Here are a few useful tips to employ when mapping out a study plan for the GRE.
1. Quality of practice matters more than quantity
Many students try to finish as many practice problems as possible, devouring problems with the voracity of a starving wolf. While such drive may be commendable, the number of problems you complete is not tantamount to your final score. Understanding why you missed a problem is paramount.
When you miss a problem, you should be able, in your own words, to phrase exactly why you missed a problem. You should also know why each of the wrong answers is wrong.
And, going over problems you’ve done in the past does not hurt. Remember, you are always learning, even if you make a mistake. A mistake allows you to correct your approach. As long as you do not remember why an answer to a questions you’ve done before is correct, this question can provide fertile practice ground.
2. Be Able to Teach Back A Problem to An Imaginary Student
This recommendation flows from the first piece of advice above. If you truly know why an answer choice is wrong, and why your answer choice is correct, you should be able to teach a student. As your family and friends probably do not want to be corralled into this unenviable role, you can always rely on a hypothetical student (you can think of this student as your imaginary GRE friend).
Teaching your imaginary friend forces you to be able to explain complex material (that’s typically the case with a GRE question) in a way that somebody understands. If you find yourself unable to articulate your solution to a problem, then perhaps your grasp of the fundamentals are not as strong as they need to be, in which case you should make sure to strengthen them. Only by making yourself teach the problem can you expose some of your underlying weaknesses.
3. Don’t focus on your strengths – focus on your Weaknesses
Maybe you can handle any circle problem that the GRE throws your way. Almost reflexively, you can tell me the percent of a circle that an inscribed equilateral triangle comprises. Finding the arc length of a circle from only the radius is as easy as inhalation. But, as soon as you are confronted by a word problem, you begin to sweat heavily, the darkness closing in.
The key is not to become the master of one concept at the expense of another. Make sure you are strong all around – and the only way to do that is to make your weaknesses your strengths. So, find out quickly where these weaknesses lie, and tailor your study plan accordingly. After all, you do not want to end up seeing only one circle on the math section,while you are besieged by word problem after word problem.
4. Practice only when you are using the proper technique
Part of determining your weaknesses, and being able to teach back a problem effectively, is wanting to make sure that you have a solid grasp of fundamentals. If you are not approaching a problem effectively, then your technique is lacking. Practicing problem after problem only makes it that much harder to change your technique. For instance, if your strategy to Reading Comprehension is lacking (maybe you jump straight to the questions, and skip reading the passage altogether), then you will want to learn the proper technique before doing more and more problems using the incorrect one.
5. Time yourself
Imagine you want to become a fast swimmer. However, besides being able to float on water, you don’t really know much else – including all of the basic strokes. Let’s say I’m your swimming coach and instead of teaching you any of the basic strokes, I tell you to swim from each side of the pool to the other as fast as you can. Each day, I take out my stopwatch and yell go. And, each day, you flail about, slowly making it to the other side. While you may get slightly faster, you are limited by your ability to actually execute any of the proper strokes.
Test prep is very similar in this regard. Unless you are approaching the problem with the proper technique, you should not time yourself. Once you’ve learned the proper technique (the Magoosh product is a great way!), then you want to begin timing yourself.
You can time yourself on one problem at a time, or you can create little mock tests that combine problems. By timing yourself, you are better simulating test conditions. And, whenever you are simulating test conditions, you are raising your GRE score.
6. Take the Powerprep test
Speaking of simulating conditions, there is no better preparation than the Powerprep test. It is written by ETS, so the content is more accurate than anything else, and the time countdown and score range given at the end are identical to what you’ll see on test day.
By simply following the above, you will be able to raise your GRE score. That’s right – you do not need to buy books with more practice questions. In the end, it is the how, not the how many.