“I can’t stop trembling. I can’t eat. I cry for little or no reason. I am just so nervous.” All of this from Janelle, a prospective graduate student, in response to scheduling a GRE test date. I was not surprised that Janelle was nervous, given that almost all prospective graduate students are a bit anxious about admission tests. However, Janelle took “anxious” to a whole new level. It was clear to me that I would need to develop a somewhat different plan of action to successfully help Janelle perform at her very best on this exam.
My first step was to listen carefully as Janelle shared all her feelings and fears. She said that she already felt better just by having someone listen without judgment. I told her that I would brainstorm some options, and we scheduled a follow-up meeting.
I decided to “borrow” some of the techniques I use to deal with speaker anxiety in the public speaking classes that I teach. I was planning to use cognitive restructuring – changing the way we think about something.
A three-stage strategy for GRE success
During our next conversation, I told Janelle that I had developed a three-stage strategy to position her for success. I asked her to think about the GRE process like the development of a relationship – in other words, going from the acquaintance level to friend level to intimate level. We were going to “Make Friends with the GRE.”
Here’s how we did it:
STAGE 1: Acquaintance level
This is the “getting to know you” stage of the process. Here’s what you need to accomplish during this stage:
- Understand the GRE testing program.
Research the GRE general test and the discipline-specific subject tests, especially in terms of available test administration dates, time limitations on retakes, score delivery options, and so on.
- Determine which tests are required by the schools/programs of your interest.
Check the admission criteria and the application deadlines of the schools/programs of your choice to determine which tests are required and so you can schedule the appropriate exams to meet all the criteria.
Keep in mind that while the GRE general test has multiple test administration sites and dates, the GRE subject test administrations are often scheduled only two or three times per admission cycle. Careful advance planning is necessary to meet these deadlines so that you do not find yourself in a situation where your application is not complete by the deadline date. Many programs will review only complete applications.
- Learn even more by surveying and requesting feedback from others who have taken the exam.
They might well have some tidbits of advice for you. They might alert you to specific pitfalls to avoid. Keep a list for future reference.
STAGE 2: Friendship level
This is the “let’s become friends” stage of the process. It includes the following:
- Visit the ETS website to learn more.
You’ll want to gather as much info as you can about the GRE subject tests offered and to access the associated subject test review books, which include details on the content areas for the test, the weights assigned to each topic, and a practice test. This will provide you with a guide on what to study as well as how much time to allocate to specific topics. The subject test practice book can be downloaded for free or will be mailed to you after you register for the exam
- Identify your areas of weakness.
To prepare for the GRE general test, you should invest the time to diagnose the skill areas that you will need to pay the most attention to by identifying areas of weakness that require intensive review. These could include, but are not limited to, reading for meaning, analyzing and general organization of your ideas in short essay format, general mathematics, algebra, geometry, and charts.
- Take advantage of the diagnostic services offered by ETS.
These include GRE Diagnostic Tests and ScoreItNow!, the online writing practice. Check out these low-cost options on the ETS website. Make use of the GRE POWERPREP software for reviews of the verbal and quantitative measure sections of the GRE exam.
- Be prepared to write two timed essays.
One essay will present your perspective on an issue, and the second essay will assess your ability to analyze an argument. You can practice typing an essay response under timed conditions using GRE POWERPREP software, or you can pay for ScoreItNow! for online writing practice. The analytical writing measure serves as an assessment of critical thinking and the following analytical and writing skills: articulation of complex ideas, clear and effective examination of claims and evidence, supporting ideas with relevant reasons and explicit examples, preparing a well-focused and coherent discussion, and displaying mastery of standard written English.
- Throughout this entire stage, use positive self-talk as a confidence booster.
Place the emphasis on all the progress you have made and continue to make.
(On a side note, I made sure that I was always available for confidence boosting and positive feedback)
STAGE 3: Intimate level
This is the commitment stage of the process, which requires you to do the following:
- Practice in the right mode.
Become comfortable taking a computer-delivered, timed, online exam by practicing in that type of environment. If you only practice using a review book, the new delivery format might increase your level of anxiety and, as a result, could negatively impact your performance.
- Look back at how far you have come, and continue to invest in the relationship you have established.
You might even learn to enjoy the challenge and the rewards that the relationship could bring.
- Last but not least, allow yourself enough time for the relationship to strengthen (prepare and study for the exam) and take hold.
Be patient with yourself!
At this point, I am sure you are wondering whether Janelle was successful. Yes, she was! She handled the stress very well and was accepted to her top-choice schools. I was certainly proud to have helped her achieve her goal.
And we can help you, too – with testing strategies and any other element of the graduate school admissions process. to learn more about how we can guide you to acceptance at your top-choice graduate program!