Some of you have avoided thinking about them all summer. They have strange acronyms like “SAT” or “GRE” and are administered by a mysterious organization called ETS. Now it’s September. That means it’s time to get serious about applying to universities and graduate programs. It’s not too late to plan for these tests. Whether you’re about to take the SAT or GRE, Open Minds can help.
Start by determining the universities to which you’ll be applying. Look at the dates when applications are due. Do they say you must take the test? Some universities don’t require you to take the SAT or GRE, but many do — especially competitive programs in the United States.
If you need to take the test, then do so well before the university deadline. Universities must receive your test scores from the company administering the test. Your word, no matter how honest, won’t count. Some universities base decisions on financial aid packages partly on these test scores.
Next, head to the test company website (see list in the sidebar). These sites explain — or try to explain — what the tests are about, on what dates they’ll be held and where, how much they will cost, and other logistics. They will also give you an idea of when scores will be sent after the test and the date by which you’ll need to take the test.
When deciding the date for your test, backtrack at least one full month to allow yourself ample time to study. Allow more time if you can.
Starting to study for these tests can be daunting at first. You may see phrases to describe a section like “Analytical Comprehension.” You know you are pretty good at comprehending and analyzing, but what does that phrase mean exactly? How do you study for it? Maybe you try a practice test and get a low or mid-range score. Then you panic.
Don’t worry, don’t be overwhelmed, and above all don’t procrastinate! You cannot cram for these tests. Even experienced test-takers stumble without prep. They are expensive to take or worse, retake. Retaking them for higher scores only prolongs stress. You want to prepare well for taking the test the first time so that you only need to enter that stuffy little examination room once.
In one month you will improve your scores by:
- varying your study time to examine all parts
- looking at each part of the test for short periods of time every day
How do you start studying? First, break down each part of the test. What are each section’s main components? What areas do you see as harder or easier? Be careful — study for every section. Sometimes areas you think you know have tricks and surprises.
Next, make a schedule for yourself. Stick to it as if it were a required class. Squeeze in extra studying whenever you have some time, like when traveling between places. For example, carry a deck of index or flash cards so you can practice key vocabulary terms on the bus or in the car after soccer.
Piece by piece, section by section, word by word — if you study every day for at least a full month, then by the time you’re taking your test, you will know what to do. You will be less overwhelmed and more knowledgeable even when under stress.
Open Minds can help you with those parts that might appear “fuzzy” at first — the reading, essay writing, or analysis sections that on first glance don’t seem to have obvious “right” answers. Working with a tutor can answer some common questions:
- how do you interpret a passage of literature when you haven’t read the book?
- how do you write a strong essay under time pressure?
- how do you remember, let alone recognize, all those literary terms?
- how can you learn to think like the people who write these tests so that you get a good score?
- how do you not panic when you don’t know an answer on first glance? Hint: breathe.
Knowing deadlines, checking websites, lugging test-prep books and taking practice tests are all good, but getting one-on-one help from Open Minds on your specific questions, especially those your books can’t answer, will give you even more of an advantage — especially if you’ve delayed preparing until the last minute.
Take heart and remember — if you do it right the first time, you’ll never need to do it again!