The most typical way people study for a standardized test — be that the SAT in high school or the GMAT long after — consists of solving practice problems, solving more practice problems, and then taking a practice test.
That kind of practice is a great way to get experience with how the test asks questions and utilizes a variety of concepts. In a best case scenario, this style of practice can also help you track progress as you work towards your target test score.
But many people find that they hit a wall just completing practice problem after practice problem. Especially for students working by themselves using test prep books they found at the top of Amazon’s search results, simply re-reading strategies and trying new problems can lead to a lot of frustration. Maybe rate problems still aren’t making sense, or you’re still missing those misplaced modifiers in grammar questions time and time again.
The truth is that a lot of people who think they are studying are actually just completing drills. Studying meaningfully doesn’t just mean taking 7 practice tests in a row and hoping for the best. A huge component of studying, and perhaps the most important one, is going over the work you’ve completed.
This means that if you took an hour to, say, complete some Quantitative questions in your official GRE prep book, you probably want to take another hour to review. This article will describe an efficient and effective process for a stellar reviewing process that will help you meaningfully improve from practice test to practice test.
1. Start By Circling
This step is probably obvious! After you have completed a round of practice problems (or a full practice test), you are probably already checking your answers and circling anything you missed.
But if you’re only highlighting the questions you got wrong, you’re ignoring the questions you got right but didn’t feel 100% confident while solving. Go ahead and circle any question you may have gotten correct but didn’t fully understand, or that employed a concept you aren’t totally comfortable with, or that you felt took too long for you to complete. Don’t forget to select questions that you got right by guessing.
When reviewing your correct answers, always ask yourself, “Am I confident I would have gotten something similar to this correct on test day?” If the answer is a maybe, a maybe not, or an outright no, then you’ll want to add it to your review pile.
2. Explain Every Answer Choice To Yourself
This is the important part.
As you are well aware, when you review a question you missed you’ll want to understand why the correct answer is correct. On reading, critical reasoning, and language questions, this means finding the text that supports the correct answer, as well as understanding why a given correct answer choice is better than all of the other ones.
But remember that the majority of answer choices you see on a test are incorrect. Just focusing on the right answer for every single question you missed is the equivalent of trying to train yourself to spot a needle in a haystack when you already failed to see that needle once. Use reviewing as an opportunity to identify what in that haystack is hay.
Take the time to understand why every wrong answer choice is wrong. You will start to develop a sense for common bad answer choices, as well as for the finer points that can often separate your best answer from one that is deceptively appealing.
On Math, you’ll notice, more and more, incorrect answer choices that are tempting because they are the result of common miscalculations. On Verbal sections, you’ll see a lot of answer choices that are half right, unsupported by the test, or too extreme.
3. Practice Any Concepts You’re Still Not Understanding
The last part of your reviewing strategy should be to make a list of concepts that appeared in questions you got wrong, even if it only appeared in one question you got wrong. If you aren’t getting a certain concept correct every single time, you will want to review it.
When it comes time to review Math concepts, generate custom worksheets on math-aids.com. Math-aids is a great resource for practicing specific content areas, covering everything from grade school fundamentals to trigonometry.
With Reading and Critical Reasoning passages, reviewing why wrong answer choices are wrong is actually the best form of practice.
There are, additionally, some great review resources on the web, such as uworld.com, which has a massive amount of practice questions for a variety of tests with a number of answer explanations.
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