GRE Tips from a Two-Time Test Taker

That’s right! I’m a no-good, lousy,  two-timing GRE test taker!

Well, maybe I’m not no-good or lousy, but I definitely took the GRE a second time. My first time scores were alright, but they weren’t outstanding for a psychology applicant. My scores: Q-153, V-158, A-4.0. I had a 311 overall, but my quant scores and writing scores were just barely above the 50th percentile. I applied to graduate school in 2013 and was rejected across the board.

I’m still in the middle of my second round of applications, so I can’t tell you whether or not I’ve been accepted. However, I knew that I’d need higher GRE scores to make up for my less-than-stellar GPA. This time around, I approached things differently and raised my overall score by 9 points, 6 of which were on my verbal score.

First things first – I bought Magoosh. Magoosh will be your best friend thoughout this entire process. My quantitative scores were very low, and most psychology programs want students with scores at least in the 60th percentile. A 153  equated to the 52nd percentile. Like many of you, I don’t remember my middle school and early high school math classes because I don’t use any of the formulas on a daily basis. Magoosh helped refresh my memory, but it also walked me through problems step-by-step. Not only do they have lesson videos and videos on how to approach certain question types, but they provide a video explaination for each of their 500+ practice questions so you know exactly how to work the problem.

Magoosh provides a score range predictor that is activated after you complete 50 practice questions. From what I’ve read on sites like GradCafe, Magoosh’s range tends to predict your scores as lower than what they will actually be. I found this to be true as well. I scored above what they thought I would, and I’m okay with that!

I tried to practice at least an hour a day for four months, but more often than not I would skip some days and then binge watch videos on others. If you want to keep to something a bit more structured, Magoosh does have free study plans depending on what you want to study and how long you have to study. I kept a notebook nearby to take notes on the math videos, and I used the free ETS math practice set to work on problems away from the computer. After two months, I took a practice test to see where I was at. I worked on the types of problems that stumped me the most. The week of my test I took a second Magoosh practice test, and then took the ETS PowerPrep II test. Each time I went back to fix my mistakes. You have to do this. You need to identify which types of questions cause problems, and you need to avoid those traps. Like the old saying goes, “practice makes perfect.”

The first time I took the test, I tried using flashcards. Magoosh had a free flashcard app that I used, and it seemed to work well. However, I’d find myself forgetting the words I had learned less than a week after memorizing them. This time around I tried something different. Instead of memorizing useless vocabulary, I read. Specifically, I read engaging novels that I had been meaning to read, like Sherlock Holmes, on my Kindle. When I came across a word I didn’t know, I’d highlight it and read the definition. I found that when I saw a word in context, I was more likely to remember that word. That, and I could “study” without really needing to study. It was more like a nice break…and if I so happened to learn a few new words? Well, then that was a plus! If you don’t have a Kindle, the Kindle app is free and can be downloaded on a variety of devices. Certain e-books are free on Amazon, and you may be able to download more books from your local library.

I wish I had some tips for the writing section. I think it’s kind of a crapshoot. My score only increase 0.5 points on paper, but percentile-wise it jumped from the 52nd to the 80th. I mean, seriously: I wrote an essay on Marshawn Lynch and the Seattle Seahawks. I guess everyone respects Beastmode. Just take the time to read and fully understand what the prompt is asking, write a quick outline, and then stick to a standard five paragraph essay and you’ll be fine. The Magoosh videos were pretty helpful for understanding what this section required as well.

I left the test with a Q-156, V-164, and a 4.5 on the writing section. 320 is a great overall score, and every section was over the 60th percentile. If you’re getting ready for the GRE, take the time to figure out which kinds of test prep materials work for you. Take a practice test and figure out where your weaknesses are, and then focus on those sections for as long as you can. You’ll want to try and take the test before Oct 15 if your application deadline is Dec 1 in order to ensure that your test will be graded and sent in time.

Well, that’s all I have for now! As for me, I’m just happy I’ll never have to spend another damn cent on any ETS related material. I mean, besides sending my score reports to all of my schools. Sigh.

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