Successful GRE Results & How to Prepare for Standardized Tests

As you may know (from reading Tuesday’s post), I’ve recently taken the GRE.  I did rather well, at least on the portions that were instantly graded (the Quantitative (Math) and Verbal sections; there are two Analytical Writing segments that need to be graded yet).  I received a 610 in the Verbal Section and a whopping 750 in the Quantitative section; since the GRE, like the SAT, is on a 200-800 scale, both scores are better than average, and the 750 is near the top.  Needless to say (although I’m about to say it anyway), I’m pretty happy with my score.

While I’m on the subject of good news, here’s another positive development: my fiancee Sondra had a gallery opening last night to display some of her wood working, and it went over very well.  Granted, the gallery was at her school, and she had to share it with the other people in her wood working class, and a good number of the people at the gallery opening were more interested in the food than the wood working, but still, it was nice to pieces she had worked so hard to complete on display as part of a gallery.

So, as I’m in a very happy mood and also filled with GRE related knowledge, I thought I would take a moment to share some of the tips and lessons I’ve learned about how to do well on standardized tests, like the GRE, the SAT, PCAT, assorted AP tests, etc.  This is hardly a be all, end all list to getting a perfect score, but should hopefully help you to boost up your score at least a bit if you ever find yourself forced to take one or more of these tests in the future.  Let’s begin:

1) Know the format of the test: One of the biggest advantages of standardized tests is that they are well, standardized.  This makes them easier for test makers to grade; feed them into a computer or hand the answer key to a grad student and before you know it, the grading is done.  It also means that you, the test taker, can familiarize yourself with the format of the test and the questions, so that the actual test seems similar to what you’ve already done.  You won’t know the questions ahead of time, but at least you’ll know what they should look like.

2) Use the Process of Elimination: Another advantage of the standardized test format to test takers is that most of the questions are multiple choice; the answer is listed right there on the test, you just have to determine which one is correct.  Even if you can’t come up with the right answer immediately, take a moment to eliminate ones you can obviously identify as wrong, and pick one of the remaining answers.  If you can eliminate three of the five choices on most GRE questions, for example, you can more than double your change of guessing correctly (from 1 in 5 to 1 in 2).

3) Pace yourself…: It’s easy on a timed standardized test to try to rush through the questions, moving as fast as you can to get everything answered.  Don’t.  You’ll do much better (and leave the test much less stressed) if you try to pace yourself, taking the time you have available to give yourself the time to think about the questions.   (This is especially true at the beginning of computer adaptive tests like the GRE; the early questions affect your final score more than the last ones, and the difficulty of the final questions depends on how you did on previous questions.)

4)…But don’t go too slow: If you’re a perfectionist (as I tend to be on tests), you might spend more time than you have available trying to answer a single question.  It can be hard, but sometimes the wisest course of action is just to take a guess, especially if you can easily eliminate a few of the answers to boost your odds.  You’ll score higher by finishing all the questions than by spending five minutes to get one right and either not answering or making completely random guesses on the last five questions.

5) Use the preparation material available to you: ETS, the company that does most of the standardized tests in the US (including all the ones I have listed above) has a pretty snazzy website that includes prep material, practice tests, and other resources to help you, the test taker, prepare for your exam, all provided for free.  In addition, there are any number of for profit test centers that put out guide books, practice tests, flash cards, and a wealth of other material to help you prepare.  (I’ve had good luck with the material from Princeton Review, but there are other groups as well.)  The more you practice, the better prepared you’ll be when the actually test comes around.

6) Relax: One of the most important, but hardest things to do when it comes to standardized tests.  Just take a deep breath, exhale, and remember that even if you don’t do as well as you’d like (knock on wood), you can retake the test at a later date.  It’s not the end of the world.

That’s enough advice to get you through most standardized tests; if you’re taking a test like this in the future, please drop a comment to let me know.  If there are any tips or tricks that I’ve missed that have worked especially well for you on these types of tests, please share them with me and my readers so we can learn from your experience.

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