I took the GRE late september last year and scored 323. Since then, a lot of friends and juniors have asked me about the test and how to go about preparing for it so I thought it’s a good idea to write this post(before I forget what I remember about the test now, that is :P).
Although I knew by end of second year that I would mostly be writing the GRE at some point later, honestly I worked very little towards preparing for it or improving my vocabulary :|. If you’re sure you are going to take the test, there’s no time as good as now to start reading more and paying more attention to the roots and meanings of words that you come across in the newspaper etc. In fact it would be great if you get a copy of the word-list for the GRE, divide it into sections and systematically go through them. I began to take this seriously only by the end of third year, about a couple of months before the test; But I noticed marked improvement in my finding answers to sample questions in the Verbal section, the moment I took this seriously. If you still have about six months for the test, “Word Power made easy” by Norman Lewis is a great way to start prep. The book exposes you to a whole lot of words under various topics and you start to look at words in a whole new perspective. I found the book very useful.
Once I was done (more or less ;)) with Word power I switched to going through the book ‘Barron’s New GRE’. The book has a couple of model tests and tells you every thing you need to know about the test. The different types of questions in each section are discussed at length along with Practice exercises at the end of each chapter. There are a lot of similar books-Kaplan’s is also supposed to be very good. ‘Cracking the New GRE-Princeton Review’ as another book that I went through.
One thing to remember is that-there’s no point in just learning the words and their meanings by-heart. What is more important is knowing the meanings of words in the given context. Some words, even very common ones, have secondary meanings that you have perhaps never thought about. It took me by surprise to see ‘affords’ being used, with the meaning of:to give,offer in a sentence such as this one-“Snakes are the most stationary of all vertebrates; as long as a locality affords them a sufficiency of food and shelter to which they can readily retreat, they have no inducement to change it.” It’s important knowing the opposites of words-many times some of the answer choices are opposites of the answer, and knowing this can help eliminate answer choices easily. The answer choices to questions are generally very confusing, so being able to eliminate at least 1-2 choices will make things a lot easier(The probability of your guess being wrong is also lower :D)
Make sure you have gone through the Official guide to the GRE test(available on their site) and are familiar with the latest pattern of the test. If possible, you can also use the PowerPrep software to get an idea of exact test conditions.
The Quantitative Aptitude section is quite easy. This section doesn’t require much practice as long as you are reasonably good at solving questions on basic concepts such as Probability, Permutation/Combination, Mean/Median, Geometry etc. The Data interpretation questions may require some practice. Taking a few sample tests should give one an idea of the layout and types of questions generally asked in this section. During practice, make sure that you stick to the actual time limit of the test for the same number of questions so that you don’t have problems with Time management on test day.
The Analytical Writing section may require some practice. ETS has topic pools for both the Issue and Argument tasks. It’s good to think us sufficient points for all the topics listed there and even practice a few. Although some people may say that the AWA score has little significance for students pursuing masters in non-literary fields, some universities consider this score as a direct index to measuring our language competency, so some practice on this section may help one score 4.0/6 or higher for the writing tasks. Another reason why practice is important for this section is the time-management-You have to be able to finish writing within the 30 minutes allotted for each section. Many of the GRE practice books give samples of essays that scored a 5 or a 4-reading through these can give an idea of the writing style and content that is expected.
Towards the end, maybe the last 10 days it is best to work on sample papers. You have to get used to sitting for 3.5+ hours taking Verbal and Quant exercise sets alternately so that you don’t sleep off halfway through the test ;). One week of practice tests made a huge difference for me, I’d say(It’s a blessing that I didn’t have to attend the Mass recruiters-Campus placements then-These placements were 2 days before my GRE 😛 ). It gave me an idea of exactly where I was going wrong and what I needed to rectify. A week before exam is also a good time to look through the ‘essential words for the GRE’ as they are called-the words that most frequently appear on the test. These can be found in a lot of places online, or in books such as ‘Barron’s essential words for GRE’.
If some of your friends are also taking the exam, there’s nothing like it. You can quiz each other, critique each other’s essay, discuss on how to tackle different topics in the writing section etc and have some fun in the learning process.
Apart from the GRE General test, there’s also the GRE Subjective test. The decision on whether or not you require to take the subjective test depends entirely on whether the universities that you have shortlisted/plan to apply to list it as a requirement. So make sure you have gone through the websites of these universities and looked at admission requirements.
While taking the test, you are allowed to list up to 4 universities where ETS will send your scores to, for free. Choosing these 4 becomes much easier if you know their ETS codes since you can search by code. All additional score reports are $23 each so make sure you choose these wisely. For eg: one of the universities I had listed on test-day, I could never apply to 😦 as the university had a very early application deadline and I hadn’t completed my TOEFL Test by then.
Then of course, all the other things. Eat a good breakfast. Make sure you are well-rested before the test. My test centre was at Trivandrum, about 9 hours from here, and since I had to report at the centre by 7:30 am, I left for Trivandrum the previous afternoon with Dad and got there around 8:20 pm. I’m one of the placement representatives of my class and the results of the Mass-recruitment drive held at our university were announced around 8:30pm on the night before my test. Needless to say, I spent the next hour or so answering phone calls and ended up opening my laptop to forward an email to my class in the restaurant where we stopped for dinner (All this activity just about 5 minutes after I reached Trivandrum, and I had to do all this as the other placement rep was on a train heading home after the placement :P). By the time I had a bath and freshened up that night, it was around 10:30 pm and there was little else I could do but go and sleep. This got me a little worried-I had hoped to spend the evening before the test looking through some important words, and some points that I had jotted down for topics in the AWA section but the time was instead spent doing things that were in no way related to the test. Make sure you don’t end up the same way! 😀
Candidates have to report 30 minutes prior to the test. You are only allowed to carry your passport and locker-key inside. Everything else has to be placed in the locker. I reported at the centre by 7:30 since my test was at 8am, and finished about five minutes before noon or so. It’s quite a long-span of time and there’s an optional 10 minute break about halfway through the test where you are allowed to go outside the test room if necessary(to drink water/use the restroom) and get back. I took the break and would recommend everyone to do the same too-Taking your eyes off the screen for a while helps.
When I was halfway through writing this post, I happened to check the status of my application to various universities and guess what- I got my first admit :). That’s what got me all the more determined to finish this post today-there certainly couldn’t be a better day to post it.
If there’s anything else you’d like to know, please leave a comment. This is about all I can think of, for now! To all test-takers-Here’s wishing you the Best of luck! 🙂