The GRE is the pre-eminent graduate standardized test in the world today; it is no exaggeration to say that the most highly educated leaders of tomorrow will be forged in the fires of this very examination.
Since it is so important, and serves as the gateway to some of the most sought after courses in the world, everyone would like to perform as well as they possibly could. However, there are also some points that need an experienced guide, and we have heard of sad cases of some candidates who performed well before potential.
In this Jamboree special feature, we bring you some common regrets shared by certain GRE students preparing elsewhere, and examine why they arise. We also try to raise cautionary points, and talk about how one can avoid these pitfalls and regrets. Most of them, of course, stem from the root cause of inadequate guidance; we recommend that you get the best possible coach to help you excel at the GRE.
“I should have planned better”
This is a regret that two kinds of people share – those who have never prepared for the GRE in a structured way, and those who have chosen mentors or coaches who were not good enough. Both these preparation mistakes can hurt your own considerable potential; you need someone who has successfully guided multiple candidates to success to walk with you on your journey to your dream graduate school.
Planning for the most important test of your life is not an easy task. If it were only about making a time table, it would be much more simple, but there are so many more dimensions. For every element in the portion, you need a strategy to understand rather than mindlessly memorize, since everything is about application. You need to plan time so that you never fall behind on your preparation; you need a contingency plan in case you are struggling with a particular topic or question format. In addition, you need the rhythm of attempts and feedback to measure whether you are actually getting better or not.
For all these reasons, we assure you that planning a successful GRE campaign is something that takes both time and expertise; for example, at Jamboree, our expert faculty members spend hours on every section of a student’s study plan, to make sure that it is customized to ensure success for that particular student.
“I should have taken more realistic tests”
There are many people who are able master most topics that are tested by the GRE. Some of these people still end up with a below par performance, and the reason is heartbreakingly simply. They just did not spend enough time on realistic mock tests, and hence ran into interface issues, time issues, speed issues or comfort issues during the actual test. This threw them off course sufficiently to give them a psychological disadvantage, and some of them actually lost 5 to 10 points just because they were practising the wrong way.
Therefore, we would advise anyone choosing a coaching partner always to find out how many realistic practice tests you will be given access to, how frequent they will be, and how close they will be to the real thing. It might seem like a very small thing – just to work out questions with a different interface – but in our decades of experience, we would not even be confident in our students who ended up scoring 337 to keep up such a score standard in a completely unfamiliar test environment. The GRE is kind enough to give all of us huge amounts of information and past data relating to their test; if we do not take advantage of it, someone else will.
“I should have studied a few more words”
This is, to us, a very strange regret but, sadly, one that is quite common. Most problems in the GRE Verbal Section are not caused by studying too few words, but by studying too many too inefficiently. We have always maintained – with great success – that no one needs to study 3000 words to ace the Verbal section; in fact, our most successful students need to memorize a list of word groups that is almost 90% smaller than the full word list, that so many other candidates stress over.
In fact, cramming a lot of new words into your memory a few days before your GRE is almost always counterproductive; it will not only hurt your chances of remembering anything about the new words you just studied, but will also put your main words – the ones that you have studied and mastered over the long days of your preparation – at risk. We have heard of multiple cases where last minute crammers succeeded only in increasing their confusion, and actually performed slightly worse than they would have, had they just taken the last couple of days before their GRE off.
“This was the wrong time to take the GRE”
Many think that the GRE is only about the preparation and subsequent success, but there is a whole lot more. Months before you actually give the test, you need to choose a date; this is very important, because it is one long term deadline that you cannot miss.
There are many variables that are involved in the choice of your GRE date, and you cannot ignore any of them. For example, your GRE date needs to give you dedicated time both to finish the study portion and to spend time at the end to ensure that you peak at the right time. In addition, your date has to be far enough away from all your application deadlines that you do not find yourself in the unenviable situation of having to balance test prep and SoP writing.
The key to timing your GRE right is to talk to multiple successful test takers, and find out from them about potential pitfalls that you should steer clear of. Once you know what not to do, it becomes much easier to do the right thing. Of course, your coach plays a vital role here, as well – a coach is the best link to past test takers who scored well.
“I should have created more time for myself”
Even with the best coaching in the world, it needs sustained effort from every candidate to make sure that he / she is giving himself / herself the best possible chance to do well, and the core of this is creating sufficient time for preparation. Once you have a plan that will ensure success, you just have to give yourself the time to make it all happen.
For example, let us assume that you are a student in the final year of an undergraduate course; you will need to start early, and give yourself a few months to master the basic syllabus – most successful candidates synchronize this period with a vacation. In addition, you will need a long runway – some time just before your test date when you can devote most of every day to GRE prep. If you cannot do these things, it is likely that you will struggle towards the end, or even end up hurting your own performance.
The problem is compounded if you are a working professional looking to give the GRE; there are so many demands on your time that it is easy to postpone preparation for a day or two; a couple of postponements can often snowball into months of missed appointments for preparation, and could even derail your entire schedule.
The most important entity in this equation is, again, your coach. Of course, yours will always be the final responsibility of ensuring that you spend time every day on prep, but a good coach will monitor your progress, and raise an alarm in case you have been slacking. Self motivation is the hardest thing in the world; for the most important exam in your life, you need backup.
“Someone I know is probably doing better than me”
Given that the GRE is a staunchly individual test, it might seem strange that a lot of people benchmark their probable performance against someone else’s probable performance, but we are all human, and this does occur frequently.
This is, by far, the least sensible of the regrets in this feature, and the easiest to overcome. If you feel that a friend or acquaintance thinks that he / she did better on the GRE than you did, remember that there is no absolute ‘good’ GRE score, all you need is one which passes muster for your particular combination of dream courses, and raises no doubts about your basic numerical and verbal abilities.
Hence, unless you have another case of someone who is applying to the exact same programs as you are, and who has exactly the same profile, it never makes sense to compare actual or perceived GRE performance. Additionally, it does not mean that the GRE ‘cutoff’ for a particular program in a particular year is determined by your friend’s performance, both of you could have GRE scores that raise no red flags in your target universities.
Always search for the efficient solution while preparing for GRE Verbal; remember that it is just another system to master, not a huge pile of information to memorize.
“I was not sure at all, about whether I should have taken the GRE or not”
The worst enemy of a powerful performance on the GRE is doubt. Before you decide whether the GRE is for you, you need to evaluate many things: why you want a graduate degree, how badly you want the perks that come with being an alumnus of some of the most prestigious Master’s programs in the world, whether you have the time in the short term, and so on. This is an exercise that you need to complete well before you ever settle on am date for your exam, or maybe even sign with a coaching partner (though a good coach or mentor will help you think through this decision).
Once you are convinced that the GRE is he first step in greater things; there should be no looking back – your only task is keeping yourself motivated for the many rewards that are coming your way if you stay the course. Over the time that you prepare, you might have moments when the syllabus seems difficult, or understanding seems impossible, or you are completely stuck. These are good, and are signs that you are scaling the next level of performance. But you should never have moments where you question whether you should be giving the exam at all; if you have properly thought through your reasons for wanting to go to a top graduate school abroad, these are doubts that will just not arise.
If, however, they do, do not let them turn into post test regrets – go to your coach, and try to talk through the problems you are having, and try to look at the reward – the great career opportunities that graduate school will give you, and recapture your initial excitement. Remember that the journey is not one you have to travel on your own.
Don’t you want to be someone with no regrets after your GRE? We, at Jamboree, have always seen that the students coached by us are by and large satisfied with their output for the input work, and are happy that they were able to challenge themselves and get to a level of performance that they did not think they would be able to achieve.
If you, too, want to look back on your GRE fondly, and make it the first step in a career that involves a great graduate degree abroad, feel free to get in touch with us. You can experience our unique methodology first hand in one of our classroom sessions, or talk to one of our coaches to understand exactly what your prospects are currently, and how Jamboree can help you crack the magic 325 barrier. All the best!