New research suggests that meditation can play a key role in making sure that you reach your fullest potential on the GRE. A common discussion among teachers is how to help students overcome Test Day anxiety – while this phenomenon may sound hokey, the pressure that comes with the feeling of, “this is the score that actually counts” can significantly impact results.
In a study whose results were published last month in Psychological Science, undergraduate students were placed into one of two groups, each of which attended a class for several weeks: The control group attended a nutrition class, while the other 50% of participants attended a meditation course 4 times per week. Both groups took a sample GRE section before and after their courses, and the students who had practiced meditating saw average gains of 16 percentile points – that’s the equivalent of leap-frogging over more than 100,000 other test-takers.
What about practicing meditation allowed students to improve their GRE performance? According to the researchers, it allowed students to improve their “mindfulness.” They were more able to focus on a given task, and could more easily cut out distractions. In addition, they were better able to control the mind-racing sensation that often accompanies Test Day adrenaline rushes. These are skills that are beneficial not only for the GRE, but certainly for work and school as well – we all have times when we would benefit from having increased control over how we process a situation.
To get some more information about the benefits of meditation, check out this page from the Mayo Clinic. How have you been preparing for the experience of being at the testing center? Let us know in the comments!
Knowing how to break a number apart into its factors is a useful skill that will serve you well on the GRE. However, sometimes you’re better served by not actually taking the time to determine what a number’s specific factors are. When is this a more useful approach? Take this Quantitative Comparison, for example:
We’re being asked to compare the number of non-prime, positive integers greater than 1 that are factors of Q, to 24. Do we care about what the actual factors are? Not at all. We could pick values for a, b, and c, and see how many factors of Q we can get. However, there’s a quick trick that will save us time and ensure that we don’t accidentally miss any factors.
If we only care about finding the number of factors that a given number has, then all we need to do is look at the exponents of its prime factors. In this case, we know that a, b, and c are prime, so we don’t need to regroup or simplify them at all.
All we do is add 1 to each of the exponents, and multiply the results. The exponents on a, b, and c are 2, 3, and 1, respectively. If we add 1 to each of these, we’ll get 3, 4, and 2. When we take the product, we get 24.
So can we compare this value of 24 to the value in Quantity B and move on? Not quite – remember, we specifically want to compare the non-prime factors that are greater than 1. Well, let’s figure out how many of the factors do not fit into that category. 1 certainly does, and the only primes that go into Q were given to us in the question stem: a, b, and c. So out of the 24 total factors of Q, 4 of them don’t fall into the “prime and greater than 1” category. This leaves 20 total factors, which means that our two quantities are in fact equal.
To recap the steps for finding the total number of factors of a given integer:
1) Break the integer apart into its prime factors, written with exponents (eg a3b2c).
2) Add 1 to each of the exponents.
3) Multiply the resulting terms.
Simple, yet effective – that’s my favorite kind of math trick! What are your favorite math tricks? Let us know in the comments!
One of the free events we run regularly is a personal statement workshop. I’ve gotten to host a few, and one of my favorite questions to ask during the event is, “What’s the most important question that your personal statement needs to answer?”
Most of the replies I see in the chat are, “Why do I want to go to grad school?”
Indeed, the notion that the grad school personal statement is a “Why I Want to Go to Grad School” essay has become a staple of common “wisdom” which, like the idea that you should leave your recommenders alone, is false and detrimental to your application. Should you explain, at some point in your personal statement, why you want to go to grad school? Of course. Grad schools don’t want to admit someone who applies grudgingly, or who only wants to attend because the real world is scary and grad school seems like a good way to pass the time. But is that the primary goal of your essay? Absolutely not.
You see, “why I want to go to grad school” is a fundamentally forward-thinking question. To answer it, you have to talk about what you want to do and who you want to become. You might have promising visions and compelling aspirations, but grad schools don’t admit the person you’ll become. They admit the person you are right now. It’d be therefore pretty crazy not to provide them information about that person. Your dreams for the future give hints about your identity in the present, but hints aren’t enough.
The question you primarily need to answer is, “Why should you accept me into your program?” You don’t want your personal statement to sound like a sales pitch, because nobody likes being sold to and grad schools aren’t stupid. But a sales pitch is exactly what your personal statement is. Grad schools want someone who’s hardworking, competent, and mature, and going on and on about, “why I want to go to grad school” won’t give admissions officers reason to believe you’re any of those things.
If anything, an essay devoted entirely to explaining why its author wants to go to grad school runs a risk of making that author seem less mature. Such an essay makes its author sound like a child listing all the reasons why she wants to be a doctor when she grows up, rather than a mature, responsible adult making an informed decision about her future.
“How to write a personal statement,” is a topic too big to fit into a single blog entry. Heck, we barely fit it all into a 90 minute event. I can, however, suggest to you an easy-to-remember structure for brainstorming and planning your personal statement. The fundamental question that your essay needs to answer — “Why should you accept me into your program?” — can be broken down into three sub-questions. These questions are “Why me?”, “Why you?”, and “Why now?”
In your personal statement, you need to explain why you’re an excellent candidate (“why me”). You should also explain why you want to go to that grad school, specifically (“why you”). Finally, grad schools want to know why you’re applying to grad school now, as opposed to three years from now or three years ago (“why now”). Successfully answer these three questions, and you’ll have a strong personal statement.
I hear this from a lot of you. Unfortunately, as I explained recently, having more time on the GRE wouldn’t actually help you get a higher score, since the GRE is a scaled test. So let’s leave the complaining to our competition, shall we? Instead of moaning about the clock, strive be as awesome as you can at solving problems. If you’re great, you’ll also be fast. Here’s a quantitative comparison that’s pretty simple, but also a nice illustratration of the fact that speed isn’t something that comes independently of problem solving skill.
This problem, like several I’ve been looking at recently, comes from our GRE Bootcamp event:
Quantity A: The sum of all integers from 9 to 29, inclusive
Quantity B: The sum of all integers from 12 to 30, inclusive
At a glance, the “math” way to solve this problem is time-consuming but direct: add up the sums in both columns, then compare. Since there’s an on-screen calculator on the GRE, some of your competition will solve the problem this way. And boy does it take a long time.
Let me be very clear: directly totaling both columns isn’t just a slow way to solve the problem. It’s a BAD way. Someone who solves the problem in this head-on, brute force fashion, then says to themselves, “I’m fine with the problems, it’s the timing that kills me,” is being dishonest with themselves. They are not ”fine with the problems.” They are very much unfine!
Instead, when you have to compare two quantities, start by eliminating what they have in common. If a quantity appears in both columns, then it isn’t helping either one to be bigger than the other.
Here, both columns include the range of numbers 12-29. Thus, totaling that range would be a waste of time. Ignore it and look instead at what’s different:
Quantity A: The sum of all integers from 9 to 11, inclusive
Quantity B: The of all integers from … never mind, it’s just 30!
And since 9 + 10 + 11 clearly equals 30, you can click choice (C) — “The two quantities are equal” — in under 10 seconds and score the point. That’s the beauty of the GRE: if you’re awesome, speed comes for free. Practice will get you there!
Last year, I wrote a series of entries about the critical reasoning problems that were recently added to the GRE. Since it’s been a while, let’s revisit that question type — and check out another aspect of critical thinking that confounds many of you.
Here’s a type of problem that’s caused no end of consternation to a lot of my students:
Residents of this state are obligated to renew their driver’s license in two circumstances only: if they accumulate six or more points in moving violations, or if they obtain citizenship in another country. Clarice, who is a citizen of only this country, has been involved in only one accident, which added three points to her license. Therefore, Clarice has no reason to renew her driver’s license at this time.
The argument above depends on which of the following assumptions?
I’m not going to show you the answer choices because the essence of this problem needs to be taken care of long before you ever look at a single choice. When I ask my students for the assumption, I invariably hear answers such as the following:
- “The author assumes that Clarice didn’t receive points from sources other than accidents.”
- “The author assumes that Clarice wasn’t already a citizen of some other place.”
- “The author assumes that Clarice didn’t do something else that would make her have to renew her license.”
All of these wrong answers fall for the same trap: thinking in the way that the test makers want you to think. The test makers say, “Hey! Look at these conditions. Clarice didn’t meet any of them. So, there’s no reason for her to renew her license.” And a lot people look at that line of reasoning and say, “Aha! I bet Clarice DID meet one of those conditions, in some sneaky way.” Then they start drumming up clever ways to force poor Clarice to retake her driver’s exam.
This is what I like to call going down the wrong rabbit hole. The test makers show you a rabbit hole, saying basically, “Hey, you! Think about THIS.” And so you think about whatever “this” is, and you think about it really hard, and the problem is that you shouldn’t have even started thinking along those lines in the first place.
Let’s back up a bit.
Consider this argument:
Boris isn’t obligated to exercise. Therefore, there is no reason for Boris to exercise.
Or how about this one:
There is no law mandating that Boris be kind to his mother. Therefore, he should be a jerk to her.
How do those arguments sound? Terrible, you say?! But why? If I’m not required to do something, doesn’t that mean I have no reason to do it?
Here, again, is the argument about Clarice, but condensed to the essentials:
Clarice isn’t required to renew her driver’s license. Therefore, she has no reason to renew her driver’s license.
It’s tricky to spot the error the first time someone throws you an argument like this, because renewing a driver’s license is boring and lame, so your brain fills in the gap in the argument: “The only reason anyone would ever renew their license was if they had to.” But that’s not necessarily true: that’s an assumption. Maybe Clarice gets a tax credit for renewing her license, or renewing the license will get some of her points taken away, or renewing the license provides some other benefit to something completely unrelated. We don’t know.
Remember this nugget of logical wisdom when you take the GRE: just because a person isn’t required to do something, doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t or they won’t!