My pal Scott Tridle, an electrical engineer who took the GRE a couple weeks after I did, contributed to this post. Thanks, Scott! You're swell.
In my last post, I went over some resources that helped me prepare for the GRE. This post covers some other resources you may want to investigate, some tips for test day, and some final thoughts on my GRE experience. Hope it's helpful! Please contact me if you'd to talk more about it.
GRE Preparation Courses - Scott's prep for the GRE differed from mine in one huge way: he took GRE preparation class offered by the UC San Diego Exension. The course met on four consecutive Saturdays for four hours each, and was offered for free by his university.
Scott indicated a positive view of the course, and credited it with helping push him to study. He also said that his instructor provided many useful question-solving strategies and other tips. Scott thought that these pointers helped him with the verbal section of the GRE in particular (as an electrical engineer, Scott had a strong quantitative acumen already).
Vocabulary Mnemonics - Rather than a GRE Vocab App, Scott purchased a book called GRE Vocab Capacity: Over 1000 Powerful Memory Tricks and Mnemonics to Widen your Lexicon to work on his vocabulary. He liked the way the mnemonics provided in the book helpd him learn new words. Scott did express that he wished he had practiced more vocabulary prior to the test. However, this desire was more related to his time investment rather than the quality of his vocabulary resource. Still, it did seem from my conversation with him that Scott would attest that improving one's vocabulary is a good general strategy for the GRE.
When asked about other GRE preparation resources, Scott mentioned that online practice exams he'd taken were very helpful in solidifying the strategies taught in his class. I strongly recommend the online practice sets as well. See my previous post on GRE preparation for more on these.
On Test Day
"It's Just Five Paragraphs." - The evening before I took the GRE, I expressed to Scott that the part of the test I was most worried about was the written section. His response was, paraphrasing, "Why? It's just five paragraphs."
This helped immensely. Instead of agonizing over the written section as I had been, on test day I just took a deep breath and wrote five paragraphs. Simplifying the task helped me worry less about the details, and actually get the thing done.
This could be a helpful frame for the GRE. The GRE is just two essays and five question sets. You'll do fine.
The Testing Room - Paraphrasing Scott again, the test center "doesn't [mess] around." You can't take anything in with you. They go so far as to have you turn out your pockets and undergo scanning with a metal detector before entering. It's serious business.
Scott remarked that he would have brought chewing gum if he had known this, as he was prohibited from bringing in water and got pretty thirsty during the exam. Thirst was not an issue for me. Quite the opposite, in fact. You are on the clock when taking the GRE, and you only get a break at the test's mid-point. So, I can advise against drinking too much fluid prior to taking the GRE, as this can cause it's own discomforts.
Mini Breaks - Strictly speaking, you are not on the clock the whole time. No timer runs during the instruction screens which precede each timed section. I asked one of the GRE personnel/enforcers, and she indicated that it was OK for me to use these screens as an opportunity to stretch my hands. Scott also indicated that he used these screens to take "mini breaks" from the exam. These screens seem like a great opportunity to take a breather between each section, so consider using them as such.
The Actual Break - You get a 10-minute break in the middle of the exam. During this time, you are allowed to have a snack and, you know, do your business. I would strongly encourage bringing a light snack to eat during this time. Caffeine may be a good idea as well. I felt fatigue near the end of the exam. When I asked Scott whether he had felt similarly, he indicated that it hadnt been an issue and credited an energy drink downed during the break with replenishing his reserves. You definitely don't want to overdo it to the point that you become jittery, but a Red Bull could be a really good secret weapon on test day.
Bill Conti - While preparing for the GRE, I joked to myself that I would play the theme from Rocky in my head to get myself pumped up for the test. When I walked into the testing room, my brain automatically started playing the song. It was pretty awesome. It actually helped me get psyched up for the test. You may want to try something similar.
Reliability - Something that struck me following the GRE is it's apparent reliability as an assessment tool (at least based on my experience with practice exams). I took a Kaplan computer-scored practice test two days prior to taking the actual GRE. My raw verbal score on test day differed from my practice test score by just one point. My raw quantitative score on test day was actually exactly the same as what I had scored on the practice test. Either this is an incredible coincidence, or Kaplan's practice test are an impressively reliable predictor of performance on the actual GRE. For those who have used Kaplan's online GRE practice tests, have you had a similar experience?
In contrast, Scott took a practice exam after his first GRE prep class. Following the class's conclusion, Scott scored five points higher on the GRE's verbal section and six points higher on its quantitative section. As he summarized, "[The GRE prep class] seems worth it, even if it only helped to stop procrastinating." Scott said that he would recommend the GRE prep course to others, especially for the price he paid.
If I Took The Test Again - Scott indicated that, if he had to take the GRE again, he would bring gum and would prepare more for the exam's essay section. He also reiterated that he'd have studied more vocabulary. If I took the GRE again, I would probably bring an energy drink with me to consume during the break. I also would have drank a little less coffee the morning before the exam. I think Scott's gum recommendation is a good one as well.
I was quite happy with my relatively cheap preparation for the GRE. Based on my experience, I would recommend cheap prep over a GRE prep class. However, Scott endorsed the GRE class he took, so you may find similar value in one. Either way, good luck to you when it's time to take the exam! Chat me up, I would love to speak with you about your experience afterwards.