My name is Nevin Varghese and I have been tutor for about 5 years now. I initially started out as an SAT tutor and then more recently transitioned to teaching the GRE. PowerScore gave me an opportunity to not only teach one-on-one lessons, but to continue to develop my teaching in larger classroom groups. I remember when I was studying for my own GRE—the stress that I was under as I worried about my exam, but also the various school applications I was completing. It was my prior experience as an SAT tutor that helped me study so efficiently. It gave me an arsenal of tricks and strategies which I found to be exceptionally helpful. Since teaching with PowerScore, I have picked up quite a few more.
I would like to share my favorite strategy for studying the notoriously complicated vocabulary words you are likely to come across on the GRE, but also in a variety of standardized tests. It is a technique I have personally used and recommended to my students; those who have tried it have responded positively. Essentially, what you’ll need to do is develop a set of individual “podcasts” which you can listen to and learn from.
- Download a voice recording app on your phone or other device. Before going to sleep, record a “podcast” of yourself with 5-10 vocab words, their definitions, and examples of how to use the words in sentences. You can get as creative as you want with the podcasts. When I studied, I would include word associations; for example, I would associate certain words with a personal life event or with people from my life to make it easier for me to relate to. You could also include root words or prefixes/suffixes.
- The next morning, listen to your podcast and pause as necessary to digest the words. The goal for the day is to incorporate those words throughout the day, whether that be in texts, conversations, emails, essays, etc. Make it your daily challenge and really force yourself to find the best ways to utilize your new vocabulary.
- At the end of the day, test yourself. Go over each word to see if you developed an understanding of their meanings and definitions. Review the words you missed.
- Before you go to sleep, make a new podcast with a new set of words and repeat the process.
- At the end of the week, go through the words you included in your podcasts throughout the week and see how many you can recall. Note all the words you cannot define and then use them for recordings the following week.
Doing this a few weeks or months before an exam can allow you to comfortably learn 30-70 words a week. I personally find that this method helps me retain the words more so than just sitting down and trying to memorize vocabulary. This method can also be paired with flash cards as needed if you find yourself to be more of a visual learner.
All in all, this technique requires very little time to learn effectively. You should allocate about 5-10 minutes to make the recording, the same amount of time to listen to it, 10-20 minutes spread throughout the day using the words, and another 5-10 minutes to review at the end of the day. Realistically, this studying this way only consumes 25-50 minutes of your day.
When you are studying, do so in comfort, but don’t get too distracted by that comfort. Put your phone away (when you’re not recording your podcast or listening to it) and make sure you are focused on the task at hand. I have found that ambient sounds help increase my focus. Rainycafe.com and “Lofi” beats on YouTube are some of my favorites to get me in the zone.
Once you get closer to the exam date, take practice tests a few times in approximately the same environment you will be in the day of the exam if possible. For the GRE, you will likely be in a cubicle farm environment situated in front of a computer—so try to simulate that. Use ear plugs or noise-cancelling headphones while doing practice tests, taking snack breaks as needed. Doing this will help you understand the general atmosphere of the exam you’re taking and can help you feel relaxed when you’re taking the real thing.
On the morning of the test, I would recommend eating a good breakfast even if you normally don’t. Exams are not unlike a marathon for your brain. It will consume a tremendous amount of energy during the exam, so give it what it needs!