Pwn the GRE

Background

Scores

Quant : 170/170
Verbal : 163/170
AWA : 5/6

Prep Time

It’s been almost 5 months since I gave my GRE(precisely 14/08/2015) in the first month of my seventh semester of engineering. I began preparing in my sixth semester but due to project work and internships, it was done haphazardly. My main preparation was precisely 1 month before the GRE(from around 15th July).

What this post will cover?

This post will first give an introduction to the GRE examination and its many subtleties. It’ll then outline the steps in preparing and present a list of invaluable resources.

Outline

  1. Introduction to the GRE
  2. Prep Guide

Introduction to the GRE

The diagram above is self-explanatory, though I’ll clarify a few things.

  1. You can get either of Format 1 or 2 in your exam which is completely random. One section will always be an experimental section, which will be any one amongst the sections which appear 3 times instead of 2. i.e. In Format 1 since the Verbal Section appears 3 times, any 1 of those 3 sections can be the experimental one. So you should give your best to every part without bothering about which would be experimental. Magoosh covers this in detail if you would like to read more.
  2. The GRE takes approximately 3 hours 45 minutes and is truly enough a test of energy and patience. This is why mock tests are a must.
  3. The level of Quant is simpler compared to Verbal, which is why Verbal requires a lot of practice over a longer time. Its also important to remember that if you are going for a technical graduate program, the adcoms will place a greater emphasis on your Quant scores.
  4. The GRE is sectionwise adaptive with scaled scoring. What this means is that if you perform well in the 1st section of Quant, the 2nd Quant section will definitely be harder. Since scoring is scaled, you will end up earning a higher score for getting the same number of questions right in the harder section as compared to the easier section. Refer to this post for more detailed information.

Prep Guide

Here I’ll cover the resources required per section and how they can be best utilized. I strongly recommend that you join popular Facebook groups of students prepping for MS/PhD like this, this and this. Here you’ll find students sharing their experiences. More importantly, many share the resources I’ll be mentioning further in this post on Google Drive links which you could then download for free.

The Quant Section

Resources Required

  1. The Official Guide to the GRE
  2. Official GRE Quant Reasoning
  3. Manhattan 5lb Book
  4. Nova Math Bible
  5. Manhattan Prep Set of 8 Strategy Guides - Optional

How to Prepare?

The first thing you should do, before starting any prep, is to take the Math Diagnostic Test in the the Manhattan 5lb book. This diagnostic test is vital to finding out those topics needing an in-depth review. Analyze the questions that you have erred in and list out the topics which you are finding particularly difficult.

The second step you should take is to go through the chapter titled GRE Math Review in the Official Guide(or OG in short).

Okay so now let’s get back to addressing your weaknesses. Open the Nova Math Bible and start going through those topics which you had found difficult. Ensure that you review the entire topic from the introductions and solved examples to the hard problems. Then pick up the Manhattan 5lb book and attempt all the questions of that topic. This should be sufficient to address your weaknesses.

For the topics you have found very easy, you should go through all the questions of that topic in the Nova Math Bible. If you can practice more, then even go through such topics from the 5 lb book.

Finally when you are a few weeks away from the exam - be sure to solve the Quant questions from the OG and GRE Quant OG. I repeat - you must solve all the questions from the OGs.

We’ll discuss mock tests later, but remember one thing for now. After giving each mock test, be sure to analyze and pinpoint the type of problems you are mainly facing difficulty in. Then be sure to solve questions of that subtopic from the 5lb book.

If there’s any topic which you are finding exceptionally difficult, your best bet is to pick up the related Manhattan Strategy Guide and go through that topic in detail.

Aim and Work towards a perfect 170/170 in Quant.

The Verbal Section

Resources Required

Books

  1. The Official Guide to the GRE
  2. Official GRE Verbal Reasoning
  3. Manhattan 5lb Book
  4. Manhattan Prep Set of 8 Strategy Guides or Jamboree Verbal Books - Optional

Wordlists

  1. Barrons 333
  2. Either Manhattan 1000 or Barrons 1100
  3. Magoosh Wordlists

I’ve compiled most of these wordlists with a few more useful ones on Quizlet.

Websites/Apps

  1. Quizlet
  2. Vocabulary.com
  3. Mnemonic Dictionary
  4. MajorTests
  5. NY Times Opinion Pages
  6. Opinion pieces in Arts and Letters Daily - Optional
  7. Memrise - Optional
  8. Magoosh Blog posts
  9. Magoosh Fictional Book Recommendations - Optional

How to Prepare?

The Verbal section is the most challenging section of the GRE, but can nonetheless be aced with the correct preparation. Unlike Quant, where you would already be aware of how to tackle problems, you may not have an already well developed vocabulary. Thus, I’ll first address vocab skill development, and then the verbal questions prep. Remember that both complement each other and it is thus a must that you devote at least some time to your vocab development.

Working with Wordlists to develop Vocabulary

Firstly, download the Quizlet app or go to their website ASAP. Its an excellent excellent application automatically generating flashcards from word lists, which serves as the best amongst a plethora of features. But don’t just rote up these word lists - With the new GRE format, word usage in the correct context has begun to matter more than simply knowing the meanings. So here’s how you develop the skill of using words in their correct context:

  1. Open up Vocabulary.com and Mnemonic Dictionary on your browser
  2. For every new/tough word, look up Vocabulary.com and read through the explanations which have been neatly detailed, often with interesting stories to make word context clear
  3. If you are still having difficulty remembering word meanings, look up Mnemonic Dictionary to learn a quirky mnemonic which will surely stick

Most importantly, remember to follow a schedule involving spaced repetition. I usually learnt 50 new words everyday, and revised 50 previously learned words. During every revision be sure to highlight the words you are finding difficult. During the next revision you can avoid words which had been easy the last time around. However be sure to revise entire wordlists after a long break, lest you forget the words you thought were easy.

Reading Articles to improve Comprehension and Vocabulary

Simple as this - Pick any one opinion article that interests you from Arts and Letters or The New York Times and read it on a daily basis. Over a period of time it will improve your vocabulary usage as well as your comprehension skills. I found Pocket’s interface really neat for an enhanced reading experience. Be sure to spend the extra effort to understand those words and sentences which seem cryptic.

Verbal Question Prep

Practice, Practice, Practice! That’s the main ingredient required to master GRE Verbal. Start with the diagnostic test from the Manhattan 5lb book to gauge yourself. Then practice verbal questions from the same book. Continue with MajorTests and if you still have time, find other good books for practicing. Though I had personally used the Jamboree Verbal books, you could instead work with guides from Manhattan, Princeton Review or Kaplan. The most important resources for GRE Verbal are Mock Tests and the OGs. The OGs should only be used towards the end of your preparation. Identify the type of questions that are your achilles heel to spend extra effort on. Review every mistake you make, and be clear as to why the correct answer is correct. This might be difficult to figure out at times, when explanations are absent or vague, but be sure to consult the internet or friends. Also ensure that you go through the Magoosh Verbal Blog posts, where they post a wealth of information to work with specific type of questions(especially RCs) that you might not be improving on easily.

Analytical Writing(AWA)

The AWA section simply requires well reasoned content writing. The best practice for this section will come from attempting such questions in a timed environment, such as a mock test. Since the answers cannot be autograded, have them evaluated by teachers or friends for improvements. A few tips which I found useful:

  1. Sentences should not be too long
  2. Be sure to use newly learned vocabulary in the correct context
  3. Correct grammar
  4. Strong reasoning, without repetition of points
  5. Read the questions carefully: Issue topics generally require you to support one side of the issue, but will also need you to point out weaknesses in the side chosen by you

Princeton Review is the only mock test provider I’m aware of that will grade your AWA section.

Mock Tests

In this section I’ll list out the mock tests which I referred to in preference order and my corresponding evaluation of the same wrt the final GRE:

  1. Powerprep II : I found Powerprep II Test 1 to be much much simpler than the GRE, finishing both the Quant/Verbal sections relatively fast and with a score of 335. On the other hand Powerprep II Test 2 is a must-take a few days before the exam with questions being completely according to the level of the GRE. A couple of tricky questions from the Quant section in this test were almost exactly repeated on my GRE. I scored 328 in Powerprep II.

  2. Manhattan : It’s the next best thing after Powerprep - I found Quant to be slightly harder than the actual GRE and Verbal to be slightly simpler. The post-test analysis provided by Manhattan is brilliant for recognizing weaknesses to work on. I scored 324 in the first set of tests and with time my scored increased to 326 and finally reached 328 in the last two tests.

Apart from these, I also took mocks from Kaplan and Galvanize GRE, but remember little as its been really long since I took those tests, without proper preparation or timing.

Read this excellent post for a more detailed review on a number of mock tests.

Additional Resources

I’d like to conclude this post by pointing you to a few other resources which formed a base for my preparation. I strongly suggest you go through these:

  1. Blog posts by others who scored well : This, this and this.

  2. Posts on Quora : This, This and this. There’s a lot more content on Quora, so do read more.

  3. Professional Websites : Magoosh GRE Blog and Crunchprep GRE Blog

Thanks for reading and All the Best.

Feel free to leave your comments or doubts below, or you can email me at saatvikshah1994@gmail.com.