Friday, April 22, 2011

the dreaded GRE

Here's the technical definition of the GRE (Graduate Record Exam): "a standardized exam used to measure one's aptitude for abstract thinking in the areas of analytical writing, mathematics and vocabulary. The GRE is commonly used by many graduate schools to determine an applicant's eligibility for the program."

Here's my definition of the GRE: "a means of torture that you pay $160 for, which involves 3-6 months of hardcore preparation all leading up to the dreaded 3 hours of anxiety and panic, which the results of said 3 hours will either bring celebration or crush all of your hopes and dreams."

I knew going into this process that taking the GRE was inevitable. It was required. I knew that a minimum score of 900 was needed. For those who don't keep tabs on the GRE scoring system, a perfect score is 1600 which would be the combined total of an 800 in mathematics and 800 in vocabulary. It also includes 2 different essays which are scored on a scale from 1-6. 

So. All I needed was a 900, right? Wrong. In actuality, the people who were accepted into the program last year all scored between 1000-1200. So really, 900 just wouldn't cut it. It's like fine print. "The minimum GPA required is 3.3" "But really we won't consider anyone who has below a 3.8."

My original plan was to borrow a study guide from a coworker who had been planning on taking it, because those books are like, $40, and if I'm going to spend $40 it's going to be on a pair of jeans. Or more realistically, groceries. 

When I got my friend's book, I was slightly distracted by all of the work he had already done, and it was hard to get an accurate judgement of where I was when all of the answers on the practice tests were staring me in the face. So I sucked it up and forked over $40 for my own brand spanking new GRE study guide. And 1 month later, I bought another one. Because they are that much fun. 

Long story short, I did well. I busted out an 1120 and it was probably one of the highlights of this whole process. I've never been good at the standardized tests, and I thought for sure I'd be lucky to get a 900. I had taken 5 practice tests that ranged anywhere from 850-1050, so I was shocked. And shaking. And totally stoked. 

So, if you have to take the GRE, here are a few tips that worked well for me: 
  • give yourself 3 months to prepare. Over those three months try and devote one or two days a week to going through the study guide
  • I used Princeton Review and Kaplan study books and I thought the two complemented each other very nicely
  • do timed practice tests to get an idea of how to pace yourself
  • lastly, vocab. Make vocabulary flashcards and study. 
For those of you who don't have to take this test, thank your lucky stars. For those that do, good luck! 

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