As teachers, my colleagues and I spend a lot of time discussing the importance of study plans with our students – specifically, how do you continue working once you’ve completed the class sessions and the accompanying assignments? The best study plan for you will vary depending on the specific topics on which you need to improve, but we do have a basic template that you can use to plan out your studies into two-week cycles:
- Start every two week cycle with a full-length MST, to gauge your progress
- Spend the first three days after the test reviewing the answers and explanations to every problem, and doing the recommended assignments in the Smart Report. So doing the test, review, and recommended assignments can account for four days’ worth of work in each two-week cycle.
- Then spend the next two days reviewing anything else that you know you need to work on – it could be particular topics or question types, or it could be using Quiz Bank quizzes to work on pacing. This piece will change every cycle, which is why I’m being deliberately vague.
- Take day seven off – you’d take rest days if you were training for a marathon, and this is no different.
- For the five out of the next six days (the first six days of week 2) you can organize your studying by topic or question-type – Monday could be algebra day, Tuesday reading comp day, etc. Spend your time just building a 6-8-question quizzes in Quiz Bank and reviewing them thoroughly, and reviewing any book material or Lessons on Demand to review the content as necessary.
- Allot one day out of this six-day span to going back through the previous MST, to see if you remember how to solve the questions that you looked through on that test – it can be very easy to look at a problem a week after you did it and forget how to solve it. Reviewing the problems twice will help ensure that you’re remembering approaches that will help you on the next test.
- Take day seven of week 2 off, then begin the cycle again with the next MST!
Simple but effective – lather, rinse, and repeat your way to GRE success. Do you have any questions about setting up study plans? Do you have trouble sticking to the plans that you’ve set? Let us know in the comments!
One of the most important things to realize about GRE reading comp – nay, the most important thing – is that the details don’t matter. As you read each paragraph of a passage, you need concern yourself with one thing, and one thing only: What the author’s purpose was in writing each paragraph, and his purpose in writing the passage.
You need to take notes while reading passages, but not the type of notes that you’re accustomed to taking – your goal is to make a bare-bones outline that sums up each paragraph in two phrases or fewer.
Here’s a sample passage, one paragraph at a time, and our map of it:
After you read the first sentence, make a quick note about the broad subject matter of the passage:
Topic: Egalia’s Daughters
And once you get to the last sentence or two of the first paragraph, make a note about the passage’s scope –this is just a narrower version of the topic, that tells you what about it specifically interests the author:
Scope: Book’s ending not supported by research
And to sum up the key points from paragraph 1:
¶1 – Book reverses gender roles; ending not based upon research
Now, as you read paragraph two, stop after just the first sentence and predict what the overall paragraph is going to be about:
¶2 – SJT: Even people who are oppressed by a society generally support it
As you scan the rest of the paragraph, did any keywords jump out at you to tell you that the author was doing anything other than explaining this theory? Nope – our note is sufficient, and we can move on to the final paragraph.
Apply the same exercise to the third paragraph: Make a note about what the paragraph’s overall topic seems to be after you’ve read only the first sentence:
¶3 – What if normally-advantaged group made disadvantaged? Impossible to know.
Does the rest of the paragraph serve any function other than to prove its leading sentence? You only need to do a quick scan for any new keywords to realize that no, it does not.
Once you’ve read the entire passage, make a note of the author’s primary objective in writing the passage – chances are that you’ll get a question about it. In this case, if we look at our three paragraphs in order, we can see that the author was trying to prove the point that he made about Egalia’s Daughters in the first paragraph:
Purpose: To explain why book’s ending not supported by research.
Now (and not any earlier than now!) we’re ready to go the questions - having read strategically, we’ve noted information that will allow us to answer virtually every question efficiently. Happy “mapping”, and stay tuned for more reading comp best practices in next week’s entry!
The chat lit up with excitement. I was expecting a positive response, but there was so much enthusiasm that I was taken aback. One student called it “a blessing.” Many others agreed that if they had 15 extra minutes per section, it would be just about the greatest thing that’s ever happened to them: they’d be less stressed, get more problems right, have a higher score; the sun would shine brighter and longer and warmer; a cavalcade of parachuting puppies would rain down from the sky and deliver every child in the world a cupcake made of love and hope; a cadre of unicorns would …
“HANG ON, HANG ON!” I said. “If you had more time to work on each section … what else would happen?”
And then there was silence. For a moment, the class was confused. Nobody saw what I was getting at. I prodded a little more, and finally one student said, “… other people would have more time too?”
Another student caught on. “And the scoring scale would be harder.”
Right. If you had 15 extra minutes per section, that would be terrible! Your competition would get the same bonus you would, so it’d be exactly as hard to get any particular score as it is now, except the test would be 75 minutes longer. Because every student’s score depends entirely on her performance relative to everyone else, a feature that benefits everyone actually benefits no one.
Don’t rail against the strict time limits of the GRE. Don’t fume, saying, “This is stupid. If I had infinite time, I could get all these questions right!” The thing is, if you had infinite time, so would your competition, and you wouldn’t be any better off. Learn to love the clock — it’s an opportunity for you to succeed where others fail.
In honor of the upcoming weekend, I decided to devote this entry to some great math-themed movies that you can watch the next time you need a break from your GRE studies. Giving yourself time off is important, and there’s no reason that you can’t use that time to let some of these classic (and not-so-well-known) stories characters inspire you to knock your next study session out of the park.
In no particular order, here are my recommendations:
- 21: Several MIT students are trained to count cards, and go to Las Vegas to win millions playing blackjack. I’m always a fan of Kevin Spacey, who places a professor, and hey – you may come away from this movie with a completely new, very valuable skill set that you can take on your next trip to Vegas.
- Moneyball: While everyone who saw this movie focused on Brad Pitt (understandably so), there was a lot of fun discussion about how to use math to cut through bias and human, error-prone perception. If you’re a sports fan, you’ll enjoy this baseball-themed movie. If you’re not a sports fan, don’t worry – it has Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill in it, and is very well-written.
- Fermat’s Room: This Spanish movie is about several mathematicians who are trapped together in a room and forced to solve “enigmas” or risk being killed as the room becomes increasingly small, all while trying to determine who is trying to kill them – it’s a combination of “Clue” and the scene from Star Wars in which Luke Skywalker & company are trapped in the Death Star’s garbage compactor. At the very least, it’ll make you feel better about the fact that the GRE testing room won’t close on in you if you get an incorrect answer!
- Good Will Hunting: Matt Damon as a math prodigy who, with the guidance of mentor –therapist Robin Williams, must decide what to make of his life. Certainly a good pick-me-up for anyone who is at a crossroads (as many who are applying to grad school are!), but be warned: You might come out of this movie speaking with a Boston accent.
These are just a sampling of some of the great movies that you can use to motivate you in your GRE prep – what are your favorite math-themed movies? Let us know in the comments!
For anyone who ate too much chocolate last week and is looking for a sweet treat that won’t add to his or her waistline, look no further: How would you like a quick way to solve rate & speed problems that have lots of variables? It probably doesn’t sound quite as good as a box of truffles does, but truffles unfortunately aren’t going to get you into grad school.
The beautiful thing about rate problem is that they virtually always are written as a fraction. Think about it: Any rate – miles/gallon, cookies/jar, heartbeats/minute – is just one term divided by another term. So when you’re setting up a rate problem in which you have variables without real numbers, figuring out where each variable goes in the fraction – the numerator or the denominator – will often get you directly to the correct answer. Let’s look at an example to demonstrate this:
Sweetheart Candies sells boxes holding p pieces of chocolate each. The boxes are shipped in crates, each holding b boxes. What is the price charged per piece of chocolate, in cents, if Sweetheart Candies charges m dollars for each crate?
What’s this question asking us for? We’re looking for the price per piece of chocolate, in cents. The keyword “per”, along with the fact that the answer choices are all fractions, clue us into the fact that this is a rate problem. We have three variables, so let’s see where we can put them in the fraction.
Anything that comes before the “per” will go in the fraction’s numerator. In this case, that’s the price. m is the only variable that has anything to do with money, so it must be on top. If we glance back up at the answer choices right now, which answer choices can we eliminate because they don’t correctly place m? That’s right: (A), (C), and (E) are now gone.
The only difference between (B) and (D), the two remaining choices, is that (B) multiplies m by 100. Is that extra 100 a necessary component of the rate that we’ve been asked to set up? Let’s think: The problem asks for the price, in cents, but m represents a number of dollars. So yes, we absolutely need to multiply m by 100 to get from dollars to cents. And voila – choice (D) is out, and we’ve determined that (B ) is the correct answer.
The next time that you’re confronted with a tough rate problem that involves multiple variables, don’t despair – just figure out whether each variable belongs on the top of the bottom of the fraction. On Test Day, you’ll have nailed points and moved on before your competition is even done reading the problem!
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