5. GREs
By: Steve Krenzel
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Practice Tips

I took the GREs recently with about a week and a half of prep. I arguably did pretty well (above the average score for masters and phd students in the Ivy League). Here are 8 quick rules to remember to help you get the score you want:

  1. The GREs are not a test of intelligence.
  2. The GREs are not a test of intelligence.
  3. The math is simple. Easier than the SATs. The ETS doesn't assume you took math in college.
  4. Make no assumptions.They try to make it harder by hoping you'll assume things (i.e. a right angle in a polygon just because it looks like a right angle)
  5. One question at a time. When the question is answered, the question is over. Don't look back, you couldn't even if you wanted to. (See Computer Adaptive Test)
  6. Pacing is everything. That means practicing... practicing a lot. Read that again... and then start practicing.
  7. Don't work harder than you have to. Most questions have answer choices. Most answer choices are easy to discard.
  8. Write everything down. For many questions it is easier to figure out the wrong answers than the right answers. Writing everything down, including the answers, let's you cross them off as you go. Don't trust your mind you mentally cross off answers, the visual reinforcement of having it crossed out on paper is invaluable.

Follow these general guidelines and you'll be just fine. The test really isn't that bad.

I found that buying the Princeton Review's 1,014 questions book helped greatly for rule #6. There are a lot of errors in the book, but if you're confident in your math skills then you just need the questions. (The Princeton Review should really be ashamed of the number of errors in the book... I'm sure you can find another book with lots of questions, anything should do). It let me get my pacing down perfectly (I finished the actual test with 4 seconds left, and I did it on purpose). You have about 90 seconds per question. By the time you've read it and wrote everything on paper you''ll have seconds to figure out the answer. Doing actual practice problems is the only way to get these times down to reasonable numbers. If the last standardized test you took was the SAT, you'll be rusty. Trust me.

Cracking the GRE, by the Princeton Review was actually much better (although there was an error or two), and focused on tips rather than questions. This was extremely useful for rule #7. Even though a lot of the math on the GRE is simple, this is a great refresher of all the little shortcuts that you've forgotten. It will show you how to quickly eliminate questions, often without having to work out any real math. It was great to go over the basics again. You'll be surprised by how much fell to the back your brain. You'll be even more surprised by how quickly it'll all come back after reading a little bit.

If you're reading my site, the masters or phd program you'd be going into probably won't care about the verbal section. Of the week and a half of preparation, I spent two nights memorizing 400+ hit parade vocabulary words. Only one of them was on the actual test. I'd recommend running through the verbal section in the books, but if time is short and you still haven't gotten the math to where you want it, keep at the math. The "Cracking the GRE" book had a few really good tips for doing well in the verbal section regardless of your vocab, so try to find time to get through it.

About the author
I'm Steve Krenzel, a software engineer and co-founder of Thinkfuse. Contact me at steve@thinkfuse.com.
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