Preparation Strategies For The GRE Image
Exams Know-how

Preparation Strategies For The GRE

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Amit Ruparel
6 mins read
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Ok, I have seen a LOT of people asking others for GRE tips on FB groups. As I have given my GRE, and scored quite well, thought of sharing my experiences!

GRE or the Graduate Records Examination is a sort of entrance exam conducted by ETS worldwide. Its available throughout the year, so plenty of chances to give the exam. Now one thing I have seen in many MS aspirants is that they are extremely tensed about the exam, as I was too!
One thing to keep in mind before I go on to my experiences...

GRE is NOT A MAKE OR BREAK THING!!!

Yes, GRE is a simple filter for your profile evaluation for the admission committees. Do not be tensed about the exam thinking that a bad score will completely ruin your MS dreams! Your entire profile matters.
As someone told me once (can't remember his/her name), GRE is like the cherry on the top of your profile. So, it's just better to have a good cherry rather than a rotten one.

TIME FOR PREP?

Again it entirely depends on the person, and how much daily practice s/he can do. If you can practice regularly for say, 2 - 3 hours, 3 or 4 months is enough for a very good prep. One advice, if you are lazy, or have a lot of money, or just simply don't have the time for self-prep, only then join a coaching centre. Coaching centres mostly are useless given the tuition fees they demand.

WHAT IS A GOOD GRE SCORE?

This is a tough question to answer honestly, and it depends on the rest of profile too. As far as I have seen, a GRE score of 315+ is good enough for most schools, with Quant score of 160+. Even scores of 308 or so are considered good enough. Less than 300 is very low and try to take a retest. Get a score of 325+ and it is really good, and 330 and higher is just excellent, although such high scores really don't matter that much nowadays, not if the rest of your profile is outstanding too. Also, for AWA, make sure to get atleast 3.0 or 3.5. Anything below that, like 2.5 or so is highly risky, and could end with rejection from some schools.

GRE QUANT TIPS

Quants is the easier section to most Indian GRE test takers, as most of us are engineering students having done extensive maths throughout our lives! GRE Quant section tests your basic Math abilities, how you can test a statement given by considering all possible conditions to eventually come to a solution. Quants is easy for GRE, but nonetheless, it is very important not to underestimate it. Practice Quant questions, go through the fundamental concepts of statistics, probability, geometry.

For books, I followed the following books:

  1. NOVA Math Bible: A very good book for Math practice, good for people who are already comfortable with Math basics.
  2. Manhattan series: Again a very good resource. These books give very good concepts, and the questions are good.
  3. Manhattan 5lb: This book has so many questions!! Very good if you have time for practice.
  4. ETS General book (definitive guide)
  5. ETS Quant Handbook (newly released): Really good book, as it contains more updated questions from actual GRE.

GRE VERBAL TIPS

Okay, now we get to perhaps the toughest part for Indian test takers. Verbal. Yes, it is tough, quite tough if you have a weak vocabulary. Although admission committees don't give much weightage to verbal, a bad verbal score will just pull down your overall score. The most important thing to note while starting off verbal prep are two things:

  • Develop an avid reading interest. Read books, magazines like The Economist. It really helps, as the articles are a bit convoluted much like GRE Reading comprehensions. Also, contains many GRE words.
  • Develop vocabulary a bit, it is still important. I'd say do Magoosh flash cards daily, practice it daily to keep the flow.

The verbal questions consist of Text completions, Sentence equivalence, and reading comprehensions. 5 each from TC and SE, the rest are from RC in actual test. For TC and SE, it is very important to know words (vocabulary), but it is also very very important to understand the question or the sentence holistically. Just mugging words and plugging them in will not help. You need to understand the sentence, the connotation, the general flow, and then plug in words.

For Reading, the most vital part is to concentrate while reading. The passages are more or less long, and maybe convoluted and not interesting at all! But it is vital to keep going on, and read through it all. The questions are also not straightforward, but it will be like analysing the passage, what is the author's primary motive and so on. This is why understanding the passage is so important. Read but read actively, not passively.

Books I followed:

  1. Manhattan series: Very good questions
  2. Manhattan 5lb: Again a lot of good questions to practice from
  3. ETS book
  4. ETS Verbal handbook: Great book again.

AWA TIPS

AWA consists of two questions, one is where you give your own opinions on a topic. In the other, you don't give opinions, rather you analyse and find out weak points in an argument. Practice writing a few topics, topics are available on ETS website itself! Also read a couple of sample responses from ETS book to understand how to respond to AWA questions.

GIVING MOCK TESTS

Mock tests are vital for prep, they allow you to give full timed test. Mock tests, I'd say the ones that are good are:

  1. ETS Powerprep: 2 tests, directly from the test makers. However, as far as I experienced, recent GRE questions are a lot tougher than these tests.
  2. Manhattan series: Just buy one book of the 8 book series, and you get access to the online test series. These tests are really good.

General tip, at the very start of prep, give a mock test, maybe a free mock test that is available at Princeton site, or Manhattan site. See how you score. The scores will allow you to analyse yourself, know your weak areas, and help you structure your prep.

ETS Powerprep tests, give them last, right before exam date.

Do the Manhattan tests in the latter part of your prep.

CHOOSING TEST CENTRE

If possible, choose Prometric, they provide the very best testing. If at all not available, only then go for other centres. Please please have your passport ready before your test day, I saw a guy not being allowed to enter because of this. The passport is the only type of ID permissible in India.

MY EXPERIENCE

Ok, so here I procrastinated, I had initial thoughts of giving GRE early September of 2014, and apply for Fall 15. Procrastination made it impossible, so I ended up giving my exam in March. I gave an initial mock test, scored about 320. So with that I started my prep. I downloaded the Magoosh flashcard app, and practiced each day. I practiced Maths from the books, practiced verbal as well, and coupled with the flashcards, it made it more effective. My mock test scores were pretty good, Quant varied from 166 to 168, Powerprep was 170 (said it was easier). Verbal was about 158 to 161. So my mock scores were pretty good, about 324 to 328! I felt satisfied after my prep, but still was a bit tense (as usual). Anyway, booked my test at Prometric Kolkata.

Okay, the test is quite lengthy, so be mentally prepared, it will be cold inside as well. I took a bar of chocolate and a banana to eat in my break ( only 10 minutes). Take a bottle of water, although you won't be allowed to take it inside.

AWA went more or less okay, topics were straightforward I would say. The Quant questions were a bit twisted than the mocks, but still very much doable. The verbal questions were tough, some words were there which I had never heard of! So, had to take guesses, by eliminating options and then take a leap of faith. Overall my test went smoothly, and the scores I got simply amazed me. To be very honest, I was a bit disappointed with my Quant scores, expected 169 atleast, oh well guess made silly mistakes, an old habit of mine. The verbal scores were just beyond my expectations.

Quant 167 (94 percentile)

Verbal 163 (92 percentile)

Total 330.

Later got my AWA: 4.0

Was really really glad with the scores.

TIPS

  • Practice, practice and practice. Never go down!
  • On test day, be very calm. Tension can literally destroy your test day. So be cool, and think that one exam can never ruin your life. Give your best and you will get what you deserve best!
  • On test day, you can choose to report the scores to 4 schools of your choice. There is no need to remember codes, but do see which schools require department code and remember the names of those schools and departments. Choose the 4 schools as the ones where you are guaranteed to apply, so it will reduce future costs a bit.
  • Choose Prometric, and if possible give test in off season, like I gave in February March, it is quieter in the test centres. If not, then try to choose Prometric, you will be more comfortable, and the centres are also lot better.
  • Again remember overall profile matters!Don't think that people with 330 hold a huge advantage. They don't, it is just a filter, and if your profile is good, with good grades and projects and SOP and LORs, nothing can stop you!
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