Updated June 2017
Better yet, I didn't do all that bad. I guess my months of studying paid off. How did I know my score so fast? That's the wonder of taking a standardized test on a computer... they calculate your math and verbal scores instantly! Then again, instant gratification (or disappointment) can make test day even more daunting than it is already. To make things a bit easier on yourself, I suggest you follow some of my tips, like...
- Test Day Tip #1: Register to take the test in a familiar location.
I took the GRE at University of Maryland, my alma matter. It was about a 45 minute drive away, and I could have taken it somewhere closer to home -- but this way I didn't have to worry about getting lost or arriving late or finding a place to park or locating the right room in the building or what sort of noise would be going on outside. And I already associated the university with tests and success (after all, I had graduated there just a year and a half before). All I had to worry about was the test itself... and that was plenty! I arrived half an hour early, giving myself some time to breathe. Good thing, because there are always unexpected hitches along the way…
- Test Day Tip #2: Don't bring a big bag (or backpack) with you to the test.
I brought my ginormous purse, because I was carrying my textbook-sized study guide around all morning. It was almost too big to fit in the lockers they provided. It took me a few minutes just to get everything locked up, and then they told me I couldn’t bring my chapstick in. Uh oh, back to the locker already?! If I couldn’t get this right, how would I ever make it through quantitative reasoning?
Once I got into the testing room, though, there was no turning back. The GRE is long, make no mistake about it. It starts with two essays, half an hour each. By the time you finish, it's been an hour - the length of an average exam - and you feel ready to go. Except for the fact that there are still five more sections left. You do get a one minute break between each section (and a ten minute break around the half-way point). My advice?
- Test Day Tip #3: Always take the break! Even if you only have sixty seconds, stand up, stretch, and look around the room. Give your eyes a break from the screen.
I did feel a bit awkward standing up and looking around during my breaks, because I could see into other test-takers cubicles. I kept waiting for a proctor to come in and yell at me for cheating. But everyone is taking a different test on a different schedule, so I guess as long as you're not obviously spying, it's okay. It’s also good to know that…
- Test Day Tip #4: You don’t need to rush through your breaks.
Say you have a one minute break. After that minute is up, the test will automatically continue on to the instructions page for your next section. What they don’t tell you is, the timer doesn’t start counting down until you finish reading the instructions and hit “continue.” Now, I'm not sure you can wait indefinitely to move on… but you don’t need to spend your whole break glancing nervously back at the computer screen to see if the test started back up. You can take a deep breath and zone out until you’re ready to go again.
Even though the exam as a whole seemed to drag on forever, each individual section flew by. I didn’t always feel like I had enough time to answer all of the questions.
- Test Day Tip #5: Answer the easy questions first.
You can jump around within each section… so skip anything that seems difficult (or time-consuming) at first, and answer the ones you have a better shot at getting right. This was hard for me, because I’m a perfectionist, and I wanted to give each question its proper attention before moving on. I would rather never see the last few questions than know I could have gotten number three if I’d just spent a little more time on it; but sometimes, you just have to take one for the team.
By the time I made it to the end of the GRE, life seemed a blur. I agreed to send my scores off to schools before I even knew how I’d done. I found it hard to focus on the closing instructions. But I do remember my Math and Verbal scores appearing on the screen: 164 and 164. With the new point system, the numbers didn’t mean much to me… although I was very surprised that my scores were the same. I always do better on math – did that mean I bombed the math, or aced the verbal?
When I got home, I emailed a professor at the University of Georgia to let him know my scores, and he seemed very pleased. Oh wait, I didn’t tell you I’m applying to the University of Georgia (UGA)? Yeah, that was a sort of last minute decision. It was a crazy week, to say the least.
Rachael has a B.S. in Geography from the University of Maryland and is currently applying to graduate school for broadcast meteorology.
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