The Five Stages of Studying for the GRE
The Five Stages of Studying for the GRE

The Five Stages of Studying for the GRE

It's mostly just regret with a few other stages sprinkled in.
March 19, 2016
8 mins read

Living with GRE

It’s mostly just regret with a few other stages sprinkled in.

By Natalie Hays, Texas State University

Looming in the back of the minds of millions of students, the specter of grad school haunts the nightmares of almost every liberal arts major.

Depending on your major, getting a Master’s degree can up your future salary and increase your job options, but it means you’re going to have to take the GRE. Unless you want to go to medical or law school, the Graduate Record Exam is the only thing standing between you and that sweet, sweet grad degree.

Think of the GRE as the adult cousin of the SAT you took in high school. Like the SAT, it covers several different topics and has timed sections for each. On the surface, the GRE has three main topics: Verbal Reasoning, Quantitative Reasoning and Analytical Writing.

Each category has different question types, which further variegate depending on the section. For example, analytical writing has two different types of essay questions. You either analyze an issue or an argument, which are apparently not the same thing even though it sounds like they should be.It's mostly just regret with a few other stages sprinkled in.

From there, you get thirty minutes to write your essay. The other sections are multiple-choice format, but you end up getting the same amount of time to answer the questions.

Definitely sounds like how you want to spend several hours of your life, right? Good thing it’s fre—WRONG. The GRE costs $200 at the time of test reservation. While ways exist to waive the fee, I myself had to fork up a good chunk of money to reserve my test.

It’s worth noting that you can take either a computer or paper version of the test, so pick your poison when you reserve your spot. At least the test distributor gives you a choice when you’re paying that much. (Take note, SAT. I hated taking that massive paper test.)

As somebody who has been “studying” for the GRE for several months, I’ve started to notice the emotional stages of preparing for a test like this. It starts right around the time you reluctantly pay for the exam. Your thoughts start off positive, but slowly over time you start to notice a change—a very dark, lazy change called procrastination.

Stage One: Confidence

So you’ve reserved your test a few months in advance and thought to yourself, “Yeah, I’ve got time.” You buy a few test review materials and download all of the free stuff off the GRE site.

For the first few weeks, you’re going over the material like it’s a religious text. Are you absorbing any valuable information? Maybe, maybe not.

Regardless, you tell everyone that you’re taking the GRE on the X of X. You tell your parents, grandparents, friends, friends’ friends and your neighbor’s friends. Everyone has to know how well you are Adulting by signing up to take this exam, because damn it—you paid $200 for these bragging rights.

But enough humble-bragging—it’s time to hit the books.

Stage Two: Doubt

You signed up for the test about a month or so ago, and you’re starting to feel a little uneasy about it. Over the past week or so you’ve been avoiding making contact with your study books. They sit there on your coffee table with a menacing aura about them, waiting for you to open them for five minutes and then quietly shove them aside for Netflix. Maybe once a week you cut to the back of the books and look at some sample questions, but you have your doubts.

The sample questions make you feel inadequate, to put it simply. You’ve combed through the easy questions already, but the medium difficulty ones leave you feeling uneasy.

In the hard sections you hardly recognize about seventy percent of the words and you’re not even sure the questions are questions.

You assiduously avoid that section. Shouldn’t you have signed up for this when you were older, more experienced in the world of post-graduate?

You’re beginning to think that you’re not cut out for the GRE, but you can’t exactly turn back now after bragging to everyone about it.

Stage Three: Regret

Your exam is coming up in two months and you’re dreading the date. The big day is highlighted on your calendar like some sort of sick joke only you’re in on.

You don’t really need to go to grad school, right? Those dreams you had that require a Master’s degree, you can just pick new ones right?

Stage Four: Avoidance

What exam? You’ve got a few weeks left before the test, but at this point the day of reckoning feels like an executioner’s axe that you can’t imagine dropping.

A few of your friends bring up the fact that they haven’t seen you study in a while and you laugh in response. Not at them, but at the fact that you’re in so deep you can no longer see the surface.

A sort of guilt starts to set in at stage four. You know you aren’t doing yourself any favors by avoiding studying. The guilt you feel isn’t even for yourself half the time, but for all of the books you bought and PDFs you printed in preparation. They didn’t deserve this kind of neglect.

Stage Five: Grim Acceptance

The time has come, the week before the exam. In a last ditch effort to save your future test scores you dig out all of your study materials. Your grades on the practice exams are less than stellar, but you tell yourself it could be worse.

As much as you want to put down the study book and pick up your laptop to procrastinate, responsibility says otherwise.

Luckily, if you do terribly you can always take it again (for another $200 soul-contract), so it’s not a total death sentence. Still, for your sanity, you should probably try your best to pull through and get a decent score. At this point you’ve just got to suck it up, put on your big kid sweatpants and deal with it.

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