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How to Get a Good GRE Score When You're Running Out of Time

Updated on March 10, 2012


I write this off of personal experience with studying and taking the GRE. Which stands for Graduate Record Examination. However, during my GRE coma I referred to it as "The Bane of my Existence". The GRE is a soul-sucking test that requires rigorous studying, something I was not prepared for.

Preparing for the GRE

Let me start off by saying, I did not prepare well to take the GRE. I wasn't planning on taking it, most schools don't require it for Creative Writing. But then I found two that did (Florida State University and Emerson College) and I had to sign up for a time slot in haste. I couldn't wait till December because I needed the scores in by the end of December, so I found the only other option, one week away. I was rather conceited in my intelligence and thought a week would be enough time to look over the basic outline and receive a decent score. How wrong I was...

I bought a book and decided to take a practice test. HUH? was the only thought that came to mind. WHAAAT? was the only answer I could muster. And many profanities followed. I started to go psychotic but looked on the GRE website and saw that I was able to reschedule my test date, and I was lucky to find a different time at a different location that was a few more weeks out. Granted, I had to pay a fee for rescheduling, but it was well worth it. I guess $50 is the price of my sanity.

After now being acquainted with what I was up against, I dived into my prep books, head first. I had a month to study for the GRE, had been out of school for over a year, and hadn't taken a math course since freshmen year of college. So it is obvious to say that I was clueless. I wasted time having to refresh my memory on all of the algebra, arithmetic, and geometry principles. I had forgotten what angles were in a right triangle! Once I remembered how to do everything I was way behind and only had a couple of weeks to go. I struggled with finding balance between work, my boyfriend, sleeping and eating(!), and studying. I went into GRE hibernation, and trust me, you did not want to prod me. I did all the exercises in each section, but wasn't achieving the result I wanted. While I was doing math, I was also studying words, I found a book with a suggested 300 of the most used GRE words. I made flashcards and would review some everyday, I thought 300 would be easy! That was a reality check. These words are as good as they get, first class, VIP. I found that a lot of them had similar meanings or sounded and looked the same. I grew frustrated that I couldn't retain the information.

I had mental and emotional breakdowns and found that after a certain point I was no longer able to digest information, my brain was full. I felt as if there was a fog that crowded my encephalon and I couldn't see through it. It was a very dark time in my life--thinking how this one test would determine the possibility of achieving my dreams, this one test would predict my future. I became depressed and anti-social and had thoughts that no one should have, especially over something as trivial as the GRE.

I took the GRE in November 2011, therefore, I took the new Revised version. I believe the most important difference between the old and new GRE is the verbal section; there are no longer antonyms and analogies, rather, they have been switched to text completions, which includes up to three different blanks. So discard the old books and get the newer versions, I suggest Kaplan or Barron's for a comprehensive approach, or the Princeton Review "Crash Course for the New GRE" if you are in a time constraint, like I was. I think it provides a great overview of what to expect, and gives hints to logically try to figure out the answer even if you don't know the definition or equation to use.

Words of Advice

If you are reading this because you are thinking about grad school and taking the GRE, I would suggest the following:

  • Read. As many books as you can, but read the classics, Dickens or Austen, throw in some Fitzgerald. The GRE loves their vocab words and it is rare to find salubrious, amalgamate, prevaricate, or vituperative in "Are You There, Vodka? It's Me, Chelsea" (healthful; combine; lie; abusive, respectively).
  • Read some more.
  • Keep reading.
  • You're not done reading yet.
  • Review your math fundamentals. It would be terrible to get a question wrong due to not following PEMDAS (if you don't know what that is, you will need to).
  • Take practice tests.
  • Teach others how to do the problems. They say you retain more information if you teach someone else. Plus, you have to know what you're doing if you are showing someone else how to do it.
  • Start memorizing vocab words as well as roots. Not too many at once or else you'll get confused and forget them. And use them in your everyday conversations, the best way to remember a word and it's definition is in context.
  • Keep a balance. Maintain work AND play.
  • You guessed it, read.

Okay, now, if you're like me and have to take the GRE soon:

  • Take a practice test to see where your strengths and weaknesses are, and study accordingly.
  • Study vocab words. There is no way to memorize all of the words they have out there in the prep books, study roots and prefixes and suffixes so you can make an educated guess if you're unsure of the definition.
  • Review your math and keep doing the problems you tend to get wrong until you start getting them right.
  • SLEEP!! Your brain needs sleep so that it can process information and help you to retain it, if you slack on your sleep your brain is going to get fogged.
  • Eat healthy. I've included a link to a website that has information about eating habits for maximum productivity.
  • Don't ignore the writing portion (like I did). Make sure you look at suggestions for the Analytical Writing and practice writing for 30 minutes, it goes faster than you think.
  • Balance between work and play, but be smart about it. Your main focus is, of course, to study and get a good score, but you also need downtime, so use your downtime to your advantage. Perhaps read a book that you enjoy or play a game with your friend: who can come up with the most synonyms for a word.
  • Get a book like "Crash Course for the New GRE" that will help you along in this whirlwind.
  • And RELAX. There are other factors that they take into consideration for acceptance into grad school. Don't let the stress get the better of you.


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      abid qayyum 5 years ago

      I am going to appear on 17th i.e. after 2 more days... I am not a native english speaker so I am struggling with Verbal a lot.. But irony is my low score in maths.. :(

      I am fluctuating between 153 and 160 in maths and really need to score 160+

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      Yam 5 years ago

      Thank you so much for sharing this with us. I will take the GRE at the end of this month. I wish you all the best sista'!

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      sara 6 years ago

      your post will help students to get GRE Good Scores

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      lauren 6 years ago

      I am taking the GRE this Saturday and feel hopeless. I have already postponed the exam 4 times - thinking that each time I would study more... that hasn't happened. I'm just going to bit the bullet and take it... I have almost all of the 250 suggested words memorized, but the math is another story. I get really confused and have bad anxiety. I really hope this one test isn't going to be my end all for my potential college program.