Imagine you walk into a college class. When the professor walks in, they proceeded to tell you that if you hadn’t started reading your Biology textbook yet, then you were already behind. They go on to say that you all were currently failing the course. Everyone was starting with the same score—a big, fat 0—and it was up to you all to earn the score that we wanted.
Well, the GRE is like that professor. Everyone has the same exact score as they settle into their chair and click “start.” The score you leave with is up to you, and that score is determined in great part by your test-taking strategy.
According to www.gre.org, your score is based on the number of correct responses you make on the Verbal and Quantitative sections. What does that mean? Well, it means that you want to make as many correct responses as possible. In order to make as many correct responses as possible, you have to answer as many questions as possible. This, in turn, means that you must answer every question. Really.
“But, what if I don’t know the answer?” you ask. Pick one anyway! Take what you do know about the problem and eliminate as many answer choices as you can (even eliminating one will increase your odds of guessing correctly on a single-answer multiple choice question from 20% to 25%–or from 25% to 33% on Quantitative Comparison questions). Then, make a strategic guess among the answer choices that remain.
Leaving an answer blank is a guarantee that you will not be adding those points to your score. But choosing an answer—even an answer based on a strategic guess—increases your chances of earning as many points as possible on Test Day!
In order to answer every question, you need to have time to get to every question. On the Verbal section, you have an average of 1.5 minutes per question. On the Quantitative section, you have an average of 1.75 minutes per question. Time management is key.
You should “teach” your brain what a minute and a half feels like. When you exercise, do run/walk intervals at 1.5 minutes each or spend 1.5 minutes at each stop in your “circuit.” Brush your teeth for 1.5 minutes. Find a song that lasts 1.5 minutes and sing it often. Train your dog for 1.5 minutes at a time. Push your kid on the swing for 1.5 minutes. Keep a timer with you and give yourself 1.5 minutes on each practice problem that you work.
The point is to have a good understanding of what that period of time feels like so that you do not invest 2 or 3 or 4 minutes on problem after problem. There will be some questions that require more time from you. But, on average, you should be spending 1.5 minutes on Verbal questions and 1.75 minutes on Quantitative questions.
So, the take away: Everyone—everyone—walks into the GRE testing center with the exact same score. Your job is to work as hard as you can while you’re there, and to make an educated guess when you have to, so that you can answer every single question and leave with as many points as possible!