Thursday, March 19, 2009

My GRE exam experience rehashed

For those who have been following this blog, I'm sure you're all aware that I'm THRILLED (and that's even an understatement) to be done with my GRE exam, considering that I was quite stressed out in the months (and days) leading up to it.

So how did it go? It went quite well in the end, even though halfway through the exam I was seriously questioning why exactly I wanted to pursue grad school since I'm positive grad school will make the GRE look like a piece of cake. I almost, almost, for a split second considered canceling my score because I thought I'd done so poorly.

A little background: the GRE test (aka evil) is designed to make you feel stupid. It basically "hones in" on your score and the level you perform best at. In other words, you get to a point in the exam where you answer one question correctly, but then miss the next one because you're not at that level, and it brings you back down to the level you're really at. Then you answer the next question correctly because you're back at your level. Then the next question is harder and you miss it. Then you go back down a level and answer the next question correctly. And on and on and on. So the test-taking experience becomes a seesaw of your emotions and intellect. You feel intellectually abused while taking the exam because you miss every other question. Not a good morale booster, right?

This happened to me during the Verbal section, where I was faced with words that I've never heard of and words that I probably (ok, most certainly) will never use during my graduate studies. I thought I had performed so poorly on the Verbal section that I contemplated canceling my scores, which would ensure that the grad schools I'm applying to will never know that I'd taken the exam or see my scores. However, neither would I, since canceling scores means you can't tell how you performed either.

Well, reason somehow crept in during that one split second where I was contemplating canceling my scores and I decided against my test ended (after roughly 4 hours) and my score flashed on the screen. I had to actually blink (twice) to make sure I read the numbers before me correctly...because, ladies and gentlemen, I actually did pretty darn good! YAY! :)

But I couldn't really celebrate there...the testing center is uber strict:

-No gum chewing during the exam (which really irritated me because chewing gum while taking an exam helps me think, and this has been proven scientifically)

-If you need anything (i.e., more paper) you have to raise your hand and wait for a can't get up and grab it yourself

-You can't keep your scratch paper after the exam is finished...not even to write down your scores so you can remember and report them on your application

-You can't have ANYTHING on you other than your pens, papers, cell phones, etc.

-You have to lock up all of your belongings in a locker

-You can't check your cell phone during breaks, talk to anyone, or refer to any notes

-You can't leave the building during breaks

-You have your photo taken prior to starting the exam

-Each time you leave your testing station or return to it, you have to sign in and out with your legal signature

-You have to eat your snack in the main waiting area under supervision (because heaven forbid I take some sort of pill that makes me smarter right then)

-You're on video take at ALL TIMES (hopefully not in the restroom though, ha)

Getting out of the exam was pure freedom...freedom I tell ya! It was the strangest (and best) feeling in the world to look around and realize I had absolutely nothing that I had to be doing at that moment. So what did I do? I pampered myself by getting a manicure. And after that, I again had nothing to do. So I went to Barnes & Noble to read for about 3 hours before meeting up for a celebratory dinner. And after about an hour of doing nothing but reading mindless gossip magazines (my bad vice after excessive coffee consumption), I was itching to be doing something, anything.

Yes, I know, it's a disease. Welcome to my world.

Aug 2015 Update: I've received several questions on what courses and/or books I used to prep for the exam. I took a course with Kaplan (there are different options; the one I did was a classroom/instructor-led course where I would go to class once a week), and then for self-study, I used the following:

For Verbal, I bought flash cards similar to these and these and basically memorized all of them (they contain the most common words that appear on the exam).

For Math, I used a workbook similar to this one. 

The one tip I have is, practice, practice, practice!  I did so many problems that when the time came to take the exam, I felt very prepared.  Please note that it's been 6+ years since I've taken the exam, so the exact materials I used are no longer available, but these recommendations are similar.  Good luck!


  1. Congrats on conquering the malicious GRE exam. May you enjoy the resurrection of your social life, that is until you start grad school.

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