What’s the hardest part of preparing for the GRE? In my experience as a GRE test-taker and a GRE tutor, I’d say it’s not any one skill or a single section of the exam. It’s motivation.
Beating the GRE is a big, high-stakes undertaking. It can be easy to get discouraged if you run into difficulties—and you will! So many test-takers delay their entry into grad school, or get disappointing scores, because it was just so hard to stay motivated and on task during their studies. Don’t let this happen to you.
Stay motivated by making the right study plan
A good study plan can be a fine balancing act. You want to study enough to build your skills and make real progress. But you also want to schedule your studies realistically, making a plan that you have time for. A typical plan for GRE prep lasts about a month, but it’s also possible to improve your plan by extending it to last two or three months long.
Keep your plan focused, organized, realistic, and flexible. Flexibility is especially important for staying motivated, because it’s easy to get discouraged if you set up a rigid, detailed study schedule, and fail to follow it exactly. Flexibility gives you the ability to get “back on the horse” even if you miss a day or two of your study plan. But even flexibility can only go so far. Sometimes the best-laid study plans of mice and men (and women) can go awry. So to be in the right, motivated mindset….
Be mentally prepared for setbacks
You may fall behind on your study plan for reasons beyond your control. You may even need to put your study plan on temporary hiatus for something else in your life—a move, a greater workload at your job, illness, family obligations… who knows?
Life happens. And when life puts an obstacle on the road to your academic goals, that doesn’t mean your goals are truly out of reach. Make sure you think about how you’ll feel if you have to take a break from your GRE studies, either for a few days or longer. Think about ways you can stay in practice, at least a little, if you are on break. In other words, be ready to continue your GRE prep no matter what. Have the mindset that you will finish practicing for the GRE, and that no possible setback could be permanent. This is the key to staying motivated, and this attitude decreases the chances that setbacks will actually delay your goals.
Learning to enjoy your GRE studies is probably the biggest factor in staying motivated. It’s also a “motivation ingredient” that test-preppers often overlook. And this is understandable; at a glance, GRE prep doesn’t look like fun to most people.
But GRE prep really can be a lot of fun. For GRE Verbal practice, you can read GRE-like articles from interesting news websites, such as the New York Times, BBC, and the Atlantic. You can play vocabulary games or math games with fellow study buddies. You can practice AWA by writing on Internet message boards that interest you, or posting to social media websites with your friends. There are many other possibilities as well. To say motivated, look for the ways that you can take the language and math skills on the GRE and use them in activities you enjoy.
Keep your eyes on the prize
This really ties it all together. While you’re carrying out your study plan, bravely weathering distractions and setbacks, and having fun, never let yourself forget that passing the GRE will get you into your dream school. And always think of passing the GRE as a matter of when, not if. Study time will pass, studying activities will be completed. And motivation will be your best friend along the way, walking with you on the road to your target score, and beyond.