Commentary: Adequate GRE preparation can make big difference

By Danielle Gaines

This is the career guide, but let’s face it: the means to a career for many of us is attending grad school. And why should you set your sights any lower than the very best programs?

To open that acceptance letter, mastering standardized testing is key. I took the GRE last semester, and I feel a moral duty to pass along some lessons I learned.

First, if you don’t quite know what you are going to do yet, take the test now! There are many respectable schools that have later deadlines for certain programs, so don’t think you have missed your opportunity to delay real life just yet. Additionally, the semester is slow right now, so take the test while stress is minimal – I, from experience, would not recommend taking any standardized tests during finals week.

Secondly, study! You should buy a book, but don’t simply use it as a coaster in front of the TV or a nice little pillow at your desk. You should also make sure that you are studying the book for the right test (sadly, I learned this from experience, too). Testing books are becoming more and more helpful, so make sure to utilize all the features like extra CDs and whatnot. And I would suggest being practical. As you study, think not only of how to pass the test but also how to use these concepts in your daily life. I am fairly sure that my final grades last semester were salvaged by my newly expanded vocabulary.

Third, involve your friends. Not all studying for tests has to be entirely serious (though the bulk of it should be). It is embarrassing to admit, but I remember some pretty fun nights last semester just sitting around with friends quizzing each other on test questions. Plus, if you have been studying you will look like a virtual Einstein in front of everyone.

Fourth, time your practice tests. When you enter that testing center there will be a time limit. This means that acing an exam while sitting in front of the TV watching the Bears for three hours isn’t an accurate measure of how you will do on the real thing. Moreover, you should prepare yourself for that stress of a time limit. But, if you are doing well, don’t get too cocky because that attitude can only hurt you.

Fifth, prepare emotionally and physically as well. No matter what you have going on, you should sleep the night before the big test. And I am talking about a hard-core, 8-hour, infant-style sleep. You should wake up the next morning and eat a delicious, balanced breakfast. So that’s the physical part. Now you have to get emotionally pumped for the exam. Get ready, do your hair, wear a nice outfit and exude confidence. If you are nervous, call someone special for a last minute pick-me-up.

Then you are all set to rock that exam!

So, I made a few mistakes before taking the GRE – I studied the 2007 book (took the test in 2006), didn’t time my tests and didn’t sleep the night before. But, I have great friends who supported me throughout the experience and helped in staggering ways. In the end, though I didn’t score the same as I did on practice exams, I got the same score as my old Editor-in-Chief, and that helps me sleep at night.