GRE Anxiety: How to Fight It — The Admit Lab

Philippe Barr, PhD
6 min readApr 5, 2023

If you’re feeling overwhelmed while preparing for the GRE, you’re not alone-GRE anxiety is a common experience among students entering grad school. But don’t be discouraged! You can make progress and reach your goals despite any anxieties or fears holding you back with proper GRE test anxiety help.

In this post, we’ll provide some tips for managing GRE test anxiety so that you’re fully equipped to tackle the exam with confidence and poise. Read on to see how taking control of your emotions and studying smartly can help set yourself up for success!

How can you tell if you have GRE Anxiety?

To learn how to overcome GRE test anxiety, it is important to first learn how to recognize signs of anxiety. If you find yourself reading the same question repeatedly or struggling to recall easy information, these may be signs of test anxiety.

Anxiety affects people differently. Some high-achievers consider it as a stimulant to perform better rather than a hindrance. Instead of blocking their performance, anxiety provides the push they need to excel.

Let’s explore some effective ways to overcome test anxiety and enhance your performance on the test day to improve your scores.

Tips to Manage Your GRE Anxiety

Here are some helpful tips to prevent stress and anxiety during your GRE exam day. You can start implementing these techniques today to alleviate stress. Furthermore, there are several effective methods you can use during the test to help you remain relaxed and collected.

Get your mind right through positive psychology

Research shows that having a positive mindset can increase the likelihood of achieving one’s goals. To cultivate a positive mindset, focus your thoughts on optimistic outcomes and use positive affirmations such as “I am capable” or “I am deserving”.

View the test as a choice and not an obligation

Your attitude towards taking a test can greatly impact your mood. Instead of seeing the test as something you have to do, see it as a step closer to achieving your goal of getting into a top grad program. This simple shift in mindset can give you the energy boost you need to approach the test with confidence and positivity.

Sleep tight

Inadequate sleep can hinder test takers from performing their best on test day. It is recommended to aim for 7–8 hours of sleep daily and avoid staying up all night, even if you prefer staying awake at night. Make sure to get enough sleep the day after pulling an all-nighter. Additionally, it’s crucial to get eight to nine hours of sleep each night during the week leading up to your exam to avoid feeling tired or sleep-deprived during the test.

Make the test your friend

Always make sure you understand a game before playing it. Similarly, it’s important to be familiar with all the details about an exam, such as its format, number of questions, and time limit. Check these things in advance to be fully prepared. Knowing these two is crucial for creating a comprehensive study plan and practicing effectively at home.

Practice, practice, practice

Although practice does not guarantee perfection, it can significantly improve your confidence. Achieving high scores on practice tests can boost your confidence level. To prepare yourself, take multiple practice exams before the actual test, and ensure that you time yourself to determine if you can complete the test within the given time.

Learn from your mistakes

To reduce the stress of exams and avoid repeating mistakes, analyze the errors you frequently make. This will help you prepare mentally and be more conscious during the test. Examine your performance on practice tests and identify where you often make mistakes. Identify your weak areas and typical errors resulting from carelessness.

Focus on yourself, not others

Remember that when it comes to this battle, everyone is fighting their own unique struggle. Avoid comparing your test scores with those of your friends or peers who are taking the same exam. Keep in mind that this is your personal journey. It’s best to avoid peer pressure because it can cause anxiety. Keep in mind that the percentiles for the GRE exam change every day since it’s based on a percentile ranking.

Be realistic

It’s important to realize that being a perfectionist may not always be helpful. You should accept that you may not be able to solve every question on a test, especially if they are difficult and time is limited. That’s okay and normal. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself for not being able to solve difficult problems. It’s common to struggle with problems you haven’t practiced before.

Take notes

Effectively using scratch paper during any exam, especially the GRE, is crucial. Whenever you come across a difficult question take concise notes on scratch paper. Note important information or words when reading the question. Using scratch paper will help you understand the question and prevent misunderstandings. This will make you feel more relaxed during the test.

Don’t waste your time on specific questions

Spending too much time on a specific question during the GRE test can cause anxiety due to limited time and numerous remaining questions. It is recommended to skip difficult questions and mark them for later review. After completing the easier questions in a section, you can revisit the tougher ones later. This is because your confidence will have grown and you won’t feel as anxious by then.

Review your answers

It is important to double-check your answers to ensure accuracy. Anxiety can sometimes cause errors, even if you believe you made the correct choice. After completing the section, take a few minutes to review every answer you have selected.

Reread your essays

After writing your AWA essays, it’s important to proofread them rather than solely focusing on adding more sentences. It is important to keep in mind that a concise and well-crafted essay will receive a higher score than a long but flawed essay.

Take your time

When you rush to finish a test quickly, you might leave the test center too soon and make mistakes as a result. To perform well on the exam, it’s important to remain at the test center for the full duration without being distracted by other test-takers who may leave early.

In conclusion

When it comes to taking the GRE test, anxiety can be a major factor. But by leveraging the tips we suggested in this post, you can take control of your emotions and set yourself up for success! With thoughtful preparation and mental resilience, the challenge of the GRE isn’t as daunting as it might seem. Don’t forget to practice mindfulness strategies as well; they are an invaluable tool to use to help combat stress and anxiety associated with studying for the test. Ultimately, it’s all about doing your best! You don’t have to go through the graduate school application process alone either-reaching out for guidance means that you’re one step closer to achieving your goals! Sign up for a free admissions consultation to discuss your grad school plans and any concerns you might have -we’re here to help!

With a Master’s from McGill University and a Ph.D. from New York University, Philippe Barr is the founder of The Admit Lab. As a tenure-track professor, Philippe spent a decade teaching and serving on several graduate admission committees at UNC-Chapel Hill before turning to full-time consulting. With more than seven years of experience as a graduate school admissions consultant, Philippe has stewarded the candidate journey across multiple master’s and Ph.D. programs and helped hundreds of students get admitted to top-tier graduate programs all over the world.

Originally published at https://admit-lab.com on April 5, 2023.

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Philippe Barr, PhD

I am Philippe Barr, founder of The Admit Lab, a graduate school admissions consultancy that helps students get admitted into grad school: https://admit-lab.com/