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GRE Skills: How to Learn from Your Mistakes

  • by John
  • Jan 21, 2014
  • GRE Blog, GRE Tutor

How to use GRE practice to (actually) increase your score

Mistakes during your GRE practice do not affect your score.  Practice mistakes are a good thing if used appropriately.  They can help sharpen your skills and make you a better GRE test taker.  Finding your patterns of error before the actual test gives you the opportunity to avoid making the same errors on test day.  Learn from your mistakes.  Appreciate each mistake that you make as a chance to break bad habits.  Everyone makes mistakes in practice.  What matters is how you respond to the mistakes and whether you use them to their advantage.  React to your mistakes with good humor.  It is easy to beat yourself up but it is self-defeating.  Your mistakes are broad opportunities to practice.  As you analyze a question, retrace your steps.  Recollect the thinking process that led you astray and pinpoint the precise moment you got derailed.

Many GRE test takers do not review mistakes systematically.  You need to create an approach that focuses on the pitfalls you get caught in.  Identifying incorrect answers is an extremely helpful way to help you not make the same mistakes over and over again.  Meaning when you review a practice section you might understand why the correct answer is the right one, but you are doing yourself a disservice.  Taking the time to understand why the other answers are incorrect will help you see what type of wrong answer traps are on the GRE.

If you got a question wrong, ask yourself “What’s wrong with the choice I picked?”  Read the explanations and see where you made your mistake.  Then ask yourself “Why did I reject the credited choice”?  This is a crucial part of understanding what went wrong.  If you can know precisely what tempted you, then you are less likely to make the same mistake.  When reviewing material note if you are consistently making the same mistakes time after time.  If it’s habitual, it is something you can change with constant practice.

If you guessed incorrectly on a question ask yourself if you were especially careless or tired or distracted when you answered that particular question.  Was there an outside factor that was more to blame than a weakness in your skill set?  For example, if you take a timed practice exam after a full day of school then you are more likely to be distracted and make mistakes.  However, if you discover that your error is tied to a fundamental concept that you learned early in your studies then it’s time to revisit it untimed.  Remedial work is necessary when the fundamentals disappear.  It’s very important to go back periodically and review previous concepts.

Three levels of improvement

There are three levels of practice, skill-building, pacing and endurance.  Mastering individual concepts helps build fundamentals that last.  A strong fundamental base helps build confidence with question types on the GRE.  Understanding why you found certain incorrect answers tempting will make the time you took making mistakes worthwhile.  Remember the incorrect answers are the GRE are categorical in nature.  Once you buy in to the concept that GRE questions are similar in overarching ideas then it is easier to accept that incorrect answers are crafted based on the same process.  Understand why wrong answers are incorrect will ensure you don’t build habitual bad habits that are harder to break.

Never underestimate the power of prediction the correct answers before looking at answer choices.  With almost all GRE question types you will benefit from knowing what you are looking for before you read the answers.  Failure to predict leads to wasted time, confusion and backtracking.  Rereading questions or passages several times destroys your GRE timing and therefore your score.  Learn from your mistakes now so you don’t make them again on test day.  If you need to cover the answer choices with a flash card against the computer screen to force yourself to make predictions, then do so!  When predicting becomes a habit, the GRE becomes more manageable, a lot less intimidating and your scores will improve.

Mistakes in practice are an opportunity, not a sign of failure.  You probably don’t question why you got a question correct and consequently don’t learn as much from it.  It would be horrible to get everything correct in practice and then make mistakes on the exam.  Learning from past mistakes gives you the tools to take control of the GRE.  GRE sections are amenable to strategies and incorrect answers are predictable.  Be grateful for the mistakes you make today if you don’t make them on Test Day.

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