10 Mistakes You Won’t Make When Taking the GRE - dummies

10 Mistakes You Won’t Make When Taking the GRE

By Ron Woldoff

Some common mistakes are made by those taking the Graduate Record Examination (GRE). Take a few minutes to read through these mistakes to see how other people have tanked the exam. By becoming aware of these catastrophes, you may prevent them from happening to you.

You won’t cheat

Cheating on the GRE simply doesn’t work, so don’t even consider it. They’re on to you. When you get to the testing center, and before you begin your test, the proctors separate you from anything that you can possibly use to cheat, including your phone, wristwatch, water bottle, jacket, and hat. On top of that, you’re monitored by a camera while taking the test. Any semblance of privacy goes right out the window.

How would you cheat anyway? You can’t copy all those vocabulary words or write all the math formulas on anything accessible during the test. Besides, the GRE tests your critical-reasoning and problem-solving skills more than your memorization skills.

Those caught cheating can be banned from taking the test for up to ten years! In the world of careers and education, that’s nearly a lifetime.

You won’t run out of steam

The GRE tests your stamina as much as anything else. Most people aren’t able to maintain these levels of concentration for four straight hours, so they end up petering out. Through preparation and practice, you have a definite edge over the other test-takers.

Like preparing for a marathon, preparing for the GRE means slowly building yourself up. Practice for a few hours at a time and stop when you get tired. Repeat this exercise, and eventually you’ll be able to go the full distance without fail. Don’t push yourself too hard, though, because you’ll burn yourself out. As they say in the weight room, “Train, don’t strain.”

You won’t neglect your breaks

Some people don’t take advantage of the short breaks offered during the GRE. Be sure you don’t miss the opportunity to take a breather. You’re offered short breaks (in one- or ten-minute increments) between sections. If you don’t take these breaks, you’ll be sitting still for hours. Though your stamina may be good (because you practiced), you still want to stay hydrated, eat a power bar, and walk around every now and then to keep your mind clear. Don’t plan on studying during your breaks, though — the review of any GRE-prep materials during breaks is strictly forbidden.

Pack some water bottles and power bars to keep in a locker for your breaks. You won’t have time to go grab something. Don’t drink too much water, though — you can’t pause the exam to run to the restroom.

You won’t dwell on questions from the previous sections

When skipping a question or marking it for review, let it go until the end of the section so you can focus on the other questions at hand. When you reach the end of the section (but before moving on to the next section or before the time expires), you may return to the questions you skipped or marked and check or change your answers.

When you move on to the next section, however, that’s it: You can’t go back to a previous section. You have no choice but to move forward, so don’t waste mental energy by focusing on past questions you can do nothing about.

You won’t sweat the time limit

Some test-takers fret over the clock. The key to success is to be aware of the clock while remaining calm. Practice working with a timer, so you’re used to the timer on the GRE exam screen. As you become more accustomed to working with the clock during practice, you’ll eventually settle into a comfortable pace and be used to the timer on test day.

The mistakes you make while relaxed are different from the mistakes you make while under pressure from the clock. Practice with a timer to get used to the pressure and become aware of the timer-pressure mistakes — and fix them before the test.

You won’t rush through the questions

Some test-takers think that they need to rush to answer all the questions in the time limit. This is true, if you want to get them all wrong by missing key details and making careless mistakes.

I’d rather you get half the questions right and run out of time for the other half than rush through the questions and miss them all. But it shouldn’t come to that anyway: The time that the GRE gives you is more than enough to properly, correctly, and calmly answer all the questions — if you don’t get stuck.

Remember the Other Golden Rule: The secret to working fast and getting it right isn’t rushing — it’s knowing what you’re doing. The way you know what you’re doing is by learning what’s on the exam and practicing it.

You definitely won’t choke on the essays

Choking, by definition (on the GRE), means getting stuck on something and becoming so flustered that you can’t focus on anything after that. This can happen at any point on the test, but because you can flag the multiple-choice questions and go back to them at the end of the section, you’re unlikely to choke on those.

Essays, however, are another story. On the GRE, you have to write two essays within 30 minutes each. What’s worse, they’re at the beginning of the test, so if you choke on one, you’re toast for the entire exam. Of course, this won’t happen to you, because you have prepared beforehand. This makes writer’s block — and choking — something that happens to others, but not you.

Practice writing the essays! Like any skill, essay-writing takes practice, and you don’t want to be at the start of the learning curve on test day.

You won’t fret over the hard questions

The GRE contains some seemingly difficult questions, and most test-takers don’t get perfect scores. Do the best you can, score in the high percentiles, and get accepted to graduate school! No one expects a perfect score, so you shouldn’t, either.

The GRE is only one of many parts of the application process. Your GPA, work experience, essays, and any other relevant character-building experience (such as sports participation, military service, volunteer work, or leadership training) also count toward your chances of admission.

You won’t take the exam with a friend

You and your buddy may be able to schedule your tests for the same time. Big mistake. Two of my students from the same class took the exam at the same time, side by side, and both told me afterward that rather than providing support, the distraction was almost unbearable. Fortunately, they both scored well, but I wonder how different their results would have been had they tested separately. It’s good to study with a friend, and celebrate after, but don’t buddy up to take the test.

You won’t change your morning routine

The GRE is stressful enough. The last thing you need to do is add more anxiety to the whole nerve-racking experience by changing your morning routine.

If you normally have one cup of coffee, should you have an extra cup for more energy or only half a cup to reduce anxiety? Should you have an omelet for more protein or just have toast to avoid the food crash later? Here’s a suggestion: Do what you normally do. It works every other day, and it’ll work just as well the day of the test. Don’t change your routine.

If you’re tempted to try an energy drink or something unusual for an enhanced test-taking experience, try it first on a practice test! Make sure your new concoction doesn’t upset your stomach or give you a headache. You don’t need that distraction.