It’s important to note that everyone has a different learning curve. I, for example, struggled the most with this portion of my graduate school application. Not only am I a terrible standardized test taker, but I also have a very week quantitative foundation.

When I had spinal surgery, I was home-schooled for my core math classes. With all of the medication I took and all of the discomfort I was in, my quantitative knowledge simply went out the window. Come college education, I hardly used any of the quantitative courses following freshmen year so I never really rekindled these skills. Aside from that, the GRE/GMAT is generally tricky regardless!

I performed extremely poor on the GMAT twice and I also took the GRE twice. I intended to apply to graduate school in 2015 but I decided against it because I was really unsatisfied with my score. Most PhD programs typically only accept 5 students (or less) out of hundreds of applications, which means that they are highly competitive. The GRE/GMAT score can sometimes make or break you. Honestly, I wanted to give up so many times but I didn’t. I felt so disappointed that it was taking me two years just to apply. I felt just plain stupid.

But let me tell you this: like any journey in life, this is not a sprint. This is a marathon. Personally, I believe one aspect these exams try to test you on is: perseverance. So, I took another year to study, retake exams, and strengthen other parts of my application. Guess what, I finally made it!

I may not be the best example, but I want to help as much as I can because I learned that having additional motivation, support, and resources from others who are cheering you on makes all the difference. So here are some tips and FREE resources I found useful for the GRE/GMAT. Please feel free to ask questions, like, share, #LivingThePhDream, and/or subscribe!


1. Should I take the GRE or the GMAT?
This will depend on the program you are applying to. Some schools accept both exams while others only accept a specific one. The GMAT is intended for business schools and used to be the primary requirement but I’ve heard that business schools are more accepting of the GRE. I took both and submitted my highest score from the GRE.

The quantitative section on the GMAT is more difficult than the quantitative section on the GRE but the verbal section on the GRE is more difficult than the verbal section on the GMAT. In conclusion, know your strengths! For more information, check out this link: GRE vs GMAT.

2. What’s my budget?
It’s no secret that these exams are expensive, so think about how many times you are willing to retake the exam and set your study goals with that in mind. Also, note that not only will these exams cost you a couple hundred dollars, but so can the study material.

Courses, in my opinion, are very helpful. Yet, courses are pricey… There are some schools and some developmental/recruiting programs that, if admitted, will pay for your courses! Refer to my blog: “Research? You mean like Google?” On that blog I list some programs that do so. But please–do not limit yourself to those. If you can find more online on your own that’s awesome! In terms of which courses, I used both Kaplan and The Princeton Review. Though both are good, I liked The Princeton Review better just because it broke down the material in smaller steps and it organized the material in a way that I personally understood better.

If you want a tutor it could go up to a grandI used a tutor for a short time but I was unsatisfied. My tutor (from Kaplan) was terrible and expensive. Of course, this may not be the case for everyone. Maybe I just didn’t work well with that tutor or with a tutor in general. Some tutors might simply be better than others. Anyhow, I should have done more research before hiring him. My friend used a tutor (not affiliated with Kaplan or Princeton Review) who was both cheaper and more effective. Do your due diligence!

3. What does my schedule look like?
It is easy to fall prey to procrastination. Let’s be real, we all have plenty of different responsibilities or interests that can make finding the time and energy to study difficult.Β The first year I studied, I worked a part-time job and went to school. The second year I studied, I worked 3 research projects and worked a part-time job. However, time does fly so it’s extremely important to keep a consistent but doable schedule that holds you accountable. Given that everyone’s priorities vary, there is no universal schedule to follow. However, do make a schedule that works for you and show up for it as you would for a job or a class! As a matter of fact, I used an excel spreadsheet a friend of mine gave me (I edited it a bit) and I clocked in and out everyday. Doing so measured exactly how long I actually studied and forced me to follow through. Here is an example of what my excel spread sheet looked like (tailor it to your needs as you wish):

Screen Shot 2017-05-01 at 11.19.32 PM


  • Big picture schedule: Everyday after work I studied for at least 2 hours and at most 5 hours. I reserved Saturdays for practice exams and Sundays to review the results. Yup, you’re definitely reading it right; I didn’t have a life. In fact, if I had to be out for a family engagement I brought my flashcards. I studied my flashcards in a house, I studied it with a mouse, I studied it in a box and with a fox, I studied my flashcards everywhere! Seriously, I studied it in line at Disneyland
  • Little picture schedule:
    • First, start by taking 1 practice test. You will score horribly and that’s okay. In fact, we all do bad the first time so don’t stress it! Do this merely to get a feel for the exam and analyze what subjects need more attention than others.
    • Next, follow your study plan. For the hours I blocked out from Monday to Friday, I chose at least 2 specific topics to focus on each day. I would read the chapter from the Manhattan Prep book and/or watch a video lesson, and then I ended with practice questions and/or quizzes.
    • Saturdays were strictly dedicated to taking practice tests followed by leisure time (We are human. We have to stay sane somehow). Taking practice tests helps to measure your progress. You’ll learn about your strengths and your weaknesses in addition to strengthening your mental endurance. After all, it’s a terribly long exam, and you hardly get a break! **Take an in-person practice exam at least once to experience the environment and get rid of anxieties. (This is free at Kaplan/Princeton Review/ETS).
    • On Sundays, I spent just as much time reviewing the test as I did taking it. I know that may sound silly, but a lot of the times we get questions right simply by guessing rather than using a reliable method.


I can’t emphasize this tip enough. I had no idea how important these three words would be until it finally hit me. For instance, on both exams, the quantitative section is not testing whether or not you know how to do math… It’s actually just testing you on whether or not you know what it’s asking you and whether or not you know the right trick to solve it. You’re probably thinking, “Um, how does that even make sense?!” Yeah, I know. Trust me. It took me forever to understand.Β  Yes, it’s still important to review basic math concepts, especially if you’ve forgotten them like I did, but you should spend a greater amount of time memorizing and learning the rules of this game! Seriously–there are rules. This is when the flashcards come into play. Beat the GMAT flashcards, for example,Β  have all the rules you need to memorize for the quantitative section of both exams. When I memorized these rules, I was solving problems in seconds (given that I first understood the real question they were asking).


Refer to my blog: “A Healthy Body is a Healthy Brain” for more details. Try to get at least a 30 minute workout every other day (if not every day). It’s totally fine to just go for a walk! Drink lots of water and eat healthy. You don’t want to get sick! After all, if your body isn’t functioning, how will you even make it to the exam in the first place? It’s not easy to juggle various responsibilities. Work and personal stress can be overwhelming, but try to find a way to stay sane! This is advice that I struggled with. It was a really tough time for me but perseverance, great friends, and learning to meditate doubled my score in just two weeks…


Remember that isolation can also slow you down. I found that having a study partner increased my motivation. In fact, it made studying fun! The first year, my best friend Liselle (even though she was studying something entirely different) would study with me every day at Starbucks. It was great having company and being able to laugh and vent with someone over a cup of coffee. The second year, I had a great partner that was actually studying the same exact exam, which made it even better. Teaching each other and sometimes challenging each other pushed us to work harder.

I hope this is helpful! Good luck and may the odds be ever in your favor!


FREE GRE Study Material:
The Manhattan Prep Flashcards
The Manhattan Prep Mobile App
Magoosh Vocabulary Flashcard App
Major Test Word List
Magoosh Common GRE words
Crunch Prep GRE Words
Quizlet Flashcards
GRE Vocabulary

FREE GRE Practice Tests:
Princeton Review
The Manhattan Prep
ETS PowerPrep

FREE GMAT Study Material:
Beat the GMAT Flashcards
The Manhattan Prep Mobile App

FREE GMAT Practice Tests:
Princeton Review
The Manhattan Prep
The Official Website of the GMAT


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