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GRE Student Post: Confidence is Key

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How can confidence help you with the exam? Read on to find out!

Hi, I’m Amanda! As an undergrad I went to UC San Diego and majored in Ecology, Behavior and Evolution, with a minor in Marine Science. I’m still a student at UCSD– just about to finish my MS in Biology. I was extremely happy that I didn’t have to take the GRE to get into my MS program, but now that I’m applying to PhD programs, there was no more avoiding it.

The most difficult part of the exam for me: I had a lot of trouble with pretty much the entire quant section. When I first started studying I couldn’t believe how much I had forgotten since high school! This is where Magoosh really had a huge impact. I watched all of the lesson videos, and spent a lot of time on practice questions. Even if I got a question right, I always watched the explanation video to see if there was a faster way to get the answer. Slowly but surely, I started to answer more and more questions correctly. Even though my quant score wasn’t super amazing, I’m still really proud of how much I improved.

Tips:  When test day finally arrives, stop studying! Trust that all of those hours you put in practicing are about to pay off. Try to get yourself pumped up and feeling confident! I did this by listening to my favorite “conquering the world” playlist. This might sound silly, but I also dressed professionally and wore my favorite pair of heels to the test. I find that when I’m really stressed out and feel like everything’s a mess, putting a little effort into my outward appearance helps to ‘trick’ myself into feeling more put together and confident. We’ve all heard the saying “fake it ‘til you make it”, and sometimes it really does work!

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2 Responses to GRE Student Post: Confidence is Key

  1. Eric October 21, 2013 at 12:27 am #


    I’m in big trouble on the confidence front. I signed up for Magoosh GRE prep last December. I had been studying for about 9 months, and I walked into it feeling confident. I had completed all the material and practice tests on Mike’s 6 month advanced math plan. Before I started redoing the problems I had gotten wrong on Magoosh, my predicted range was a 159-163 and a 160-165 in Verbal. On the practice tests I had a scary wide range 155-166 in Math and 160-167 on Verbal. My anticipated field of study requires a very high Quantitative score. I was feeling good going into taking the GRE because I had scored two 166s in a row on the Manhattan practice GRE tests, and a 162 on the ETS Power Prep test. My lowest quantitative score on any practice exam in the previous three months was a 160.

    I felt the test was going well, I thought I had missed one maybe two problems at most in the first math section. I really wasn’t paying much attention to the verbal, it seemed easy enough, but again, the programs I’m applying to aren’t really concerned with it. I didn’t care really. The second math section, was not easy. I felt I was probably closer to the 160 realm than to more desirable 166 high end of my range. I can’t even describe my feeling of resignation when I saw that I had scored a 168 in Verbal and a 156 in quant. It was a cruel twist of fate because both were outside of my anticipated range, except I was three points higher than my Magoosh predicted range in verbal and three points lower than it in quantitative reasoning. I would have given anything to have the scores swapped.

    I have a month to retake the test, or a will have to wait another year to apply to graduate school; an occurrence which also puts on the added stress of finding a job to bridge the gap between former career and school. I’m at a loss of what to do. I’m essentially out of practice tests! What other resources do I have left available to me and what can I do? Your colleagues on this site have been less than enthusiastic about Kaplan prep’s usefulness, but it’s the only other practice tests I can think of.

    I suppose the most daunting mental hurdle is that I can imagine there are very few instances where a student has scored mid 150s one month and mid 160s the next in quantitative reasoning.

    • Rachel Wisuri
      Rachel October 21, 2013 at 2:07 pm #

      Hey Eric!

      First off, deep breaths! The good news is that you have indeed gotten your target score in practice tests before, so getting to the mid 160s in a month is certainly doable. It sounds like the pressure of the exam may have gotten to you; this is decently hard problem to overcome, but, it can be done! I’d suggest a couple of things:

      1. Pinpoint the exact topics you struggle with, and work on improving in those areas. This is very important because it will help eliminate anxieties associated with harder topics. If you walk into the test and all you can think about is struggling with combinations questions, then of course you won’t feel confident during the rest of the exam either (even if you know the material like the back of your hand!). So, practice, practice, practice those weaknesses.

      2. Finding new practice tests is definitely going to be a challenge. You can certainly take the Kaplan tests, just as long as you remember that the questions may not be the best. This will still be useful though, since it will help you with doing well in a testing environment.

      3. Just remember how hard you’ve worked, how much time you’ve put in, and that you CAN get your target score.

      Best of luck!

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