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I’ve Hit a Plateau and I Don’t Know What to Do

No matter the skill you are trying to hone there will come a moment when you feel you’ve hit a plateau. By no means should you give up. Your brain could very well telling you that you need to take a break, or that you at least have to mix it up a little.

The GRE is no different. Your practice test scores, even after you study diligently for weeks, may not be going up. It is easy to come to the conclusion that all you work means nothing. But do not despair. Below are some important pointers when you feel you’ve hit the proverbial wall.


1. Break the monotony

Perhaps, GRE prep has become a very regimented routine for you. You maybe even have your favorite GRE spot, where you roost for a few hours. Having structure and discipline is critical to success, up until a point. After awhile, your brain may simply be getting bored.

One great way to break the monotony is to study in a different place than you are used to studying. Switching spots alone can make implementing the next piece of advice easier.


2. Change your study routine

Perhaps you start by doing a few practice exercises from the verbal. You review your mistakes then you move on to a set of math problems. After following this pattern for a month your brain starts to become bored. Surprise it! If you find yourself always doing GRE math practice, definitely switch it up and try some verbal.

Any of the following should do the trick:

  • Do a mini-test in which you mix up doing five math problems followed immediately be a long reading passage.
  • Pop open a new, reputable prep book. There is no one magic bullet for GRE prep. So don’t get stuck using one book – that will definitely ensure plateau-ing. For the best GRE books of 2013 click here.
  • Review material from a day or two before. Do you remember what you learned that day? Revisit questions you missed.


3. Take a break

Our brains, like our muscles, need rest. And like our muscles, need time to grow. By taking a break from something you are learning, your brain will have time to process all that you’ve learned. Understandably, you don’t want to take too much time off. But even a three- to four-day break from studying vocabulary won’t cause you to forget all you’ve learned.

Coming back after a few days rest, on the other hand, will give your brain a renewed perspective. Suddenly, the word ‘polemical’, which you were having so much difficulty learning because you couldn’t get the image of a pole out of your head, conjures up news—and more pertinent—images.


4. Focus on different parts of the test

Many become too fixated on doing just one question type, or just one section on the test. Taking a break, not just from the entire test, but also from a section can also give your brain time to process what you’ve already learned. There is the AWA section, for instance. By flexing your writing muscles you can try out some new vocabulary learned and right with the aplomb and sophistication of a Text Completion.


5. Do something totally different

Ever heard of forums, such as or Well, you can post questions there, especially Urch. You can even answer other students’ questions. That way you are not just ensconced in your own little world, toiling away at GRE. You can offer insights and have any of your own pressing questions answered. Speaking of which, what strategies work best at keeping you from plateauing? Let me know below!


By the way, students who use Magoosh GRE improve their scores by an average of 8 points on the new scale (150 points on the old scale.) Click here to learn more.

7 Responses to I’ve Hit a Plateau and I Don’t Know What to Do

  1. Shruti August 13, 2015 at 9:20 pm #

    Dear Chris,

    I am retaking the gre after about 5 years. This time it’s for a PhD application. I am quite thorough with the syllabus and know all the questions on the test, but just somehow not able to manage my time well while giving the exam and end up hurrying through questions ,aa a result I do them wrong and skip questions . How do u suggest I improve in this aspect while practicing?
    Also, if I am getting about 310 in my mocks now, is advisable for me to book for the rest ?

  2. Sukriti September 6, 2014 at 1:51 am #

    Hi Chris,

    Ever since I got to know about Magoosh, I became a huge fan of it. I have meticulously read most of the articles written by you (not only on Magoosh but also on Quora 🙂 )and all of them are extremely laudable. Very good job!

    I have definitely hit a plateau in GRE prep. I started preparing for GRE 4 months back and in the diagnostic test (Manhattan Prep) I scored Q157 and V149. After 4 months of studying diligently ( though I took a few breaks in between of 2-3 days) I took a mock test (ETS powerprep) and my scores are Q160 and V148. That is a negligible change.

    This is the result after completing the whole quant section of Manhattan 5lb book, reading strategies of all verbal and quant sections from Manhattan strategy guides and also learning 500 words from Magoosh vocab flashcards.

    What could possibly be the reason behind such a performance?

    Also after giving the practice test, when I sat down to analyze it, I realized that I could easily solve all the questions. It is just that my brain and my hands freeze when I see any difficult question or a difficult word while giving the test.

    What changes should I make in my study plan to see an improvement of scores within 2-3 weeks?
    I have decided to take GRE by the end of this month.

    • Chris Lele
      Chris Lele September 8, 2014 at 2:23 pm #

      Hi Sukriti,

      I think you are on the right track by figuring out what is happening when you encounter a tough question: you are freezing up. I think almost all of us get that tight feeling when faced with a tough question. First, accept that the feeling is natural. By directly succumbing it or by trying to actively fight it, you only intensify it. Controlling your breathing so that you don’t take quick, shallow breathes (or any breaths at all!) will help you avoid going into stress mode, which we know does wonders for critical thinking abilities.

      You might also want to find some other clear reasons that you are missing questions. On verbal it could be as something as simple as that you rush to the answer choices before thinking the question through, thereby letting the answer choices think for you.

      I talk about these strategies a lot in our product and address them in our explanation videos, so you might also want to consider the Magoosh product in the few weeks you have left :).

      Good luck!

  3. Mibin March 3, 2013 at 1:01 am #

    Hi chris,
    I have been following your blogs since nov 2012, thats when i subscribed magoosh . You are doing an amazing job. Your book reviews were extremely helpful and i was able to get the right books for my study.
    I have given 2 manhattan tests and scored 310 and 311. Quant 152,154. Verbal 157, 158. Now that i have a month left for my GRE, can you please suggest me of how i should structure my studies till the exam. I am hoping to get atleast 320.
    Thanks in advance

    • Chris Lele
      Chris Lele March 5, 2013 at 3:06 pm #

      Hi Mibin,

      In the remaining month, I would pinpoint the three areas in which you struggle most (if you haven’t done so already). Really focus on improving in these areas. This blog is always a great resource to help you find useful points on whatever those areas may be.

      I would also do timed tests, preferably as many from the Official Guide to the GRE as possible. Make sure to really wrap your head around why you missed the questions you missed. (This process may relate back to your weaknesses).

      And don’t forget vocabulary – that one word you happened to learn right before the test can make at least a point difference :).

      Good luck!

  4. Niyati February 19, 2013 at 8:38 am #

    Hey Chris,

    I am definitely hitting a plateau with the gre, albeit of a different kind. I teach English Lit. at a University in India and plan to apply for a PhD program this year. However, the GRE verbal is proving to be my biggest nightmare.

    The first time I took the new GRE was with very little preparation and I managed to get a 160 verbal which was not sufficient for a phd application. The second time around since I was busy with a research program, I couldn’t prepare and therefore didn’t even manage to score a 160 (Well, no surprises there! I didn’t study at all).

    The third time around I decided to diligently study, took princeton review classes and put in a lot of hard work for 2 months–constantly assessing and reassessing my mistakes. I got a 163 v, 162 v, 159 v and 161 v in my Princeton review online tests, whereas in my manhattan gre free test I received a 165 v. However, in my final exam, I ended up with a 160 v again!

    Though I am quite disappointed, I have decided to take the GRE again and am interested in the premium course Magoosh offers. However, it would be great if you could shed some light on why I am stuck with a 160 v, even though I can sense that my reading comprehension, reasoning etc. has drastically improved.

    Thanks a lot, Niyati

    • Chris Lele
      Chris February 20, 2013 at 12:16 pm #

      Hi Niyati,

      Thanks for candidly sharing your experience thus far with the GRE :). I’m thinking there could be several factors at play here. One may simply have to do with your nerves test day. Of course everybody is nervous, but if you feel that you may be more prone to anxiety, learning coping techniques could be helpful.

      That said, a 160V isn’t that far off from what you were getting. I’m curious if you are consistently missing questions on one question type (say, multiple-blank TC), or if you are errors are random. Identifying the problem area, if there is one, can help you make your study sessions more targeted.

      Now you said that you worked with PR assessing your mistakes. Usually this helps. My own concern is that PR’s GRE material is much easier than what you’ll see test day. In other words, the insight you glean from learning why you missed a PR question won’t necessarily help you with an actual GRE question. This could explain why you feel that your reasoning/RC has drastically improved, yet to no apparent avail.

      What Magoosh offers are practice questions that are as difficult–if not more difficult–then the questions on the actual test (each question comes with a detailed explanation). The skills you learn solving these questions will help you test day.

      Let me know if that is helpful :). And also feel free to ask me any more questions relating to your experience thus far with the GRE. I definitely want to help you figure out how to boost your verbal score into the high 160s :).

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