In my online GRE Prep course I want all students to appreciate the synergistic work their two hemispheres do. This gives more versitility to them as they test. Here is a summary: all of us have two major brain processors that work differently according to Nobel-prize-nominated research. We have a linear, rule-based, detail-oriented brain (usually the left lobe of the brain) that I call the “left brain” as a thinking capacity regardless of its organic location. The other is a holistic (view the whole picture), spatially-oriented (seeking to lay out ideas spatially), context-seeking lobe. Usually it’s done by the right lobe, therefore I and others call it the “right brain” as a word-cue to this capacity that we all have to some degree. It’s seeing the forest (right lobe) versus seeing each tree (left lobe).

Everyone’s thinking style has a bias toward one or the other and our training often pushes us to trust that approach to decode and understand a subject area. Let’s examine how this works. Commonly, due to the way most math is taught by the rules, the linear left lobe is relied on for numerical work and, because of our multi-levels in meaning, metaphorical usages, and contextual references for figuring out words, the right lobe gets active in verbal-meaning work. The test makers, while not brain experts (easy to tell by the relatively unsophisticated test they have constructed) seduce us to be locked into one side of our brain in the questions, cutting off vital thought resources that can be applied to questions.

For instance, I like to make my students in my online class more familiar with how their brain works, how it gets lobe-locked, on questions and how to change this. Thus when a math story problem question speaks of a fractional part of a salary, many students have a first reflex to seek a rule or procedure to calculate it. If the information is put into a rectangle (right brained–spatial) that is cut into appropriate parts the answer virtually leaps out visually. Because multi-answers are given, we can eliminate several once we see the relative sizes of them in our diagram. Another right-brained approach is to look at the question, including the answers, as one whole, using he answers as data for the problem. This helps us anticipate what kind of answer to seek as well as often quickly reject decoys and spot shortcut strategies. My prep course weaves these tactics into the stategy and content of many questions.

The left brain capabilities often get neglected during the verbal text completions — a word that seems related to the choice needed is quickly grabbed but, alas, it was a trap. What happened? The word needed for a blank was something akin to “energized” and the test-taker chose “disciplined” because it connotes an military force or a sense of purpose, therefore it MUST mean energized also. The contextual right brain does this–creates a mental scene (context) in which the two words live together and thus must mean the same thing. The left brain is more like a lawyer asking “What does ‘disciplined’ really mean?” It consults its mental dictionary and finds that it means something like “organized and adhering to the rules.” Is this energetic? Maybe yes, maybe no–a lab worker is disciplined, and so is a proofreader, but perhaps neither is energized, so disciplined fails the (left brained) definition test. What should have been chosen was “empowered.”

Most prep doesn’t directly address the brain hemisphericity traps laced into the test, and in my GRE online prep I find this is a valuable tool that makes the difference.