This Thursday, we’re learning more about Tracy and her experience with the GRE. Thanks for the great tips, Tracy! 🙂
About me: I’m from Toronto, Ontario (Canada). I initially did my bachelor in Applied Arts – Animation, only to discover after graduating, that the field of animation was not a good fit for me. I liked moving around, being outdoors, as well as working with my hands, and pretty soon I found myself switching tracks and going back to get a diploma in horticulture. I’m applying to graduate programs for public horticulture and public garden leadership. I currently live and work full time at the Niagara Parks School of Horticulture and Botanical Gardens, where we combine a rigorous practical and academic program. Some specific hobbies: pressing plants, hiking, making organized lists, raising keishiki bonsai, playing with cats, dancing along to the Michael Jackson wii game, and eating tasty things (this comes into play later)
My biggest challenge: Math was horrendous for me. When I was in my tweens, I moved around a lot and missed out on some key concepts of counting and algebra, and never quite caught up. High school math was a miserable affair, and I required months of tutoring just to pass! As soon as I was able to, I dropped math in my last year of high school and went into fine arts. In hindsight, not the best idea, as ten years later I now require it to apply for horticulture graduate studies, but c’est la vie.
Math for me is like English as a second language for other people. Math was just not a language I understood easily. I had no problem with the basic concept of it, but once I was given a question, it would take me ages to parse the finer points. Where other people read in whole sentences, math was like reading a single letter at a time. I wasted a lot of time when I first started doing the Magoosh questions by trying to literally solve for x every single time. Sometimes I would just plug in every single answer that was available! While this is doable, it’s also extremely inefficient. I think the thing that helped me the most was understanding that I don’t need to know the exact answer (this concept took me a while to get used to)! A LOT of the time, all I needed was an approximation. The answer was 3 and something. The answer was around 43 percent. The answer was greater than 10. This really helped me save precious minutes during the exam. Sometimes, for quick estimations, I rounded pi down to three (gasp!)
I did a lot of math questions. I did them twice. I did only quadratic equations for a week. I did questions only on hard and very hard levels. I did them in 35 minute intervals to simulate the real test.
In the end, my score was still not exceptional, 157 (which means I got 13 wrong, I’m assuming) but the important part is that it’s good enough! This mentality is also important in the exam. Don’t get stuck on one question! So often I get sucked into the trap of trying to aim for perfect, and in an exam like the GRE, where time is so important, I really had to let that go and move on to the next question. I’m really proud that I even passed the math section to be honest. I love math actually, but it’s just not something I use often, so to even achieve the mark I did was pretty awesome.
If I had a study do-over: I spent so much time on math, I neglected my vocabulary and essay writing skills. I am lucky, I read a lot, often journals, periodicals, and academic articles, so I was able to make educated guesses on the words I didn’t understand. If I were to do this again, I’d read a lot more articles, and practice more issue essays. I wasn’t too happy with my issue essay. It was the first part of the test, and my nerves got the better of me! I still think I did well overall, even on my worst day my essays are usually coherent, but I think my argument was a bit unclear and my points just didn’t cohere like I wanted them to. I’d definitely recommend practicing your essay writing, especially if you’re applying to a graduate program where strong communication skills are required.
Study tips for other students: Do as many of the long paragraph analysis questions as you can. As a matter of fact, do all of them! I found this helped me in three ways. One, it was just as good as reading scholarly articles from newspapers, and helped me get a better handle on my own essay writing. Two, it improved my vocabulary, more so than flashcards actually, because I could see the word in the context of a whole paragraph. Three, it helped me get used to reading, parsing, and analyzing complicated texts and sentences, and this alone probably helped me achieve my score in the verbal section.
Bring lots of small snacks to the GRE exam. I get low blood sugar and migraines, especially under pressure. Two sections in, I had to call for a break to pop two advil and inhale a granola bar. Not being able to bring food and water isn’t something people usually consider, but this really affected me! Don’t be afraid to take a quick sixty second break, especially if you breeze through one section. Your brain needs fuel and hydration in order to work properly.
I’m someone that eats constantly throughout the day. If I get the feeling that I’m hungry or thirsty, I literally have half an hour before I start to crash, and it would really affect my brainpower. I probably looked ridiculous stuffing my face during the ten minute break. I think I ate an apple, a bag of chestnuts, a granola bar, a bottle of water, and then did ten squats to get my blood moving again. The point is though, I felt pretty refreshed after, and definitely did better in the second section of the exam.