Having a GRE problem log is like having a budget: sort of a pain sometimes, but much smarter than the alternative. Skeptical? Check out this article first—then come back here when you’re ready to roll.
1. Choose a format that inspires you.
Are you a gel-pen-loving bullet-journal enthusiast? Or would you rather something plain but practical, like a nice Excel spreadsheet? Your GRE problem log won’t work at all if you don’t write in it or look at it. A GRE problem log can be in any format that lets you record information in an organized way.
2. Light, heavy, or in between?
Some of us are natural self-analyzers. Some of us would rather just skip straight to the action. It’s okay if your GRE problem log is very simple. An elaborate problem log is great too. What matters is that you choose something that won’t feel like a burden.
3. The world’s simplest GRE problem log…
At the heart of it, the point of a GRE problem log is to remember what you’ve learned and to help you learn in the future. There are all kinds of little ‘aha’ moments that come from doing GRE problems: keeping a problem log makes sure those moments are recorded rather than vanishing.
With that in mind, here’s the world’s simplest GRE problem log:
4. Not all takeaways are created equal.
The best takeaways are general. When you do a problem, you’re not going to see that same problem on your actual GRE. So, recording exactly how you did that specific problem is a waste of time. Your goal is to glean ideas from that problem that you could use on other problems.
The best takeaways remind you of not only what to do, but when to do it. Try to record not only which actions you took during a problem, but also how you knew what to do.
Here’s a problem from the 5 lb. Book of GRE Practice Problems:
If y≠0, what percent of y percent of 50 is 40 percent of y?
Here’s a quick solution:
- Since y isn’t part of the answer, choose a number for y. We’ll choose 100, so we can read the problem like this:
What percent of 100 percent of 50 is 40 percent of 100?
- Start by writing the equation as follows:
- Then, simplify the equation to solve for p:
And here are some great takeaways:
- If you see a variable percent (y%), but you aren’t solving for y, just choose 100 for y!
- Translate ‘what percent’ as ‘p/100’ and translate ‘of’ as multiplication
- If you see ‘100 percent’, you can just ignore it while doing math
- Complicated percent problems can be easier to solve with fractions, rather than decimals
5. ‘Do it again?’
You don’t have to redo every single problem, or even every problem you missed. The best problems to redo are the ones that were right at the edge of your ability level. Don’t bother with the ones that were ridiculously hard, or the ones that you missed for a silly reason (although you should still write those ‘silly reasons’ down.) Redo the ones that you know you could get right with just a bit more studying.
6. Taking it up a notch…
Here’s some more information you may want to include in your GRE problem log:
- What topic was the problem testing? This way, you can quickly skim your log to find all of the Algebra problems, or all of the Geometry problems, and so on.
- What answer did you pick? This is useful when you redo a problem: compare your answer now to the one you got originally.
- How long did it take? Log problems that take you a long time as well as the ones you got wrong. When you do them again, try to beat your previous time.
7. Take it up two notches.
You might not include this information for every single problem you do, but it can be useful for some problems!
- If you got it wrong: what type of error was it? I like to think in terms of conceptual errors (you didn’t know how to do something), process errors (you knew how to do it, but didn’t choose the right approach), and careless errors (you added 2 plus 3 and got 7).
- For Quantitative Comparison problems: what cases did you test? If you didn’t test cases… that may be a clue to why you missed the problem! What cases should you have tried?
- Were there any interesting trap answers or easy mistakes to make in the problem – regardless of whether you fell for them yourself? What would be the easiest ways to get this problem wrong?
- Is there a better or faster way to solve it – even if your approach worked?
8. Now what?
So, you’ve created this GRE problem log, and you’ve started filling it up with Quant problems. Now what? Twice per week, on the same days every week, read over your GRE problem log. On one of those two days, just reread it and look at your takeaways. On the other day, redo some or all of the problems you’ve decided to redo, and record whether you got them right this time. With time, you’ll find yourself thinking about lessons learned from old problems when you’re doing new ones—and that’s exactly what you need for test day.
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Chelsey Cooley is a Manhattan Prep instructor based in Seattle, Washington. Chelsey always followed her heart when it came to her education. Luckily, her heart led her straight to the perfect background for GMAT and GRE teaching: she has undergraduate degrees in mathematics and history, a master’s degree in linguistics, a 790 on the GMAT, and a perfect 170Q/170V on the GRE. Check out Chelsey’s upcoming GRE prep offerings here.