When preparing for the GRE, it is useful to be aware of the common pitfalls that most students face. We have compiled just such a list for you below.

Working hard but not working smart

Let’s face it, the GRE is a competitive exam. This being the case, you need all the help you can get. It is not enough to merely work hard – you have to wring every ounce of benefit out of the hours that you put in. You can do this by analyzing your performance on exercises and practice tests, and tweaking the focus of your preparation accordingly. Most students fail to do this, and pay the price by getting a mediocre score.

Putting things off until too late

Most students assume that the GRE is an easy test, and fail to begin to prepare early. This is a mistake – some students need very little time to prepare and get a top score, while others can take up to a year to hit their stride. Therefore, make sure you take a diagnostic practice test as soon as you decide on taking the GRE. This will give you a good indication about where you stand in the pecking order, and how much work you need to put in to get to where you want to be. Remember that your scores are relative. That means you have to do better than the next test-taker in order to make it into your graduate school of choice.

Underestimating the effects of the long gap between 8th and 9th grade and the post-university GRE

The quantitative section of the GRE is based on the 8th and 9th grade school curriculum of the United States. Given this, it may be tempting to put off preparing for the test until the last minute. After all, 8th and 9th grade material should be a walk in the park for most college students, right? This may not be entirely accurate. The GRE is unlike most school exams, because the focus is on testing your ability to think on your feet. The truth is most seasoned school teachers would struggle to get a top score on the GRE. It really is a test that separates the wheat from the chaff. Therefore, you have to know the material like an expert would.

Underestimating, or overestimating, the effectiveness of “tricks” in the math section

It is easy to fall into one of two possible errors – to downplay the importance of tricks or strategies in the quantitative section, or to emphasize it at the expense of a firm foundation. The truth is, the GRE is an exam that is tricky rather than difficult, but for the tricks to come into play, you must first have a solid grasp of the fundamentals. However, merely doing text book problems will get you into a “slow thinking” mode, where you emphasize rigor and accuracy over speed and ingenuity. Therefore, we suggest that you balance your preparation so that, once comfortable with the foundations, you can focus on advanced techniques that will fetch you that dream score.

Assuming the verbal is only about vocabulary

Many students think of the verbal section as a mere test of vocabulary. This couldn’t be further from the truth. The verbal section is full of nuance and subtlety, but even if you do not know the meanings of certain words, you can often disambiguate based on the context. By no means should you ignore the vocabulary part of the preparation, but do realize that the verbal section is not called “Verbal Reasoning” without good justification: you will be called upon to use every intellectual muscle in coming up with the right answer. Merely memorizing a list of words will certainly not be enough.

Not doing timed, full-length practice tests

Due to time constraints and busy schedules, many students rarely allocate enough time to complete a full-length practice test in one sitting. Keep in mind that the GRE contains more than the four scored sections – it also contains an unscored or research section. This will not be identified, so you won’t be able to relax during this section. That means you have to get used to concentrating for more than three hours on test day. Therefore, not doing any timed, full-length practice tests can really cost you. It would be even better if you could simulate the conditions you will face on test day by doing five practice sections rather than four.