantitative question that can feel immensely frustrating! You know what shape you have, you know what quantity the question wants, but you have no idea how to solve for that quantity.
This is what I meant when I said you’ll never know how to answer these questions. That “leap” to the correct answer is impossible. You can’t get to the answer in one step, but that’s all right: you’re not supposed to!
(An important aside: if you’ve read my post regarding calculation v. principle on the GRE, you should be aware that I am discussing the calculation heavy geometry questions in this post.)
The efficient, effective approach to a calculation-based geometry question is NOT to try and jump to the final answer, but instead to simply move to the next “piece”. For example, let’s say a geometry question gives me an isosceles triangle with two angles equaling x. I don’t know what x is, and I don’t know how to use it to find the answer to the question. But I DO know that the third angle is 180-2x.
That’s the game. Find the next little piece. And the piece after that. And the piece after that. Let’s see an example.
The correct response to this problem is “Bu-whah??? I know nothing about the large circle!”
But you do know the area of the smaller circle. What piece will that give you? Ok, you say, area gives me the radius. A = pi*r^2, so pi = pi*r^2, so r^2 = 1, so r = 1. Done, and let’s put that in the diagram.
You’ve been prepping for the GRE for a while (or maybe you’ve just started), and you’re trying to gather as much information as possible. But because no one knows exactly what will be on the GRE until you sit down to take it, there’s a lot of misinformation out there!
Some of this misinformation is left over from the old GRE (pre-2011), which was very different in structure and somewhat different in content from the current form. Not everything that was true about the old GRE is true about the new one. Some misinformation, though, is just the product of assumptions made from very little data.
So let’s dispel some of those myths here…
1. You have to memorize a ton of big, fancy vocabulary.
False! The old GRE tested a lot more of these million-dollar words – words like pusillanimous, flagitious, or escutcheon. For this reason, lots of lists of “GRE words” on the internet still contain mostly these ultra-fancy words that no one actually uses. (The old GRE also had a question type called “antonyms” in which you had to pick the opposite of a word without any sentence context whatsoever! The new GRE only uses vocab in context.)
On the current GRE, almost all of the vocabulary you’ll see on Text Completion and Sentence Equivalence (TC and SE) will be words that you probably already know. These are the medium-difficulty words that you’d be likely to read in the New York Times or The Economist – words like impartiality, debilitating, or superfluous* .
These TC and SE questions are in part testing your vocabulary knowledge, but far more importantly, they’re testing your ability to parse the logic of a sentence. You’ll see many sentences with simple vocabulary, but with complex structures, including transitions, contrasts, or flips. Your ability to follow the logic of clues like “however,” “rather than,” “would not have been,” etc, and make inferences from them will affect your verbal score more than the impressiveness of your vocabulary will.
So to do well on TC and SE, you don’t need to memorize the dictionary! You probably already know more than three quarters of the words you’ll encounter (although you’ll want a moderate dose of studying for those words that you don’t already know). You should spend a good amount of time understanding and analyzing those complex sentence structures, in addition to just memorizing words.
2. You don’t really need the calculator.
This is another misconception leftover from the old GRE, which didn’t let you use a calculator. Many of the practice questions that you’ll find in online searches or in prep guides are leftovers from the old test, because the topics (algebra, geometry, word problems) have not changed from the old test to the new. These older questions are all doable without a calculator, which leads some students to believe that they’ll never need it.
You’ll certainly see questions on the new GRE that are doable without a calculator (and many that are easier to do without a calculator). However, a lot of students are surprised at how many questions on the test require good calculator use. You’re likely to see at least a handful of questions that ask you to multiply or divide “messy” numbers – something like 62 x 83. Sure, you could do that by hand, but when the clock is ticking it’s much more effective to use the calculator.
You’ll still see many problems on which common sense, concept knowledge, and/or mental math are more effective than the calculator. And if you find that you’re using the calculator on more than half of problems, you’re relying on it too much! But you should take the time to practice with the onscreen calculator to make sure that you’re comfortable with using it effectively.
3. Just learning the rules is enough.
Not true! Knowing the rules and concepts is of course necessary to do well, but you also need good time management and stamina to do well.
Taking a 4 hour test is a very grueling experience, and if you’re not used to being under that much mental pressure for that long, you’ll get exhausted! That can take a big toll on your score for the last few sections. Make sure you take several timed practice tests before the real event, and do them under the same time constraints as the real test (no extra breaks, no pauses). Train yourself like you would train for a marathon!
And of course, make sure to get a good night’s sleep – not just the night before the test, but for at least 3 nights before the test – and eat a good meal an hour or two before the test.
Make sure you’re pacing yourself well in each section. If time runs out, you lose points on the questions you didn’t get to. Don’t be afraid to skip the ones you don’t know, to get to the ones that you can solve.
There’s nothing I can tell you that will actually make the test fun to take, but knowing what you’re up against can certainly make the experience less intimidating!
Studying for the GRE? Take a free GRE practice exam, or try out one of our upcoming free Manhattan GRE trial classes, running all the time near you, or online. And, be sure to find us on Facebook, LinkedIn, and follow us on Twitter!
The Manhattan Prep team is pleased to announce the new edition of our popular set of eight GRE® Strategy Guides, available now. All are content-driven and written by real GRE® instructors. Used individually or as a set, these guides will help you develop all the knowledge, skills, and strategic thinking necessary for success on the GRE®!
This comprehensive set covers every topic tested on the GRE® revised General Test, with many practice problems and more pages per topic than all-in-one books. All eight of the books have been updated. Here are some of the details:
Word Problems: Newly expanded rate problem chapter, now detailing various rate scenarios that can appear on the test. Build your understanding of ratios, statistics, probability, and more. Learn to classify and most efficiently solve these challenging GRE® math questions.
Reading Comprehension & Essays: Revised strategy chapters for note-taking and Argument Structure passages. Practice with many Reading Comprehension passages and questions. Optimize your Essay performance with clear ground rules and recommendations.
Text Completion & Sentence Equivalence: Six newly updated drill sets with complete explanations, including definitions. Study over 1,000 vocabulary words, made memorable with usage examples.
In addition, you’ll get six free online practice exams with the purchase of any Strategy Guide, including answers, explanations, scores, and assessment tools.
We are eager for students to start using these new practice materials. We hope you are as excited about these books as we are.