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Biggest GRE Prep Mistakes

Have you been studying diligently for the GRE, but aren’t seeing the results you want? Or did you take the exam and perform worse than you expected and lower than on your practice tests? As independent GRE tutors, we see such situations all the time. Students often reach out to us in a panic, having self-studied or gone through a course without success. Our goal as tutors is of course to remedy these issues, and over the years, we’ve seen some common patterns explaining why students often continue to struggle on the GRE despite putting ample time into their preparation.

  1. Silly mistakes: It’s so easy to think that a high GRE score necessitates perfection on the most difficult questions that test-takers often neglect to practice simpler concepts and questions, or when they see simple questions, they take them for granted and make silly mistakes. The reality is that the GRE scoring algorithm is designed to punish test-takers for missing “easier” questions, meaning that, even if you perform above-average on level 4 and level 5 questions, if you miss a handful of 1s and 2s, your score will have an artificial ceiling on it.
  2. Focusing on quant concepts at the expense of strategy: Many people new to the GRE believe that optimal performance on Quant comes down to mastering the relevant concepts the exam addresses, and consequently spend their prep hours in pursuit of this goal. While there’s no denying that a foundation in the mathematical concepts on the exam is necessary for optimal performance, the reality is that the Quant section is ultimately concerned with your reasoning abilities, not your brute mathematical abilities. Doing well on the Quant requires more than simply learning and regurgitating some rules; it requires the development of a flexible, adaptable mindset, one that is attuned to all available options for solving a question and that can quickly identify the most efficient pathway. Learning the different approaches available on a question and practicing these approaches on a consistent basis is ultimately what separates a good Quant score from a great Quant score.
  3. Focusing on vocabulary at the expense of proper methodology: While there’s no debate that a solid base in academic vocabulary is necessary for success on text completion and sentence equivalence, viewing these questions as simply a matter of vocabulary knowledge can be counterproductive. The test-makers are ultimately concerned with your ability to use contextual clues to infer the author’s intended meaning, and if you don’t develop the right methodology to analyze these questions properly, then the hours you spent studying vocabulary will be for naught.
  4. Not analyzing missed questions properly: While missing questions can be a source of frustration, these are some of the most important moments of your preparation. Unfortunately, the way test-takers often review missed questions doesn’t equip them with the necessary tools to avoid these mistakes in the future. All too often, when GRE studiers miss a question, they’ll simply review the explanation at the back of the book and then move on to the next question. Instead, you need to develop a structured approach in your review that enables you to analyze missed questions from all angles and to track the most common reasons you’re missing questions. Did you miss it because you didn’t understand the concept, or was it more of an issue with strategy? Maybe you didn’t look at the choices when setting up your plan, maybe you didn’t consider alternate strategies such as plugging in numbers, maybe you overlooked the significance of a word such as “could” or “must”. If your analysis of the question doesn’t entail this level of depth, then it’s entirely possible that you’ll develop blind spots about why you’re really missing questions and, consequently, will be doomed to repeat these mistakes in the future.
  5. Using the wrong materials: Official materials made by ETS are indispensable to your preparation. With so many books, videos, classes out there, it’s easy to get overwhelmed. And while many of these third-party resources have their merits, especially in terms of equipping you with the necessary content knowledge, none of these companies can ever replicate the nuance and style of official questions. If your prep time is skewed toward the use of third-party materials, then you’ll develop strategies and abilities catered toward the reasoning skills and strategies that the company’s questions reward instead of what the real test rewards.

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