The official breaks on the GRE are often so neglected by test takers, that very few of them know exactly how to use breaks effectively.
On the test day, you will have the option to have two official breaks – one 1-minute break after the essay section, and one 10-minute break after 2 more sections.
A lot of students tend to overlook the break sessions on the GRE, but rest assured that learning how to effectively use breaks is as important as learning how to solve tough quant problems, or how to write an argument essay.
Why should you take a break?
It might seem very counterproductive to take a break, especially when you are doing a brilliant job on the test. Sure, when things are not going well for you, and when you are not able to get the questions right, you will definitely feel an urgent need for a break.
But what if you’re doing really well?
Should you still take a break?
Many test takers tend to neglect the break time, and go straight ahead to the next session. They think it is not a good idea to break the rhythm or the positive momentum that they are in. They feel that breaking this momentum will lead to stress or lowered enthusiasm, or even worse, unwanted distractions.
But, that is not the case at all. This strategy, even though it looks fair enough on the first look, can sometimes backfire.
Working for too long without a break, can cause increased levels of stress, dehydration, backache, and sometimes headaches. Since you are also constantly looking at the monitor for hours together, your eyes get strained and dried, causing irritation.
All these will in turn affect your performance on the test, which you should not allow in any case.
What to do and what not to do?
In order to avoid the situations discussed above, here are a few tips and guidelines that can help you:
1. Give your brain some rest
Never skip the break, under any circumstances. It can be a bad idea, because your brain will need some respite, considering how hectic the GRE can get.
Remember that the GRE can be very grueling to your brain, and it certainly demands a few minutes of respite. The brain is just like any other muscle in your body, and it cannot be overstressed for a long time.
So, always take the break, and go out of the testing room. Get some fresh air, visit the bathroom, and have some water.
2. Move out of the room
If you are not planning to skip the break, then you must not stay in your seat for whatever reason. According the rules, you should move out of the testing room only if you are taking the break.
So, if you think you can simply sit in your seat for ten minutes, the proctor will not be too happy about it. Sometimes when you do this, your break time may be forfeited by the proctor, and you will be asked to continue with the test.
3. Check the clock
According to the official rules, every testing center must have at least one clock in every room, in order to help students keep track of their break timings.
Since you are not allowed to bring along any clocks or watches, the wall clocks inside the room are your only bet. Which is why, it is compulsory for the test center to have them.
So, immediately after you enter the test center, check of clocks on the walls, and if there isn’t a clock in at least one of the rooms, let the proctors know immediately.
4. Don’t wander around
There are a couple of things test takers tend to do when it is time to take a break: one, they skip the break, like we already discussed.
But there’s another thing that test takers tend to do, which is spending more time than needed outside the testing area, and ending up wasting a few minutes of valuable test time.
You should be very careful about not wasting even one second of your time outside the testing area, since every second counts on a time-based test.
5.Technically 8 minutes
Even though the second scheduled break is 10 minutes long, you technically will have around 8 minutes of time to relax.
This is because when you are leaving your seat, and when entering the room again, you will be thoroughly checked by the proctor, and you will need to undergo a couple of formalities as well. This will surely eat away about a couple of minutes at the very least, so always keep in mind that the break is only for 8 minutes.
6. Eyes on the ticker
Even when you are in the lobby or in the locker room, always keep an eye on the clock, and make sure you are not exceeding the break time. It is always better to leave a minute earlier than to be late by one second.
So, keep an eye on the minute hand, and once you relax for seven to eight minutes, go back to your seat. Never go late, since the computer automatically moves to the next section after the scheduled 10 minutes, and the first question of the next section will be up. And you don’t want that to happen.
7. Special Medical Attention
If you think you would require special medical attention during the test, make sure you apply for the same at least six weeks prior to your test date. Those who need special medical attention qualify for additional break time, and more frequent breaks, depending on the condition that they have.
For more details on this, check ETS’ guidelines. You cannot apply to this if your test date is less than six weeks away, so be sure to register for the test at least two months before the test date you are aiming at.
8. Play your favorite song
No. NOT on your phone or iPod. Don’t even touch them.
If you have a favorite song that lightens your mood or makes you dance, play that song in your head. It will help you remove the clutter off your mind, after a couple of grueling sections on the GRE.
9. Don’t dig into the past
Don’t start thinking about the previous sections and how you have performed so far.
Don’t bother about that one question that you couldn’t do, or wasted too much time on.
What’s done is done, and you cannot do much about it now.
So, all you have to do is be happy about whatever you have done until then, and be totally positive about your performance, without thinking about the outcome.
Look forward to what’s next, instead of mulling over the past.
10. Don’t be anxious
When we say look forward to the next, do not overdo it.
Don’t start thinking too much about the remaining part of the test, or it will lead to test anxiety, which will be difficult to control.
This can happen when you know that the next section is the one which you don’t prefer much. But still, there is nothing you can do about it, except facing it.
So, try to stay as calm as you can.
11. Drive away negativity
If negative thoughts are trying to creep inside your mind, drive them away by thinking positively.
Think about your dream university, and imagine yourself studying there in a few months.
Imagine the happy faces of your friends and family when they hear you got a great GRE score, and you are going to a top university of your choice.
This will help you fill yourself with positive vibes. Never entertain negative thoughts at any cost.
12. Move your body
If you think you feel a bit cramped, try doing some light movements or walk around the test center for a few minutes. Sometimes it is possible to feel muscle cramps or a stiff back, especially after sitting for hours together in front of the computer, at very cold temperatures.
If you feel the need, do a little bit of aerobics to keep the blood flowing and to keep you warmed up. If you feel a bit sleepy or tired, visit the restroom and splash water on your face several times.
13. Do not talk
Try not talking to anyone inside the testing area, except if you have anything to ask the proctor. Otherwise, it is best to not talk to anyone, even if it is your best friend.
For one, you will get distracted by the random chat, or you might get more tensed when you discuss how it went.
Also, if the proctor sees that you are talking to random people inside the hall, you might not be allowed to sit for the test anymore.
So, avoid all that trouble by not talking to anyone. Talk to yourself instead, and give yourself a motivational speech, if need be.
What to have and what not to have?
It is not just what you do during the test that counts, but also what you eat. Of course, they say you are what you eat, and it certainly applies on the test day as well.
There are certain things that you need to consume during the break if you are looking to maximize your potential. And then, there are certain things you should definitely avoid at all costs.
We’ve illustrated it further below.
What to have?
These are some of the foods that you can eat and drink during the break, as they will certainly help you stay energized for longer. Since you are not allowed to go out of the test center during the test, make sure you pack all of these things at home, and take them along with you to the test center.
1. Have a caffeine rich drink
Caffeine is a really good friend of yours at times of crisis. It makes you feel awake and energized for a long time. Studies show that people remain awake and have enough energy to make it through at least 2-3 hours after drinking coffee or any caffeine rich drink.
Since you will have 2-3 more sections to go after the break session – which is around 1.5 hours – having a caffeine rich drink like black coffee, RedBull, or any other caffeine based energy drink, will do you a world of good, as it helps you get through those final minutes of the test, without feeling tired or sleepy.
2. Eat a fruit or two
Fruits are a very good source of energy and are also packed with essential carbohydrates that will give you instant energy boost. Have a couple of bananas or an apple or any citrus fruit, and it will keep you going.
3. Eat some chocolate
Ah! Everyone’s favorite. Chocolate, in addition to being delicious, is also a very good energizer. Eating a bar of chocolate – especially dark chocolate – helps you stay energized for longer, and also helps increase concentration levels.
So, bring along a few chocolate bars, or better yet, have a couple of snicker bars ready with you, so you can fill yourself with some delicious, energizing food, during the break.
4. Drink lots of water
If you cannot do any of the above, you still don’t have to worry. Have a few glasses of water, and you will feel instantly awake.
Keep yourself hydrated, since water is an important brain fuel, and helps you keep your concentration levels steady during a task as arduous as the GRE.
What not to have?
Basically everything else except what we discussed above. Avoid junk food completely, as it only makes you feel more lethargic and sleepy, which is not what you want during the last two crucial sessions.
Since these last sessions usually decide if you are getting a good score or a great score, it is best to make sure you feel very alive and energetic during that time.
Also, avoid foods rich in fat content, and also aerated soft drinks, etc., as they give you a sudden insulin spike, resulting in feeling tired very soon.
So, that is how you take advantage of breaks during the GRE, and gain advantage over others who mistake it as an unnecessary distraction. Go ahead, have a break, go back to your seat with your mind and body rejuvenated, and get those extra points to boost your overall score.