Plato famously said that “courage is knowing what not to fear.” On the GRE, it can be equally said that a big part of success is knowing what not to do. Much is taught in articles like this about things you should do to boost your GRE score, but what about things to avoid doing? Here are the four leading culprits responsible for hindering your success on the GRE. Avoiding them may take a little courage on your part (or at least a new way of thinking!), but the payoff is absolutely worth it.
Mistake #1: Solving certain quantitative questions the way your high school algebra teacher taught you
Let’s make one thing clear: Your job on the GRE is to get right answers, not to make your high school algebra teacher proud. You don’t have to show your work. Nobody is critiquing your scratch paper. So why are you trying to solve everything the traditional, textbook way? There are a handful of what I call “non-standard GRE math strategies” that help you come at certain question types from a different angle. Here’s a free video where I break it all down for you. These strategies are great news if algebra isn’t your forte or if you struggle to come up with formulas to solve classic GRE word problems. They take a little getting used to, but once you master them, the GRE will be a whole lot less painful for you!
Mistake #2: Calculating instead of comparing on Quantitative Comparisons
Your overriding mindset on GRE quantitative comparison questions should be “Compare, Don’t Calculate.” Yet the mistake a lot of students make is that they try to solve QC’s the way they would traditional math word problems. That’s a lot of extra work and beyond the scope of what you’re trying to do on quantitative comparisons in most cases. Consider an example like this:
Mistake #3: Answering every question in order
One of the unique aspects of the GRE is that you can skip questions and come back to them. Use this to your advantage. If you’re struggling with finishing sections on time, it may be that you’re making the common mistake of trying to answer every question in order on the first attempt. You get to a question that’s a little bit challenging, you fixate on it, and you think, “I know how to do this!” The next thing you know it’s been four minutes and you still don’t have an answer. What’s worse, you’ve wasted precious time that could have been spent on later questions that you’re better equipped to solve. Instead, a better strategy is to answer only the questions you have a strong chance of getting right on the first pass-through. I call it “picking the low-hanging fruit.” Then, come back to the questions you were unsure of. That way you’ve at least finished the section, and better yet, you’ve answered all of the questions you know how to do without running out of time! Here’s a video where I explain this strategy in more detail as well as other important GRE time management considerations (note: the time management discussion starts around the 5:18 mark).
Mistake #4: Losing perspective
I had a coach tell me once that to win any contest you must beat two foes: your opponent and yourself. This is absolutely true on the GRE. You’ll likely spend months learning everything you can to beat your “opponent,” the GRE — things like right triangles and quadratic equations and probability rules and English vocabulary, etc. But what good is all of that if you show up on test day over-stressed and over-nervous and unable to perform your very best because you’ve made the GRE into something bigger than it really is? Now don’t get me wrong, performing well on the GRE is important. It’s a big piece of your graduate admissions puzzle, to be sure. But have some perspective. What’s the worst thing that happens if you don’t get the score you’re shooting for? You can study some more and take it again. The sun will still come up tomorrow. You have food to eat and clothes to wear. Your dog still loves you. Life goes on. My point is, you need to overcome your test anxiety and show up on test day calm, collected, focused, and ready to execute on what you’ve been studying so hard for, and worrying isn’t going to help you with that one bit. So keep one eye on the bigger picture while the other eye is locked in on fully preparing to dominate the GRE!
What was your biggest takeaway from these four points? I’d love to hear from you! Please leave your comments/questions below and I’ll look forward to continuing the conversation with you.
Brett Ethridge is the founder of Dominate Test Prep, a leading provider of GMAT and GRE courses online as well as topic-specific GRE and GMAT video lessons. He has taught both exams for over 10 years and loves working with students to help them achieve their highest potential. Brett is an entrepreneur, a budding CrossFit athlete, and an avid Duke basketball fan.