Davis: Hey everybody, this is GRE Bites. My name is Davis, and I’m an educator with over ten years of experience.
Orion: And I’m Orion, the founder of StellarGRE.
Davis: We’re here to bring you your weekly bite-sized episode on GRE prep and grad school admissions. Check out our top-rated GRE self-study program at stellargre.com. And don’t forget, you can use the code “BITES” for 10% off any membership.
Okay, so we’ve done an episode on accuracy versus efficiency, and we’ve done an episode on how to best improve your efficiency on the test. So I thought let’s do an episode on how to best improve your accuracy.
Orion: Makes sense.
Davis: I mean, how, what are some strategies for just getting the right answer?
Orion: Yeah, right. I mean, if you can’t get the right answer, everything is sort of like meaningless, you know. So, right. I mean, at the end of the day, you’re going to get the point. And if we don’t get the point, then all the time and effort that we’ve expended on that question is wasted, right? I mean, efficiency, right, is just being able to consistently get the right answer in a time-managed way. And we’ve talked about how to improve that. Well, efficiency is just moving through the question faster, independent of whether you get the question correct.
Orion: So accuracy is getting the question correct, independent of how long it takes you to answer the question.
Davis: Yes, that’s what we talked about in that episode back in the day, which is the pendulum of accuracy versus efficiency. The more efficient you are, the less accurate, and vice versa, in general, right. So we talked about the strategies for moving efficiently through; we’ve talked about different strategies, even recently, about diagnostic tools, about skipping offensively, defensively in the quant section.
Davis: So. But once you get into a problem, how do you get it right?
Orion: Yeah. So the reason why most students are inaccurate on a GRE problem is because they are time-traveling. Dun, dun, dun, they’re moving through time. You didn’t think that you could, but you do it all the time. So what do I mean by that?
What I mean is there is a gap between where the student is mentally, and what the student is doing behaviorally, there. And the easiest, most common example of this is that they’re thinking about the next step of the solution, while they’re still finishing the steps they’re currently on. This means that they are only maybe half a second into the future, psychologically, but they are still time-traveling. And it’s that gap between where their mind is at and what their hand is doing, what they’re doing behaviorally to solve the problem. That creates the possibility for carelessness to enter into the solution. When you are not giving your full, undivided attention to what you are doing right now, it is very easy for something very minor to change outside of your awareness. So the solution to time-traveling is sustained mindfulness.
Davis: Okay, so there are really like three steps to getting a top percentile score on the GRE: one, you have to get the question right. That’s actually the easy part. Two, you’ve got to get the question right in 90 seconds or less, as the efficiency bar.
Orion: Yeah, that’s tough, because a lot of these questions are designed to trip up students who are used to solving problems like math, like they were solving questions in math class in high school. And in many respects, it’s just not possible to solve this problem in 90 seconds using the strategies that your math teacher taught you. So this is where people like me come in, who are teaching students strategies and techniques to get to the solution faster. But even that’s not enough.
The third step is getting the question right, in 90 seconds or less, 100 of them in a row. That’s really, really hard. That requires a level of concentration that we just do not reinforce in our culture today. Even our movies and entertainment aren’t four hours long anymore.
Back in the day, people could sit and watch a four-hour movie; now, we don’t even have people who can do that. They can’t even be entertained for four hours straight. I mean, these YouTube, these GRE Bites are going to be on TikTok and whatever, 90 seconds or less. I wonder, do you think we’ll be TikTok famous one day?
Davis: Probably not.
Orion: No, me neither. I’m okay with that. But that’s my point. When’s the last time you, the listener, sat down and did one thing for four hours? It’s very, very hard. And, of course, if we break down this four-hour task, what we’re really getting at is that there are 100 questions in those four hours. Each one of these questions has several steps to it. So, the key to accuracy is being perfect on every step of every problem over four straight hours. The only way I know that is possible is through the practice of mindfulness, which means giving your full and undivided attention to the present moment.
The way that I liken this to students who are approaching this concept for the first time on the test is sort of like walking in such a way that you come to a full and complete stop with each step. Like, you take one step, and there’s a pause; you take another step, and then you pause; you take another step, and you pause. If you are not used to walking like this, it’s going to feel insufferably slow. Especially if you feel like you have someplace to be, you’re going to think, “I don’t have time for this,” you’re going to become subjectively impatient, you’re going to want to walk faster over time. And that is basically where people trip up. It’s very hard to trip if you’re walking the way that I just described.
And if you’re going for those top percentile scores, especially for the quantitative section, you have to understand that every step is an opportunity to trip, every step is an opportunity to take a misstep. You miss one point, you’re already down to 167. It’s brutal and unforgiving. And that means that if you just are time-traveling for half a second, somewhere over the course of that four-hour test, it doesn’t mean you absolutely will make a careless mistake, but it significantly increases the likelihood that you will. And so that’s really where the test kind of hands you your ass.
Davis: Yeah, so you’ve got accuracy, getting the thing right, that’s easy in a contained one-question, one-off. Efficiency, moving through them in the right time. And then this precision over four hours of continuing to hit the accuracy within the efficiency benchmark for a sustained period of time. So, in order to maintain that mindfulness, in order to maintain that presence of each step, stop, pause, because it’s not just because you could do that as an exercise slowly. Like, I can take a step, pause, really feel both feet on the ground, take a step, pause. But I have to do that at a rhythm in order to get through. Yeah, let’s go. So, what’s the strategy? I’ve heard you talk about, like, sub-audible vocalizations?
Orion: Yeah. So that’s an accuracy strategy, it is. One of the best ways to develop that rhythm is to solve GRE problems at the level of speech, as opposed to the level of thought. Thought is like lightning; it moves at the speed of light, it’s conducted through electrical impulse, which is unbelievably fast. The issue with thought is that because it’s so fast, it can very quickly become derailed. It’s very easy to take a wrong turn somewhere and end up in Albuquerque, as it were. So, and that’s a problem because often taking shortcuts is the long route to your destination if you’re not very confident about that path.
What I found is that solving the questions at the rate of speech is just a much more humane way to approach these problems. When I was teaching my live in-person class in San Francisco, I would give live demonstrations of full sets near the end of the course. And in that 30 minutes or 35 minutes, I would read all the questions out loud, explain my entire thought process verbally to the students, and present and still have time left over on the clock.
I absolutely know that you can read all of these in a calm, measured way, completely explicate your thought process in complete sentences and still have time left over to solve more problems. And that helps increase your accuracy because it slows down and minimizes those errors of time-traveling that you talked about. It can’t, for sure. It definitely wasn’t one reason.
There are many reasons why solving at the rate of speech is helpful; one of them is it creates a committee of senses to review your work. If you’re just using thought, you’re primarily relying on your eyes to take in information and to process your solution, and your sense of sight is actually the easiest one to deceive.
Davis: Thanks, everybody, for tuning in. We’ll be back next week with another bite-sized episode of GRE Bites. If you have a topic you’d like discussed on a future episode, let us know at email@example.com. And if you’re ready to take your prep to the next level, check out our top-rated GRE self-study program at stellargre.com. You can use the code “BITES” for 10% off all memberships there. Talk to you soon.