Category Archives: GRE

You study TOO MUCH…


…at least when it comes to reviewing info you want to recall, like your class notes on the Kreb Cycle or the Quadratic Formula. If you catch yourself going over the same notes again and again, trying to wedge it into your gray matter, there is a better way. Oodles (no, really, OOODLES) of good research to show that mnemonics (memory strategies) can increase your recall. That means less review for you (see this article for a run down of the research).

And using mnemonic techniques doesn’t require that you have thick glasses, a lack of fashion sense, and a passion for Star Trek: The Next Generation. In fact, the article linked above begins with an account of how mnemonics were used to beef up recall among Continue reading You study TOO MUCH…

Vocabulary Builder: Ersatz


Long Definition:

er·satz      [er-zahts, -sahts, er-zahts, sahts] Pronunciation Key Show IPA Pronunciation


1. serving as a substitute; synthetic; artificial: an ersatz coffee made from grain.


2. an artificial substance or article used to replace something natural or genuine; a substitute.

[Origin: 1870–75; < G Ersatz a substitute (deriv. of ersetzen to replace) ] Unabridged (v 1.1)
Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2006.

Short Definition: Substitute

Did you know you can use plain unsweetened yogurt as an ersatz sour cream?
We gaving the whining puppy an ersatz mother by wrapping a ticking alarm clock in a warm blanket.

Mnemonic (you'll remember it better if you come up with your own):
Ear zits.  Yesterday I woke up and my ears were covered with huge painful zits.  I pulled out my Halloween costume and used the big fake plastic ears from my dwarf costume to cover up my own ears.  I wore those ears as substitutes.

Flash Cards for Vocabulary Memorization


flash cards for memoryFlash Card Do’s

  • Do use flashcards in three different colors. Positive words–such as benign , sagacious, and staunch–could go on green, blue, or mauve 3×5 cards. Negative words–such as mendacious , stultify, and malevolent–might go on red, yellow, or puce 3×5 cards. Neutral words–like rebuttal , soporific, and nominal–could go on white, tan, or taupe cards. The colors don’t really matter as long as you are consistent. If you do choose to use mauve, puce, and taupe, I would diagnose you as excessively high-falutin’ and respectfully recommend a monster truck rally and two full episodes of Family Guy.
  • Do carry the cards around with you and review them whenever you have a chance; at the stoplight, before class, waiting on your girlfriend, in the line at the grocery store or the bank, waiting on your girlfriend, on long trips, walking across campus, or even while waiting on your girlfriend. Note to the fair sex; I mean no offense, but I’ve never had a boyfriend, and so I’ve never had to wait on one. I’m quite aware of the fact that the inferior must wait on the superior. Peons wait on princesses (princessi?) and not vice-versa.

Flash Card Don’ts

  • Don’t put too much on any one card. The purpose of using 3×5 cards is not to perfect your microfiche-ian penmanship. Go for the word on one side of the card and a short two or three word definition on the other side. For example, you might have the word “mephitic” on one side and the definition “stinky” on the other. The biggest mistake people make–besides posting their drunk pics on facebook–is putting too much information on a single flash card. One card equals one fact.
  • Don’t recall only the short definition!!! Before boiling it down to a short two or three word definition, you must look up the full definition of the word, making sure you completely understand it and can use it in a sentence. The short definition will act as a handle on the memory of the longer definition, but only if you learned the long definition first.
  • Don’t fail to review the flash cards on a regular basis. Make reviewing the cards a daily habit just like brushing your teeth, taking a shower, or waiting on your girlfriend (hand and foot … because she’s a princess).
© Cody Blair, All Rights Reserved.

Vocabulary Builder: Abeyance


One of the best ways to raise your score on the GRE and SAT verbal sections is to increase your vocabulary.  So get out your flash cards and add this to your personal panoply.  I’ll also use words like panoply, that you might see on the GRE or SAT.  Go look up words you don’t know at a site like and add them to your flashcards.

a·bey·ance [uhbeyuh ns] Pronunciation Key Show IPA Pronunciation


1. temporary inactivity, cessation, or suspension: Let’s hold that problem in abeyance for a while.
2. Law. a state or condition of real property in which title is not as yet vested in a known titleholder: an estate in abeyance.

[Origin: 1520–30; < AF; OF abeance aspiration, lit., a gaping at or toward. See a-5, bay2, -ance]
1. remission, deferral. Unabridged (v 1.1)
Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2006.

I’ve seen this word used on the GRE and SAT mainly with the first definition above.  So you can hold in abeyance the studying of the second definition until further notice.

You can see that it’s often used in the phrase “hold in abeyance.”

Short Definition: Suspension

Sample mnemonic (as always, you can use my mnemonic, but you’ll remember it better if you develop your own):
Abe AntsAbe Lincoln is stopping traffic on a suspension bridge (holding it in abeyance) because giant, red ants are climbing on the wires, threatening to eat any vehicles that try to pass.  I picture Abe clad as a traffic cop with a top hat, shrilly blowing a whistle.  I see the giant, red ants swarming on the wires, and I can hear the wires twanging as they climb.  I can hear the traffic honking and the squeal of tires as trucks, cars, and buses try to stop in time to avoid hitting Abe.  I smell exhaust and fumes.  I can feel the cold, heavy, vibrating cables of the big, red bridge as I hang on for dear life and try to avoid the approaching ants.  Abe>Ants>Suspension.

Math for Neanderthals


“Locksmith?  Please come as soon as you can!  It’s about to rain and I’ve locked my keys in my convertible with the top down!”  Ouch.  Most of us have done things just as painfully stupid … or, is it just me.  What’s going on?  How is it that we can sometimes behave like total neanderthals?  (I apologize if you, your relatives, or your significant other is a neanderthal.)*

The screw-up comes because we’ve bypassed our brains [hidepost]in favor of a standard response to the problem in front of us.  We are so focused on the way we usually do it–in this case, unlocking the car door with a key–that we overlook the obvious and simple solution.

Enter the GRE and SAT quantitative sections.  The “right way” to do any given math problem was drilled into our heads in junior high and high school math classes.  We did that particular problem type over and over again.  We showed our work.  We lost points if we didn’t follow the method step-by-mind-numbing-step.  Now, whenever we see a familiar problem on the SAT or GRE, we start following the steps, showing our work as we go.

News flash: the testmakers left the top down on the convertible!  If you are looking for the key you learned in high school, you are wasting time.  Since the GRE and SAT are timed tests, you are not expected to do much in the way of long calculations.  If you find yourself doing a ton of calculating, you missed a short cut somewhere.

Example:  Which quantity is greater?    1/16 + 1/4 + 1/7    OR    1/6 + 1/16 + 1/4

If you started looking for a common denominator, tell the locksmith, “nevermind,” and put away your phone.  Just eliminate the fractions both have in common; 1/4 and 1/16 are common to both sequences, so eliminate them.  You’re really just comparing 1/6 to 1/7.  1/6 is the larger fraction, so that’s your answer; no math necessary.

As you work practice problems in preparation for the test, STOP … DROP … and ROLL (hmmm … seems like I’ve heard that somewhere before).  StopDrop your pencil.  And … errr … Roll your eyes over the problem looking for that shortcut.  You KNOW it’s gotta be there. when you find yourself starting on a long series of calculations.

WARNING: this takes practice.  So break out those practice problems and begin searching for shortcuts.

*No neanderthals were harmed in the writing of this post.[/hidepost]

Group your vocabulary for better recall…


When learning vocabulary, get more bang for your buck by looking at synonyms at or sister site For example, when studying a word such as garrulous, you can also memorize verbose, prolix, loquacious, and voluble, all of which mean talkative, more or less.

As you go through them pay special attention to how they differ; prolix, for example, has the idea of tediously long-winded, while garrulous refers more to going on and on about relatively trivial matters. By grouping all these words together you establish a category and make all the words more memorable.

Memorizing Fast and Effectively


[hidepost]Helpful Software for Memory Tasks

In my classes on GRE and SAT Prep we talk about effective ways to commit all that vocabulary to memory. Reviewing every word every day is a waste of time. You want to study each item as little as possible and still be able to recall it at test time. In class we talked about a way to use different stacks of flashcards to minimize review and maximize recall. SuperMemo 2004 software does the same thing, but much more effectively.

Enter your facts in minimalist, flashcard style. Example; “Q. Lion?, A. Large African cat.” Supermemo 2004 will quiz you on that fact on a schedule designed to minimize reviews while ensuring that it isn’t forgotten. This is very powerful and useful software, and I would DEFINITELY shell out the $19 and use it. One warning; the website and the program are NOT pretty or terribly intuitive. It will take you some time to get used to how the app works, but it pays huge dividends. And it’s not just for vocabulary. You can commit anything to memory using SuperMemo.

Check it out at[/hidepost]

Steady Study NOT Mental Marathons


marathonImagine trudging down to the track three times a semester to wheeze through a 12 mile run. Maybe you would make it without blowing your lunch. Maybe. But for days after you would stagger around like a zombie on stilts (which … ya’ know … is pretty staggery).

Non-stop study marathons can likewise hurt your performance. Just like an athlete who overtrains and pops a kidney or deep fries their duodenum, overstudying can puree the gray stuff betwixt your ears. So you show up for the big test next day with a skull full of partially hydrogenated goo.

Yet this is exactly how most of us study. The week before midterms we embark on a mental marathon of round-the-clock cramming and then wonder at our painfully sub-par grades. Continue reading Steady Study NOT Mental Marathons