How the GRE is a Civilized Version of ‘The Hunger Games’

By Guest Blogger Rajul Punjabi

Rajul Punjabi is a New York City based journalist and academic. Her byline has appeared in the Village Voice, Playboy, Rap-Up and on She hates standardized tests but loves all the fancy vocab words she learned from GRE prep, which she now obnoxiously plugs into casual conversation at brunch. You can connect with her at

What do you and Katniss Everdeen have in common? More than you think, if you’re planning to pursue any type of advanced degree. The inevitable demand for a GRE score report from your potential grad school is like Reaping Day. You’re chosen to compete in a rigorous, merciless game of mental endurance. Granted, the losing repercussion is not death, but failure is not an option – it’s a fight to the finish.

Remember that there are a few people who are privileged enough to have had formal academic training to prepare for this test their whole lives (think about the aptly-named “Careers” from the richer districts of Panem). You may not be one of them, but there’s a lot you can do to arm yourself for success.

Luckily, U Chic has the gamemakers’ inside tips to help you can win it all. Don’t let the friendly faces on the covers of prep books fool you; this test is a computerized version of "The Hunger Games." Here are five reasons why.

1. The odds are not in your favor.
Just like those sneaky bastards at the Capitol, the test makers are plotting your downfall. They want to be sure that you can make it in the realm of the intellectually elite. In the quantitative section, the multiple choice selections contain numbers that are very similar to each other in case you make the slightest miscalculation. In the qualitative section, it's the same deal; there are often words that look and sound alike to try and deceive you. Fortunately, your beautiful brain goes into survival mode when you’ve studied enough (at least six weeks, 12 hours a week, if possible). Which leads us to …

2. Competition creates adrenaline.
"The Hunger Games" would not be nearly as engaging and suspenseful if Katniss was in the arena by herself, fighting the elements to survive. There were other players just as hungry as she was. The GRE is no different. Your score is not just a reflection of your test taking abilities (it sure as heck isn’t about intelligence), it also reflects where you stand in comparison to your peers. So bump a little Kanye to up your level of cockiness, run around and shadow box – do anything to get you into a competitive mind set. It worked for Katniss and it’ll work for you. But remember …

3. You’re stronger as a team.
Yes, the main event is a competition. But remember how much stronger Katniss and Peeta were together? They strengthened each other’s weaknesses and that’s a beautiful thing. When you study for the GRE, study with a partner or in a group. This mini-community that you create will help set a tenacious tone for your common end goal. When you see your counterparts study, it’ll put you in the mood for success as well.

4. Your livelihood is heavily dependent on your “sponsors."
Katniss and Peeta would have surely been goners without that basket of food that dropped into the cave right as they were wasting away from starvation. The point? No matter how smart and focused you are, don’t try this on your own. Your sponsors in this case are your GRE prep books, practice tests, prep courses (more valuable than they seem) and so on. Any material that costs money but will up your chances of survival should be obtained. Take copious notes from your GRE prep instructor. This person is essentially your Haymitch, only more sober. Finally …

5. Employ your basic instincts.
Do not second guess yourself. It’s the reason why Katniss didn’t even consider downing those berries. Your brain works well with your gut. Don’t get too fancy and creative with the analytic writing section of the exam, even if you are a trained and colorful writer. Study the prompts and base your answer on the information given in the reading comprehension sections. As oppressive as this sounds, you will thrive if you perform in a robotically thorough and immaculate manner. Also, in the same vein as how Katniss and Peeta trained for the games, concentrate on your weaknesses more than your strengths. Have a great vocab but terrible at algebra? Hit the math books harder.

The Arena: On test day, choose your seat strategically. Ask for a computer cubicle furthest away from the door in order to eliminate distractions. Dress in layers in case the testing center temperature is too warm or cool. Get to your test center early and don’t piss off the administrators. They can see on you on camera when you’re taking the test, much like the Games.

The Layout: The current GRE’s score scope is 130-170. There are two quantitative (math), two qualitative (verbal) sections and two analytical writing sections. The verbal sections will test your vocabulary, so make sure you eat, drink and breathe flashcards during your studying stint. The whole test takes about four and a half hours, so load up on good carbs ahead of time and take the 10-minute break they allow to stretch and hydrate. Good luck! Screw the odds  – may your inner Katniss prevail.

[Image Credit: Jennifer Lawrence stars as 'Katniss Everdeen' in THE HUNGER GAMES. Photo credit: Murray Close]

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