Take a Practice Test Already

To set up this article, please consider a forum post from some fictitious wrestling forum:

The state wrestling tournament is 1 month away, and I want to win the 184-pound weight class. To lose enough weight to qualify for that weight class, I plan to limit my food intake to 2000 calories per day. In addition, I will attend wrestling practice every day. Will this be enough to win? Thanks, John.  

The answer to John’s question depends largely on his current conditions. For example, does John weigh 250 pounds or 190 pounds? Did he start wrestling last week, or has he been wrestling for years? And so on.

Now consider a type of post commonly found in various GRE forums.

I’m taking the GRE in 1 month, and I need a combined score of 320 to gain admission to my dream program. I’m planning to purchase the following books/videos/course, and I intend to study 2-4 hours each day. Is this enough? Thanks, Jan.

Jan's post is analogous to John’s post, because the answer here depends on Jan’s current conditions with regard to the GRE. For example, is she a native English speaker with proficient reading skills, or is English her second language? Likewise, does Jan have a PhD in Mathematics, or has she forgotten everything she learned in high school? And so on.  

As the title of this article suggests, the first step in developing a study plan is to take an inventory of your current GRE skills, and the best way to do this is to take an official practice test.

I advise all of my students to take a practice test within days of beginning their preparation, yet many are reluctant to take any kind of test so early on. These students typically voice their resistant in one (or both) of the following ways:

“I haven’t learned all of the material yet”

My response: Yeah, that’s how baseline tests work. 

“A low practice test score will undermine my confidence”

My response: Unless you have a remarkable history of mastering every activity (skiing, tennis, golf, guitar, piano, etc.) on your first attempt, you’re probably familiar with the less-than-perfect outcomes that most mortals experience at the beginning of ANY new endeavour. The GRE is no different, so get over yourself.  

There are 3 good reasons to take a practice test early in your studies:

1)     The test will give you a good taste of what you’ll be preparing for over the coming weeks/months.

2)     These will likely be your worst test scores, and as your subsequent practice test scores improve, your confidence will undoubtedly increase correspondingly.

3)     The results of this test will help you gauge the amount of work required to reach your target scores.

Let’s talk more about reason #3.

Upon taking a practice test early in their studies, some students will be pleasantly surprised to learn that they’re already scoring close to (or even above) their target scores, in which case they can modify their study plan accordingly. Great! Other practice-test-takers will realize that reaching their target score will require a LOT of work, and that’s also good. This kind of “wake-up call” early in your studies is much better than the alternative, which is taking a practice test at the end of your prep only to discover that much more work is needed.

So, if you’ve just begun your GRE journey, take a practice test today. You have much to gain and nothing to lose.    

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