Do you remember, when you took exams in high school or college, being allowed to bring a one-page ‘cheat sheet’? I always spent days putting those cheat sheets together in my tiniest handwriting, summarizing an entire semester’s notes on a single page. The funny thing is, by the time I took the exam, I almost never needed to look at the cheat sheet I’d created. After spending all of that time creating it, I had practically memorized my notes. So, even if you can’t bring a cheat sheet with you to the GRE, you can still benefit from creating one. Synthesizing your notes and thoughts on a single page will give you the ‘big picture’ view of a topic, and will teach you what you do and don’t know. 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
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.
In a way, the environmental movement can still be said to be _________ movement, for while it has been around for decades, only recently has it become a serious organization associated with political parties and platforms.
The above sentence is a SE example from the 5Lb Book of GRE Practice Problems, #89. Today’s discussion explores a third element of sentence structure that is easily overlooked – pronouns! They can greatly help you clarify the meaning of a sentence. (And if you didn’t notice already, do you see what I did in the previous sentence? They – did this pronoun catch your eye?)
The challenge with pronouns isn’t that they are difficult to address, it’s that they are nearly invisible to us, because we have spent our entire adult lives ignoring them when we read and speak. As a test, how many pronouns have I used just in this short paragraph?
Here’s one way I want you to ‘see’ the earlier SE example:
In a way, the environmental movement can still be said to be ________ movement, for while it has been around for decades, only recently has it become a serious organization associated with political parties and platforms.
Stop mid-sentence, and address those ‘it’s. This mental exercise is not about finding the target, clues, and pivots, although you should be aware a pronoun could certainly be the target. This is about making sure you understand the sentence. Mentally, you should read the sentence as
So, in my last post, I discussed finding the core sentence, using punctuation to help us break a sentence into manageable chunks. We looked at two sentences; I’ve re-copied one of them below.
The director’s commercially-motivated attempts to (i)_______ the imperatives of the mass marketplace were (ii)_______, as evidenced by the critical acclaim but low attendance garnered by his film.
We focused on how the comma breaks the sentence in half: one half is the actual core sentence, and the other half describes how the director’s attempts were critically, but not commercially, successful.
This time, let’s dive into what’s happening with that first blank, and now I’ll give you the answer options:
Many, many students in my classes choose ‘secure’, and that really puzzled me. If a class doesn’t know the answer, there’s usually a fairly even division among the choices. What I saw wasn’t students guessing; they thought they had the correct choice in ‘secure’. Somehow, the third option was a trap. How?
I have a theory: ‘secure’ is a trap because students link the first blank to the wrong element, the wrong target. I think many students link that first blank to the word ‘marketplace’, and then think about how someone would want to ‘secure’ a ‘market’ for a product (in this case, a film).
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.
Distractions are bad. Routine, concentration, and hard work are good. These all seem like common-sense rules for studying, right? Surprisingly (for many people, at least), learning science tells us that these “good habits” may actually be hurting your learning process!
When you were in college, your study process probably looked something like this: for a given class, you’d attend a lecture each week, do the readings (or at least most of them), and maybe turn in an assignment or problem set. Then, at the end of the semester, you’d spend a week furiously cramming all of that information to prepare for the test.
Since this is the way you’ve always studied, it’s probably how you’re approaching the GRE, too. But I have bad news: this is not an effective approach for the GRE!
Taking notes then cramming the night before the test is beneficial for tests that ask you to recite knowledge: “what were the major consequences of the Hawley-Smoot tariff” or “explain Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle.” You can hold a lot of facts -for a brief time – in your short-term memory when cramming. You memorize facts, you spit them out for the test… and then, if you’re like me, you find that you’ve forgotten half of what you memorized by the next semester.
Why the GRE is Different
The GRE doesn’t reward this style of studying because it’s not simply a test of facts or knowledge. The GRE requires you to know a lot of rules, of course, but the main thing that it’s testing is your ability to apply those concepts to new problems, to adapt familiar patterns, and to use strategic decision-making. You’ll never see the same problem twice. Even with vocabulary, you need a robust understanding of words, not just memorized definitions.
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.
Music can do a lot for us, but the word is still out on whether it can enhance our ability to stay focused and sharpen our memories during long study sessions. On the one hand, we have a report from the University of Toronto suggesting that fast and loud background music can hinder our performance on reading comprehension. On the other, there’s the recent
research from the digital music service, Spotify, and Clinical Psychologist Dr. Emma Gray, which proclaims that pop hits from artists like Justin Timberlake, Katy Perry, and Miley Cyrus can actually enhance our cognitive abilities.
“Music has a positive effect on the mind, and listening to the right type of music can actually improve studying and learning,” says Dr. Gray. She even suggests that students who listen to music while studying can perform better than those who do not.
We also cannot leave out the so-called “Mozart Effect,” which alleges that listening to classical music provides short-term enhancement of mental tasks, like memorization. We’ve heard students swear by this tactic, while others say that silence is golden.
Okay, the title shouldn’t describe them as activities that teachers hate, so much as activities that this teacher hates. I don’t hate them because they’re completely useless, but I hate them because they distract well-meaning and hard-working students. Studying for the GRE is time-consuming and hard enough without inefficient strategies.
There are certain study strategies that exasperated students have in common. When a student tells me that they’re following one of these strategies, the rest of the story is usually, and my score isn’t going up at all. Here are, in my opinion, the four big ones, and their better alternatives.
Binging on problems
This is a big one. Stories that start with, I did all the problems in the book or I bought an extra set of problems and did every single one usually end with but I’m not getting any better!
It’s not that doing all the problems in the book is a bad thing, but chances are if you’re doing that many problems, you aren’t giving them the time they deserve. Doing problems is a good way to assess what you know, but it’s actually not a great way to get better at doing problems. That comes when you review what you’ve done.
Wonder if you’re doing too many problems with not enough review? Go back and do 10 problems you did last week, timed. Do you remember how to tackle them? If so, you’re probably reviewing enough. If not, you might want to tackled fewer problems in more depth in order to see a better payout.