How to Study for---and Pass---the GRE
Steps to Follow for Passing the GRE
If you are planning to enter graduate school, you are probably aware that most colleges and universities require that you make a certain score on some type of entrance test. One of these tests is the Graduate Record Exam (GRE).
Several years ago, I decided to enter the doctoral program in a major university that required a composite score of 1000 on the verbal and quantitative sections of the test. That requirement is for the GRE form that was given prior to 2011. The scoring after 2011 is different, but strategies for studying for the GRE are similar.
The only math courses I had taken were Algebra I and Plane Geometry----and that was in high school! I knew I had some serious studying ahead. After talking with several friends who had succeeded in passing this test, I armed myself with a stack of books and made a plan. Your particular course of action may vary according to your strengths and weaknesses, but here are some general guidelines to follow in preparing for taking the GRE.
1. Start with the basics and keep it simple. The first step is to brush up, or remediate, any weak areas ahead of time. Since I knew my skills in algebra and geometry were weak, the first step for me was to purchase a basic algebra and geometry book/workbook. This little book covered every type problem one could encounter in a basic Algebra I course, as well as problem solving related to plane geometry. In looking over the current selections on Amazon, I found several books similar to the one I used. In selecting a book, be sure to look inside before buying. Also, look at the reviews and buy one with at least a four-star rating.
2. Book format is important. Each book divided the chapters into different categories according to the type problem. The author subdivided each chapter into sections: First, a presentation of the problem, next, an explanation of how to work the problem, and illustrations. After the illustrations of the problem, the author displayed similar problems for the reader to solve---one at a time. The answers were always on a separate, yet easy-to-find page. Each answer described the reasoning for the answers in detail. This book took me systematically through each problem. The author assumed the reader knew little or nothing, and that assumption was perfect for me!
3. Set a schedule and stick to it. This step was probably the most difficult. I spent an average of two hours each night and four nights per week working problems. I usually added another six hours on Saturday, and by the week’s end, I had spent about fourteen or fifteen hours working math problems. As I worked through the book, I noted problem areas and I repeatedly returned to the difficult problems. These math study sessions lasted almost six months. By the time I completed the book, I knew a lot more about algebra and geometry than ever and was ready for the next step.
4. A GRE Preparation course was the next step. The local university offered one of these courses, and I signed up. One word of caution: Some private companies offer these course reviews for a variety of standardized tests. If the course employs the same teacher for both verbal and quantitative instruction, ask to see their credentials. With higher-level math and English or reading comprehension, few professional teachers are highly competent with specialized training in both subject areas. In addition, be sure the course includes instruction regarding the differences in this test after 2011, particularly with the scoring.
5. The course covered quantitative and verbal. I did not have to take the analogy section, but I remained in the class for that part---after all, I had paid for the entire course. As I worked through the math problems, I was grateful that I had studied independently before signing up for the course because my math skills were considerably better than they were six months earlier.
6. Independent Studying. At some point during my algebra-geometry marathon study sessions, I purchased a book called, Cracking the GRE (Princeton Review). Recently, I noticed a publication called Essential Words for the GRE (Baron’s GRE, Philip Geer, author). The Essential Words book lists vocabulary words to know for this test in order of importance. Although I did not have this particular book, I liked the way the author listed the 300 most essential words to know, and then he proceeded to less essential, but important vocabulary words.
7. More independent study. While taking the GRE course, I began to tackle the verbal section more heavily. I made index cards on the vocabulary words presented in the course. The word went onto one sideof the card and the definition and a workable sentence using the word went on the card’s back.
I divided the index cards into three groups----those word that I easily recognized and remembered, for the second group, I placed the words that were not so difficult but still needed study, and finally, I placed into a third group of words those that were extremely difficult. Every day I reviewed the words that needed more work until I could put them into the “know well” stack. I reviewed the “know well” list occasionally, but not often. Those difficult to learn words are the ones that took the most time. I learned only 3-4 new ones in this group each day. Everyone’s learning style and vocabulary level is different, so the number of new words to tackle each day will not be the same for everyone.
8. Learn the maximum each day without overload. Decide what you can learn without being overwhelmed and don’t attempt too many at one time. To learn these difficult words, I wrote a sentence with the word and added the sentence to the index card. I continued this process until I had learned all the new words in the book.
9. Reading comprehension---some tips. In preparing for the verbal portion of the GRE, be sure to study how to find the main idea. Several books are available. I like the one by John Langan, Ten Steps to Building College Reading Skills and Ten Steps to Improving College Reading Skills (Townsend Press). Although these books are extremely simple, you will find yourself learning more tips for effective reading comprehension than you could imagine, and then you apply the principles to the more difficult passages on the GRE practice tests. Some of the strategies you will need for the reading comprehension include finding the main idea, looking for test answers within supporting details, understanding inferences and implied main idea, and determining what a word means from its context---all are strategies that work well with any reading selection. You can proceed through one of these books and move on to apply them with the GRE material. See my hub entitled “How to Help Your Child Find the Main Idea.” These instructions apply to reading any passages. That link can be accessed here: http://simondixie.hubpages.com/_a2hot0s0uc4u/hub/How-to-Help-Your-Child-Find-the-Main-Idea-in-a-Paragraph-or-Other-Selection
10. Learn how to guess on the GRE. Finally, after polishing my math skills for about six months, taking a GRE prep course, and studying independently, I went to the last step in the process: I purchased a book that explained how to guess on the GRE. I recently looked for a book with a similar title and couldn’t find one. However, I noticed that one of the Princeton Review GRE study books contains a section on how to make correct guesses when you don’t know the answer. I recommend making sure you include some last minute studying on how to guess when all else fails.
This GRE study plan worked well for me. First, the brush-up on math allowed me to tackle my weak areas and bring my math skills to a higher level before I got into the more difficult GRE math questions. If I had not begun slowly, I think I would have been overwhelmed with the realization of how little I knew about math. Instead, I began slowly and worked up to more difficult problems gradually. By the time I got to the GRE course, I had the basic skills mastered; therefore, I accomplished far more with the GRE course because I wasn’t struggling with the lower level skills.. Overall, it took me about six months of working independently before I was prepared to take the GRE course. Not everyone will need that much time.
In the whole scheme of events, the important thing is that I met the goal I set. Without a plan---and this one worked for me---, I doubt I would have made it. When I took the GRE, I scored 100 points higher than the required score, and I entered the doctoral program, the next step in the process.