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How I Scored In The 98th Percentile On The GRE—And 5 Ways You Can Too

You don’t have to spend loads of time and money to perform well on the GRE. Some simple tips can help you get ahead of the curve without breaking the bank

Wed Aug 22 2018


Andrea Coulis is a senior tutor for MyGuru, a provider of in-person & online GMAT Tutoring. She holds a Bachelor of Science in Finance from Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business and an MBA from the University of Oxford, Saïd Business School.

Here's five ways you can score in the 98th percentile on the GRE, just like Andrea:

1. Go back to geometry class

Remember back in grade school when you were having trouble with the Pythagorean Theorem and began questioning the teacher, 'But when am I actually going to use this?' A smart seventh grade teacher would have told you, 'On the GRE!' because that’s probably truthfully the next time those concepts will appear again in most people’s lives.

The GRE will feature tons of those triangles, parallelograms, and acute angles you became so fond of during your early teenage years. Since the material is likely not fresh in your mind, your first step should be reviewing the rules and practicing some basic geometry questions. Don’t rely on being able to outsmart this section without reviewing the material. Even a few hours spent familiarizing your mind can boost your score significantly because the content itself is not all that complex once it’s fresh again.

2. Understand and appreciate the English language

Prospective students often choose to take the GRE because they picture themselves memorizing definitions and choosing them from straightforward multiple choice options during the exam. Verbal section tackled with a few flash cards, right?

Not so fast. The GRE tests not only your understanding of words’ definitions, but also your ability to transform words into precise, meaningful communication. There will be no regurgitating of definitions, so memorization on its own won’t get you far on the GRE. The best way to ace the verbal section is to incorporate an appreciation of the English language into your daily life. Don’t just memorize words, use them to enhance your communication abilities from day one and have that growing mastery organically translate itself into a better score.

3. Save the harder questions for the end

The part of the GRE I found most attractive when compared with the GMAT is the ability to skip questions and return to them later. This is a test-taking tactic I had come to rely upon throughout my entire life, and being unable to move on from a question during the GMAT caused some unneeded anxiety in an already-stressful situation.

Capitalize on your ability to flexibly work through the test by marking questions you know will be more challenging or require deeper thought for later. After a few practice tests, you’ll learn to easily recognize which types of questions require more brainpower and avoid wasting time on them until you can dedicate your mind fully and take some extra time to catch their nuances.

4. Learn weaknesses early and use them to your advantage

Take a practice test early for the purpose of identifying where you already shine and where you won’t need to spend much time brushing up. Then, focus on the areas where you did not perform well and educate yourself on what you were missing on these questions. Was it a simple lack of familiarity with the subject matter (you haven’t studied algebra in 12 years), or a real struggle with the content (you do not understand the reasoning behind some of the reading comprehension questions)?

A simple lack of familiarity can usually be quickly alleviated by a refresher in the subject, while overcoming a struggle with the content itself may require more time and effort. Develop a sincere understanding of the content in the types of questions that trouble you and do not—I repeat, DO NOT—attempt to memorize exactly how to solve a certain type of problem as if there is a magic formula. 

Truly comprehending not only what the right answer is but also why it is the right answer will allow you to adjust your strategy when the question on the actual exam is inevitably slightly different from those encountered on practice tests.  If you dedicate your time to mastering these most challenging questions early on, you’ll become more confident in solving them and may actually become relieved rather than anxious when they pop up during the test.

5. Relax

The last but arguably most important tip for mastering the GRE is to relaxand have confidence that all the work you put into studying will be worthwhile. It’s easier said than done of course, but taking a deep breath and avoiding stress prior to the exam can put you in the right mindset to conquer the challenge and channel your energy into performing your best.

It helps to consider the exam an opportunity to show off your skills, rather than a serious of traps you can’t wait to be past. Remember, you’ve prepared, you know what to expect, and you’ve seen every type of question the exam has to offer. There is absolutely no reason why you can’t score just as well on the actual exam as you did on practice exams, so relax, picture yourself back home in your living room, and give it all you’ve got!