We all know that practice makes you perfect, but it is not just the practice that counts. You cannot simply take twenty practice tests and expect to get a fantastic score on the GRE, unless you do one thing: assessment. Yes, you read it right. Just taking a few practice tests won’t help you improve all that much. But if you can use the data you get at the end of the test, check your result, and use that to review and analyze your performance thoroughly, that is when you will improve your performance.
you cannot simply take twenty practice tests and expect to get a fantastic score on the GRE.
But how do you exactly go about it? How do you know what steps you need to take in order to analyze performance effectively? Now, that is where we come in. In this article, we will discuss how you can assess your strengths and weaknesses, based on your performance on practice tests. This assessment is without a doubt the single most important part of your prep, and is also the most neglected by a majority of students, so you need to pay maximum attention to assessing yourself if you want to achieve your dream score on the GRE.
When you are reviewing your performance on a practice test, you will come across two main types of data: Firstly, you will come across statistics that will give you information on question difficulty level, time management, your strike rate (number of questions correct), type of questions, etc. On the other hand, you will also have the overview of the performance, wherein you will get a thorough, analytical review of the specific questions that you got wrong on the test.
Why Understanding Your Strengths and Weaknesses is Important?
The first step to study for the GRE is introspection, i.e., to look into yourself, and understand what your current strengths and weaknesses are. This introspection offers a great starting point for your study plan. You can do this by analyzing your performance. For example, you may be very strong at arithmetic and geometry, while you frequently go wrong in probability, and reading comprehension. If you know at least this much, about yourself, you are off to a great start!
Another significant aspect of your test performance is accuracy. You may think that you are strong at arithmetic, but how often are you making mistakes in arithmetic? Out of 10 questions in arithmetic, how many are you getting right on a consistent basis? This is called accuracy, and it is a vital component of your performance analysis.
But uh oh! The bad news is you don’t know yourself inside out. You don’t know what you are already good at, and what you are not good at. And you certainly don’t know how accurate you are in each and every topic that the GRE tests you on. And that is why you will need the help of a diagnostic test.
Step 1: Take a GRE style practice test
You might agree that there’s no better way to quantify the data than to test yourself. You may think that you are good at word problems, for example, but unless you take a test and see how you do, you will never know for sure if word problems are really your thing or not.
Take the CrunchPrep practice test right now. Now, you may ask me why you should take CrunchPrep’s diagnostic test when you already have PowerPrep (the official ETS practice test) with you.
Now, although you have PowerPrep, you should save it for the end. Plus you don’t get any statistics or reports at the end of the test. That is why, you should the CrunchPrep test first, because it provides a comprehensive report at the end of the test. It gives you a question-wise breakup along with detailed solutions, the average time you took to answer each question, and the percentage of right answers from the questions on each topic. This helps you identify your weak areas.
One critical point you should remember here is, make sure your practice test simulates the actual test environment, meaning you should not do things like listening to music, taking long breaks between sections, talking to people, etc. during the test.
Take the test in isolation without any distractions. The closer the environment is to the actual test, the more accurate the results would be. So, shut the door, switch off your mobile, tell your friends or parents to not disturb you for the next few hours, and then take the test with a complete peace of mind.
Once you are done with the test, analyze your performance on the test, and using this data, analyze your strengths, and weaknesses, and how you can improve your performance.
Step 2: Analyze your performance
This is the most important part of the whole process. It is this analysis that tells you what and why you couldn’t solve during the test. Now to analyze your performance on a practice test, there are a few parameters to consider in order to make your performance analysis robust. We will be discussing each of these parameters in detail, along with why they are really important to be considered.
1. Have you cheated?
The first parameter that you should be looking at is whether your score is all natural, or have you cheated anywhere. Wait, don’t get offended already. By cheating, we mean, you should check if you have done the following things:
If you have done any one of the aforementioned things during the test, then it means that you haven’t done it 100% right. Which is why your score could be slightly inflated. So, for instance if you got a score of 315, and if you have done one or more of these things, then your actual score could be anywhere between 305 and 310. Could be less, could be more. But you cannot say for sure.
And that is why you should not cheat during a practice test. If you want to receive an accurate analysis of your performance, then you should also accurately follow the guidelines or rules that you would do on test day.
2. How many right and how many wrong?
Once you’re done with the preliminary checkup, move on to the performance review section on the test that you’ve taken. It usually comes up after you choose to finish or end the test. Now, in this section, check how many questions you were able to get right, and how many wrong. Also, while doing this, check to see how many questions you have answered wrong in a straight row. If you have answered wrong to more than five or six questions in a row, then you should take it very seriously, and dig out the reason why it happened so.
Sometimes it may be possible that you have only one minute to go and six or seven questions left. During such situations, it is normal for test takers to select a random answer choice and hope it would be right, rather than reading the questions and answering logically. If this was the case for you, then you have trouble with time management, which we will talk about later.
3. Silly mistakes or logical errors?
First up, we will concentrate on the questions you couldn’t get right. Get down to the reason why you couldn’t answer them. Did you make a silly calculation error, or did you carelessly choose some other option due to stress, or did you really think it was the right answer? Have a closer look at each of the wrong answers, and ask yourself these three questions. Depending on your answers to these questions, you can figure out if you should change the way you study, or change the way you take the test. If most of the mistakes are silly in nature, then you should really up your game, and take the tests more seriously, without giving any room for careless calculation mistakes or human errors.
4. Easy or hard questions?
If however your mistakes are mostly logical in nature, then you ask yourself one more question. Are those questions that you couldn’t answer, easy or hard? Most tests also show the difficulty level of a question, next to your answer, during performance analysis. So, that you help you figure out what the matter is with you. If you couldn’t answer many easy questions, it clearly shows that you are way underprepared to take a test, and if your test date is fast approaching, maybe you should consider postponing it. Do that, and start hitting the books again, right from the basics. That should help you improve once again.
However, should you see that most of the incorrect answers were to hard level questions, then you don’t have to worry too much, unless, you are aiming for a really high score. It is normally not so easy to get these questions right, and you can certainly improve through practice, which you should be doing anyway.
5. Have you spent too much time?
Another very important statistic that you should pay attention to, is how much time you are spending on average per question. Remember that your target must be around 100 seconds per question, which is 1 minute and 40 seconds. If you are exceed that limit, you risk wasting time on a single question, and eventually ending up with questions left unsolved.
So, it is important that you gauge how long you are spending on every question. It would be easy for you to evaluate if you can make a grid like the one below.
< 1 minute
< 2 minutes
< 3 minutes
> 3 minutes
This grid will help you see how you fare against the clock, and will also tell you whether you are spending too much time and still going wrong, or whether you are going too fast and hence going wrong. If you are looking to score really high on the GRE, we would recommend that you do this grid analysis every single time you take a practice test.
Note: Make two separate grids for math and verbal. Do not mix them up, since it will then be difficult for you to understand where exactly you are lagging behind.
6. How did you end the section?
You should also ideally look at how you ended a section, with respect to time. Check whether you have finished the section with either time left, or questions left. If you have finished it with time left, then you should probably go a bit slower, since you don’t want to rush in too quickly and make silly errors. On the other hand, if you have finished with questions left, then maybe you should speed up by a notch.
Another way to look at this, is to look at how much time you have spent on the last five to ten problems in the section. If you have eased into the last few problems, it means that you had lots of time to spare, and you should hence take it a bit slow. If you rushed through the last five or six problems, it is an indication that you are going too slow. This analysis will help you adjust your pace, and help with time management.
7. Which topics do you hate the most?
So, once you are done with the grid and have filled out all the cells, focus on the questions where you went wrong. This is a slightly complicated part, so spare some time on it. First of all, look at the Easy Wrong column. See how much time you are taking to solve the easy ones and are still going wrong. This will really help you gauge your test taking strategy.
For instance, if you are taking less than one minute to solve an easy question, but you still got it wrong, maybe it has something to do with carelessness or overconfidence. But if you took a lot of time and got it wrong, then maybe you aren’t very confident about that particular topic, and maybe you should give it another revision.
Similarly, go through the medium and hard sections as well, and figure out what’s going wrong. You cannot simply skip this part. Try to be a little nerdy, and go through all the statistics, and figure out an answering strategy for the next practice test.
8. Where can you improve further?
Now that you have finished the part where you went wrong, shift your focus to the questions you could solve correctly. Why? Because doing a question right isn’t a big deal, but doing a question right within the specified time limit is. So, doing this is help you make sure you are not wasting time anywhere.
Repeat the same process as discussed in the previous point, and see how many questions you have solved correctly, but took too much time to do so. For instance, if you did a question on algebra right, but took 4 minutes, that is not at all good for you. It will help you realize that you have a problem with algebra, perhaps with formulae or shortcuts, which you can easily cater to during prep time.
In the end, doing this bit of exercise will help you improve further on topics where you are already getting stuff right. And that means, you’ll have more time left for those hard-to-crack questions.
9. How are you doing overall?
Now that you are done with it all, go and check the overall performance report. Check your overall score, math score, and verbal score, and see how far you have come along, and how much further you need to go, in order to reach your goal. Check the percentage of answers you got right, and also check the average time taken per question. Make a note of all these statistics (preferably in an excel sheet) and keep track of your progress.
With that you finish the analysis part. So is that all? Well, not quite.
Phew! That was some work, wasn’t it? But it does not end here. So far, you have only figured out the what. You still need to figure out the why, which is a more important question. You know where you are going wrong or right, and where you are spending more and less time. But do you know exactly why? No, you don’t. And that is what we’re going to figure out next.
After you are done with all that we’ve discussed so far, you will end up with a list of questions that you can divide into different groups. We have discussed below each of the groups, and what they mean to you.
Group 1: Strengths
Those answers that you could solve right within 100 seconds, can be considered as your strengths. You may not have to spend too much time studying these topics again, since it is pretty much clear that you can solve them easily.
But then, you shouldn’t simply neglect your strengths, but instead, you should spend a little time figuring out how you can improve even further. For that, you need to understand a few things. Did you use the right method to arrive at the answer? Did you use a shortcut? Or did you just plug the answer options to see which one fits? If you have not used the correct method to arrive at the answer, then you must probably revise the concept once or twice.
Also, check to see how accurate you are, in a particular topic – say, geometry. If you are able to answer 8 or 9 out of 10 questions, then that means you are doing pretty great. Otherwise, find out why you are not able to do so. Try to see if there are any other ways to do the problem better and faster.
Group 2: Misunderstood Questions
These are the questions that you could finish within 100 seconds, but you eventually got them wrong. This could have happened due to several reasons, but the most probable reason could be a misunderstanding. Maybe you read the questions hastily, or maybe you assumed something else by mistake. But this kind of questions are rarely a problem with understanding the concept, and has to do more with understanding the question properly.
You could avoid such mistakes by being more vigilant and cautious while reading the question, and also while solving the question, in order to avoid calculation errors. But then, if you realize that this may have happened because you aren’t very strong in the concepts, try to revise the basics once again. Don’t be so hard on yourself every time you get an error. Sometimes it can happen if you get a really hard question on the test. So, make sure you check the difficulty level as well, before coming to a conclusion.
Group 3: Careless Errors
These are the type of questions you spent less than 60 seconds to solve, and still got wrong. This shows that you have solved those questions hastily, and hence ended up making several careless mistakes. This is a very important group of questions, since it is here where you are losing unnecessary points; points which you could have easily scored had you been a bit more careful. This group can sometimes make a difference of 5-6 points, which is not a small amount, because if you are especially aiming to attend a good grad school, these points may decide if you’re getting a scholarship, for instance.
So, don’t be hasty while solving questions. The only reason you can get away with getting a problem wrong too quickly is when you see a really hard question that you cannot solve, and hence decided to make a guess and move on. But, if you mistakenly thought it was easy, solved it faster, and then made a careless mistake, you should probably revise your answering strategy.
Group 4: Poor Time Management
These are questions you could get right, but took may too much time than you were supposed to. This definitely is an indication that you are not good at managing your test time efficiently.
These can still be considered weaknesses even though you got them right. It only means you have struggled with the concept or the method, or the calculation, which contributed to the additional time to solve the question. But the damage is not limited to that one question, because we are dealing with time here. These questions silently eat away your valuable time, and it will eventually cost you points you could have scored elsewhere on the test.
If you have spent a lot of time on one or two questions, then that’s totally fine. But if you see that it has become a regular pattern on one or more of your practice tests, then you should take it more seriously, and understand that you have a problem managing time properly. To avoid this, you should always have a timer or a stopwatch with you, even if you are not taking a test, but just practicing a few questions. Always have a 100 second deadline whenever you try to solve a question, and this will help you get into that urgency mode.
Group 5: Weaknesses
These are the questions that you too way too much time – possible more than 2-3 minutes – and still ended up getting them wrong. This can only mean one thing: they are your biggest weaknesses.
Figure out what are the topics and questions that are really slowing you down during the test. Consider them as your biggest weaknesses, and make it a point to attack them right from the start. Start hitting the books and study right from the very basics, to the advanced strategies, and do lots and lots of practice questions. Fail faster, get them wrong faster, analyze where you are going wrong, and find more efficient ways to solve such questions. Do what you need to do to get better. Use an error log to make a note of all your mistakes, and the possible reasons, and keep track of them every day.
You should also practice making educated guesses when it comes to solving questions like these. But if all else fails, you should at least get them wrong faster, so you at least have some time left for other questions.
Group 6: Double-edged Swords
These are the questions that you could answer correctly in less than 60 seconds. Now, even though this might sound pretty nice, it actually can backfire sometimes, if you are not vigilant enough. Usually, you get answers right within the first one minute, if either the question is really easy, or if the question is medium or hard, but you are really good at that particular concept. If it is the latter, then it is probably fine. But if it the former case, then you should not be too excited about it. If it was an easy question, anyone could have solved in under a minute.
But, you also need to check if you got lucky, because often times, it is possible that make a random guess, and you get it right. Remember that you may not be that lucky every single time, and if the test day isn’t your day, then luck may not favor you all the time. So, always be careful with such easy-appearing questions, since they can always backfire. It is hence always recommended to take 90-100 seconds to solve a question, particularly if it isn’t from the very easy category.
So, those are the six major groups of questions that you will come across during performance review. Now, hold on! What do you do with all the data that you have right now?
Now, using all the data that you have managed to collect, you must create a study plan for yourself. Why?
Most students study very hard and still don’t end up getting scores they wanted. This is because, nowhere on the internet will you find a study plan that is tailor made exactly for you. There are basic study plans that are generic in nature, but since every student has different targets and learning speeds, it is important to have a personal, customized study plan that caters to your needs.
That is why, we created a 30-day study plan, which you can customize depending on how many topics you need to master, how much time you have to prepare for the test, and more importantly, your target score. But remember to be realistic while setting yourself a target score. Be sure to check out the study plan right away!
So, that is how you review you performance on practice tests. It is quite a tedious process, but it is worth it in the end. If you need a competitive score on the GRE, you will have to do a comprehensive analysis of your performance, giving each and every aspect of you prep your utmost attention. But, some test takers might argue that it is too much for them to handle. Of course, they’re right. Your ultimate goal is to study harder and score better, not to scratch your heads figuring out data, measuring performances, and updating excel sheets. Who would want to do that? Seriously.
But you have no choice. Or do you? Of course, you have a choice. There is always a choice.
If you think all this is too much to handle, you can sign up for an online prep course, like CrunchPrep. We have state-of-the-art performance analysis mechanism that is dynamic, and constantly adapts to your performance on the app. It automatically generates reports, gives you robust statistics on a wide range of metrics, allows you to compare performances, and also gives you a predicted final score on test day. This will save you from going through all the trouble. CrunchPrep does all the hard work for you, so you can focus on what you do best: studying.
So, sign up right now, take a free diagnostic test, analyze your performance on our powerful system, and see it for yourself.