How to Put Your Best Foot Forward on Test Day

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The key to GRE success?

Many of us have gotten through school with decent grades by relying on one method: cramming. We’ll likely order a jumbo-sized coffee, deposit ourselves in the far corner of a café, and condense three-months of material into a six-hour, red-eyed, caffeine-fueled study session.

If you pull those shenanigans test day, you’ll definitely end up with those red eyes—which you’ll want to close as soon as you see your score.

The GRE is a massive test that, for many, requires months of intense preparation: vocabulary lists, math fundamentals, mock tests, and dense reading passages are just the tip of the GRE iceberg. To do your best, you will simply need a lot of time.

But of course things are a little more complicated than that. You can’t just hole yourself away in some attic, and live and breathe GRE prep. Sure, you’ll probably improve a little, but really maxing out your potential comes down to the following:

What you study

The GRE universe contains books and resources vital to your success; it also contains materials that are out-of-date or not really representative of what you’ll see on the test.

How you study

Many labor under the delusion that all they need to do to improve is one problem after another.  First off, you have to make sure that you are using the proper strategies. That’s why learning the strategies from the best resources is really important. If your approach is off, you are only reinforcing it by doing problem after problem.

You’ll also want to understand why you are missing certain questions. That is, don’t just understand why the right answer was right, but why the wrong one you chose was wrong.

You’ll also want to take practice tests to chart your progress. It helps to have a goal in mind so make sure you know the average GRE scores of the programs you’re looking to get into.

When you study

If possible, don’t rely on once a week study binges, hoping that 6 hours in one day will make up for six days you didn’t crack open a single book. Spread out your study sessions throughout the week. Even 20 minutes here and there will make a big difference and keep the material fresher than were you do GRE prep just once a week.

What about those last 24 hours?

Believe it or not, if you’ve been studying properly for about six weeks leading up to the test, those last 24 hours should be relatively stress-free.

Of course that doesn’t mean I’m not going to share some last minute GRE tips. First off, don’t cram. You should review words you already know, but don’t undertake new words or anything demanding—don’t try to knock out a set of three essays, washing them down with back-to-back verbal sections. The key is keeping your stress low and your confidence up. There is no need to upset your equilibrium for the sake of one problem set.

At the same time, keep the engine oiled those last 24 hours by doing some review. Make sure to get a good night’s rest; don’t go into the test center starving (nor gorge yourself on some decadent meal an hour before your appointment); and don’t down 20-oz of coffee the night before.

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MagooshThis post was written by Chris Lele, resident GRE expert at Magoosh. For more advice on taking the GRE, check out Magoosh’s GRE blog.

*Image courtesy of amenic181 /