The GRE Tutor: How Rusty Test-Takers Can Combat Test Anxiety

Posted by Helena Fitzgerald on 1/30/15 11:30 AM

 Here to provide you with some moral support.

You thought you were done with standardized tests, didn’t you? All the bubbling in answers and test anxiety and number 2 pencils and process of eliminations was behind you, a thing of the past, never to rise again. But then, you learn, no. Standardized testing has risen out of your high school past like a cartoon villain, to strike once again. What I’m talking about, of course, is the GRE. 

Taking the GRE (or any standardized test required for admission to a graduate program, be it the GMAT or LSAT or MCAT), can be a challenging endeavor for many reasons. As a GRE verbal tutor in New York, A main one, and one that almost all I’ve heard nearly all my GRE students I’ve worked with have voiced isvoice the jarring experience of suddenly having to think in terms of a standardized test before,, after being sure they had left that behind with their college acceptance letter senior year of high school. 

Judging by the number of SAT students who assured me, at our last lesson, that they were going to burn their SAT books in a celebratory bonfire, the SAT (or ACT) is not an experience to which anyone wishes to return. Here you are, you’ve finished, or are about to finish, college, and you’re asked to return to one of the worst parts of high school. It just seems unfair. However, as the GRE is a necessary entrance requirement for nearly any graduate school, returning to the concerns of standardized testing, at least briefly, is going to be necessary. A dedicated course of study and work with a GRE tutor (especially if you’re in New York or Boston, where we have a dedicated team of tutors) can help with the material itself, which tends to be more tricky than actually difficult. Anxiety around the test itself, however, needs to be considered in a larger context.

Where is this test anxiety coming from?

Test Anxiety: This is a term you might have heard often in high school, perhaps specifically pertaining to standardized tests, but one likely to have left your immediate experience as you moved through college and into life beyond. Test anxiety can be a real issue with the GRE, and often stems from the fact of not having had to deal with a standardized test in a while. Students who have been out of school for some time can be thrown off by how foreign this format and material seems now, and their confidence may be shaken by feeling like they have to reach back to study habits they’d long ago deemed irrelevant. It’s normal to worry as to whether you’re still even capable of studying for or correctly focusing on a standardized test. Students currently in college will find preparation for the test jarring because it has little -- or more likely, nothing at all -- to do with the material they’re currently studying and the high level at which they’re studying it, and find it hard to resolve these two disparate things into a daily study schedule where neither one subtracts from the other. Taking steps to ameliorate this anxiety is important, and not as daunting as it may seem. Solid knowledge and a clear approach are the natural enemies of anxiety, so use that to your advantage!

Here are some of my suggestions for combatting test anxiety, drawing from my experience as a private GRE tutor in New York:

Focus on Close Reading and Logic

It’s helpful, first of all, to remember that much more of the test is logic-based than knowledge-based, even at the highest levels. It’s easy to panic when you see a Math problem that looks totally foreign, for instance, especially when there’s a large explanatory paragraph that’s hard to understand. But start from the assumption that this isn’t testing obscure math concepts that you don’t remember, and see how much you can deduce from logic and close reading. This won’t always work, but you’ll be surprised how often it does.

Become Friends with Practice Drills

Starting with simple, daily memorization drills is also a great way to combat anxiety. Working with flashcards both on vocabulary and on foundational math terms and equations will quickly build up knowledge, and give you a boost on practice tests and sections that will in turn increase confidence. Finally, remember that, unlike the SAT, the GRE is by no means the most difficult test you’ve ever taken. However daunting it seems, the actual experience of sitting down and taking the test is likely less stressful or difficult than exams you took in college, or even things you deal with on a daily basis in your adult life. By comparison, this test is tricky, and long, and exhausting, but getting some perspective on it and can help you to relax into the test-taking experience. That relaxation will likely improve your score, which will likely improve confidence, which will likely further improve your score, and so the cycle continues.

Get a Private GRE Coach to Keep You Calm

Preparation is of course all-important, and thorough preparation is the number one way to banish test anxiety. Working one-on-one with a dedicated tutor can be extremely helpful in either of these cases, as a tutor’s job is to help not only with mastery of the material, but with time management in a broader sense, drawing up a schedule that will be effective without eating into other either academic or professional commitments and concerns, and making sure that schedule stays on track moving toward the test. Further, a dedicated private GRE tutor can recommend and teach strategies targeting test anxiety so that these fears about the test itself don’t rise up and take over on test day. Finally, often students find that many of these fears drain away as they gain a mastery of the test material, and fluency in methods and approaches for each section and problem type. Once again, by facing the standardized head-on, you can vanquish it from your life, and be in the enviable position of forgetting about these types of tests entirely.

Looking for more GRE-related tips? Check out these blog posts written by private GRE tutors at Harvard and MIT: No Sweat Study Habits for Busy People, How to Keep the Test Strategy Fresh in Your Head, and The Unexpected Key to Analyze an Argument Essay

If you’re looking for more one-on-one help, Cambridge Coaching can match you with a private GRE verbal tutor or private GRE math tutor in Boston (near Harvard and MIT) and New York City, as well as online GRE tutoring around the world. Feel free to contact us via this form, and we’d be happy to help.

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Tags: test anxiety, GRE