In the twilight region of your brain, there is buried a memory. It probably goes something like this: against your will, you woke up very early one Saturday morning to crowd into a room of similarly groggy teenagers. A vaguely authoritarian figure handed out number two pencils and yelled “start” and “stop” at 30-minute intervals.
You emerged from the experience frazzled, probably wondering why you had to take a stupid test that didn’t test what you really knew but seemed intent on tricking you. A few weeks later you got a score and then went on your way, a sour taste in your mouth whenever anyone uttered the letters—SAT.
Now, what seems a lifetime later, another very similar test stands between you and your academic career: the GRE. Like the SAT, you will have reading passages, big vocabulary words, and, of course, answer choices that are designed to trick you. Unlike the SAT, you may have a very different attitude towards education. No longer are your parents waking you up to take a test or telling you when to study (or at least I hope not); you are in charge, and you are set on doing very well on the GRE.
Much of that success depends not just on the size of your vocabulary or your knowledge of integer properties, but on how well you understand how the test is designed. Below are some points to keep in mind.
1. The SAT and the GRE are not exactly the same
The information above may lead you to think that the GRE and the SAT are exactly the same. First off, the GRE is much more difficult (makes sense since it tests knowledge in grad school bound students). And students often find themselves confused with the different scoring. The GRE score range is from 130 to 170 on a math and a verbal section (the GRE doesn’t have a writing section—though, like the SAT, it does have an essay).
2. Understand why the right answer is right and the wrong answer is wrong
For SAT test takers there is a tendency to want to argue with the answers, especially on the dreaded SAT reading passages. The key is to not fight the correct answer but understand why the test writers consider the right answer and why your original answer is considered incorrect.
3. You must learn vocabulary
In high school you were probably loath (which means reluctant) to study vocabulary. For the GRE, you have to turn your initial revulsion to all things multisyllabic into an all-consuming passion. Think of a GRE word list as your ticket to a good score.
4. How did you do before?
If you did well on the SAT, you should do quite well on the GRE. There is no SAT to GRE score conversion, but unless you spent college unlearning your math and reading skills, your good SAT score should translate into a good GRE score.
If the SATs did you in and sent you sailing in a different direction in life, don’t despair. That’s what this post is for: to galvanize you to approach GRE studying differently from how you approached SAT studying. An average SAT score doesn’t have to translate into a mediocre GRE score. You can overcome the past. So get cracking on those vocabulary flashcards!
This post was written by Chris Lele, resident GRE expert at Magoosh, a leader in GRE prep. For help with GRE vocabulary, check out our free flashcards and Vocab Wednesday videos on the Magoosh GRE Blog.