Crucial Habits for Success on GRE Verbal

Posted by Andrew Jungclaus on 10/24/18 6:39 PM

How to study for gre

I'm Andrew Jungclaus -- I've been a GRE tutor at Cambridge Coaching since 2012, and have tutored over 1000 hours, working with dozens of students to improve their scores. By day, I'm also a Ph.D. candidate in American religious history at Columbia University, so I am intimately familiar with putting in long hours to complete a major goal.  I actually just finished my comprehensives exams -- which required reading over 300 books in less than a year (!) -- and I promise I will not even ask you to do a tenth of that work on your path to acing the GRE.

Rules for success on the GRE Verbal

I'm going to tell you the ground rules I lay out for every GRE student I coach: 

The only way to ensure actual improvement on GRE verbal is through solidifying effective, daily habits.

Why? The verbal sections essentially test your vocabulary skills and your reading comprehension. These are two areas where cramming just isn’t effective. 

Today, I'll give you two habits to incorporate into a daily study regime -- one to train your brain to read (the way the GRE wants you to read), the other to build your vocabulary.

Habit #1: Read a high-level publication for 30 minutes a day 

  • Reading choices - This means the New York Review of Books, not Buzzfeed, Moby Dicknot Twilight. Here’s my list of reading material I typically recommend to GRE students.
  • I recommend using paper over electronic copies - It helps to have a paper copy, just so you always have it with you and can easily mark it up, looking for keywords, main ideas, fun turns of phrase to go back to later.  

  • If you need additional reading suggestions, email me what subjects you're interested in - and I can make some recommendations. 
  • The key here is to get your brain used to focusing on high quality writing for extended periods of time. I promise that this sort of sustained attention is a valuable, transferable skill. So choose some reading material you'll enjoy...make it fun!
Habit #2: Write down all words you don’t know

I tell my students that a solid pace for building up vocabulary is learning or reviewing 100 words per week. Much of this will come from your daily reading-- any time you encounter a word you don't know, write it down-- but you’re also going to need to make a concerted, daily effort with these, too.  

  • Make paper flashcards and review them daily - It's an old fashioned method that most of my students find to be the best method for retaining words and definitions. From my experience as a tutor, I'd say that writing your cards out by hand is much more effective than using online systems like Quizlet. Keep your cards in your pocket and find bits of free time (on public transit, waiting in line at the grocery store, etc) to review them. If you're not sure how to make a flashcard, take a look at this one example flashcard I made
  • Keep an ongoing list of unknown words in your phone: As you go about your day, if you overhear or encounter words you don't know, record it in your phone using a notes app. Make it easy for yourself; then consider making flashcards for those words. 
  • Test yourself: I always tell my students that if you hear a word in the street, or talking to your parents, or even in an ad and you couldn’t give me a perfect, dictionary definition for it -- write it down.   

And again, you’re not just studying for an exam here -- you’re making yourself into the type of person who knows these words and will know them forever -- and that is a good thing!

Next Steps

  • Read 30 minutes everyday of a high-level text -- and read every word! Force a pen to touch every word to get used to not skimming. 
  • Start making flashcards (if you haven't already) and review them while on the go. Try to do say, 10 flashcards this week - and gradually build up to 100 new words a week.
  • Create a note on your phone for unknown words, and get in the habit of recording words in it. 

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