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3 Common GRE Mistakes (and how to avoid them)

Everyone makes mistakes on the GRE. The trick is to manage your mistakes, and keep them to a minimum. Luckily, certain common mistakes are easy to avoid. The trick is to know what these mistakes are, and to train yourself to avoid using them before test day. You can learn to avoid these mistakes in all of your GRE prep: your math practice, your reading practice, and your writing practice.

3 Common Mistakes on the GRE (and how to avoid them)

by: David Recine


Common GRE mistake #1: Misusing your calculator

If you’re not a “math person,” you may be relieved to hear that you are permitted to use a calculator on the GRE. And even if you’re good at math, you may feel confident that the GRE calculator can boost your math performance even higher.

In reality, calculator use—or rather, calculator misuse—is possibly the most common cause of mistakes in GRE Quantitative Reasoning.

Calculators should be used with caution on the GRE. More often than not, it’s a mistake to use a calculator, because using a calculator causes you to think less. On a calculator it’s a lot easier to simply key in a wrong number or incorporate an incorrect step into your calculations than if you were to work them out by hand.

This is because solving GRE math problems on scratch paper is more likely to force you to think about the numbers and operations more carefully. And a reliance on mental math—both in your GRE math practice and on the exam—pushes you to find shortcuts that allow you to complete problems more quickly and simply.

Avoiding mistakes in calculator use is easy. During your GRE math practice, train yourself to use estimation and mental math whenever possible. Learn to use your calculator primarily to check your work, relying on it for problem solving only in rare, especially challenging cases.

Common mistake # 2: Reading passages completely before reading the questions

Moving on from GRE Quants to the GRE’s Verbal Reasoning section, let’s look at a very common Verbal mistake. Often, test-takers will read a GRE Reading Comprehension passage completely before they move on to the questions in the passage. This is a huge mistake for a number of reasons.

Reading an entire GRE passage before you even look at the questions is a mistake because the questions that follow a passage will not cover every aspect of the passage.

If you read the whole passage carefully and deeply beforehand, you risk focusing your time and attention on to a lot of details that won’t be important. This is a waste of time and can prove to be a potential distraction from the correct answers.

To focus on the correct parts of the passage, it’s better to treat the questions as a study guide for the passage. The subjects of the question set are a map of the important things you should be looking for in the reading.

The best approach is to quickly skim a passage for main ideas, then revisit the passage as you find the answers to the questions. In the case of shorter GRE passages, you may not need to look at the passage beforehand at all.

Sometimes the best approach is to look at the questions right away and then consult the passage for the answers.

Common mistake # 3: Doing Little or No Pre-Writing on the Analytical Writing Assessment

This is a big one. So many test-takers rush into the GRE AWA without doing enough pre-writing. Starting your essay immediately without any brainstorming, notes, or outlines may seem like a good way to save time.

But realistically, it’s almost impossible to meet the high demands of GRE essay writing without careful forethought and a good outline.

If you give into the urge to rush ahead without pre-writing or pre-writing too little, you’re running the risk of ending up with a disorganized, low-scoring essay.

Additionally, when writing without an outline you’re likely to repeatedly stop writing during this section to think about what you’ll say next. So you may actually complete your AWA response more slowly if you don’t prewrite.

To avoid this mistake, make sure you think about your ideas and jot them down in correct order before you begin to type your GRE essay. A well-thought out, clearly written outline allows you to “plug in” your ideas in logical order, so that your essay unfolds smoothly, naturally… and quickly.

Magoosh Free Test Tips IndiaAuthor Bio: David Recine is a test prep expert at Magoosh. He has a Bachelor of Social Work from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire and a Masters in Teaching English to Speakers of other Languages from the University of Wisconsin-River Falls. Read more GRE articles by Magoosh.

This article is part of CrystalConnect, an outreach initiative by MBA Crystal Ball.

Some more related reads for you.
How are GRE scores calculated?
How to Start Studying for the GRE
How to Improve Your GRE Verbal Scores
4 Frequent Misconceptions about GRE Quant

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1 thought on “3 Common GRE Mistakes (and how to avoid them)”

  1. Wonderful tips!
    I used to overuse the calculator a lot earlier, and realized over time that its use is warranted only in some special cases.
    One more tip coming from Magoosh that is insanely helpful IMO: it is a whole lot better to predict the word going into text completion and sentence equivalence questions. Low chances of error, and no waste of time overall.


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