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5 Ways to Overcome GRE Test Anxiety 

  • by John
  • Jul 15, 2014
  • GRE Blog

1. Know The Test.

Some bad news about the GRE is it tests virtually nothing you learned in college and nothing you will work on in graduate school. So unless you’ve been practicing geometry in college or studying etymology, the GRE is going to take preparation. But there is good news: the GRE only tests a limited number of subjects, and it will test them every time. Cylinders? Yes. Pyramids? No. Make a list of the types of questions you see in your prep work – triangles, standard deviation, probability, etc. – and assess your relative level of confidence. Still struggling with permutations and combinations? Now you know where to focus. When doing your prep work, focus on the areas that need the most improvement. When doing the test, focus on the areas you score the best.


2. Practice and Review

The GRE tests a limited range of content, but knowing the range is useless without knowing how to approach the content. Think of this like Pavlovian conditioning – when you see words like “both” and “neither” in the same question, you have found a group formula question. When you take the actual test, you want your response to be automatic. The GRE is as much as knowing what to do as it is knowing how to do. Make flashcards for all of the types of math questions, how to recognize them and what to do.

Possibly the single best way to improve your score without a tutor is to do practice tests and drills, review the questions you got wrong, and ask yourself why the right answer is right and why your answer was wrong.


3. More Words = Higher Score

This might be an ugly truth, but the more words you know, the higher your score on the GRE verbal section will be. But considering that you’ve spent a percentage of your life preparing for tests and quizzes, you probably have developed methods for memorizing. Flashcards are great, but developing mnemonic devices can be a very powerful aid as well. Drilling vocab is simply the easiest and most straightforward way to raise your verbal score.


4. Start with the Questions You Know How To Do

For much of your young life, you took math quizzes by starting with question 1, ending with question 20, and doing every single question. You have been conditioned to take tests in a certain way. Do not take the GRE this way. If you know you’re shaky on circles, and question 1 is a circle question, skip it. Skip early, and skip often. The “Review” screen lets you see which questions you have yet to answer, and starting in the last 2 minutes you can go through what you have left and punch your favorite letter (it is to your statistical advantage to have a favorite letter). But if question 20 is a percent change question, and you rock at percent change, make sure you have sufficient time to do the question correctly. As a rule, the more time you spend on a problem, the more likely you are to get it wrong. It is a better use of your time to make sure the questions you ought to get right you do get right than to spend it trying to decide between two answers to a question you don’t know – which amounts to a 50/50 chance in the end.


5. Learn the Bad Answers, or Learn to Ballpark

One thing you can do to give yourself a fighting chance on questions that might otherwise be outside your range is to familiarize yourself with the way ETS constructs wrong answers. In the Verbal section, there are types of wrong answers that show up in every reading comprehension section (e.g. extreme language, bad comparisons, direct contradictions). You will know when the author feels extremely – otherwise, extreme language can be eliminated. On the math, especially on algebra questions, you can get a sense of wrong answers without a sense of how to do the question. In the math, you can eliminate bad answers without doing much math – in geometry for example, the shaded area must be less than the area of the entire figure. Eliminate accordingly.


Do you need more GRE tips or extra help preparing for the GRE test? Find an in-person or online GRE tutor today!

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