What to Do When You Reach a Plateau in Your GRE Score

two plateaus in a desert during the day -magoosh

No matter the skill you are trying to hone, there will come a moment when you feel you’ve hit a plateau. The GRE test is no different. Your practice test scores, even after you study diligently for weeks, may not be going up. It is easy to conclude that all you work means nothing.

But do not despair! Below are some important pointers when you feel you’ve hit the wall with your GRE score.

First Thing to Do When You’ve Hit A Plateau in Your GRE Score

What’s the best way to solve a problem and make sure it never, ever comes back? Attack it by its root cause. That’s why the very first thing you should do when you’ve hit a plateau in your GRE score is to understand why you’ve hit a plateau in the first place.

Generally, there are three reasons why one’s GRE score would plateau, and it’s pretty easy to look inward and figure out which one of these three reasons apply the most to you:

  1. Do you find yourself drained before you even start your GRE study? Do you feel like your brain just can’t retain more information? Are you spending most of your waking hours studying and/or working? Then the main cause of your plateau is definitely exhaustion and I would wager a pretty large sum that this is probably the case for most people reading this post. Click here for tips on how to combat GRE exhaustion!
  1. If you feel like you still have plenty of fuel for GRE study but find that there are still some concepts that you need to brush up on, then the reason for your score plateau is most likely lack of knowledge, which is easily remedied! Click here to start building your GRE knowledge.
  1. If you have energy for GRE study and you feel confident on all the content, but can’t figure out why your GRE score won’t improve, then you should definitely look into how to generally improve your test-taking strategy. Check out the tips for changing your GRE strategy here.


What to Do When You Reach a Plateau in Your GRE Score Due to Exhaustion

Our brains, like our muscles, need rest. And like our muscles, brains need time to grow. If you’ve been studying every chance you get and your score still isn’t improving, you definitely need to take a break. Understandably, you don’t want to take too much time off. But even a three- to four-day break from studying vocabulary won’t cause you to forget all you’ve learned.

In fact, coming back after a few days’ rest will give your brain a renewed perspective. By taking a break from learning, your brain will have had time to process all that you’ve learned. So, for the sake of better studying, STOP STUDYING—at least for a little bit—and focus on some of the activities below.

Take Care of Your Body

It’s a shame how easy it is to fall into the GRE trap of only studying to the detriment of one’s health, even though taking care of your health is a way better strategy for increasing your test score than, say, cramming or studying when you’re exhausted. Who would have thought?

A good night’s sleep, healthy eating, and exercise are all linked to higher test scores. So instead of pursuing diminishing returns with your study, why don’t you reallocate you GRE time for a few days and intentionally focus on:

  • getting in those sweet 7-9 hours
  • filling your diet with some more brain foods
  • hitting the gym, the pavement, your apartment floor, or however you like to work out!
    • definitely make sure that you don’t skip out on good stretches, as you’ll need to work out all those knots you got from hours of sitting hunched over a book or computer (might I even recommend yoga?)
  • getting a massage (those knots are really no joke)
  • meditating (especially critical if you have test anxiety—even one minute a day will do wonders)
  • doing something creative, like a crafts project or strumming the guitar
  • catching up on shows you missed
  • really any other healthy activity you like doing to unwind

Spending a few days intentionally taking care of your mind and body and you’ll find that the word ‘polemical’—which you were having so much difficulty learning because you couldn’t get the image of a pole out of your head—suddenly makes sense. Just make sure to keep up the habit when you get back to studying too!

Focus on Other Aspects of the Grad School Application Process

If you’re already pretty good at working out, eating healthy, meditating, and all that jazz (and if that’s the case, please teach me your ways), then maybe the answer is to focus on other aspects of your grad school applications.

This process is soul-sucking, yes, but at its best, it is a great opportunity to really reflect on your personal and professional life until this point and dream about your vision for your career. Do some more research on the schools you’re looking at. Fall in love with some class descriptions or other program offerings. Tinker with your personal statements. Get on forums like GradCafe, which would be a great way to get some outside perspectives and not just stay ensconced in your own little GRE world. You can post some questions or offer your insights for other students’ questions, which would be another feel-good, mental-health-boosting activity to add to your list.


What to Do When You Reach a Plateau in Your GRE Score Due to Lack of Knowledge

One of the most important things you can do for your GRE prep is keeping a GRE error log. For every single practice problem that you do, you want to make sure you’re keeping a log of what you’re getting right and wrong and why.

This will help you know exactly which concepts you’ve got down and which ones you need to focus on improving. Keeping track of which questions you get right, a process that students tend to want to skip, is also important because sometimes you get something right purely for guessing and you want to minimize chance on actual test day as much as possible!

Once you have a solid list of the most important concepts that you’d like to review, the following resources can help you improve your understanding:

  • If vocabulary may be the source of your GRE score plateau, then check out our post on How to Study GRE Vocabulary for all the GRE vocab resources you could ever need.
  • With video lessons on every GRE topic and 1400+ practice questions, Magoosh’s GRE prep is a super affordable and accessible option.
  • Here is the latest list of the best GRE books if old-school studying is more your style or if you need to take a break from screens.


What to Do When You Reach a Plateau in Your GRE Score Due to Poor Test-Taking Strategy

Perhaps, GRE prep has become a very regimented routine for you. You maybe even have your favorite GRE spot, where you roost for a few hours. Having structure and discipline is critical to success, but up until a point. After a while, your brain may simply be getting bored. Here are a few tips for breaking up the monotony.

Focus on Different Parts of the Test

Many become too fixated on doing just one question type, or just one section on the test because that’s the area they need the most improvement on. If that’s you, then you’ll likely find that the answer to your GRE score plateau (hey, that kind of rhymes!) is to take a break from that question type or section. This allows your brain time to process what you’ve already learned and also prevents you from scoring lower on the parts of the test that you feel stronger on.

Take it from me: When I was studying for my GRE retake, I focused so much on getting my Verbal score up that I completely neglected the Quant section. My verbal score went up by 2 points, sure, but my Quant score went down by 2 points.

So do yourself a favor and give other sections some love. If you’ve been doing nothing but crunching numbers and cursing quantitative comparison questions, maybe it’s time to do some reading comprehension. If you’ve totally forgotten about the AWA section, it’s probably a good idea to flex your writing muscles—you can even try out some new vocabulary learned and write with the aplomb and sophistication of a GRE Text Completion.

Change Your Study Routine

Let’s say, hypothetically, that your studying routine pretty much always starts with a few Verbal practice questions followed by a review of your mistakes and then a set of math problems. After following this pattern for a month, your brain starts to become bored.

Surprise your brain! Any of the following should do the trick:

  • Do a mini-test in which you mix up doing five math problems followed immediately be a long reading passage.
  • Review material from a day or two before. Do you remember what you learned that day? Revisit questions you missed.
  • Even simply changing up where you study every once in a while can have a notable effect on your GRE score.

Keep an Error Log

We mentioned this in the section before, but it bears repeating over and over again. Reviewing your error long not only helps to break up the monotony but also helps to the root of why you may be getting questions wrong, even if you understand them conceptually.

What to Do When You Reach a Plateau in Your GRE Score? Study Smarter, Not Harder

The answer to a GRE score plateau is rarely “study more hours.” What you really need to be doing is take breaks as needed, not neglect your mental and physical health for the sake of studying, break up the monotony, and make sure you’re tracking your mistakes and learning from them.

For anyone else who has figured out how to blast through the GRE study wall, are there other reasons why one’s GRE score might be plateauing? Are there other strategies that worked for you? Let us know in the comments below!

A special thanks to GRE wizard Chris Lele for his work on this post!

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