Recently, The Wall Street Journal’s At Work blog published an entry and subsequent live chat that spoke to a concern I hear almost every one of you voice at some point in your GRE prep: “I’m just not very good at [standardized tests/geometry/learning vocabulary/etc]”. This attitude perpetuates what author Heidi Grant Halvorson calls “the success myth”: The common misconception that innate ability is the only, or even the most important, factor that affects performance.
Attributing others’ success to natural talent is detrimental to your own potential success. It prevents you from focusing on the behaviors that you have the power to adopt and that have been proven to drive achievement. According to Halvorson, “strategies like…planning ahead, monitoring your progress …and perhaps most important believing you can improve, can make all the difference between success and failure.” I’ve seen many of you get discouraged by a topic or question-type, give up on that one area, and then gradually lose hope of improving your GRE scores at all. This doesn’t need to happen: As long as you can identify what is tripping you up, then you can work on it and you can improve your GRE skills and score. Now, determining why a particular area is difficult for you is not an easy process, but you have multiple resources at your disposal to help you understand each of the topics tested on the GRE:
- Our free GRE Question of the Day and explanations
- Our free GRE practice tests
- Your Kaplan teacher if you are taking a Kaplan GRE On Site or Anywhere Course
- This very blog!
In the chat that Halvorson hosted after her initial post, she discussed the success myth more in-depth, offering the following thoughts on the setbacks that everyone inevitably experiences while working towards a goal: “When we believe we can improve, we handle failure much more adaptively. Learning from our setbacks and persisting is so important – otherwise you sell yourself short.” This is easier said than done, but here’s how I frame the issue in my classes: I love mistakes. I absolutely cannot get enough of them. The more gaffes you make in practice, the less likely you are to make them when it actually counts – on GRE Test Day. When you think about it that way, making mistakes becomes a positive force in your prep, instead of feeling like a failure.
Now that you’re sufficiently motivated to dive back into your studying with gusto, here’s one final thought from Halvorson about how to realistically set goals: “There is no limit to how far in advance you can set a goal [or limits on what that goal is], but to stay motivated, you’ll need to feel like you’re making progress, closing the gap. To do that, set sub-goals… Reaching sub-goals sustains you over the long haul.” Keep this in mind as you set your overall goals. Working towards small, manageable ends will help you reach the overall result that you want. Tackle one thing at a time, and if you start to get overwhelmed, make the goal smaller and start again. It takes persistence, but just remember that you’re not alone: Everyone gets discouraged at one point or another; it’s how you handle it and move forward that will determine your final outcome.
What do you think – how do you handle the feeling that someone else is just naturally better than you? How have you overcome it? Let us know in the comments!
Almost every student I have, in every class that I teach, asks, “What is a good score on the GRE?”
Most students don’t understand just how complex that answer can be. Sure, I could tell everyone, “You know, you really want to aim for a 165 or higher on both sections of the GRE.” That would be a completely truthful answer—anything at 165 or higher is an excellent score—but it may not be an appropriate goal for every student. Quite simply, it’s just not that simple.
For starters, here is what you need to know:
The GRE is scored on, essentially, a 41-point scale. That means that small improvements in performance can increase your score quite a bit. It also means that small improvements in your score can make a big difference in your percentile ranking (sometimes, a one point increase in your score can boost your percentile ranking by 5 points—check it out here).
The percentile ranking on the GRE forms a classic Bell curve. Here is a generic Bell curve, in case you’ve forgotten what one looks like:
Because it falls on a Bell curve, your percentile tells the friendly admissions folks how well you did on the GRE compared with the students who have taken it over the last three years. (You can find that information here – But–fair warning–it’s pretty dry reading.)
Also, your GRE score does not stand alone. Whether or not you are admitted into a graduate program (and whether or not you receive scholarship money) depends on several factors, not your GRE score alone. Do not put all of your eggs in the GRE basket. You can put 4-6 eggs there, but divide the remaining 6-8 between obtaining the best GPA possible, writing a spectacular personal statement, flattering professors and professionals into writing outstanding letters of recommendation, and rounding out your resume.
I imagine you’re a bit frustrated with me. Because you still want me to give you a number and say, “THIS is a good GRE score.” (I did that already, remember? 165….look back to the beginning of this blog entry if you’ve forgotten.)
The absolute best way I can help you is to provide some general guidelines on how to set a good GRE score goal for YOU:
- Do your research! This is important. What is the average GRE score of accepted students at the schools you’re interested in? What are the average scores for your specific programs? What do the admissions departments have to say about required minimum scores? Once you’ve done your research, use these numbers in your goal-setting process. Remember also the meaning of an average score—students are accepted with higher AND lower scores than the average. Your entire application is important. Don’t become so focused on one number that you fail to present yourself in the best manner possible.
- Know that a good GRE score for YOU is the highest score you can possibly achieve after a reasonable amount of prep time (about 100 hours). Take a diagnostic test as you begin your studies (http://www.ets.org/gre/revised_general/prepare/powerprep2). If that diagnostic test places you in the 80th percentile or higher, you may be good to continue studying on your own. If you’re below the 80th percentile on either the Quantitative or Verbal section, consider signing up for a prep course. Kaplan has some great ones!
- When you begin studying, set your goal score at 20 points above your diagnostic score. Try to break that 20 point barrier in your studies. Raise your goal again—depending on how easy the first 20-point improvement was, raise your next goal by 5-20 points. Continue to raise your goal until about 2 weeks before your GRE test date. For those last 2 weeks, focus on holding steady and not losing ground.
- You want to get a score that places you in the 50th-99th percentile range (higher is better, of course). That means that your goal score should be somewhere between 151 and 170 on both portions of the test. (Notice how you could bomb the diagnostic, raise your score by 20 points as you study, and still get into the 50th percentile? Pretty cool, huh?)
Above all, study hard. Learn the test strategies. And walk out of Test Day knowing that there was no way you could have done any better!
Why is the GRE so important?
When asked which graduate school admissions factor is most important to them, more admissions officers selected “the GRE” than any other.
The GRE serves as a common yardstick for admissions officers to compare you to other applicants, regardless of experience, undergraduate major, or undergraduate GPA. Designed to predict success in the first year of graduate school, the GRE serves as a critical piece of evidence to show whether you have what it takes in the classroom and beyond.
Not only a factor in your acceptance, a high GRE can qualify you for merit-based scholarships: More than 2/3 of admissions officers from top graduate school programs report that GRE scores are an important factor in deciding merit-based financial aid.
Your GRE will likely be evaluated as you apply and compete for scholarships. The higher your GRE, the more confident a funder will be in your ability to complete the program.
With the GRE being so important for getting in and getting money, you need to submit the best score you can—and that takes time and preparation. The sooner you get started, the better.