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Student Post: Take the GRE Seriously!

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Today, we’re hearing from Theodore. Thanks for the great post! 🙂 

About me: I am from Oakland, California. I majored in Political Economy– which is sort of like an economics major without math. We read economic philosophy texts, like Veblen, Marx, Hayek, etc. Unfortunately, I realized later on, after working for several years as an analyst, that I would rather have studied something of a quantitative nature. I hadn’t taken math in many years, and my foundation was very poor, so my struggle to prepare myself for graduate school and the GRE lied mainly in building up my math skills. I am applying to economics masters programs. My hobbies are Roman history and languages.

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Biggest challenge on the GRE: There were many concepts that I struggled with in the math section– but with time and persistence, I improved. I think what’s important to keep in mind, is that while knowledge of many tricks/properties is tested– e.g., how many trailing 0s are in 20!?, what is the remainder when 3^8 is divided by 8?, etc.– knowing these tricks is not enough to get a high score. Problem solving ability is what will really make the difference. So solve hard problems, and build your ability to think mathematically. Manhattan, Magoosh, and Nova’s GRE Math Bible are some of the best resources.

The other serious problem that I had with GRE math was timing and anxiety. I am a slow person by nature– I like to take my time, and I am easily flustered by pressure. I devoted tremendous energy to getting a high GRE score, and I put too much pressure on myself to succeed. In the end this had the reverse result– while I reached my target on my practice tests (I took more than 20 practice tests), I could not achieve the same result on the real exam because I would get flustered and panic (I took the exam twice and got almost the same score). Overall I did well, but my score was not proportional to the effort I expended. My advice to all those like me: Take the GRE seriously, and spread your preparation over a long period– but don’t stake everything on it. It’s only one part of your application, and you’ll end up somewhere so long as you don’t do abysmally.

Also, make sure you know what resources to use. Princeton Review and Kaplan are horrible. Magoosh has reviewed most of the popular books out there, so make sure you check that out.

Tips for other students: Besides not taking it as seriously as I did (I probably shaved time off my life)– here are some practical tips: For math, I found these resources to be the most helpful , in order: GMATClub Forums (for an exhaustive library of tips, tricks, properties, and seriously difficult problems of all types), Magoosh (for lots of problems of accurate difficulty, helpful blog posts, very thorough explanations), Nova GRE Math Bible (hard problems of every type), Manhattan (for challenge problems, and practice exams), Kaplan (just for practice exams, everything else they have sucks).

For verbal, I found these resources to be most helpful: (almost every word has a paragraph explanation; do the challenge, you’ll learn a ton), Magoosh (flashcards, passages, everything), GMATClub (critical reasoning questions helpful), Manhattan Big Book of GRE problems (critical reasoning questions).

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2 Responses to Student Post: Take the GRE Seriously!

  1. truedetective January 13, 2015 at 3:39 am #

    I have a comment and a question.
    Theodore is right about pacing yourself on the test, it is so disheartening when you know you can answer a math question but time is running out. The ETS book is worth it for the two practice test, but Magoosh is far superior for improving your score. The only thing in hindsight I wish I did was to practice better time management skills.

    My question:
    I am applying to a University. The 2nd time I took the GRE I sent them my score. The first time I took the GRE I did not send them my score.
    Will they be able to see both scores or just the 2nd score I sent them?

    I can’t find this clarified anywhere on the web. Please help!

    • Victor A. January 13, 2015 at 4:07 pm #


      So here’s the short answer: schools will only see whatever scores you officially report to them.

      Here’s the (slightly) longer answer: the GRE has an option called ScoreSelect.

      Basically what it means is that you get to choose which scores you send to your schools. You can send all your scores or you can be selective about it and put your best foot forward and only send the score(s) that you feel best represents your abilities as a student. (One note because a lot of people ask– you CANNOT mix and match sections. When you choose to send a score you have to send the entire exam.) There is a fee each time you send scores so keep that in mind if you’re thinking about adding any more schools to your list.

      You can read all about the nitty gritty details here:

      Hope that helps!


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