In the Strategies and Tips for the GRE Test article, You’ll learn some core test-taking strategies to help you maximize your score.
In addition, you’ll see some of the different question formats you will probably encounter on test day.
#1. Take the Easy Test First
Within a section, each question counts equally toward your score. There will inevitably be questions you are great at and questions you don’t like.
The beauty of the GRE is that there is no need to bow to Phoenician numerical hegemony; you can answer questions in any order you like.
The question you can nail in 25 seconds is worth just as much as the question that will torture you for minutes on end. To maximize your score, leave the questions you don’t like for last. If you are going to run out of time anywhere, and unless you are shooting for a 160 or higher, you should be running out of time, make sure that the questions that get chopped off are the ones you didn’t want to answer anyway.
This strategy is called Take the Easy Test First. Skip early and skip often. Doing so will result in two passes through an individual section.
On the first pass, cherry-pick. Answer the questions you like. Get all of those easy points in the bank before time starts running short.
You know that the hard questions—or the ones that you don’t like—are going to take more time. Also, although you should never rush, everyone starts to feel the pressure of the clock as time starts running low. This is often when mistakes happen.
Leave those difficult, time-consuming questions for the end of the test. If you run out of time or make some mistakes at that point, it won’t matter because these are low percentage questions for you anyway.
#2. Mark and Move
On your first pass through the questions, if you see a question you don’t like, a question that looks hard, or a question that looks time consuming, you’re going to walk on by and leave it for the end. Sometimes, however, a question that looks easy turns out to be more troublesome than you thought.
The question may be trickier than it first appeared, or you may have simply misread it, and it seems hard only because you’re working with the wrong information. From start to finish, the GRE is nearly a four-hour test.
Over four hours your brain is going to get tired. When that happens, misreading a question is virtually inevitable.
Once you read a question wrong, however, it is almost impossible to un-read that and see it right. As long as you are still immersed in the question, you could read it 10 times in a row and you will read it the same wrong way each time.
Whether a question is harder than it first appeared, or made harder by the fact that you missed a key phrase or piece of information, the approach you’ve taken is not working. This is where the Mark button comes in.
Reset your brain by walking away from the problem, but Mark the question before you do. Do two or three other questions, and then return to the marked problem.
When you walk away, your brain doesn’t just forget the problem, it keeps on processing in the background.
The distraction of the other questions helps your brain to consider the question from other angles.
When you return to the problem, you may find that the part that gave you so much trouble the first time is now magically clear. If the problem continues to give you trouble, walk away again.
Staying with a problem when you’re stuck burns time but yields no points. You might spend two, three, five, or even six minutes on a problem but still be no closer to the answer.
Spending five minutes to get one point will not get you enough points on a 30- or 35-minute section. In the five minutes you spend on a problem that you’ve misread, you could nail three or four easier questions.
When you return to the question that gave you trouble, there is a good chance that you will spot your error, and the path to the correct answer will become clear. If it doesn’t become clear, walk away again.
Any time you encounter resistance on the test, do not keep pushing; bend like a reed and walk away. Use the Mark button to facilitate this key skill. Skip early and often so that you always have questions to distract your brain when you get stuck.
#3. Use the Review Screen to Navigate.
Within a single section, you can mark an answered or unanswered question and return to it later. In fact you can skip any question you like and return to any question at any time you like. Navigating around a section is easy with the new Review Screen, which looks like this:
Simply click on a question and hit the button marked “Go To Question,” and you will return directly to that question. This opens up a whole new realm of strategic opportunities for the savvy test taker.
#4. There’s No Penalty for Guessing.
You should take the easy test first and you should spend most of your time on questions that you know how to answer, or are reasonably certain you can answer.
When you return for your second pass, you will be able to answer some of the questions that you marked during your first pass. A fresh set of eyes on a problem you’ve already seen is sometimes all it takes for a solution to present itself. But there may also be some questions that you do not know how to answer no matter how many times you look at them.
When you confront a question like this, try to eliminate any answer choice you can, but make sure to guess. There is no penalty for incorrect answers on the GRE. As a result, it’s better to guess than it is to leave a question blank. At least by guessing, you stand a chance at getting lucky and guessing correctly.
#5. Use Process of Elimination.
Because there are many more wrong answers on the GRE than there are credited answers, on some of the more difficult questions (those you do on your second pass) you’ll actually be better served not by trying to find the correct answer, but instead by finding the wrong answers and using POE, Process of Elimination.
Improve Your Odds Indirectly
Every time you’re able to eliminate an incorrect choice on a GRE question, you improve your odds of finding the correct answer; the more incorrect choices you eliminate, the better your odds.
For this reason, some of our test-taking strategies are aimed at helping you arrive at ETS’s answer indirectly. Doing this will make you much more successful at avoiding the traps laid in your path by the test writers.
This is because most of the traps are designed to catch unwary test takers who try to approach the problems directly.
POE and Guessing
If you guessed blindly on a five-choice GRE problem, you would have a one-in-five chance of picking ETS’s answer.
Eliminate one incorrect choice, and your chances improve to one in four. Eliminate three, and you have a fifty-fifty chance of earning points by guessing. Get the picture? Guess, but guess intelligently.
#6. Use Your Scratch Paper.
ETS doesn’t give you many useful tools on this test, so you have to make good use of the ones they do give you.
You will get six sheets of scratch paper stapled into a booklet. You can get more by raising your hand during a section, but that takes time, so you will need an efficient system for using scratch paper.
Mistakes happen in your head, but good technique happens on scratch paper. When you do work in your head, you are really doing two things at once.
The first is figuring out the answer at hand, and the second is keeping track of where you’ve been. Mistakes happen when you try to do two things in your head at once.
It’s better to park your thinking on your scratch paper. Get it out of your head and onto the page. Good things happen when you do.
On the math side, scratch paper is crucial. Not only is it important for performing complicated calculations, but when used properly, it can actually help to direct your thinking as you work through multistep problems.
In the math sections of this book, we will give you graphic set-ups for each math concept that you will encounter. Use them consistently, and they will become good habits that will pay big dividends in accuracy, even over a four-hour exam.
On the verbal side, scratch paper is every bit as essential. It will help you to track your progress, to focus on only one answer choice at a time, and to work through a series of answer choices efficiently.
In the verbal section of this book, we will give you a process for using scratch paper efficiently and effectively.
Get into the habit of double-checking all of your answers before you click on your answer choice—or answer choices. Make sure that you reread the directions and have done everything they asked you to.
Don’t get the answer wrong just because you chose only one answer for a question that required you to choose two or more.
The only way to reliably avoid careless errors is to adopt habits that make them less likely to occur.
Always check to see that you’ve transcribed information correctly to your scratch paper. Always read the problem at least twice and note any important parts that you might forget later.
Always check your calculations. And always read the question one last time before selecting your answer.
#8. Let It Go.
Every time you begin a new section, focus on that section and put the last section you completed behind you.
Don’t think about that pesky synonym from an earlier section while a geometry question is on your screen.
You can’t go back, and besides, your impression of how you did on a section is probably much worse than reality.
#9. Don’t Make Any Last-Minute Lifestyle Changes.
The week before the test is not the time for any major life changes. This is NOT the week to quit smoking, start smoking, quit drinking coffee, start drinking coffee, start a relationship, end a relationship, or quit a job. Business as usual, okay?
- You can increase your score on the GRE through practice and successful application of test-taking strategies.
- The GRE uses a variety of question formats throughout the test.
- Accuracy is better than speed. Slow down and focus on accumulating as many points as possible. Forcing yourself to work faster results in careless errors and lower scores.
- The process of Elimination is an extremely useful tool on the test. Use it to eliminate wrong answers and increase your odds of guessing correctly.