Imagining Stupid Things You Can Do to Mess Up Your GRE

Take a few minutes to think about the crazy things people do to completely blow up the GRE test. By being aware of these disasters, you may prevent the disaster from finding its way into your test-taking experience.

loss of focus
When you’re in the middle of a passage too boring to read comprehension, the worst thing you can do is let your mind drift to a more fun time (last night’s date, last weekend’s football game, the time you stole your rival school spell and put it on the john in the private bathroom for the Dean). Even if you have to push yourself to avoid falling asleep or exfoliating, stay focused. GRE is only a few hours of your life. I’ve had horrific blind dates that lasted longer than that, and I managed to survive them. All this will pass.

Panic over time
Each section of the GRE has a specific time limit. The on-screen clock (which you have the option to turn off, in case it drives you crazy) shows the time you have left. You know getting into the test exactly how many questions are in each section, and therefore, how many minutes do you have for each question. It’s not like this is a big mystery.

Stupid, shut up, shut up! Cheating in the GRE is a losing game – it’s just stupid. Aside from legal, ethical, and moral questions, let’s talk about practicality: you can’t predict what kinds of vocabulary words will appear in questions. What are you going to do, copy a dictionary on the palm of your hand? All the math equations you need can’t fit into the bottom of your shoes. It will take more time to copy everything you think you might need than just learning it. Besides, the GRE tries very hard to test critical thinking skills, not just rote memorization. The test never asks a straightforward question like, “How many degrees are in the triangle?” The questions require reasoning and reasoning, not just copying the equation.

Worry about the previous sections
Think of the GRE as three separate life periods. You are reborn twice and get two more chances to “do it right”. Every time your computer prompts you to go to a new section, you get a fresh start. You have one oral section, one mathematics section, and one analytical writing section. The computer is ruthless. You can’t go back to the previous section if you suddenly remember a word from the vocabulary that got away from you (like ruthless, in the previous sentence!) You can’t double check your arithmetic on a math question. Forget one section once you get into the next. You can’t even refer to a previous question in the same section, let alone a completely different section. Think of this as you would a new boyfriend or girlfriend in your life: get rid of the old and the new.

Worrying about difficult problems
The GRE contains some incredibly challenging problems. If you get the first few questions right on the exam, the computer assumes you’re a genius and confidently presents you with real stunts later. If you miss the first few questions, the computer makes it easier for you and gives you a nicer and nicer test (and unfortunately, a lower and lower score). Suppose you get past the first few questions and then get some very difficult questions. Of course, you have to answer it because the computer doesn’t let you continue until you answer it. But if the question is just a method, or much further, take a quick guess (emphasis on quick!), go ahead, and don’t worry. Ridiculously few students total 800s each year. If you’ve reached your seventies or even sixties, you’re in a high-profile club with only a few of the thousands of students who take the GRE annually. Just accept the fact that you can’t be sure you’ve answered some questions and learn to live with your flaws.
Rush to the confirmation step
When you answer a question, the computer gives you a second chance. Your screen presents you with a confirmation button that you must click before your answer becomes permanent. Life has very few chances. Take advantage of this. Keep reminding yourself that the test is not the same as a paper-and-pencil test, where you can go back at the end and check again for errors of carelessness. You choose, you confirm this option, and that’s all you wrote.

Stress (or lack of) your computer skills
Can you type, even just a little, in one finger style? If so, you have mastered all the computer skills that the GRE requires of you. Before you start taking the test, you have to complete a very brief tutorial (no, the time you spend on it is not real test time) that updates your computer’s capabilities, and have the Help key available to you at all times during the real-time test.

Ignore the 5 minute breaks shown
You are offered a short break (usually five minutes) between sections (Verbal, Mathematics and Analytical). If you don’t take these breaks between sections, you’ll be sitting for hours. Even just standing, swinging your arms and groaning a little will make you feel better.

Schedule a test at the same time with your best friend
Depending on the size and availability of the test center, you and your friend may be able to take the test at the same time. Fatal error. Trying to compare your progress to your friend’s is only human. Unfortunately, neither you nor your friend will get the exact same test. Your questions will be different. If you see your friend browsing through the material with a big smile on his face, you may be pushing yourself unnecessarily. (Maybe she missed the first few questions and now she’s getting a much easier exam than yours. You never know.) GRE is one of the places where the buddy system doesn’t work.

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