Although not the most difficult exam in the world, the GRE is definitely one of the most tricky. When you start your preparation, you’ll realise that scaling your score from a 300 to a 310 isn’t that difficult, but pushing past the 320 barrier, which counts as a good GRE score, can be quite challenging.
To get a great GRE score, you need to approach your preparation strategically. You will also need to have a very solid plan of action with a clear timeline in mind. Below are the five steps you need to follow to ensure a killer GRE score!
Step 1: Know where you stand
There is no point in attending a preparation program or practicing volumes of questions if you haven’t taken a full-length mock test. Doing this will ensure that you know exactly where you stand and the kind of weaknesses you have. Furthermore, taking a full length test will help you get a taste of what the GRE really is: long, stressful and challenging.
You can take a full length mock test by downloading the Power Prep Tests that the test makers provide. Take the entire test: this includes the two AWAs and all the Verbal and Quant sections. This mock GRE score will help you gauge your current level. This should be your starting point.
Based on your GRE score, have a plan that sets targets within specific time frame. But please keep your targets realistic. For example, if you get a mock GRE score of 140 in Verbal, it is possible to scale up to a 145 or to even a 150 in a month and then to a 155 the next month. But expecting to scale to a 160 within two weeks is unrealistic!
Step 2: Become Passionate about words
50% of your Verbal ability tests vocabulary. This includes the Text Completion and Sentence Equivalence questions. There are primarily three things you need to know about these question types:
1. They test words in context.
2. The words tested are rarely the kind you come across in every day life.
3. The answer options tend to be very close to each other: this makes choosing between options very challenging.
These factors make vocabulary a very important aspect of Verbal Reasoning, and building vocabulary meaningfully becomes essential. You’ll realise that just memorising the definitions of a word alone is not going to help you.
Rather, you must know every aspect of a word such as its contextual meaning and usage, the connotation it carries and the degree of negativity or positivity that it has in comparison to other similar words.
Start building your vocabulary early. The most ineffective thing you can do on your GRE prep is to start cramming up words a few weeks before the test! We’ve written many blogs about building vocabulary meaningfully – keeping these aspects in mind: here’s a good place to start.
Step 3: Know what’s tested
If you are planning to focus only on vocabulary and possibly practice a bit of reading comprehension from some online source, then be warned – you may be shocked by the score you get on the day of the test!
Although Vocabulary and Reading Comprehension are important, you need to understand that the way GRE tests these abilities is quite different. It is, therefore, important that you practice these concepts in a setting that is as GRE-like as possible.
The best resource to get to know the different types of questions is the Official Guide published by the test makers themselves. Also checkout our GRE Guide and Workbook; this addresses each question type in-depth and provides sumptuous amounts of practice to fine-tune your approach.
Step 4: Practice, Review, Analyse
Practicing volumes of questions may not be effective if you do not follow up your practice with review and analysis. Remember to prioritise quality of practice over obsessing about quantity of practice.
What does review and analysis mean?
First, ensure that your practice-sessions are realistic. Either pick up 20 questions of a particular question type and solve under a time constraint or pick up 3 passages (8 questions), 6 Text Completion, 4 Sentence Equivalence and 2 Critical reasoning questions and set a time limit of 30 minutes to solve all the questions.
Second, once you’re done and you’ve checked the answers – analyse the following questions:
1. Those you didn’t know how to answer
2. Those you got wrong, because you were caught between two or more likely options
3. Those you guessed and got correct
4. Those you took too much time for (irrespective of whether you got them correct)
While analysing these questions, merely understanding what made the correct answers right will not help you scale up your score, instead, you must pay heed to WHY the wrong options were wrong – understand what made them wrong and therefore what kind of traps was set in that specific question. Having this perspective WILL ensure that you learn how to overcome tricky questions and as a result increase your GRE Score.
Step 5: Manage Stress
The biggest variable that can affect your GRE score on the day of the actual test is stress! This can be induced by time pressure, performance anxiety or the sheer intensity of the test itself (the GRE is almost 4 hours long!). Some of these stress factors are valid, yet some aren’t.
For instance, on the day of the test – a student might get stressed because she is unable to make-up her mind about one of the questions. This could play out in two ways:
1. The student understands that it’s OK to get a few questions wrong.
2. The student pressures herself into trying to get each and every question right.
The first approach ensures that she has time to get as many of the other questions right – increasing her total score. The second approach results in the student wasting too much time on just one question and that results in a drastic decrease in overall score!
Remember: It is not possible to avoid stress. What you need to do is to ‘get used’ to the kind of stress you are likely to face on the day of the exam. This you can achieve by taking full length practice tests and understanding the kind of challenges you face.
For instance, perhaps you end up blanking out when you see a passage in the last verbal section of the test, or that you aren’t able to manage time within the quant section. These observations when worked on will substantially help improve your GRE score.
Now that you know what you should and shouldn’t do, are you ready to start prepping? If you have any questions, please reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.