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Mindfulness and the GRE

As an independent GRE tutor, I pride myself on finding unconventional means to boost scores when traditional, “big” test-prep strategies fail. Be it changing how I teach a concept, how I structure a lesson, or how I assign homework to my students, the goal is to do what’s necessary to help you maximize your score, even if we end up deviating test preparation orthodoxy. One area in which I’ve placed particular emphasis over the past several years is the psychological component of the exam. Yes, the most important components of your preparation are and always will be a thorough understanding of the concepts tested and a logical framework to analyze the questions, but, in this smartphone-saturated, competitive environment, external factors often create unnecessary limitations.

Though there’s no easy fix for increased distractedness and anxiety, a time-honored technique that has been receiving more attention over the years is meditation. Though the idea of meditation might sound new-agey or pseudo-scientific, there’s a wealth of research supporting its benefits. In fact, psychologists conducted a major study on something that is of particular importance to this tutor: the effects of meditation on GRE scores!

You can read a write-up of the study in this New York Times article, but, to summarize: a random group of 48 undergrads was split into two groups: Group A took a meditation class for two weeks, and Group B took a nutrition class for two weeks. All students took a baseline Verbal GRE before the class, and then took the Verbal GRE after the class. While there was no change in average GRE scores for the group in the nutrition class, the group in the meditation class saw an average improvement of 60 points (this was on the old GRE scale), which would translate to a 13-percentile point improvement on the new GRE — not too shabby!

Given the competitiveness of most graduate programs and the minimal time requirement to see such an increase, it goes without question (in this humble tutor’s opinion) that students should incorporate mindfulness into their studying regimen. Generally, I recommend meditation for 15 minutes per day to start, either in the morning or before you begin studying for the day. No, it’s not a cure-all, but it has proven benefits, and it’s an example of how thinking outside the box can sometimes be the best thing for your GRE score.

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