Today, we get to hear from Paul. He has some awesome tips–we especially like the advice about using Facebook for your studies–so read on! Thanks, Paul! 🙂
About me: I am an economic consultant, currently living in Sydney, Australia (though I am from Florida). I have a Bachelor’s in Economics/Math Minor and a Master’s in Statistics. However, I am looking at higher tier universities for my PhD, so I needed to retake the GRE (again) and get a much higher/competitive score. I intend to earn a PhD in Geography/Spatial Statistics. Now that the GRE is over, I can focus on my other interests – skiing and Mario Kart 8. I also enjoy roller skating (quads!), exercising, watching my favorite TV shows – Sons of Anarchy, The Walking Dead, and Big Bang Theory – and a good cigar on a Friday night.
Next let me say that I was one of those people that thought gifted/smart people do well on the GRE and people like me just don’t. I was an A student in my coursework, but was always frustrated with standardized exams because I couldn’t seem to do well. I had taken the SAT and the GRE twice before this most recent attempt, and always performed abysmally (297 combined). However, if I did study at all for those previous attempts, it was minimal at best. What I didn’t realize with my prior poor performance was that I did not prepare for the GRE the way one is supposed to. What my recent score (320 combined, up 23 points) proves is that GIVEN HARD WORK AND SIGNIFICANT PREP TIME, ANYONE CAN IMPROVE THEIR SCORE SIGNIFICANTLY. Also I should say (because I am sure someone is thinking this), that while my training in Math and Statistics helped a little (mainly with algebra and exponents), I still had to practice Quant questions A LOT to get a decent score (161). I did around 1500 quant questions (many times) before test day.
Biggest Challenge: Reading Comprehension. Like many others, this was a real struggle for me. A few things helped me improve my score here:
1. VOCAB VOCAB VOCAB. I memorized 900 of the 1000 words in the Magoosh app (great resource btw). The reason an expanded vocabulary helped with RC problems is not necessarily because those words appeared on the RC questions (some did), but because the more vocab words I knew, the faster I could move through the Sentence Equivalence and Text Completion questions, therefore giving me significantly more time for RC questions.
2. On the exam, I made a point to answer all the TC and SE on the verbal section first (skipping all RC problems), then going back to the RC problems. I went through the TC and SE questions in about 10 minutes, leaving 20 minutes for the RC questions. This made me feel less anxious about the RC questions so I could relax and focus as much as possible.
3. For the actual RC problems, I made a point to read the entire passage at least once before looking at the question for that problem. As I read through, I tried to ask myself “What is the main idea of the whole passage” and “What are the two or three topics being compared and contrasted.”?
4. Magoosh practice problems. What these problems helped with is to create a general logical framework for the RC problems. It is hard to explain, but after a while I was able to understand the basic structure of the RC problems. While I never felt that I had the RC problems down pat like I did Quant problems, I felt like I could at least make basic inferences on the text to answer the questions more intelligently. I ended up going from a 148 Verbal to 159.
Helpful tips for other students:
REVIEW!!! REVIEW!!! REVIEW!!! Simply going through each math problem or vocab word once or twice was not enough, even if I knew it at the time. I followed the six day schedule of the 90 Day Advanced Math plan, but spent the 7th Day (Sunday) reviewing all the material I had studied up to that point. Without significant review time, I would have easily forgotten material from 4-8 weeks prior. I then stopped going over new problems/material two weeks before the exam and spent those last two weeks going over every problem over and over again. PRACTICE MAKES PERFECT!!
MAKE IT FUN!! I found ways to make it fun, whether it was talking about prime factorization with co-workers (I don’t think they found it as fun as I did) or keeping my friends on Facebook in the journey with me, I had to keep it fun. On Facebook, everyday I would post each of the following:
GRE Word of the Day – one word and the definition, usually a word I was struggling with. One word a friend commented on 2 months ago was on my actual exam, and I saw it and made me think of her and I remembered it and smiled, which in turn relieved my anxieties mid-test.
GRE Quant Question of the Day – A practice problem I had gotten wrong. I wouldn’t put the answer up, so my more mathematically inclined friends would attempt to answer. I would often then have to explain how to get the answer which would then reinforce my learning. It also convinced most of my Facebook friends that I had lost my mind (they were right).
GRE Emotion of the Day – Just a simple sentence or two letting my friends know how I was feeling that day about my studies. It was a great way to keep my friends in the process with me, so that I didn’t feel so alone or isolated through my studies.
In addition, I found reading these blogs like this one on Magoosh very, very helpful in keeping me motivated and inspired when I was losing steam. Also, if you have older friends that have taken the GRE and done well, try to talk to them regularly. I have a dear friend who had taken the GRE years ago, and had done very well because of lots of study. I talked to him at least once a week and told him what I was going through and asked him his experience, which was similar to mine. It helped a great deal.
Finally, I cannot stress enough how helpful Magoosh was in me increasing my score. This is a great service, especially for those who need a flexible study schedule. All of the Magoosh problems I had practiced with were similar to my exam (I think the Magoosh quant questions were slightly harder, which made the exam questions easier!). I would recommend Magoosh to anyone looking to improve their score. Magoosh Team – THANK YOU!!! THANK YOU!!! THANK YOU!!! : )