By: Apex GMAT
Contributor: Svetozara Saykova
Date: February 24, 2021
Each client that contacts us is in a different stage of their GRE prep, but a universal constant is that each is striving for a great 328+ GRE score. The threshold difficulty standing in their way is the lack of a proper mindset, which in turn can lead to a poor performance, whether due attitude, inefficient solving mechanisms, misplaced focus, or myriad other issues. No matter what, mindset leads the way to performance.
To adjust one’s way of perceiving problems requires much more intricate work than cramming a bunch of material, facts, and figures. Taking the time to understand this and elevate your approach to the test is challenging but ultimately rewarding come test day. Here are five takeaways that anyone scoring 328 or better on the GRE comes to realize along their GRE journey. These insights that help test takers thrive help top performers continue to excel in their grad school programs and in their post-graduate school careers, long after the GRE is a distant memory.
It is not what you know… it’s what you do with it
The GRE is a psychometric exam. It expects you to be knowledgeable in a core group of secondary school concepts. It’s not a knowledge test, but it uses this universe of information as a baseline that everyone reasonably has been exposed to long before they thought about the GRE. The exam tests not so much your knowledge but your creative application of that knowledge.
In the process of preparing for your GRE it is vital to maximize your performance, which necessitates deep understanding of seemingly straightforward concepts so that you can be flexible in how you navigate them. For instance, in the Integrated Reasoning section there is a high chance that you will come across an unfamiliar graph you need to use. In such a case the ability to draw conclusions from known graphs and apply them to the new situation is much more valuable than having seen the specific graph before.
This holds true well beyond the exam. The amount of information you will be exposed to within the 2 years of a top tier graduate school program is staggering. In order to thrive in this demanding environment you must be selective, actively deciding what information you take on to master, and use universal thinking tools (heuristics and mental models) to be adaptable as new concepts and information come your way.
For the GRE, the core concepts are indeed essential. But it is also important to notice what concepts and information you can derive from fundamental knowledge and how to do so, hence not needing to memorize it. Knowing how to successfully apply your knowledge will result in efficiency which will afford you the ability and time to excel in the GRE, explore what your graduate program has to offer, and be a thought leader in your chosen career.
Prioritization is crucial
On the GRE there are harsh penalties for unanswered questions, so it is vital to complete each section in the time allotted. Therefore, proper time and process management are critical when sitting the exam. Essentially, each problem represents a decision where you must weigh the likelihood of obtaining a correct answer, your time commitment to that problem, ancillary considerations like stress and focus management, and how this problem fits into your larger strategy for the section and the exam. Ultimately, you must decide how much time it is worth expending on each problem as part of your core process.
This mental cost-benefit analysis must be deeply embedded in your thought process to achieve an elite GRE score. With the proper calibration, this sense will certainly be useful in graduate school and beyond. In the professional world, there will always be time constraints – be it stringent deadlines or time zone differences. Being able to prioritize focus and make decisions quickly and accurately while navigating uncertainty and incomplete information is a huge strength. Similarly, actively choosing to abandon a low value or less important task so that you can fully devote to solving an issue of importance is not a sign of weakness or incapability, but rather an asset in a world that will always ask more of you than you can give. Time is scarce in the workplace, and just like on the GRE, you should prioritize what adds the most value to your bottom line.
Every problem has multiple solution paths
A common theme in our client’s feedback is their fascination with a core principle that we teach; that every GRE problem has multiple solution paths and that sensitivity to how you solve the problem is more important than simply arriving at the correct answer. Let’s take a means and averages problem from the Quant section as an example. Many would be tempted to solve this mathematically straightaway, but this problem can be solved more efficiently using a scenario or a graph rather than processing equations, delivering greater clarity and freeing up valuable time for other, more challenging problems.
Wresting yourself away from the paradigm that a problem has a single “correct” solution path is essential to conquering the GRE but is also valuable in life. Very few things are clear cut and unambiguous, and training yourself to recognize multiple ways to get to the same destination is important, especially if you can recognize them before committing to any specific path. Seeking answers beyond the ordinary and obvious will provide you with innovative ways of overcoming obstacles and drive progress, and make you a thought leader among your peers and in your graduate program and organization.
Focusing on the structure of the GRE helps you compare solution paths and choose the best for the current challenge, resulting in not only a correct answer, but a timely one. Moreover, thinking of a problem from multiple perspectives means that you take into consideration unlikely or unnoticed features of a problem, and when applied to a professional setting, this added vision can drive great insight into stakeholders interests and uncover innovative solutions to intractable problems.
In order to succeed first know yourself
The GRE is not an exam where you can get 100% of the problems correct. In fact, your score will not depend on the number of questions that you get correct, but rather by the difficulty level of the ones that you do get correct. Since the GRE is computer-adaptive, it increases in difficulty until it matches a candidate’s capabilities, and the aim as a test taker is to get to the most difficult problems that you can handle, and then get most of those correct. In this way, the GRE drives you to perform at your best rather than spending a lot of time testing fundamentals.
Ultimately, this means that you must decide how to allocate your time and energy to produce the best performance. This means understanding your strengths and weaknesses, evaluating each problem in light of those, and then deciding which problems make sense to handle, which make sense to invest extra time in, and which (few) problems you might want to walk away from right off the bat in order to preserve your valuable time for higher value problems. Don’t simply put your head down and try to get everything right – at least not at first.
During your GRE preparation you should be conscious of how you perform and how you have progressed from where you began. If you struggle to finish a practice exam in a timely manner, this is a sign that your time management skills require polishing, and that you’re not making timing decisions well. If you perform well on Sentence Equivalence but not on the Reading Comprehension, then that means that you can spend less time on SE questions and reallocate that time towards Reading Comp, thereby increasing your score and building confidence in your GRE allocation decisions along the way.
Understanding your strengths and weaknesses, and the workload you handle best will help you excel in your career. Furthermore, knowing your capabilities can aid you when setting work boundaries and defining your professional skill set on the other side of graduate school. Successful professionals know how to focus on what they do best, and remove those tasks that impinge upon their productivity and value.
In this way, they don’t find themselves taking on too much, and are able to have work-life balance, all while placing them in a position to continue to achieve because of that balance. Overworking is counterproductive because it drives burnout and reduces focus and efficiency. In much the same way that athletes require proper rest for peak performance, those working in intellectually rigorous fields requiring creativity need mental breaks for better focus, clarity and job performance. In this sense, being aware of your own limitations will guide you towards a healthy work-life balance and in turn increase productivity.
5% talent and 95% hard work
Being naturally intuitive with numbers or extremely well-read can provide a great footing for your GRE preparation. Without further development, however, natural talent can only take you so far. The GRE begins testing you the moment you can no longer trust your intuition and talent, and then need to rely upon knowing what you don’t know, and navigating towards deeper insights. The GRE tests a range of skills such as critical assessment of data, ability to reason and analytical thinking. This means that being knowledgeable and skilful with fundamentals, or being a strong student only lays the foundation for success. It’s persistence, determination, and having a comprehensive study plan and clear understanding of GRE architecture that defines those who score a 328 or better.
The good news is that the skills necessary to get a 328+ GRE score can be cultivated and enhanced with hard work, perseverance and determination. Moreover, these same skills can help you get the most out of your graduate program and career and enhance your skill set. For example, in graduate school you may come across an exceptional mathematician pursuing a concentration in economics because she has identified a weak point, and wants to focus on how to conduct research, to write and communicate clearly and effectively and to understand and implement data in the decision making process. Similarly, someone with average mathematical Mathematical ability might excel in Finance courses because of the skills he has developed – analytical thinking, problem solving, and constructing mental models.
The most important thing is to put in the hard work (effortful learning, not just a lot of prep time) to grow those top-level skills, regardless of how naturally gifted you are in a given subject. Graduate programs aren’t all creativity or math, and in this way professional challenges are similar to the GRE itself, which is neither about Math nor English grammar. Compensating your weaknesses and enhancing your strengths in your chosen concentration will be a vital part of your graduate school experience, and it should start with your GRE preparation.
Your GRE journey can be pleasant and enriching rather than an arduous, distasteful experience that you dread having to go through. With the proper mindset, guidance and support you can grow through your GRE experience to acquire valuable skills that will help you for years to come.
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