We love hosting events for all of you intrepid GRE preppers: We regularly run full-length practice GRE tests, classes on how to strategically approach the test, seminars on your graduate school personal statements, and much more. I’m happy to announce that next week, one of my favorite events is happening on Tuesday, May 14th, at 7:30 pm ET: the GRE Bootcamp.
As the name implies, the Bootcamp is not for the faint of heart: It will feature a series of some of the toughest problems that you can see on the GRE. While you need to be ready to tackle questions on all topics and of all difficulty levels for Test Day, this event will give you insight into how to prepare for the any situation that you could potentially face.
The Bootcamp will be hosted by Gene Suhir, one of Kaplan’s top faculty members. Gene has coached thousands of students to GRE success, and is well-versed in the nuances that can make the difference between getting an okay score, and blowing the competition out of the water. He’s ready and waiting to show you what you need to know in order to reach your fullest potential.
To sign up, just go here and click the “Register Now” button next to the listing for the event. Start doing some jumping jacks to prepare, and we’ll see you on Tuesday!
Professional athletes review game tape to improve their performance. Students review professors’ notes on papers to get advice on how to better present arguments and ideas. Business people constantly review new strategies, to determine how well they’re working.
What’s the common theme? No matter what you do, a major component of success is getting consistent feedback and using it to adjust your approach as you proceed. This rule applies to your GRE studies as well.
For every hour that you spend learning new material and doing new practice questions, you should spend at least another hour reviewing material and questions that you’ve already done. Here’s how you can best use that time:
- Create “Why I missed it” charts:
As you review each question that you got incorrect, identify what went wrong. Was it not knowing the right formula? Was it misidentifying what the question asked you to solve for? Making specific notes will allow you to see patterns that you can then use to focus your studying.
- See if there was a faster way to solve:
As you review the explanations to every problem in a quiz or practice test, ask yourself: “Is the approach described in the explanation the one that I used?” If not, what “triggers” can you identify in that problem to remind you of the most efficient plan of attack the next time you see a similar problem? This is where the real benefits of consistent practice kick in: Every new problem that you see will start to look like problems that you’ve done before, and you get to reap the benefits.
- Do a second round of review:
After you’ve gone through a quiz or practice test once, come back to it after another week to see if you remember how to solve the problems that you got incorrect. You often need to see a problem a few times before you can instantly recall how to solve it, so don’t shortchange yourself.
If you incorporate these techniques into your practice, it will help you focus your studying and will drive results – let us know how it goes, and if you have any questions!
Back in January, I wrote about a challenging quantitative problem from one of our free GRE events, the GRE Bootcamp. As we held another Bootcamp recently, let’s take a look at another hard problem from the event — a verbal one this time!
The _______ preconcert celebrations did not seem to suit what followed; the concert itself was low key, acoustic, and featured only one performer.
Since there are six choices, you know what kind of problem this is: a Sentence Equivalence. Your task is to pick two words that both fit the sentence and produce an equivalent effect. Don’t start with the choices, though: start with the sentence. Look for clues and try to figure out the meaning of the blank yourself.
The sentence is about a concert, and the blank describes the party that happened before the concert. Now, what clues have you got? Well, the celebrations “did not seem to suit” the concert. And what was the concert like? “Low key, acoustic, and [featuring] only one performer.” So the missing word has to be the opposite of that.
Sometimes, on more challenging GRE verbal problems, you need to prioritize your clues. The opposite of acoustic is electrically enhanced, so unless a bunch of people at the party were sticking forks into sockets, this clue doesn’t help. The part about featuring “only one performer” isn’t terribly helpful, either; all this tells you is that more than one person was at the party, which is kind of already the definition of a “party.”
But low key – now that is a helpful clue! Imagine going to a “low key” gathering. Now imagine what would be the opposite of that: crazy, perhaps? Loud? Okay, there’s your prediction. The two words you select should indicate that the party prior to the concert was a crazy, loud, and all-around extravagant affair.
Like all challenging short verbal problems, this one features outrageously difficult vocabulary. Whenever this happens, gravitate to the words you know and see if you should pick them or cross them off. You should experience no hesitation whatsoever when you do this: if it’s a word you know, either it matches what you predicted or it doesn’t. If you haven’t yet reached this point of no-hesitation, that’s okay. That’s what practice is for!
Let’s suppose you only know the three easiest words in this list: corrosive, garish, and exquisite. Acids are corrosive — they eat things away — so that doesn’t make any sense. Cross it out.
Garish has several definitions, but as it would pertain to a party means “showy, excessively elaborate, and loud.” Just what you were looking for to describe this party. Select!
Finally, exquisite means “particularly excellent,” and that’s a distraction in this problem. The test makers are exquisitely good at loading up the choices with distracting words like this (which is why you shouldn’t look at the choices first!). Just because the party was (to borrow the dictionary for a moment) “extraordinarily fine or admirable” doesn’t mean that it was loud, extravagant, or any other opposite of “low key.” I consider fruit snacks exquisite, but they don’t call attention to themselves. They are both exquisite and low key. Cross this choice out.
Even if you had no clue about the other words, you’d know to pick garish and one of the remaining three choices. That’s 1 in 3 odds, which is five times better than the 1 in 15 odds you’d get by stone-cold guessing. In the long run, improving your odds like this will pay off in more right answers and more points, even if you have to guess.
Let’s suppose that you’ve been keeping a vocabulary notebook, though, and did a monster job beefing up your vocabulary before Test Day. The word ersatz means “synthetic” or “artificial,” so that makes no sense. Another word that makes no sense in this sentence is resplendent, which means “gleaming” or “splendid.” This word produces an equivalent effect in the sentence as exquisite, but it’s the wrong effect! Cross it out.
Boom. The only word left is robustious, so that must be your synonym. Pick it with garish and celebrate an added point to your GRE score.
Today I got an email from a student who was perplexed that his GRE quantitative score was dropping on his tests. Toward the end of the email the student said:
I have been doing all the homework and a lot of practice problems [that] I’m doing fairly well on. I have been getting 70-90% correct in the quiz bank and on homework.
Many of you do exactly what this student does: when you do your GRE homework, you keep tallies of your right/wrong answers, then compare your homework performance to your MST performance. And then you get discouraged because your MST performance is worse.
But hang on a sec. Your homework problems are untimed, non-adaptive, and done in small chunks. Your MST problems are timed, adaptive, and done in the context of a grueling 4-hour exam. Of course you’ll do worse on the MST! That’s not a sign you’re doing something wrong. That’s not surprising. It’s downright commonplace.
When you finish a problem set, review it thoroughly to reinforce what you did right, and identify and squelch what you did wrong. But don’t keep score. “I got X questions right” is a thoroughly useless piece of information; all it can do is discourage you. Keep score when it counts: on Test Day.
In my last entry, about quick arithmetic tricks, I mentioned that you should never try to do extensive math calculations in your head. This bears further explanation, as it’s counterintuitive to many students. After all, why wouldn’t it save time to do a few steps in your head, instead of writing them down? The short answer is this: Trying to do more than one step mentally, without writing anything down, will end up taking you more time and will lead to more errors.
Think about the last time that you tried to do multiple steps in your head, and the questions that it ended up raising: Did I remember to divide by 2 at the end? Did I end up with x in the denominator, or was it x2? And once those questions start coming, there are only two options: Proceed with the result you got and hope that it’s correct, or backtrack and run through all of the steps again. Do you like either of those routes? Neither do I. If you instead write down the steps as you’re doing them, you’ll not only avoid a lot of calculation errors, but you’ll also have work to refer back to in case you end up with a result that doesn’t match an answer choice.
Process of elimination is an important part of test-taking success, but it’s not effective to mentally remember which choices you’ve already eliminated, and it’s inefficient to write out the letters “ABCDE(F)” out 80-100 times. Add a new column to this chart each time you need to keep track of which answers you’ve eliminated, and you’ll save precious minutes on each section – as you’ve learned by now (and as my “arithmetic tricks” entry began driving home), it’s the confluence of many small factors that lead to Test Day confidence and success.
What strategies have you been applying in your studies to work through problems and tests smoothly and accurately? Let us know in the comments!