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What to Expect on the Day of the Test

Taking the GRE is quite a bit different from taking the SAT or ACT: Instead of showing up at a high school at all hours of the morning with a zillion other people, you’ll show up at a time of your choosing in an office building with tight security and get a cubicle all to yourself. Here’s what to expect from the experience:

  1. Extremely tight security. Like, CIA-level security. All your possessions will have to be placed in a locker before you enter the test room, and you may even be fingerprinted! There are a whole bunch of things you can’t bring to the GRE, notably calculators, cell phones, music players and some watches. You can get the full run-down from ETS here, and you should read it carefully. You can’t even bring your own paper into the test.
  2. Your own personal televised cubicle. The test takes place on a computer in a little cubicle in a room full of other cubicles with computers. Each of these cubicles has a video camera pointed at it which monitors test-takers during the test.
  3. Bizarre and infantilizing rules. You have to raise your hand in order to get permission to stand up during the test. Seriously. If you have to go to the bathroom, you have to raise your hand and wait for the proctor to let you go to the bathroom. Also, the proctor will provide you with scratch paper, but not enough scratch paper! And when you run out you’ll have to raise your hand and ask for more. I just don’t know about this.

Test Day Tips
So, how to prepare?

  1. Schedule your test for the time of day you like best. One nice thing about the GRE is that you get to choose when you take it, so you won’t have to climb out of bed at all hours of the morning, chug some coffee and rush to the center. If you feel sharper in the morning, get a morning session; if you hate mornings, take it in the afternoon.
  2. Get enough sleep the night before. Obviously.
  3. Plan for the long haul and bring some snacks. Not counting sign-in and administrative rigmarole, the GRE will take 4.5 hours. Don’t plan on doing anything else that day, and bring snacks to eat during the breaks. According to science, sugary foods are best for a quick burst of mental energy, so bring an apple or some candy along as well.
  4. Dress in layers. You know how office buildings are always freezing cold? I took the GRE freezing cold. It sucked. Don’t make my mistake: dress so that you can adjust to the temperature.
  5. Scout the testing location the day before. You want to arrive at the test center on the day of the test feeling cool, calm and confident, like James Bond. No one feels like James Bond when they’ve just spent fifteen minutes stuck in traffic or cursing at their GPS. Find out exactly where the test center is and exactly how long it takes to get there; then allow half an hour extra time, just to be sure.

Next Step Test Preparation offers complete packages of one-on-one GRE tutoring for less than the price of a packed prep course.  For more information, see our GRE tutoring page, contact or call 888-530-NEXT.

Photo credit Swem Library under a Creative Commons license.