When we are about to take our education to the next level, we are certain to face a series of various tests and examination. In addition to graduation exams, there is always some kind of this annoying Multiple Choice Time Limited Test – like GRE, GMAT, SAT etc. And you are not likely to get away from it – almost every country has its version of a test of this kind that includes quantitive thinking, verbal thinking, logic, sometimes common knowledge and other non-formal sections and questions. Those test are very hard to prepare to – in fact, they are DESIGNED in such a way that tries to reduce the effect of preparation and “knowledge baggage” – trying to estimate one’s skills and abilities. While argument still exists about the objectivity of those tests, currently there is no better tool to estimate one’s ability to learn and study effectively. That’s why despite many objections, colleges, universities and institutes regard GMAT/GRE and similar score as a major part of overall attendee grade.
When you look into the test itself, however, you will probably see that overall level is not that complex – the required skills are very basic, in fact. Almost any student of 6th-7th degree possesses all the knowledge required to pass the GRE exam… It is also known that vast majority of those taking Multiple Choice Time Limited Test can solve almost any problem that is included in it. So, why can’t we all get the perfect (or nearly-perfect) score? What’s the trick? The answer, I bet, is known to you already. A famous four letter world: TIME.
Time limit is what prevents us from completing all the tasks correctly. This is done in two ways: one – you have to answer the questions quickly, thus you are prone to mistakes (there is absolutely no time to check and recheck the answer); two – this time-limit creates enormous pressure on the examinees, making them nervous and unstable. Objective or not, those tests are very intense and stressful. And whether you like it or not – for now you need to be able to cope with that pressure in order to succeed, despite the pressure, the atmosphere etc.
One of the “secrets” of good preparation to such exams lies within turning the time limit into your advantage. Is that possible? Indeed it is! Remember, you are not the only one coping with the test questions. There are many, many others trying to solve exactly the same problems. And indeed they were created to be solved – some by more people, some by less. As a rule, easier questions usually come prior to the harder ones, making last 3-5 questions in a chapter a real challenge. There are, of course, exceptions – but as I said, in general questions are arranged it is this way. This means there is, actually, no reason in quickly progressing through the questions. First SOLVE than continue!
Some of the preparation courses tend to put too much focus on the time factor. “You have one minute to solve each question!” – is a common phrase repeated by the tutors. Another common thing is endless simulations with strict time limit – emulating the stressful atmosphere of the test itself. Although those simulations are really vital to success, they can also do a lot of damage. In addition to hurting one’s confidence, such simulations tend to concentrate on the result, without acquiring the benefits of the analysis. The speed-oriented training can be a real spoiler: “You have to answer 30 questions within 25 minutes! That’s less than minute per question! Ready? Go! Faster! Faster! Faster…” STOP!
Are you running or are you solving problems? Nobody is interested in how many answers you have SUBMITTED. The only thing that matters is how many of your answers are CORRECT! Answering 30 questions, 15 of them correct is far worse than correctly solving 20 out of 24. There are, of course, people that can answer 30 out of 30 – but, statistically you have about 0.5% chance of being included in that group (if you are going to do a GRE you should already know that 0.5% is one out of two hundred)… And if you are solving 24 out of 25 – well THEN put the emphasis on SPEED, trying to solve faster – learn some tricks, practice calculating in your head, look for shortcuts in restatement type questions, learn to answer reading comprehension without actually reading the text… But all the above is NOT how we start preparing for the exam.
A good preparation course should first of all underline the BASICS that are often forgotten during formal school education (and some of which are simply not mentioned). The fundamental geometric relations and definitions, some basic algebra, grammar and elementary rules of logic… This is the way to start the preparations. What is a prime number? How many dividers does the number 24 have? What about 36? Why the number of dividers of 24 is even and for 36 it is odd? Those are typical questions that need to be answered and discussed, providing deeper understanding of the techniques we have been applying throughout our study years, without thinking about their meaning. Once you have grasped the basics you can start thinking about answering questions FASTER. But please, do it SLOWLY. That’s the way it goes.