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Practice Tests VS Prep/Review/Study- How should I use my time?


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I will be taking the GRE at the end of the month and I have spent about a month studying so far. My roommates who have taken the GMAT have told me that I would be better off taking a bunch of practice tests under test conditions and spend less studying and using the prep books. I've seen people do extremely well using the exact opposite approach( 1 or two practice tests). I've taken only 2 practice tests in my month of studying, and I study about 10-12 hours a week. This will be my first time taking the exam. I'm feeling pretty good about the verbal section and a bit nervous about the math. Which approach should I use to prepare for my exam(in 20 days)? Thanks guys!

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Definitely make sure to do the practice tests from ETS. I believe 2 are available online, as well as 2 paper based ones if you buy their prep book (about $20 on Amazon). You have to practice timing yourself, and being familiar with the software by doing the practice tests also reduces anxiety on exam day.

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I did the 2 practice tests from ETS (the free Powerpack software) and used the Magoosh free online vocab flashcards. I'm a math teacher so I didn't feel the need to review for the quant section. Taking practice tests under testing conditions (and especially practice tests from the makers of the GRE) will really help you get a feel for the endurance that the test requires. 


Other thing to know: ALL of the essay questions are available on the ETS website. Search for "issue pool" and "argument pool" on the ETS website. I looked through the issue list and practiced writing a few essays during the few days left before the test (I had an emergency -- long story -- and only had 6 days to study before the test). It's hard to write a quality essay in 30 minutes, but seeing the possible topics beforehand and practicing definitely eased my mind. It's important to feel comfortable during the essay section because it precedes the rest of the test. If you feel horrible about it, you'll struggle in the following sections.

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With two weeks to go, there's limits to how much novel material you'd be able to learn: vocabulary, rules of English syntax, grammar, mathematical strategies, etc. It's not impossible, but unless you have nothing to do BUT study, you can only do so much.


Let's imagine your goal was to learn how to do algebra. Yes, it's possible that if you're a smart person, and you have access to a limitless amount of material, you could take/retake tests until you determined certain "patterns" that showed up, and remained consistent among all problems. For instance, "Hm, if I subtract everything but this unknown value - this "x" - from one side, it helps me figure out what "x" is!" Maybe it would take you an hour or two to puzzle that out, having never experienced it before.


Or, by consulting an algebra resource, you can learn what "x" is, and how to solve for it in maybe 15-30 minutes.


In my opinion, taking practice tests is a way of "sharpening the steel" after you've built a certain foundation of knowledge. If you're nervous about math, "Khan Academy" and "Magoosh" have excellent resources for math on the GRE, and the GRE book from the ETS itself has an excellent "Math Review" with easy, medium, and hard questions across all the categories of math covered on the exam.


My recommendation, if you haven't bought the book, is to purchase it and begin working on the "Math Review." Use the answer portion that explains WHY the answer is what it is. If you still don't understand, type the question into Google, and a search result should come up that someone else has provided. If you're ONLY doing practice tests, you're rehearsing something you don't fully understand.


I hope this helps.


 - Steve



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