To all those who are going to experience the ‘phenomenon’ called the GRE!

Recently i recieved an email titled “To all those who are going to experience the ‘phenomenon’ called the GRE! “. The guy Haris shared his experience of preparation.I found it very much share worthy,so i did a post 🙂

Here you go,

Preparing for GRE with an aim of a good score is an adventure! An undertaking quiet unlike what you have experienced before. It is not just ANOTHER test. It can open the doors of World’s Best graduate schools. It will undoubtedly determine the rest of your academic career.
Preparing for GRE is lot of fun too. But, you will have to put in a lot of hard work and then some. I appeared in the GRE twice. Once back in 2002 and scored 2040/2400. It was a decent score. And then this year again, with 800 in Quantitative and 620 verbal. Apart from that, I have appeared in the NTS-GAT tests thrice and scored mid 80s everytime.  Based on my experience I have a few suggestions.
(a) I prepared from Barron’s both times (The current edition is 15th I guess). It has all the review material you need to do well on the exam.But the MOST important are the tips given for each section. Every tip is vital. Believe me!
(b) The wordlists are important, but memorizing them is not as important as understanding the context in which a certain word is used. This is tricky, I know. The Verbal section measures your ability to form coherent ideas and deduce the meaning of the text. In my 2002 attempt, I memorized almost 45 of the 50 lists and scored 580. In 2010, I revised merely 10-15 but scored 620. I believe that this is probably because over time I have a better understanding of english language or because I carried with me 30-40% of my vocabulary from previous attempt. I don’t say you ignore the wordlists at all. But when you go through them, try to understand the meaning rather than just memorizing it.
(c) There is one trick you can use with the words though. Even if you don’t remember the meaning of the word, atleast know if the word has positive connotation or negative. For example you may not know what ‘disillusioned’ means, but merely knowing that it is something negative may help you rule out few of the options in a question.
(d) There is a GRE book called ‘Big Book’. It is cheap (Rs 250 or something) and it is VITAL !! so get it! It has 29 full length tests for you to practice on. Depending on how much time you have, I would suggest everyone to put aside last 15 days for practice.
Because the most important thing on the GRE is timing! If you can pace yourself with the right speed of answering the questions, you will do great. Some of you might have observed the same thing on NTS-GAT test. There too, timing is almost everything.
When you start on the Big Book, do the first few tests only one section at a time, but ALWAYS with a stopwatch beside you. Don’t do any test without timing yourself. After a few days, start doing three sections in one sitting, again with the stopwatch. It will give you the best practice for timing. I suggest that you have last 10 days or so practicing one test each day (almost 1.5-2 hours). And you should have no disturbance at all during the test.
(e) It’s time for the big bummer! The actual GRE is even more difficult than the tests on Big Book 🙂 But if you practice well, you will do good. Like when I practiced earlier this year, I always god 770-780 on quantitative. But never a perfect 800, which i got the final day!
(f) A word about the “analytical ability” sections in the Big Book. You don’t need these sections anymore. It has been replaced with the Analytical writing part. But there is one type of questions that you will find helpful for the Verbal section. And those are the “Logical Reasoning” questions. If you open up an Analytical Section of a test in Big Book, you will find two types of questions. First those which have one statement followed by many questions about that statement. They are the majority. Then there are the stand alone questions which give a statement and ask only one question about it. They are the ‘logical reasoning’ questions. Don’t ignore them. Practicing on them will be VERY useful when you attempt the paragraphs in Verbal Reasoning.
(g) The section of the GRE that I dreaded the most was the analytical writing. And rightly so. Who wants to write essays! 🙂 And this is no ordinary essay. It will be judged for its analytical structure, clarity of thought and expression and all those things. I didn’t prepare for it, because I didn’t know how to! They have listed down all possible topics on the website, but then they are 200+. I guess this is another place where your ability to compose your thoughts rather than just your heavy vocabulary will be judged.
But there is a good side to it. For engineering/science programs, the quantitative score matters the most. For history/philosophy/literature etc, the analytical and verbal scores matter. But then, you shouldn’t score too bad on this section either.
To sum things up, I would recommend the following GRE-diet program 🙂
1) Start as early as possible and your primary focus should be wordlists. What I said about wordlists above was not meant to lessen their importance! Instead, it was to impress upon you that merely memorizing won’t produce the best results. So give the lists 3-4 months if you can.
2) Do the model tests on the Barron’s book. It has a few. Do the first one without time and the second one with time. See what is your score. It will tell you what are your weak areas. (At this point in time, ALL areas would be weak) 😛
3) Start working your way through the instructions, tips etc. for each section. DONOT ignore them! They are not gibberish. Practice these tips when you solve examples at each section.
4) Go through the “math review”. It has ALL the math you need for GRE. Let me put it in a better way Even if you erase every other mathematical knowledge except what is listed in the “Math Review”, you will do fine! 🙂
5) A month from the date of exam, you should open the Big Book and attempt a full test with time. Let me tell you what will happen. You will have headache for two days 🙂 (Back in 2002, when I did that for the first time, I had vertigo for almost three days) That is because we are not accustomed to such strenuous brain activity.
6) 15 days from the exam, start the regimen of one test a day. The best thing about Big Book’s test is that not only it has correct answers, but you can exactly calculate the score.
7) Lastly, the target scores one should aim for. I am no expert in this, but I personally feel that an engineering/science student should aim for nothing less than 800 in quantitative. There are many reasons to aim that high. First, this is the most important score for an engg/science student. Secondly, math itself is not difficult. It is just a matter of how well you practice and how well you have followed the instructions given in the Barron’s. Third, it is very much achievable! If you are scoring below 770 during practice tests, you are in trouble!
For Verbal, I suggest a score above 550. Since these are the only two scores you can measure during practice tests, I am not in a position to give you a measure on Analytical writing.
Well, I think that’s about it. Did I mention, GRE was hardwork 🙂 I guess now you can see what I meant by that. But there is another aspect of GRE. It is more than just a test. When you have read and analyzed almost 100 paragraphs of english and answered all sort of questions on them, it will become a skill and you will carry it with yourself rest of your life. Never again will you just read a paragraph. You will start making connections about its topic, main idea, logical connections and all sort of things that you prepared for the GRE 🙂 This observation was especially true for the good ol’ days (pre-2002) when the analytical section was different, but I hope some of that holds for Verbal section too 🙂
Wow!.. that was a LONG email… I don’t know how many will read it. But if even one person finds it helpful, my last hour didnt go in vain 🙂
Best of luck! and if you have any queries, feel free to write to me.

Haris Jabbar

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