Whether you’ve just crossed a stage and graduated with your Bachelor’s degree or you’ve been in the workforce for years, jumping back into the world of education can be more than a little scary.
Especially when you realize your first hurdle to get into graduate school will be passing the Graduate Record Examination (GRE).
Getting ready for a test that can decide whether or not you get into your dream graduate program is pretty stressful, so here are 5 helpful tips to get started in tackling this mini-mountain.
1. Pick your test type
The GRE is offered as a paper or online exam in the United States.
In some countries, you can’t decide between the two because it’s only offered in one form. So take advantage of having that choice. Are you better at taking exams online or on paper?
The online version can be taken every 21 days, up to five times a year, while the paper version is only offered three times a year, according to Education Testing Service (ETS), the organization that developed the GRE.
It’s best to register for the exam as early as possible as seats tend to fill quickly. Some recommend registering at least four months in advance, but…
2. Be realistic about the time frame
Once you decide on a graduate program or school, it may be hard to fight the urge to cram as much as possible and take the soonest GRE exam. While this would get it over with quickly, it would also mean sacrificing precious study time, increasing your stress levels and possibly getting a bad score all because of your inability to be patient.
Take a minute. Be realistic. You know how you learn best (or at least, you should by now). You know how many hours a day you can study before you become burned out.
Try taking a free practice exam online to see where you stand. This will help you figure out how much prep work you will need to plan for. Make sure to add a few months of cushion into your schedule in order to meet your program’s application deadlines and give yourself time to take another exam if you aren’t satisfied with your scores.
Additionally, it’s better to give yourself more time than less. You don’t want to have to shell out cancellation or rescheduling fees after already paying more than $200 to register for the exam.
3. Create a schedule
Don’t sign up for an exam and then wait three months to crack open your prep book and start studying. After you pick a date, look at a calendar.
How many days do you have between now and the exam? Now, how many hours of free time do you have each day to study?
Make sure to be realistic. Sure, we all wish we could magically absorb all of the information needed to ace the GRE in one night of studying (well, I do). Though, unfortunately that’s not how our brains work. At the same time, it’s not manageable to schedule 10 hours of study time each day if you work a full-time job.
Do you want to take days off? Make sure to schedule them in. What about practice exams? Do those count as a day of studying or is that in addition to your regularly programmed study session?
What about holidays? Will you study those days?
Whatever you decide, make your schedule, write it down and stick with it. It has to work for you.
4. Get the right study materials
Okay. You definitely won’t need this many books, but you will need at least one real source of GRE prep material.
Not sure where to start with a book? There are entire in-person courses that create a structured study environment for you. And even self-paced online programs that provide you with tools such as video lessons, practice exams, and more. Certain self-paced programs allow you to skip content you already know so you can jump right into the areas where you need the most help.
If you know that you left alone with a prep book most likely equals watching Netflix on your phone, then you may need to put down the cash to get some accountability granted by an in-person class or one-on-one tutoring sessions. And lucky for you, many companies offer tutoring services where tutors can even create customized study plans for you.
However, if you prefer to lounge peacefully in your pajamas and study alone, then a self-paced program may be right up your alley.
Of course, as with most things in life, you will need to push yourself to succeed because no one else is going do the work for you.
5. Reward yourself
It’s really really important to reward yourself every now and then for all your effort, whether with a break or a bath bomb.
You’ve probably read dozens of tips on studying (remember the gummy bear technique or Podomoro?), but taking a break and getting dinner with a friend or taking a walk is just as important.
How much are you really going to remember after six hours of geometry? Sure, you might’ve mastered the first couple of equations and ideas. But figuratively beating the knowledge into your head isn’t going to work for the later concepts when you’re already tired and your eyes are just blankly scanning over the page.
So take a step back, and stick to that schedule so you can give yourself time to be human.
Best of luck!