Students share tips on big exams

Graduate schools in the United States accepted only about 40 percent of all applications last year according to a 2014 report from the Council of Graduate Schools in Washington, D.C.

Most graduate school application processes require the GRE test, which stands for “graduate record examination.”

Erin Terrell, a senior studying Communication Sciences and Disorders, plans to take the test Friday. Terrell said she hopes to get her master’s degree in speech pathology.

 “It’s hard to feel prepared for such a major test, but I feel fairly confident going into it,” Terrell said. “After I finish my school work, I try to put in about one hour of studying every night. So far I have been studying vocabulary with flashcards, and have been taking practice tests out of a workbook for the last few months.”

Terrell said the most stressful part of studying for the test is trying to retain the wide variety of information the exam covers. She said she uses a study board, which helps her organize and summarize all the material, and that she chews the same flavor of gum every time she does homework or studies.

“I use Orbit sweet mint,” she said. “It’s just a quirky little way for me to calm down from the day and it helps me to just sit down and focus.”

It is not uncommon for students to adopt unique habits while preparing for important exams, since covering so much material can get overwhelming and monotonous at times. But for some, avoiding long hours of studying altogether can be their key to maintaining focus.

 “I never binge studied,” said Nicholus Cox, a senior electrical engineering major. “I don’t do well looking at books or watching videos for a long period of time, so I would solve five to eight problems at a time, walk away and do the dishes or something, then solve a few more.”

Cox, who recently took the four-hour GRE, said his most important piece of advice for others is to take the practice tests, which he said are nearly identical to the actual test. Practice exams are easily available and seem to be helpful, not only to students taking the GRE, but also the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT).

Maha Madi, a senior psychology major who took the MCAT in June, also said practice tests helped her most to prepare.

 “They put you in the test mindset and help you build up the stamina to take the exam,” Madi said.

The newly revised MCAT takes six hours to complete. She said she studied seven to eight hours a day to prepare for the big exam earlier this summer, and she, too, developed special tricks for studying and even rewarded herself for good behavior at times.

 “I never studied at home, so I became a regular at Starbucks and the Donut Whole, and I would sometimes treat myself to something when I went in there,” Madi said.

Tarak Sharma, a volunteer research worker for biology professor George Bousfield’s study, has a doctorate and more than 28 years of teaching experience in community colleges, universities and medical schools. During that time, he helped hundreds of students prepare for the MCAT. He said it is important to remember the MCAT tests critical thinking.

“If you want to take the MCAT, you have to strategize to obtain a higher score,” Sharma said. “If a student knows where he or she is lacking in terms of critical thinking, he or she can fix it and be successful. You have to be in it to win it.”