SchoolApply: GRE Test Day: Set Yourself up for Success
Writing a GRE test doesn't have to be quite a daunting task if you start preparing well in advance!
If the GRE is looming, you should know that it doesn't have to be a sweaty-palms, racing-heart, anxiety-provoking experience. Yes, test anxiety is definitely real, and it definitely causes your score to go down (compared to, for example, scores on practice tests you may have taken). However, there's a lot you can do to set yourself up for success on test day. And while some of it does have to do with things you can do during the test itself, the good news is that there are things you can do today that will help boost your score, whether your exam is tomorrow or next year!
With that in mind, here's what you can do…
Right now: If you have a week or more before the test, take a GRE diagnostic. Yes, even if you only have a week and you haven't lifted a finger to study before now! (I get it, life can get busy.) That's how important taking a diagnostic test is. That term, diagnostic, should give you some clue as to why. Taking a practice test will show you where your strong areas are, where your weak areas are, and what you should work on before test day. If nothing else, it will give you a sense of what your score would be if you took the exam today, and it will give you practice working with GRE-specific challenges, such as using an on-screen calculator.
As soon as you start studying (and at least a week before your test date): First of all, register for the test (see the next step) ASAP! Next, make sure that you pick out the best GRE exam materials you can find, and that you create or use a schedule. This schedule can be as strict or as lax as you want, as long as you stick to it. Include many practice tests (about one a week is great); and, more than anything, be honest with yourself about what you'll actually stick to. Knowing yourself is equally important…
When you sign up for the test: It can be easy to get lulled into a false sense of security when it comes to GRE test dates—after all, you can (in theory) take the GRE pretty much any day except Sundays or holidays. However, in practice, this is far from true, particularly if you need to take the test in less than a month.
Signing up as early as possible gives you the best shot at getting a spot at a test center near you, and one where you can pick a morning or afternoon slot. It's not always possible to register really early, but do register as soon as you can, because most people find that there are particular days (Saturdays, for example) and times of day when they function best.
One week before the GRE: Do a test day test run. Actually get up on the day of the week, at the time of day you'll be going to the test center, and drive/walk/take public transport to the center. Google Maps is a great tool, but it only goes so far, and this is one test you do not want to be late for!
The day before the GRE: Stop studying. No, really—stop studying. If you don't know it by now, you won't remember it for tomorrow, anyway (and if you're worried about your score, one of the best things you can do, if time allows, is to schedule a GRE retake for the future—that will also help by taking the pressure off you tomorrow!) Also, get a good night's sleep, not just the day before the test, but also two days before—sleep debt can carry over, and it can really affect your performance during the exam. Pack your bag for the morning, ignore your friends inviting you out (put your phone in airplane mode if you have to!) and settle in early.
The day of the GRE: In an ideal world, you've packed your bags yesterday, but if you haven't, make sure that you have: ID; a protein-based snack for breaks; a warm layer (the air conditioning in test centers can be intense); water. You won't need paper, pencils, or pens, as the test center will give you materials to use. If you want to send your scores directly to schools for free from the test center, don't worry—you'll be able to search for their codes right after the test. It's free for up to four schools.
After GRE test day: Know that most people really will get their best scores by taking the GRE twice, so don't be discouraged if your scores aren't what you wanted them to be. Now that you've been through the whole experience, you'll know what to expect, and you'll have an even better sense of your strengths and weaknesses when you hit the books again. With some careful planning, you can and will achieve your goal on GRE test day!