Students who want to go to graduate school and earn an advanced degree have a lot of things to accomplish before they start that journey of crafting their applications for their target schools. Taking the Graduate Record Examination, or the GRE, and achieving a sufficient score is just one of the things on the to-do list of a future graduate student.
Some students find themselves wondering if it is absolutely necessary to study for the GRE. Is it possible to save themselves some time by taking the GRE without studying for it? If you’re considering choosing this approach to the test, continue reading to learn the risks of taking this exam without preparing for it. In addition, you’ll discover what students can do to increase their chances of earning an impressive score on the GRE without studying obsessively.
The Disadvantages of Taking the GRE Without Studying
A student who sits down to take the GRE without studying is likely to have a passing familiarity with a lot of the topics they encounter on the test. After all, it’s not really testing any concepts or skills they didn’t already see during the course of their education from the start of elementary school to graduation from high school. On the other hand, it’s also extremely likely that the score they receive will not reflect what the level of performance of which they are truly capable.
Let’s take a look at how the student who approaches the GRE without studying for it might run into issues with the quantitative sections. The core areas of math that the GRE tests are arithmetic and algebra. Most students who take the exam will have spent years learning and mastering them, but when was the last time they actually had to use them in the direct and seemingly straightforward manner in which the GRE will pose questions? For many students, it will have been five or ten years, and for some it will have been even longer!
In the Veritas Prep textbook for GRE arithmetic, students review the key areas of arithmetic the GRE will use to craft questions: topics such as basic calculations (addition, subtraction, etc.), factors and multiples (we hope you remember how to find the Least Common Multiple and the Greatest Common Factor), decimals and fractions, ratios, and percents. Flipping through the table of contents, it would be easy to assume that, because all of the topics in the list sound familiar, it will be easy to tackle the GRE without studying.
Unfortunately, the kinds of questions the GRE loves to pose require test takers to have a thorough grasp of fundamental concepts and strategies for interpreting, setting up, and solving questions in various ways. A vague memory of how you tackled ratio problems in middle school simply won’t be enough; you’ll find yourself extremely vulnerable to common trap answers GRE writers love to set up for the unwary test taker (the kind of trap where reading the solution leaves you with a feeling of frustration at yourself). If this sounds like you, you are not alone; many students hit a point in their preparation for the exam where they find themselves thinking “man, 15 year old me would have crushed this kind of question. 25 year old me? Not so much.”
Even if you are exceedingly confident in your ability to retain information from long-forgotten math classes (and that confidence is correctly placed), it’s still fairly likely that you will score below your true ability. Going into the GRE without studying increases the chances that you will give up points that you should earn, resulting in an artificially low score. Without studying, you will be tackling the exam without understanding exactly how questions will be presented to you. Multiple choice questions? Sure, you’ve got that covered; you saw multiple choice questions all the way through college, after all. Multiple choice questions, with the possibility of multiple correct answers? You can handle that (you may have had professors that loved adding this little twist to ordinary multiple choice questions). Numeric Entry, where you fill in your own answer? Yes, that’s how a lot of your math tests were. So far, so good, but what about Quantitative Comparison questions? GRE Quantitative Comparison questions are probably something you haven’t encountered before, so let’s take a look at an example of this unique GRE Math question type:
x is a positive integer
Quantity A Quantity B
A. Quantity A is greater.
B. Quantity B is greater.
C. The two quantities are equal.
D. The relationship cannot be determined from the information above.
For many students, the obvious approach here is to test possible values of x and compare Quantity A to Quantity B. Let’s start with a value of 2 for x; Quantity A becomes 2, and Quantity B becomes 8, so B is obviously greater. Just to be on the safe side, let’s test another value and see if we get the same result. If x is 3, then Quantity A becomes 3 and Quantity B becomes 27, so B is still greater. The question ruled out negative integers as possible values of x, so we don’t need to worry about dealing with a negative base with an odd exponent, and at this point we may be feeling pretty confident that B must be the right answer.
For a student tackling a question like this on the GRE without studying for it, it might be time to select B and move on the question. However, a student who has prepared for the exam will know that B is only correct if B is always greater, for any possible value of x. The prepared student will know to ask themselves, “are there any positive integers that might give me an unusual result when I cube it?” Having reviewed exponent rules, they will then think “Aha! 1 always gives the same value for any exponent, so if I plug in 1 for x, then Quantity A becomes 1 and Quantity B also becomes 1, so A and B are equal in this scenario.” Thus, they can prove that D must be the correct answer: B is greater for any value of x greater than 1, but 1 is the exception to the rule. As a result, we must pick D; it is impossible to determine a relationship between the two quantities that holds true for any possible value of our variable.
Tricky, right? The concept being tested would not qualify as extremely difficult, but the novel question format presents some issues that students who prepare are able to handle easily but that might not even occur to students who attempt the GRE without studying for it. The exam is full of hurdles like this: prepared students will handle them fairly easily, but unprepared students will stumble over them, sometimes without even noticing that the hurdles exist in the first place!
There is another often-overlooked benefit to taking the time to prepare for the GRE: decreased test anxiety. For many students, going into an exam for which they feel unprepared (or even just underprepared) leads to increased test anxiety, decreased confidence, and an inability to move through the questions efficiently. Knowing exactly what awaits you on the test will allow you to feel fully confident in the skills and strategies you’ve honed, allowing you to display your ability to its fullest extent.
How Long Does it Take to Prepare for the GRE?
Once a student makes the decision to prepare for the GRE, they will want to know how much time they will need to devote to the process to go into the test fully prepared. Before embarking on a study plan, students should take a practice test to assess their initial strengths and weaknesses as well as how far away they are from their target score. Some students may find that they are starting off very close to their target scores, meaning they may only need a month or two to shore up specific weaknesses and develop familiarity with the test itself. Other students, especially those taking the GRE several years removed from their educational career, may find they need up to six months to feel confident in their skills going into the test.
How to Prep for the GRE
Along with taking a practice test, one of the best tips for students who are planning to take the GRE is to create a study schedule. Consistency is key: studying regularly, even if it’s broken up into shorter sessions, will typically yield better results than studying once or twice a week in marathon sessions (unlike many of the exams you took in school, the GRE tests your reasoning skills more than it tests your ability to regurgitate facts you memorized. As a result, regular practice will be more productive than cram sessions). Some students may set up a schedule that allows them two hours of GRE study per day. For instance, on Monday, a student might work on memorizing ten new vocabulary words and their definitions and tackle two pages of algebra problems. Tuesdays could be set aside for studying geometry problems and working on reading comprehension skills, such as drawing conclusions and finding main ideas in passages. Creating a study schedule allows a student to absorb the necessary study material in a gradual way. In addition, having a defined plan and objectives for each session allows a student to get the most out of each hour spent studying as well as creating an easy way to track progress. If your goal is to improve your score in an efficient way, then knowing exactly what to focus on in each session will be a huge step in the right direction.
At Veritas Prep, we offer courses that help students prepare to conquer the GRE. Our professional instructors teach skills and strategies to students that they can use on every section of the exam. Furthermore, we hire instructors who have excelled on the test and demonstrated the ability to help their students do the same. In short, the students who choose Veritas Prep get valuable GRE advice from instructors who have been there, done that, and can explain how they can do it too!
Tips for Success on the GRE Exam
When it comes to the GRE, one of the most effective study techniques is to create flashcards for unfamiliar vocabulary words. A student can use the flashcards during regular study time or review them while waiting in a line at a store or sitting in the dentist’s office. They are a convenient study tool. Additionally, using a search engine to find definitions for unfamiliar words encountered in a practice question is a great habit. After learning the definition of a word, the smart student will then click on the “news” tab to see how the word is typically used. On tricky Text Completion or Sentence Equivalence problems, knowing that one of the answer choices is typically used in a positive context may make all the difference in picking the correct answer.
One great piece of study advice for the GRE as a whole is to create a checklist of skills and concepts to be reviewed as you move through your study schedule. Being able to check things off as you progress is a great feeling and will provide clear evidence of your progress as well as solid motivation to continue your improvement. It is more difficult to improve something you aren’t measuring, so be sure to track your performance after each study session.
For an individual study session, many students find it useful to spend a few minutes at the end of the session reviewing how the session went, both in terms of what went well and what still needs improvement. After spending a couple of hours practicing algebra, a student may write down the areas they feel confident in (equations and exponents, for instance) as well as the areas they need to spend more time on (inequalities and absolute value, say).
Students who want to know more about how to prepare for GRE test questions can also benefit from working with the expert instructors at Veritas Prep. We do more than teach students how to pass the GRE: we teach them how to excel on the test! Contact our dedicated staff at Veritas Prep today.
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