Tips for the day/night before GRE test day
You’ve probably heard this a hundred times before: Always get a good night’s sleep the day before something important. I would say the GRE test day is no different. But actually it is, in terms of the importance of rest. You see, the GRE is a long, taxing experience. And for the four plus hours that you’ll be sitting there, you don’t want to be nodding off at any point. So a good night of rest is crucial to your performance, as is knowing what to bring to the GRE and packing your bag the day before.
Also, don’t do anything that is not part of your routine. For instance, if a friend asks you out for dinner, reschedule. That’s not because you are antisocial, but we tend to stay up later if a social engagement is involved. At the same time, don’t turn off your phone and hide under the covers, hoping for a twelve hour sleep session. Again, try to keep to your weekday routine as much as possible.
Now if for some reason you were forced to get an 8:00 appointment (assuming you are not an early riser), make sure, for a week leading up to the exam, to start waking up a little bit earlier each day. That way you will be on your natural sleep cycle when it is time to wrestle yourself out of bed at 6 in the morning.
Finally, don’t feel you need to cram–or worse yet, stay up cramming. The GRE tests knowledge built up over a lifetime–or at least a few months of intensive prepping. Cramming the night before GRE test day won’t lead to a higher score, and because it will most likely fray your already frayed nerves, cramming may actually hurt your score. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do a few practice questions the day before the test. But otherwise, try to relax, as much as it is possible to do so.
P.S. If you need help deciding when you should take the GRE, we can help with that too!
What to bring to GRE test day: A complete checklist
- What to bring to the GRE:
- Valid photo ID
- Confirmation email or authorization voucher
- Sweatshirt and layers (testing centers are often cold)
- What to bring to the GRE, but leave in your locker:
- Snack (nuts, bananas, energy bar, dried fruit) to access on your break
- Cell phone
- Last minute review sheet/pep talk notes
- What NOT to bring to the GRE:
- Calculator (you’ll only be allowed the on-screen one)
- Your own scratch paper, pens, or pencils (you’ll be provided materials to use)
Here’s what you need to bring to the GRE besides yourself: the most important item is a valid ID that includes your name, photo and signature. If you are testing outside of the United States, we recommend bringing your passport if you have one. If you come as John Doe, i.e., without any form of identification, the testing center will have to turn you away. The next most important thing you need is some form of sustenance. The GRE is a long test and you will need some brain fuel lest you crash during the 65-line passage on the use of isotope dating in glaciers.
I recommend bananas, dates, and nuts. In other words, natural foods with a high caloric density. Though you know yourself best. If you got through college by keeping yourself up on Snickers bars, then that’s what your body is used to. Chomping on pistachios for the first time in your life, right before the test begins, may not be the best idea.
Do I need to know which schools I want to send my scores to that day? How many schools can I pick?
The GRE has a feature called Score Select, which allows you to send your scores–for free–to as many as four schools. It also allows you–again for free–to send your scores from GRE test day or scores from all the GRE tests you’ve taken in the last five years, assuming you’ve taken the GRE more than once. You will get this option to send GRE scores by school at the end of the test.
If you want to send your scores to more schools, you will have to pay $27 per school. At the same time, you do not have to select any schools when queried. The downside is sending the score reports will not be free. You’ll have to pay for each school you send your scores to, even if you are only sending your scores to one school.
Do I need to know the codes of the schools I’m applying to? Or will that be provided?
The test will provide the relevant codes for each school. So don’t worry, you won’t have to burden your brain with yet more information.
What’s the testing center like?
Unnerving and sinister, if you are unlucky. If you are lucky, drab and sterile. Essentially, you’ll be asked to part with everything on your person. So anything in your pocket, even the innocuous penny, must come out. Luckily, there is a trusty locker in which you can put your stuff. You get to keep the key once you go into the testing room (in case you need to run out for an emergency supply of M&M’s—though I recommend bananas).
The important thing is mentally preparing for the testing center experience. You don’t want any surprises: bad traffic, poorly marked buildings, or a testing center staff that moves at the pace of glaciers. Some GRE test takers even visit the testing center a day before to trace their exact steps.
I didn’t trace my steps the day before, but I took the test myself when the revised GRE was first released. We also have plenty of stories from other students from around the world who have taken the GRE.
How long is the test?
The test will take you close to four hours. This includes checking into the testing center, answering a few background questions, and then diving into two 30-minute essays and five math/verbal sections (including the one experimental section).
The good news is that you will get one scheduled break of 10 minutes after the third section and one-minute breaks between the remaining sections. While you are free to take a break at any other time, the clock will keep on running if you choose to do so. In other words, unless you are about to pass out—which could conceivably happen on GRE test day—don’t get out of your seat, except during a scheduled break.
Editor’s Note: This page was originally published in May 2013 and has been updated for freshness, accuracy, and comprehensiveness.