6 tips for grad school test taking

sweetlemontestbookGMAT, MCAT, GRE, PCAT, DAT…WTH?

I know we’re smack dab in the middle of the summer, so these letters lurk unknown until August, but there are the few, the brave, the ambitious, who have been slaving away all summer long preparing for graduate school entrance exams.

As a veteran standardized test-taker myself, I understand the worry and frustrations of having to sacrifice your summer, possibly your last one, to study for an exam that may determine the rest of your life. But with just a few tips and tricks, maybe you can reduce the frustration and anxiety that comes to these nerve-racking tests.

Create a routine: I cannot stress enough the old-school saying of “practice makes perfect.” Get your hands on as many practice tests as you can.  If your test is on a Saturday at 8am, spend almost, if not all, Saturday mornings leading up to the exam taking a practice test. At 8am on the dot, I would take the test and set the timer for the amount of time allotted to me. After taking the exam, check your answers and spend the remainder of the week reviewing the answers your get wrong (your weaknesses), as well as reading up on new material.  Repeat the following Saturday with a new practice test.  Doing this will get you accustomed to an early test time, build stamina for these long tests—most of them are almost 4 hours—and create confidence as you improve on each test.

Give yourself a break:  You will more than likely burn yourself out if you go on 13-hour study marathons with just bread and water. I know MCAT prep can feel like a prison, but it doesn’t actually have to be. Every few hours or so, give yourself a break to stretch, eat a meal, or catch up on an episode of your favorite show on Netflix (just one!).  For my most recent standardized exam, I used the evil powers of Candy Crush to give myself a break. I played my 5 lives, went back to studying, and when the lives were restored, I would play another round, get a snack, and go back to studying.

Stay focused: I may be contradicting myself with the Candy Crush breaks, but while you are in study mode, it is important to stay focused.  I know the material is boring and a mush of words that make no sense to normal people, but keep reading and make sure you understand it.  In the method I like to call, “The Chubby Kid’s Guide to Studying,” I treat myself with a Swedish Fish with every section that I complete reading and understand.  This may not work for some people, but it worked wonders for my wandering mind.

Keep your brain thinking: When you’re not studying, work on something that is challenging like a crossword or Sudoku puzzle.  This works your deductive reasoning skills, which come in handy when you are stumped on a multiple-choice question.

Relax: Do not—I repeat—do not cram the night before your test. Relax, watch a movie, or go out with some friends for dinner (drinks may not be the greatest idea).  Cramming the night before will just stress you out more and leave you tossing and turning in bed (and lose sleep).  You are much better off getting some rest than to cram everything you possibly can the night before—you’ll be too tired to remember everything. You know what you know you know and you will do great.

What about test prep? Test prep materials are your preference.  If you feel that classes are necessary, there are always deals on Groupon or Living Social.  Some of the most popular books, such as Kaplan and Princeton Review, are on Amazon at a much lower price than you would expect. Bench Prep offers a mobile app and quiz bank that you can take on the go!

At the end of the day, graduate school entrance exams are not the end all and be all.  You can take them again.  Most importantly, schools read these scores subjectively when considering you for admissions.  It is a small part of your application process.

Now grab those Swedish Fish, download Candy Crush, and get to studying – most of you have a very early 8am wake up call to abide by.


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