For any college graduate considering grad school, the thought of taking the Graduate Record Exams probably brings on thoughts of utter dread. Or thoughts of putting your head through a wall. After studying your ass off years ago for the SATs- only to find out most schools put little emphasis on the scores anymore- and bullshitting your way through 4 (or 5, ehem) years of undergrad courses, taking another standardized test is about the last thing you want to be doing. And when I say you, I mean me. The idea of continuing my education was enticing. But satisfying the GRE requirement was not going to be fun. As the test date approached, and the study book I bought taunted me from some shady corner of my desk, I became less anxious to do well and more anxious to get it over with. I treated it with a certain amount of respect, but I also reminded myself that it really wasn’t a big deal. For most test-takers, anxiety, doubt and sheer terror fester right up until the minute the scores are submitted. But the point isn’t to do the best; it’s about doing your best.
Don’t over-prepare. It’s important to study. It’s probably been a little while since you’ve written analytically -and even longer since you’ve solved or graphed linear equations- so it’d serve you well to do a little brushing up on your test-taking abilities. But don’t be one of those overachieving brown-nosers who bury their faces in their study books night after night, cracking out on espresso at the local Starbucks while they overanalyze every word the Princeton Review has to say about the GREs. Sure, you should buy a study guide- or at the very least, download and print practice tests- but review them sparingly. Don’t read every page in the book. Flip through and scan, selecting random sections to practice and complete. Spend a decent amount of time preparing, but at some point, get on with your life.
Anticipate a long day. The test itself is long, yes, but the pre-test registration and waiting period are annoyingly long by themselves. When you arrive, you’ll probably sit in a big, empty room with stark walls and eerie stillness, wondering what you should be doing or if you’ve come to the right place. Eventually, you’ll be acknowledged by a receptionist of sorts, who will make you fill out and sign a statement of confidentiality. If you’ve brought a drink or snacks, don’t expect to take them in with you. You’ll get a locker for your things, so pray you don’t need them until your allotted break period- usually between sections 3 and 4. These guys mean business, and you can expect a hands-free search, complete with handheld metal detector.
Trust yourself. There will be questions that stump you. You will try to come to the correction conclusion, but no matter how hard you try, you always seem to get an answer that isn’t there- particularly in the quantitative reasoning section. But don’t sweat it. You don’t have enough time to worry about one or two questions, and if you’ve already answered a sufficient amount correctly, a few wrong answers won’t kill you. But what they say about instincts is true, and if you have a strong inclination for one answer over another, go with it. Check the box, but then move on. Don’t linger and second guess yourself, because 9 times out of 10 you change your answer at the last second only to find you had it right in the first place.
Don’t freak out. Sure, you may find yourself frequently panicking, especially the more you come across questions you can’t answer. But don’t fret. Even if you don’t do as well as you’d hoped, this test is not going to make or break your chances at grad school; it just isn’t possible. Remember when you took the SATs, and how stressed you were about being accepted to college with only mediocre scores? Well the SATs didn’t matter much then, and the GREs don’t matter much now. Standardized testing is on its way out anyway. Schools are realizing more and more that one test does not fit all, and that judging a student’s academic capabilities based on this is no longer cutting it.
Just remember: do your personal best, and the rest will take care of itself. And if you still start to hyperventilate, close your eyes and think happy thoughts. Like Charlie the Unicorn. Or laughing penguins. Or double rainbows. Or felines in footwear. Or scary, candy-pushing, grandma-impersonating boys. Or…