You will never feel ready: overcoming test hesitancy

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 And don’t forget, you can use the code “BITES” for 10% off any membership.

So, let’s get to it today. I’m a student; I’ve gone through whatever preparatory course I’m going to use to prepare myself for the GRE, and I’ve done it for two months. I’ve already scheduled my tests, and I’m lined up, but I don’t feel ready. What do I do with that feeling? Another way to phrase it is, is there ever a point at which your students, you’ve noticed, feel ready? Even if they’re signing up for a two-month course and they’re a month in? And they’re like, “Alright, I’m ready to go.” I mean, what is it? Do your students feel ready to take the test? Is feeling ready an accurate measure of when to jump in and take the test, or not?

Orion: Yeah, I would say that, in my experience, the vast majority of people do not feel ready to take this test. It might even be fair to say that no one truly feels ready to take the test. There will always be harder questions that you haven’t encountered; there’s always more prep that you can do. There’s always another example of carelessness that might need to be mitigated. It’s very difficult, especially for folks with perfectionistic tendencies, to feel adequately prepared for this test, mostly because they’re focusing on hopefully the diminishing part that they’re still not doing perfectly.

So, I’ve sometimes worked with folks, I hope this isn’t the case for you, listeners, but sometimes work with folks who have prepared for the test for years, plural, like more than one year. I worked with a woman who had taken the test 12 times before she reached out to me for tutoring. Twelve times. It was heartbreaking. And she just wasn’t getting the score she wanted; she was applying for a program that had a very hard threshold. She needed to score above a certain number, and she was one or two points shy, multiple times. And we worked together for a couple of months; she took the test for the 13th time – lucky 13. She got what she needed. She was ecstatic. It was a really good feeling to work with that woman. But in that case, she kept on with the prep because she wasn’t quite yet getting what she needed. The more common situation with folks is they procrastinate scheduling the tests because they’re still getting questions wrong.

One thing I’d like to suggest is that that could very well be a business model for certain GRE test prep companies. Most GRE test prep programs operate on, including my own, operate on a time-based membership, right, monthly, semiannually, or annually. And if you’re answering all the questions correctly, you’re going to feel like you don’t need their program anymore. And so what I’ve discovered, what I’ve seen in my own personal evaluation of some of these programs, is some programs inappropriately populate their practice tests, like completely, with devilishly hard problems. And even if you were to provoke the hardest second quant or verbal section, you will never provoke a section that is entirely composed of very difficult problems.

The fact that that sometimes occurs in test prep situations, I think, is in service of keeping students feeling slightly off-balance and insecure so that they continue to use their programs longer, to be honest.

Davis: Is StellarGRE different in that respect? Do you, as far as I remember from going through the course myself, only give realistically generated test questions in your sections? Is that right?

Orion: Yeah, I think that the StellarGRE program actually is different because, unlike most of the other programs out there, which let’s say have a, a, a question bank of hundreds or thousands of questions, and then their, quote, mock tests are randomly populated with questions of a certain difficulty. You can get into that situation in Stellar’s product. The mock tests are, well, they’re adaptive; they are static. So they are each section of every single test is balanced to have the correct proportion of easy, medium, and hard problems. So you will never encounter a section of the test that is entirely composed of devilishly hard problems, or also entirely composed of insultingly easy problems too. So it’s actually, in my opinion, more closely approximating what you will encounter on test day. But the fact of the matter is that most people will not feel ready, and that’s okay. Your feelings may not be an accurate guide to what you should do in this case.

Davis: So if you’re not feeling ready for the test, even taking one of your practice tests, which is dynamic, what is a good metric?

Orion: I mean, yes, there’s going to be the mental, emotional, yes, as you said, if you’re focusing on those areas, you’re continually focusing in your preparation on those areas, where you’re still making careless errors or still – I mean, vocab is its whole own beast, we’ll tackle in another episode. There’s always more to learn there and be more prepared there. But if the feeling of being ready or not is not a good metric by which to measure when to schedule, when you’re going to take the test.

Davis: What is a defined metric that you use in StellarGRE?

Orion: Sure, I think the best indication that a student is ready to sit for the exam is that he or she is performing at or around their target score consistently on more than one mock exam. Your target score, again, is the median score for successful applicants at your program of choice. And, you know, in the StellarGRE program, students receive a scaled score that mimics the scoring algorithm of the actual exam. So they should get realistic feedback as to their current level of performance. And I’m saying at or around because there’s something called the standard error of the measure, which basically accounts for unavoidable variability in minute differences in different versions of the test. And basically, what this means is that scores that are within that band should be treated as functionally equivalent, which on the quant section is basically one point. And with the verbal section is like a point and a half, which is – they don’t give half points.

So it’s like one or two points. Programs are actually not supposed to treat, say, a 165 and a 164, any differently because the standard error of a measure says there’s not enough significant difference between those two scores. Do you see? That’s why I say at or around, right? So if you’re scoring at or around your target score, you should be ready to move forward with the test. You will never feel ready. That’s okay. Courage is not the absence of fear. Courage is acting in the presence of fear. And that’s kind of what students need to do. My program is a little bit like a boot camp; we train our soldiers really hard and then drop them into the warzone. And the idea here is if they can rely on their training, if they can fall back instinctively on what they were trained to do, they might get out of there with their life. And with the score they want, yeah, even better.

Davis: Well, lots of good stuff here.

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 And if you’re ready to take your prep to the next level, check out our top-rated GRE self-study program at You can use the code “BITES” for 10% off all memberships there. Talk to you soon.

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