Taking the Graduate Record Examinations (GRE) can seem like a daunting task. Especially if you thought you had retired your number 2 pencils. Don’t let this popular admission’s requirement deter you from pursuing your educational aspirations. You can do it!
Here are a few ways older students can prepare for the GRE and reduce stress:
(Note: Students should always check with their institutions of interest for specific standardized test requirements. Some programs admit without scores, allow substituting extensive work experience or a strong portfolio, or consider a high undergraduate GPA sufficient.)
Do a reality check
Face the truth from the start: Most people need to study to do well on the GRE. Instead of guessing where you stand. Instead of convincing yourself the whole thing is impossible, conquer fear of the unknown.
“Take a practice exam at least two months before the exam in order to see what areas you need to improve upon. Ignore the score, and don’t get discouraged if you have some work to do. Use this as a starting point to develop a study plan and get you motivated to prepare,” says Kyle Vickers, learning skills specialist and academic resource center coordinator at Clarion University.
Budget time to study
Trying to learn too much too fast will result in an undesirable outcome. Instead, work pockets of study time into your schedule over the course of many weeks.
William Wadsworth of Exam Study Expert suggests using a combination of “retrieval practice” and “spaced learning.” The first involves strengthening your memory by using it, such as by creating flashcards with a question on the front (i.e., “What is the mode?”) and the answer on the back (“The number which appears most often in a set.”). The second means spreading that practice over time to combat the memory’s tendency to fade, such as by going through the flashcards each week leading up the exam.
Know the format
Familiarity helps you figure out which subjects to study. Get acquainted with the structure of the exam well before test day. Knowing that your multiple-choice score is based on the number of correct answers eliminates panic. Likewise, coming in realizing that there’s an essay component allows sharpening writing skills beforehand. It also keeps you from being thrown for a loop.
Another tip, know beforehand whether you will be taking the computerized or pencil & paper version of the exam! The former is most common nowadays. Your comfort level in reading screens, typing, and using an on-screen calculator can influence your score. Work through the two free POWERPREP Practice Tests well before test day.
To combat stress on exam day, know how to get to the testing center and allow plenty of extra time for the unexpected. As you wait for the start, imagine yourself confidently taking exam, or think of how successfully completing it will positively impact your life.
If you find yourself anxious, Vickers suggests 4-7-8 breathing: Breathe in through your nose for four seconds, hold for seven seconds, and exhale through your mouth for eight seconds. Repeat this as needed.
And then think about your reward, which you should plan prior to the exam.
“Do something that you enjoy as a reward for all of your hard work, and think about that if you start feeling stressed or anxious,” Vickers says. “You’ve sacrificed a lot in preparing for this exam, so be sure you treat yourself!”