When I’m not teaching the GRE or writing this blog, I like riding my bicycle absurdly long distances. For the last five months, I’ve been training for one of the hardest bike races of my life: the 206-mile, 14-plus-hour Dirty Kanza. And now I want to share the best piece of advice I was given while training, because it applies to GRE test day just as much as it applies to bike racing.
A couple of months ago, I was lucky enough to get to chat with a woman who’s won Dirty Kanza a couple of times—including a win on her very first attempt. The conversation turned to the strategies she uses to succeed on race day. When she brought up visualization, I immediately assumed that I was supposed to visualize myself winning. If you want to overcome an obstacle, whether it’s a 200-mile bike race or the GRE, you should picture yourself overcoming it, right?
Maybe not. Instead of picturing myself succeeding, she invited me to picture myself failing. I was supposed to imagine rolling across the finish line hours late, having had a terrible race. “Now,” she said, “try to think of all of the excuses you might be making if you don’t do well.”
I imagined trying to explain that my back was bothering me, that my bike had gotten a flat tire, or that I had forgotten to bring enough water. Any number of things could send my race completely off the rails.
Each of those imaginary excuses, she explained, was actually something that I could fix right now, before race day. If I thought I might run out of water, I should start measuring how much water I needed during my training rides. If I was worried about back pain, I should start stretching and work on my posture on the bike. Almost anything that could put an end to my race could be prevented, if I started working on it before race day.
So, let me extend the same invitation to you. Imagine finishing the GRE, and getting a score that you’re really unhappy with. What excuses can you imagine making? Make a list on paper. For each excuse, there’s probably something you could do to help right now, before test day.
For instance, here’s one I often hear: “I didn’t have enough time to finish a section.” That doesn’t mean the GRE should have given you more time on test day. Running out of time isn’t something that happens to you—it’s a consequence of actions you take on and before test day. It means you didn’t guess enough, or you should have practiced your pencil-and-paper arithmetic, or you didn’t identify the problem types that take you the longest. There’s so much you can do prior to test day to avoid having to make this excuse!
Or, you might picture yourself saying, “I got really anxious during the test, and it threw me off.” A little anxiety might be unavoidable, but you can take steps now to ensure that it doesn’t derail your GRE. Read this article about anxious reappraisal and give it a try. Check out these tricks for staying calm during the GRE, and plan to use one or more of them on test day.
Something could happen during your GRE that you can’t predict. For all you know, a meteor might fall through the roof of the testing center! But it’s more likely that if you start thinking of the excuses you might make if you fail, you’ll come up with the situations that are most likely to cause you problems on test day. If those situations are unexpected, they could hurt your score. But if you anticipate them ahead of time, you can make sure they won’t cause you any problems.
What are you most worried about on test day? Feel free to share or offer your own advice in the comments.
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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.
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