@adamrab720: #GRE Vocabulary does pay off

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@adamrab702, this is a great piece of news that really needs to be shared with more people studying for the GRE. And other tests for that matter.

So often students complain about the words on the GRE and SAT: “They are useless outside of the tests.” Many grumble, “They are only important to a small group of ‘nerdy’ people.” “The words are strange,” they say. “I’ll never use them again,” or “I never see these words.”

But these students miss the point.

For one, by taking these tests, students desire a higher level of learning and understanding. Receiving a masters degree is a big deal—students become the masters of a subject. Stop and think about that—a master. And I think that part of this advancement in learning and knowledge is also an advancement in consciousness, an advancement in perception. And one very important way to do this is by learning new words.

A rich vocabulary is like having a more precise ruler for measuring length. It’s an optical sensor that reveals all the wave lengths of light, not just the narrow band of color that human eyes perceive. With a breadth of words to use at different times, the subtleties of life, of human experience, of relationships shine brightly on our minds. What once was “interesting” becomes something more precise: “absorbing, engrossing, fascinating, riveting, gripping, compelling, compulsive, captivating, engaging, enthralling, attractive, amusing, entertaining, stimulating, thought-provoking, diverting, intriguing.” So when students complain about words being too esoteric and only for a small group of people, they forget that getting a master’s degree is about joining that elite club.

Lastly, students don’t see these words because they don’t know them. Humans are really good at ignoring things that don’t fit into our beliefs and perceptions of the world. Most likely, these students have seen these words, but have ignored them, glazed past them, and blocked them from their consciousness. Unless a student is dedicated to looking up words they do not know when reading, they won’t remember these words. They are actually non-existent. And let’s back up, if students aren’t dedicated to challenging themselves by reading outside of their comfort zone and above their reading level, then they won’t be learning anything new.

The greatest moment as a teacher is to have a student carp about the vocabulary words, and then later in the semester they come to class with a grin on their face, radiating because they used one of the words correctly in a situation that stumped people. My international students especially love this moment because they get to turn to a native speaker and tell them to look the word up. Or they beam accomplishment because they just read an article in The Economist and a couple of the vocabulary words popped up.

I find it hard to convince students that these words are useful, edifying, and even fun to use. They have to figure that out on their own. So, it was great to hear that you have reached that moment, @adamrab720. I hope that your story can help others to keep studying those vocabulary words, not just because they have a high frequency on the tests, but because they will get to use them in the future, get to expand their minds by knowing them, and enter into a small elite group of linguistic acrobats.

 

 @OBfer: How long should you study to prepare for the GRE?

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An excellent question, @RBOpfer!

But the answer is not so straightforward because it is almost like asking:

“How long should a person’s legs be?”

“Well, long enough to reach the ground.”

 

So, how long you need to study for the GRE depends on a number of factors:

I. What school do you want to go to?

This is one of the first questions to answer. Start a list of schools that you want to apply to and then research what the average GRE score is for the most recent class of accepted students. These average scores give you a target score to work toward.

Also, pay attention to the Verbal and Quantitative scores for students in the particular department and discipline that you will apply to. These scores will be more useful than the average score of students across the entire school.

Schools do not make it easy to find this information, and they may not even publish these statistics. But there are secondary sources that provide this type of information. Also, if you get on the phone and talk to some professors or people in the department you plan on applying to, and ask very nicely, they may provide you with some anecdotal information. I want to emphasize using a phone and not writing an email. Talking on the phone will be straightforward, efficient, and effective. It also puts the person on the spot to provide some kind of answer. And tell them it doesn’t need to be an “official” statistic; tell them your situation and let them know that any information they can provide will be helpful.

 

II. What is your score right now?

Before you begin studying, you should assess your skills and your level by taking a complete practice test. If you don’t have time for a complete test, some diagnostic tests are available, which are short and approximate your level. Either way, you need to figure out where you are at–what your starting point will be. After learning about the scores of recently accepted students, you may find that you are not too far off the mark. In this case, you may not need to spend too much time studying. But if you find that you are many points away from the average, then you will need to have a much longer and intensive study period.

 

III. What is your discipline?

Some students forget that they are physicists or literature graduate students. Physicists will need to demonstrate to their prospective schools a strong competence on the quantitative portion of the GRE. Obviously, a strong verbal score will help their chances of being accepted, but the inverse isn’t necessarily true: a weaker verbal score won’t necessarily eliminate an application, as long as the quantitative score is strong. The same goes for a literature major–a weak quantitative score won’t eliminate an application. The admission committee will be looking for a strong writing and verbal score when making a decision.

If you do bomb a section, though, this will not bode well for an application. So, make sure that you are performing competently in both sections. But put an emphasis on the section that most reflects your major and discipline.

 

IV. So how much time do I have to study?

In my experience as a teacher and a tutor, students can prepare for the GRE in as little as two weeks with intensive study. But these students started with a strong score and didn’t have to relearn any facts or skills. They just needed to learn the test.

On the other end of the spectrum, after a long absence from school, students may need three to six months to prepare for the GRE. In these cases, students need to relearn how to divide fractions, find the prime factors of a number, expand their active vocabulary, and improve their reading comprehension skills. Again it depends on a lot of factors.

 

V. What now?

Plenty of test prep books exist that you can work through on your own. Classes and tutors can help you with coming up with a study plan if you need support. The software that Barron’s Test Prep provides will actually create a study plan for you based on when you want to take the test and based on an assessment of your skills so you don’t have to think too much about it. You just have to do the studying and practice often.

 

VI. Other Resources

Article on what to do 24 hours before the test
Article on what to do a week before the test
Article on how to structure your study time

 

 @onlynoor: The GRE is not an IQ Test

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@onlynoor, I couldn’t help say, “Yes, you are right!”

Knowing a word like “prevaricate” or “abstruse,” is not indicative of your knowledge. Nor is it a reflection of your intelligence or IQ. That’s because the GRE, and a lot other standardized tests, don’t test anything closely related to knowledge or IQ. And even tests that claim to measure a person’s IQ are deeply flawed.

A person’s knowledge and intelligence is malleable and plastic—changing throughout a person’s lifetime. Not only does it change over the years, but it can change in a matter of hours. Just think of how different you would perform on a test if you slept only two hours and didn’t eat for twenty-four hours. I guarantee members of Mensa would struggle to qualify for their “intelligence” club. Even the founder of the Princeton Review knows this.

So what does that mean for you, the test taker? Do not think of this as a measure of intelligence, but rather think of it as measuring tape. Every student takes the test and the test makers use their measuring tape to see how they did. Imagine that students walk into a doctor’s office and they stand up against a wall and the doctor marks a line for their heights. Then they pull out that measuring tape to see how tall you are. They record the results in a table and send you on your way.

The GRE is the same thing. Students walk into a testing center, “backs against the wall,” and do the best they can. The test makers then measure how each student did and record the results for colleges. These results are a standard measure that allows schools to get a sense of how one student compares to another—to see who is taller.

But the difference between your height and your score on the GRE is that your height is fixed at a certain age (unless you live in a world similar to Gattaca). Your score on a standardized, though, is not fixed because you can prepare in advance and actually increase your score. By learning the question types, practicing problems, completing practice tests, and learning common wrong answer traps, students for decades have improved their scores. This is a fundamental flaw in the test: test makers claim that students should get the same score on the test regardless of how many times they take it. That’s why they call it a standardized test. But anyone who has put in a couple hours a week to study and prepare knows that scores do increase, sometimes dramatically.

Another part to these standardized tests is just to see who really cares. Schools can see what students prepared, put in the time, and did well versus the students who show up one day and take a test. And even taking the test a second time, and increasing your scores, will show colleges that you care and that you are putting in the effort to succeed.

So, Noor, don’t let studying for the GRE get you down. I am sure that you will do fine if you put in the time to study, and I am sure that you will become an awesome speech-language pathologist in the future.

Good luck! I know you won’t need it.