The same questions students ask all the time i.e. is the GRE hard? If yes, how hard is the GRE test? How hard is GRE maths? The answer is, you use the right approach to tackle it. Here are a few reasons why students feel it hard to get a perfect score in GRE Math.
Fear is the biggest issue that people have with the GRE. Students do not experience tests like the GRE throughout their academic careers. So, when they arrive at the stage of giving their GRE, the alien nature of the test puts them on the backfoot. Add to that the massive books, the GRE can feel like a tough and scary task.
Being an experienced GRE mentor, I am here to shred, destroy, obliterate, demolish, shatter, and crush that notion. Because it is not true. I gave the GRE General Test in May, getting a 170 in the quantitative section, 99 percentile in both verbal and in writing. These are the lessons I have derived from my own experience and the experiences of thousands of others I have helped over the years: Stop being afraid.
So, is the Math in GRE tough? Let us dive deep into the following points:
A lot of Resources:
There is an abundance of GRE resources published in the last 20 years. Many books are outdated but they are still circulated in the groups because they are FREE PDF versions. Students get into this trap by following FREE available resources without thinking whether they are effective or not? Having too many books makes the students confused about which books to refer to and which books are best for them.
Lack of Guidance:
Most people spend a lot of time preparing for the GRE but do not get a good score. The historically low average score of people around the globe feeds the perception that the GRE is a test only exceptional candidates can do well on. Here’s a big idea: the GRE is not as tough as people make it seem – they just do not know how to prepare for it. What’s the right way? You can avail FREE GRE Step-by-Step mentoring via Scholar Den Mentoring.
The GRE costs money and it asks for proper preparation time. Because it takes a lot of both, just to sit in a test, people feel bogged down by the idea of the money and the time getting wasted. Well, guess what? There is no way around this. So there is no point in thinking about it. It has to be done and that is all there is to it.
Be in charge: Most people follow. That is true of any and every situation in life.
The majority of students make a crucial mistake during the GRE Maths prep that ends up wasting crucial time in the preparation.
They buy or download random free books over the internet and like college course books, follow it through from the first page to the last. Or they go to a GRE coaching class and follow everything the instructor says. They have no idea what their weak areas are and which books or online resources are effective based on their weak areas.
Consult experts and then think for yourself, see what works for you, and apply that. Understand what you need in order to be successful in the GRE. Your conceptual understanding of mathematics is not the same as any other person in the class you are taking. So, you do not need to follow the same pattern of instruction or preparation as everyone else.
For most things in life, it is really hard to figure out what you need in order to do your best. But, for the GRE, it is actually quite simple. And that is because preparation for the GRE gives you a lot of data to tell you how you are doing and what you need to improve on.
Use data and use online tools:
There are two categories of data available when you are preparing for the GRE:
Numerical data points and tools:
Primary data comes from the Diagnostic test. Once you attempt practice/diagnostic tests, you get a score. You also get to learn how many questions you got wrong and how much time you spent on the questions overall. Looking at these numbers helps: people use these numbers to gauge how far they are from their target score and the amount of work they need.
A good way to build a data-set for yourself is to use online tools such as Scholar Den to practice instead of using books. That is because they record the data for your attempts, allowing you to look back and see your progress.
But, here is what you need to know about these numerical data points – they give you information on where you are at; they do not tell you how to get from where you are to where you want to be. They do not define strategy. Consider two people with the same practice test score of 155 on the Quantitative section. Are their weaknesses the same? Surely not. So, they cannot use the same strategy to get to a score of 165. What do they look at, then, to figure out how to improve their scores? That question brings us to the next section on non-numerical data.
Non-numerical data points:
These are the real moneymakers. But most people are not in charge of their own preparation and are looking for books or tutors to create plans for them, so these data points get ignored. Because of that, personalized strategies for improvement do not get formulated.
The data points I am talking about are the result of analyzing your mistakes. What are the types of questions you are getting wrong – conceptual, lengthy, or common sense ones (to name a few categories)? Which topics are you getting most questions wrong on? What is the reason you get certain questions wrong? Where are you spending more time than necessary? Why are you having trouble understanding a specific topic? And, most importantly, what can you do to improve?
6 years ago, I gave the GRE and got 159V, 164Q, and 5W. Comparing that to what I got now, I improved on the quantitative section by 6 points and by 9 points on the verbal section. In what follows, I break down how I improved in the quantitative section.
I never understood what I got wrong in the quantitative section back then. This time, when I started preparing, I realized that I got questions wrong sometimes when I quickly applied a concept I knew, mentally formulated the answer, and selected an option to move ahead.
So I started analyzing those questions to figure out what was the source of my mistakes. One of the reasons was that I was making silly mistakes in calculations like 3×3=6 (my most common mistake ever since I was born). But that was not all. I also checked if I was making conceptual mistakes. It turns out that my concepts were fine, but that the GRE is not all about concepts. Some questions do not involve standard concepts that you would expect. Try the following question, as an example:
How many roots does the equation x^2 + 8x + 21 = 5 have?
The answer should be 2, right? Because quadratic equations have 2 roots? Apply the basic concept and the question is done in 5 seconds. But, if you solve the question on paper, it turns out that the equation represents the perfect square (x+4)^2 = 0. Both the roots, in this case, are the same (both are -4). So the equation has 1 root, not 2. It is an exasperating question that makes you ask “what is the point of asking this question?” What is the point, exactly? Before I explain, look at the next question:
The number 25 is divisible by its unit’s digit (25 is divisible by 5). How many such numbers exist between 30 and 70 which are divisible by their unit’s digits?
This is an easy question. Anyone can solve it without knowing any mathematical concept beyond basic division and counting. But, again, what is this question really testing? Does it really tell a university how good you will be at doing Master’s level mathematics? Not really. So, why does the GRE have such questions? Here’s the answer I think makes sense.
What is the GRE really testing?
“The GRE is about testing how well you can adjust to a random array of information: whether you can judge that a question is stupid and adjust to it; whether you can pick and choose the right concepts to apply to an unknown/new situation; whether you can analyze an argument, instead of just absorbing what is being said, because people at the Master’s/Ph.D. level study and work on the latest research and information which can be incorrect. A critical analysis is important. So, that is the main aim of the GRE, beyond testing very basic knowledge of English and Mathematics.”
Once I realized that I knew that I would face a variety of questions in my test – stupid ones, common sense ones, and those requiring regular conceptual mathematics, I had to create a strategy that would help me adjust to the type/level of question.
I had to create a strategy that helped root out the silly calculation mistakes I was making. I made them more often when I did lots of quick calculations in my head while thinking about the next steps, or when I skipped multiple steps while solving questions on paper.
Interestingly enough, the solution to both my problems was the same – I decided to solve every question on paper, without skipping any steps. Doing every question on paper ensured that I did not assume anything about the type of question before panning it out on paper. And it also ensured that I did not make any silly mistakes. I knew I could use this strategy because I had not been having any problem with time – I would always end up with 5-10 minutes saved if I did questions quickly, skipping steps and doing them in my head mostly.
I came up with this strategy at the end of the final practice test that I took, a couple of days before my actual test. So, the strategy got tested for the first time during the test itself. And it helped me get from a score of ~165 in practice attempts to 170 out of 170 on test day.
Recent Changes in the GRE Test:
The GRE is getting tricky:
How hard is the Maths on the GRE? Actually, the concepts tested on the real GRE Maths are high school math but the questions are made tricky so students can apply their clear concepts to solve them within 2 minutes. If you are unable to solve them within 2 minutes, it means your concepts are not clear.
The Hard level questions have long prompts:
In order to get a high GRE Maths score, you need to make sure 60 to 80% of the second section will have questions of difficulty level 4 and 5, which are also known as Hard Level Questions. Some GRE Maths hard level questions have long statements. If you are not familiar with how to convert statements into equations, then it would become difficult to solve these questions in less than 2 minutes. So it is important to have a clear conceptual understanding of how a word problem can be broken down to equations.
Refer to Scholarden.com questions if you need to practice GRE Maths tricky and hard level Questions.
No matter, how hard is the GRE Maths test, you need to follow the systematic approach.
Develop personalized strategies. Some students are bad at concepts. Others are bad at calculations and a few have some other issues. General strategies and opinions do not matter. What matters is what you need. Find it out. Do it.
Next Article: GRE Scores vs Preparation Time