Flag Your Way to a Better GRE Score

GoalsIn each section of the GRE, there are two important strategic considerations:

1) Each question counts the same: Getting stuck on one question burns valuable time that you could use for the remaining questions.  Maybe you eventually figure out how to solve it, but it might cost you the chance to get two (or more) right answers later on – not great!

2) Time is an asset you control: Knowing how to spend your time effectively can make a big difference in how you score. Spend time on the questions that will earn you points, and minimize time on questions that won’t.

The flagging technique is a great way to take advantage of each of these points. By using it wisely, you can maximize your chances of getting to your target score. Here are three situations where the flagging tool can be invaluable:

You’re pretty sure in your answer, but you’re not certain.
Many GRE takers enter the test well prepared, but there may be some content areas (such as ratios or exponent properties) in which they aren’t fully confident. You may spend a minute working on a problem and get to a point where you feel pretty good about your answer, but you aren’t fully sure (Quantitative comparison questions are notorious for this!). You’d love to do some more testing or double-check your work, but you also realize that it will burn more precious time than you can spare. The solution? Select your answer and flag it. Consider leaving a quick note about your current thoughts so you can pick up right where you left off. If you finish the rest of the section with time remaining, you’ll now have the chance to double-check your initial answer.

You’re not sure how to get started on a problem. 
You’ve read the question. You’ve re-read it. You’ve analyzed the answer choices. You’re still unclear on what the question is asking for, and you’re not even sure what your first steps to figuring it out should be. Hey, it happens – sometimes a question is set up in a way that doesn’t seem to fit the examples you saw during your preparation.

At this point, you have two options: continue staring at the problem and hope the numbers and variables start moving themselves around (like Zach Galifianakis playing blackjack in “The Hangover”), or flag it and move on. If you persist with the question, the best-case scenario is that you eventually figure it out and pick an answer, but you burned time that could have gotten you two or three right answers on other questions. The worst-case scenario is that you eventually give up and move on, burning time without even getting the question right. Your best strategy is to flag it, get some other right answers, and come back to it when you have time to spare.

You can solve a problem, but you know it’s going to take a while. 
“Select All That Apply” questions present this dilemma more often than do other types – the question makes sense, you know how to get started, and you are confident in your ability to find all of the correct answers. On the other hand, you have six or more possible answers, and you know the process to make sure that you find all of the correct answers (remember: no partial credit!) will be time-consuming. Early in the section, spending more than three minutes on one problem is not a wise investment of your time. If there are obvious answers, select them, flag the problem, and return when you have the time to invest.

Clearly, the flagging technique is a strong ally if you know how to use it effectively.  On your next GRE practice test, look for opportunities to flag questions that fit the three categories above. Doing so will allow you to maximize the number of questions you get right by investing your time wisely.

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By Bill Robinson, a Veritas Prep instructor based in San Diego.