This is the first post in our series on the GRE exams. We are collecting experiences from various people who have recently appeared for the GREs and done well. We asked each of them to share five tips on how to ace the exam, as well as five resources that they found invaluable for their preparation. We hope you will find the series valuable. If you do, (and even if you don’t), don’t forget to comment below. We are thinking of making this kind of series a regular part of our posts, and any feedback would be great!
Mandar Sharma is a Ph.D. candidate in Information Science at Rutgers University, New Brunswick and an Electronics Engineer from IOE, Pulchowk Campus. He is a music enthusiast and guitarist for the band Raspberry Bush. Occasionally, he loves to write.
GRE Scores: Total: 331; Quantitative: 167 (92nd Percentile); Verbal: 164 (94th Percentile); AWA: 4.5 (82nd Percentile)
Mandar’s 5 Tips for GRE
1. Take lessons and advice from your friends who have already aced the GRE, they might offer you a perspective that you may not find in the thousands of articles online. My close friends Sandeep (scored 330) and Sulabh (scored 329) were great contributors to my GRE score. Thanks guys!
2. Personally, I don’t think the GRE actually represents any measure of academic intelligence. Rather, it is a test of how well you cope with the test itself (the ticking clock when the time is running out, and the tough math question just stares at you, ah, if only you just had 5 more minutes). That being said, the more practice tests you take, the more you get used to the pressure of sitting in one place for 4 to 5 hours straight facing those questions. So, take at-least 15 full-length practice tests before appearing for the GRE. And hey! No skipping the AWAs in your practice tests. You need to learn to keep focus after spending an hour on those grueling essays.
3. Learn not to be demotivated during the test. Some of you out there might be immediately demotivated if you can’t solve a few tough questions, leading to a bad mental state throughout your test. Remember, you might be shooting for a 340, but a 339 is still better than a 338, and a 338 better than a 337, and so on. Don’t let a few missed/unsolved questions get you down.
4. The GRE Quantitative section generally consists of 10th-grade mathematics questions that joined forces with evil. Practice, and get the maths down. Aim for a 170 on the Quant section, that’ll automatically boost your score. For us Nepalese, the Quantitative half is almost always the easy half.
5. In my experience, the way the AWA is graded is based on three simple factors: Expressing your ideas/arguments in the simplest possible language, the fluidity of your paragraphs (remember that the paragraphs that form an essay are supposed to make sense as a whole, not just as individual paragraphs), and finally, the lack of spelling and punctuation errors.
For this, the DOs:
Do write every day trying to express difficult ideas in the simplest possible language and turn off your spell check for the duration of your prep to get used to not having it on the GRE word-processor.
Don’t express your ideas in long intricate paragraphs. My reasoning for this: Imagine the perspective of the ETS person who has to evaluate and score your AWA in less than 5 minutes – if your paragraph uses long sentences with difficult words, the reader would have to take a second look at the paragraph to make sense of it, and I doubt that person would do that, given the limited time frame.
Mandar’s 5 Resources for GRE
1. The Magoosh and Barron’s 1100 vocabulary apps. Some say that there’s no use studying up on ‘GRE words’ – I strongly disagree. The GRE words are often limited to words that are used to express states/actions/emotions, and there are limited words in the English vocabulary for these. These two-word lists contain ‘frequent words’, which are called ‘frequent’ for a reason, they appear time and again in the tests. Also, note down any word that you do not understand while taking your practice tests.
2. The Manhattan 5lbs math prep book.
3. Any and all online practice tests. If they are free, they are worth taking.
4. Ready4GRE is a great smartphone app. But it is no longer free. If you can buy it, I’d recommend doing so.
5. Finally, the GRE prep books from ETS. No one knows the GRE better than the test-makers themselves.
Slesa Adhikari is a computer engineer who is also an art enthusiast. Aspires to work in the field of computer graphics, animation, and game development.
GRE Scores: Total: 328, Quantitative:169 (96th percentile), Verbal: 159 (83rd percentile), AWA: 4.0 (60th percentile)
Slesa’s 5 Tips for GRE
1. Find your weaknesses and work on them: Let’s face the truth, GRE questions aren’t hard questions for a prospective graduate student, especially the quantitative section – they are all high school math questions. But we have some weaknesses that preclude us from acing them. For me, permutation/combination was very confusing; I’d mess on even the easiest ones from the topic. You have to identify these weaknesses and work on them. Solve all the questions from that topic – easy, medium and difficult, and practice them to the point that no new question from the topic is a surprise to you and you know exactly how to solve it. Another weakness that I had (and most people have too) was not carefully reading the question. I’d skim over a question, say ‘Easy peasy!’ and tick an answer only to find that it was a wrong answer. What did I do wrong? I read ‘x is less than 5’ when it was actually ‘x is less than or equal to 5.’ Always be sure to carefully read the question.
2. Strategically answer Multiple Choice Questions (MCQs): There are strategies that you can apply to all MCQs and GRE is not an exception. When you aren’t absolutely sure about an answer, there are other ways to be sure: 1. plugging in all the answers to find the best (especially useful in quantitative and sentence completion in verbal section), 2. elimination method where you go on eliminating the answers that don’t fit and are left with one (if you’re lucky) or fewer choices, 3. the good old guessing game where you go with your gut feeling and pray to the almighty that you’re right.
3. Maintain a neat scratch paper: This is something I can’t stress enough. Treat the scratch paper like your note copy. Add margin, padding and spacing between items, mark each one with the question number, use highlights and underlines. Well, not that extreme, but you get the point. Basically, you should be able to distinguish between the scratches for each question. This might only be me, but I used to mess up half of my quantitative answers because my scratch paper was messy. Because of this, I misread the numbers or assigned the answer to a different question. Therefore, from experience, I suggest you keep a neat rough paper from the beginning of your practice so that you don’t make such noob mistakes as I did.
4. Practice a lot – preferably full-length test: A no-brainer, right? I have a friend who is almost a math magician. Go to him for any math question and he’ll solve it. Sadly, he didn’t think practice was necessary and got just 155 in the quantitative section. Don’t make the same mistake he did. Practice! This should actually be on the top of the list. Practice! Practice!! Practice!!! And when you practice, don’t forget to pace yourself. There’s only a small amount of time you can spend on each question; so practice solving each question within that small amount of time frame. Next, take full-length mock tests as often as you can mimicking the actual test environment. It is a big deal to be sitting in one place and solving rigorous questions for almost 4 hours without getting bored and wanting to call it quits. You have to develop the habit and the only way to do that is through practice.
5. Don’t stress: After all, it’s just an exam like numerous other exams you’ve given in your lifetime. And luckily, GRE scores aren’t the only deciding factor in college admissions. Stress will only ruin it for you – it’ll do you no good. So, take a chill pill, lay back and go ace it, tiger!
Slesa’s 5 Resources for GRE
1. ETS Bundle: You should start with ETS Bundle : ( The Official Guide to the GRE Revised General Test; The Official GRE Verbal Reasoning Practice Questions; The Official GRE Quantitative Reasoning Practice Questions). Start with the Official Guide, where you’ll learn about the format of the test with a detailed explanation of each type of questions and solve some practice questions along the way. Move on to the other two books once you’re done with the Official Guide.
2. Magoosh Flashcards: Magoosh Flashcards is probably the best GRE vocabulary resource on the internet today. It’s available free as a mobile app on both android and iOS and also as a pdf (if you prefer that). The words are divided into groups based on the difficulty level. The app is adaptive such that it’ll show you the words that you’re finding particularly difficult. It’ll cover almost all the words that you might encounter on the actual test.
3. Manhattan 5 Lb. Book of GRE Practice Problems: Now, this book is for practice once you’ve completed the foundations. Some of the questions here are much more difficult than what you’ll see on the actual test. But why risk it, right? If you master the difficult questions too, you can solve the easier ones with your eyes closed (metaphorically, of course) and at the same time, you’ll feel more confident about yourself, which is always a good thing.
4. Free Mock Tests: ETS offers two free full-length tests that are actually the closest to the actual GRE, ETS – PowerPrep II. These are available on the official ETS website. I’d suggest taking the first test very early on so that you know where you stand and work on things accordingly and take the second test about a week before GRE to find your weaknesses and for some last minute preparations.
You can also try ETS Full-length tests (Available in the ETS Official Guide); CrunchPrep and Princeton Review. For more free resources, follow this link.
5. Ready4GRE: Ready4GRE is an application (web as well as mobile) that provides a comprehensive GRE prep experience. It is a well-designed app with gamification features, wherein the homepage shows a map where you have to move from the start to end solving practice questions and getting graded for each. It also shows your potential GRE score based on your performance in the app. This is a feature that I find particularly useful because it provides the motivation to practice more and make more answers correct so that your potential score moves higher. Also, every day, it sends a notification with a question of a day, which reminds you to not ever miss a day of practice.
Sandeep Sthapit is an Electronics Engineer from Pulchowk Campus, IOE. He loves to study new things which are related to mostly maths and computer science. Other than that, he likes playing games on the computer and playing basketball with friends.
GRE Scores: Total: 330, Quantitative: 170 (97th Percentile), Verbal: 160 (86th Percentile), AWA: 4 (60th Percentile)
Sandeep’s 5 Tips for GRE
1. If you want to get a good score in GRE, you have to have a plan. You need to know your strengths and weaknesses and plan accordingly. For me, I was very good in Mathematics, and not so good in English. So, I knew I had to focus more on Verbal Section and the quantitative section would be mostly about revision and practice. Then you have to know when you will be ready to give GRE. Before scheduling a test date, I would suggest you to become familiar with the syllabus for the GRE and at least give one mock test so that you can gauge the time you will need to get your target GRE score.
2. Listen to the advice from your friends who have scored well on the GRE. You can learn what they did right, where they struggled and which resources were most effective for them. For example, Sulabh (scored GRE total 329), a close friend of mine, was of great help to me. I had neglected the AWA section for the most part and thanks to him, he directed my focus to AWA just in time to at least get an average score.
3. The key to getting the result you want is consistency and hard work. You can have rest days occasionally to refresh your mind but you have to work almost every day until the day before the exams to get your target score. You can listen to podcasts or debates on youtube. I used to listen to Neil DeGrasse Tyson and Christopher Hitchens which improved my vocabulary and my reading comprehension. You can listen to whoever you want but make sure that they are very articulate and have a rich vocabulary. Also, when you return from work or college and feel your mind is not fresh, you can try doing simple practice sets. For me, I didn’t find the quantitative section challenging, so I would solve 50-100 questions after returning from work or play some vocabulary quizzes in vocabulary.com. Even if you are a busy person, you have to dedicate at least 2 hours each day and 5-6 hours or more, if you can afford more time.
4. Getting mentally prepared is key to your performance on the actual test day. The best way to do this is by taking lots and lots of mock tests. You can find plenty of free online tests and ETS also provides 2 free mock tests. Save the ETS test for the last as they are the closest thing to the real test. Do not skip the AWA section of the practice test, because you have to tackle them on the real test and have to prepare your mind for a grueling 4-5 hours of the real test. After taking enough practice tests, you are less likely to get nervous or be demotivated in the middle of the test. There will most likely be some difficult questions that you might not be able to solve, but these practice sets will prepare you to stay focused on the other questions that you can solve and stay motivated throughout the test.
5. If you are like me with just average English language skills, you have to improve your reading to get a good score in Verbal Section. Best way to do that is to find a technique that works for you. Fast reading didn’t quite work for me. So, I read slow but tried to understand the whole passage the first time I read it. Mastering the techniques takes time, so you have to find one that works for you. And the tip that worked like a charm for me in ‘Reading Comprehension’ was tricking my mind to believe that the passage was very interesting by making it personal. For example, if there was a passage on something I am not very interested in like classical dance, I would trick my mind by believing I would love to try that dance someday so let’s just learn how it works. And for the quantitative section, just read each question very carefully before jumping to solve them, there might be few twists in them and always stick to the simple answers. Never try to use complex stuff such as trigonometry or calculus to solve them, as most of the time, it will only make the problem more complex.
Sandeep’s 5 Resources for GRE
1. The official preparation books from ETS. They have all the topics you must cover along with sample questions. If you can choose only one resource, go with this one.
2. I used Magoosh flashcards and Barron’s 1100 vocabulary apps which are free. Along with these apps, I used vocabulary.com to study the words from this app in more detail or play some GRE vocabulary quizzes. I highly recommend using vocabulary.com to understand the meaning of words.
3. Materials from Jamboree. The books by jamboree and the online tests were very helpful. Although I did join Jamboree and the teachers were very helpful, I believe that you don’t have to take classes. You can simply use their books and online resources to help you get a good score. If you have a friend who has the materials, just borrow it from them.
4. Articles in the New York Times, Washington Post and articles, and essays by great scholars. You can study about anything you like, whether it is sports related or some other field that you are interested in from these sources. Also, you can use Grammarly extension for your web browser to check your grammar and there are other online tools to analyze your writing. They will give you information like the average length of your sentences, types of words you used, number of complex sentences, number of transitional words, level of vocabulary and much more.
5. Your friends are an invaluable resource for GRE. Some friends are good in the Verbal section and some are better in Quantitative sections. You can ask them if they are willing to help. They can also help in checking your AWA sections and give you interesting feedback. Not only can they give you advice, feedback, and solutions, they can also motivate you.
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