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GRE Student Post: “There are no shortcuts; you just have to put the time in.”

In this week’s post, Sara tells us about her experience with the exam, and gives us some great tips for studying–and for living a healthy lifestyle, in general. 🙂 Thanks, Sara!

About me: I am 37, originally from Southern California. I moved to the Bay Area to go to UC Berkeley as an undergrad, and have been here ever since. I got a bachelor’s degree in Architecture from Cal, and am now a registered architect. I do not practice architecture, but instead manage installations of clean electricity generators. That career side-step into clean energy (thanks to the Great Recession) has focused my interests on energy infrastructure development, policy and economics issues. I’m interested in pursuing graduate study in Resource Economics, Urban Planning, or Business, hopefully at the best school in the world, Cal (go Bears!).

Biggest challenge: Math was definitely my biggest challenge – I use math every day in what I do, but only a very small portion of it, and Excel does all the work for me. I watched every single Magoosh math video to reacquaint myself with all the basic concepts, and how to quickly solve problems. Once I got the concepts down, the next challenge was knowing when to apply what method to problem solving, and how to do that quickly, without simple math errors (assuming no calculator – my other crutch). That took tons of drilling on questions, and watching videos on every problem I answered incorrectly, and even many of the ones I answered correctly. I still think I could have improved my score further, with more time drilling math and getting my problem-solving time frame down. There is no math problem on that test that is actually difficult, it is just a matter of how long it takes to complete them.

Verbal was a snap from the get-go, although I did go through many of the vocabulary flash cards, just so I could improve my chances on some of the sentence completions that included words not a part of my current vocabulary. 

Writing was the easiest – I write compelling arguments to people all day every day, so it was just a matter of going through a few repetitions of the style of essays desired by this exam. 

Helpful tips for other students: If you want to do well, there are no short-cuts; you just have to put the time in. Once you do, in the days leading up to the exam, follow that advice to avoid studying the day or two before. I found my overall brain capacity improved by eating really healthy food for 5 days leading up to the exam, doing some meditation, avoiding caffeine, drinking LOTS of water. I also focused on keeping a good workout routine for the few weeks leading up to the exam, and I worked out the day of the exam, thinking it would help keep oxygen flowing through my veins in general. I did a lot of stretching during the exam, took lots of deep breaths between sections, and one nice deep breath before every question (certainly before every long reading comprehension section). I also followed people’s advice to bring a ton of food in with me. I could not believe how hungry I was by the time my 10 minute break came – I ate just about everything I brought, and, once the test was over, I was famished almost immediately. It’s definitely true, this test is a marathon, you need to approach the training for it, and the day of the race just as you would that event.

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