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Are Your GRE Prep Expectations Realistic?

June 4, 2015
Boris Dvorkin

Plan your GRE prep realistically.

Setting expectations means being your own boss.

Setting expectations, including those related to your GRE prep, is all a matter of perspective.

If you promise your boss that you’ll complete a project on Wednesday, for example, but don’t end up finishing it until Thursday, you probably shouldn’t expect a pay raise any time soon. If you say you’ll finish the project on Friday but deliver it on Thursday, however, your boss will think you’re amazing.

Don’t set your GRE prep expectations too high

In both of the above scenarios, you’re doing the exact same thing: finishing the project on Thursday. Yet the difference in expectation—a mere two-day difference, no less—will change your boss’s perception of you from slacker to hard worker.

Setting “expectations” may sound like some kind of meaningless corporate platitude—but expectations do matter, especially when it comes to your GRE prep. Equally intelligent, equally dedicated students can succeed wildly or fail horribly depending on the expectations they set before Test Day. Finding ways to appease your boss may seem completely irrelevant to the GRE, but it’s actually a fitting analogy: In test prep, you’re your own boss.

Anticipate Test Day like a boss

It’s June now. Let’s say that at the rate you’re studying for the GRE you’ll be able to hit your dream score some time in September. If you tell yourself you want to master the GRE by October, you’d be thrilled to achieve your target score in September. If you tell yourself you want to master the GRE by October, on the other hand, you’ll find yourself panicking if you haven’t hit the mark by then. Setting expectations without being realistic can prove self-destructive down the road, especially as Test Day approaches.

Planning your GRE prep is no different from meeting expectations at work, only the scale is months, not days. Since you’re both the employee and the boss, bad expectations can actually cause the project to fail. Students who set arbitrary, pointless deadlines for their own success begin to self-destruct upon seeing that those deadlines won’t be met—and to what end?

When you hold your graduate degree in your hands several years from now, will it make any difference whether you mastered some concepts in September or in October? Sure, it would be nice to finish the GRE sooner, but your top priority is to get a good score, not to get the GRE over with.

Focus on what counts

Setting expectations may seem perfectly obvious in theory, but it’s not how people tend to behave. We often hear GRE students expressing frustration, saying, “I should already know this.” We hear the anger, worry, and frustration welling up in students’ voices all the time.

The problem, of course, isn’t with not knowing the material already—it’s having misplaced or unrealistic expectations of yourself. What really matters is hitting the mark by Test Day. Get your expectations right, plan appropriately, and you’ll have an infinitely happier test prep experience.

Are you worried about setting expectations for your GRE prep? Get a free countdown to grad school checklist to help keep your graduate school application on track.



Boris Dvorkin Boris scored in the 99th percentile on the PSAT, was a National Merit finalist, and went on to earn two degrees from Case Western Reserve University. As a two-time Kaplan Teacher of the Year, Boris has helped many students achieve their goals and is known for his sense of humor in the classroom. When Boris isn’t helping students tackle tests, he loves playing strategy board games.


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