Friday, October 31, 2008

Taking the GRE General Test

I've been putting the GRE off for years... so I finally scheduled myself to take it (and paid the $$$), hoping that the pressure of the deadline would motivate me to study.

That's not exactly how it worked out. I ended up only studying the night before the test, using the ETS Test Prep CD that I received from ETS after registering for the GRE. Even so, I managed a 660 on the Verbal portion, and an 800 on the Quantitative.

The good thing about the prep software is that the interface looks just like the real one on the computer-based test, so you should definitely take all of the practice tests that are included on the CD.


Stuff you should know about taking the computer-based test:
  1. You must answer every question as it appears-- you cannot skip questions and come back later. This significantly alters your test strategy, if you have taken previous standardized tests on paper.
  2. WATCH THE CLOCK during your essay portion. I was still re-typing a sentence in my conclusion paragraph when the screen went blank and then told me my time was up.
  3. Bring an energy bar (I prefer BALANCE Bars) and leave it in your locker for a snack during your 10-minute break.

Stuff to know for the Verbal portion:
  1. How to comprehend what you read.
  2. Lots of vocabulary. The analogies are the hardest part, since you need to understand all the possible nuanced meanings of the words.
Basically, either you know this stuff or you don't. If you don't, then you need to set aside several months to improve your reading comprehension and your vocab.

Stuff you should learn, understand, and memorize before the test:
  1. The Pythagorean Theorem. Several of the quantitative questions ask you to solve problems which involve right triangles.
  2. The formulas for both the area and the circumference of a circle.
  3. Remember that the ratio of a square's side to its diagonal is 1 to the square root of 2 (1.414).
  4. The area of a right triangle is its base times its height, DIVIDED BY TWO.
  5. Be able to solve a system of linear or quadratic equations.

General strategies:
  1. DO PRACTICE TESTS. These help you assess your current state, and get you accustomed to the format.
  2. GO TO BED EARLY. In the final 24 hours prior to the test, a good night's sleep is worth way more than any more studying.
  3. DON'T FREAK OUT. If you know basic mathematics and some properties, you can probably figure out most of the answers. I solved one problem where they wanted me to compute a value in a series the right way, but I just did it by hand, working out each term individually. I got it right.

Good luck. and remember-- you can always take it again.

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