Been a while since you attended university? Even in the best of circumstances, the GRE can be a daunting undertaking. But the thought of taking the GRE as a returning student – a decade or two after university – can be downright frightening. The tutors here at Apex often work with clients who have spent years in the professional world and outside of an academic setting. Our tutoring experts have compiled tips and tricks for returning students who want to make sure they are on the studying path of ‘least resistance’. Browse our 5 suggestions to make your return to high-caliber preparation as easy and productive as possible.
1. Take a GRE practice test
This may sound like a no-brainer, but we cannot stress enough how vitally important it is that you take a practice test even before cracking open your first GRE prep book. This test gives you a baseline of where your strengths and weaknesses lie and where you need to grow your skills. Though you may use math skills on a daily basis, your quantitative knowledge – as it pertains to test taking – is of a different vain. By taking a practice test before you begin studying, you can be certain you are assessing your current skills level and knowledge as accurately as possible. From there, you can build your GRE study schedule and timeline and establish out which parts of the GRE deserve the majority of your dedication.
2. Find the school and score that suits you
What are your goals, both professionally and personally? It may sound like a simple question, and one that you get asked a lot, but interpreting the answer could take time. It is important that you are honest with yourself when it comes to what your goals are and if they are achievable. Achievable is the key term here.
A mere desire to attend a top graduate school and earn a GRE score in the top 95% is a difficult challenge, especially if your time out of school has been full of non-graduate school-level opportunities and tasks. Perhaps your goal is simply to earn a graduate degree so that you can climb the professional ladder at your current place of employment. In this case, your dream isn’t to attend Harvard or Yale. Decide on which schools you want to attend and the GRE score needed for admission. Our advice is to find the average GRE score of the most recently accepted class in the program of your choice and aim for a score a few points higher than the average.
3. Get a consistent schedule
As a professional, you are no doubt busy. Most likely, working full-time, raising a family, and living a 9-5 life for a decade or so make even the best of students forget the rigors of school. Wanting to earn a graduate degree will put you right back into the world of late-night and early morning study sessions. The GRE is your first step into that world. So be sure to create a study schedule that will work with your personal and professional life. We have created a 3-month timeline template which you can adjust to fit your own needs.
Once you have created a schedule, be sure to Stick. To. It. Of course, make adjustments where you deem necessary. This may sound obvious, but we find our clients have a difficult time sticking to a study schedule. We get it, your personal life is your priority and we know it is always changing. But keep in mind that as intense as your GRE journey is, it is quite short compared to your graduate school journey. If your goal is to earn a graduate degree, the GRE is a necessary stepping stone on that journey.
4. Learn the GRE basics
Let us assume that you have already done your due diligence. You have taken a practice test, have chosen the school(s) you wish to attend, and have come up with a consistent schedule which works for you. The next step is to unwrap the basics of the GRE. Understand and become comfortable with the layout of the test, and the many different types of questions you encounter.
But learning the ‘basics’ goes beyond a simple understanding of the test and its structure. You also need to get comfortable with the many skills you learned during high school, yes, that’s right…HIGHSCHOOL. The quantitative, qualitative, and analytical skills you learned during high school play a large role in your success on the GRE. While this may sound like an exaggeration, remember how much you have grown intellectually and professionally since your time in high school. The skills you gained during those years have helped you develop and grow.
5. Utilize the proper resources and Find Help!
Not all GRE prep books are made the same – nor are all GRE tutors. You need to browse the market and find the books which are best structured for you. With so many different types of books on the market, it might be difficult to find which ones are best for you. We suggest looking for books which offer various solution paths to the same question. This gives you the best chance to find the strategies which work for you and your skill sets.
Additionally, working with private GRE tutors can set you down the right path. A private tutor is ideal for someone who is taking the GRE as a returning student. Our Apex tutors are professionals in working with our clients’ strengths and weaknesses. We also have a unique way of teaching the exam where we show our clients how to consider testing questions from a tester-maker’s point of view, not a test-taker.
6. Bonus Tip: Be proud of yourself!
Your decision to return to school and earn a graduate degree after years out of academia is an incredible choice. You should be very proud of yourself. Such a decision is not an easy one to make, and yet your decision to broaden your horizons and achieve your goals is inspiring. During your GRE journey, remember to stick with a structured schedule and find help if you need it. Most people don’t go down the GRE journey alone, and neither should you!
If you are considering taking the GRE as a returning student and are interested in getting help on the GRE, we offer 30-minute complimentary consultation calls with one of our top GRE scoring instructors.
Contributor: Dana Coggio