Let’s look at three math concepts that are very helpful on the GRE’s Quantitative Reasoning sections.  Each concept involves triangles.  The first concept, triangle inequality, can be used with any triangle.  The second concept, Pythagorean Triples, can be used with right triangles.  And the third concept, a shortcut for finding the ratio of triangle perimeters or areas, can be used with similar triangles.  To illustrate the first concept, we’ll start off with a sample GRE problem.

If you’re planning to take the GRE, chances are that you aren’t treating it as a casual endeavor, but that you are planning to put a lot into it and get a lot out.  After all, a graduate education requires a huge investment and, hopefully, provides a huge return.  So it should be safe to say that you are making a committed effort to prepare.  But with all of the material that is considered essential to an undergraduate education, and the volumes more that is considered specialized, it can be easy to get lost without a roadmap.

There are many different ways to study for the GRE.  But most GRE prep classes, GRE prep courses, and GRE tutors have the following 5 step process in common:

• Invest in some type of test prep material that is clear and easy to understand.  Nowadays, there are more than 10 high quality options for almost every standardized test.  Your chosen GRE prep materials should include:
• Descriptions of the major areas of the GRE
• Key concepts being tested in each area
• GRE testing strategies
• Several full length GRE practice tests
• Lots of practice GRE problems
• Complete a diagnostic test to understand strengths and weaknesses before you really start studying
• Plan in advance regular study time each week AND what you’ll review during each week
• Complete lots of actual practice problems, covering all of the major conceptual areas of the test
• Complete at least 5 different practice tests, and ensure your score is increasing each time.

However, beyond that generic plan, a customized approach based on the starting point of each individual student can truly increase GRE scores.  For example, here was our approach with one particular student:

One Customized Approach

Student was doing well with the quantitative sections of the GRE, but needed to improve verbal and writing scores dramatically.  His objective was to get admitted into top graduate school programs, which required GRE scores in the 90th percentile or better.

(1) Designed a study plan for GRE vocabulary

(2) Intensive student-specific preparation created to help the student maximize success for questions where he was familiar with words or phrases

(3) Direct observation of timed testing sections, to help improve time management and manage stress/frustration.

Results Achieved

We observed significant increase in GRE verbal score on second test date, with stated improved confidence, time management, and ability to overcome challenges during the test.

You can read a full case study on our approach with this particular GRE test-taker (coming soon).

How To Customize a Study Plan?

Developing a customized GRE study plan doesn’t need to be difficult.  The first step is simply identifying where you are strong vs. weak.  If your percentile score in GRE Quant is 85th percentile (meaning you scored better than 85 out of 100 GRE test takers on your practice GRE), but your GRE Verbal score is 50th percentile, then you should consider layering in an extra week or two of GRE Verbal prep.  If necessary, that may mean investing in additional test prep materials focused on whatever section you need extra help in.  Just keep doing extra practice and reviewing problems you miss.

However, you do need to keep monitoring your performance across all sections as your test prep process progresses towards your test date.  We’ve seen many students who are apparently very strong in verbal but weak in math spend 2 months straight focusing on improving their math score.  Sure enough, come test day, their math score is much better.  However, lo and behold, now their verbal score is much worse.

Why did this happen?  Well, even if you are very good at GRE-verbal, you need to keep the concepts and the problem types fresh in your mind.  You can easily make a bunch of small errors, even though you know the main concepts pretty well, and end up bombing the actual test due to those small errors  piling up.

Summary

Like any standardized test, the GRE can be mastered with intelligent, careful practice that starts with basic test taking study plan development and strategy, and layers on a customized approach based on any given student’s starting point, strengths, and weaknesses.  With a calm, steady, planned approach to studying for the GRE, most students observe significant improvement, regardless of the specific prep strategy they chose: GRE class, self-study, or private GRE tutor.

What are your experiences studying for the GRE?

Many MBA programs are now accepting the Revised GRE test for admissions.  We recently wrote a post on our blog which covers most of what you’d need to know about the specifics of the revised GRE, in case you’re unfamiliar with it.  In any case, the GMAT has dominated this market for a long time, but this new version of the GRE is making serious inroads.  Fourteen of the top 20 MBA programs accept the GRE for admissions and 3 of the six holdouts in the top 20 accept the GRE for their evening and weekend MBA programs.

Suppose we roll three fair dice - a red die, a yellow die, and a blue die. What is the probability the the sum of the upturned faces on the red and yellow die is smaller than the upturned face on the blue die?