The GRE Monster
The gateway to the dream land of foreign universities is secured by a colossal giant known as the Graduate Record Examination. In order to conceal its vicious and dangerous nature, it prefers to go by an innocuous and benign name, GRE. It feeds off of ingenuous students’ confidences. It has been bestowed upon, by the Lord, with the powers to thwart unfitting students in the embryonic stages of the application process.
The GRE is a computer-adaptive test which basically means that the next question that you’ll see will be based on the reply you give to the current question. In other words, if you keep on solving all the questions correctly, the difficulty level of the upcoming questions goes on increasing until you give an incorrect answer. What this effectively translates to is that if you see the questions getting tougher and tougher, you are totally on the right path.
Although you’d find a whole lot of articles out there to tell you about the pattern and composition of a GRE test, this article would be incomplete if we leave out that topic altogether. So in a matter of brief introductions: GRE is basically composed of three parts: a quantitative section, a verbal section and finally an analytical writing section. All these sections have several sub-sections and you can’t skip to the next section until you finish answering all the questions in the current one. You are given a score in the range of 130-170 for the verbal and quantitative section and from 0-6 for the analytical writing. The specifics of each section, as to the number of questions, time for each section etc, is really boring and can be found on the official website of ETS.
If you come from an engineering background, which most of the students applying for higher studies from India generally are, the quant section will be a piece of cake for you. When the official website says that this section will test your high school mathematics, trust me that is all it tests. If that was not easy enough, you’ll even have an on-screen calculator for those questions which require additional efforts. However, this might not be as easy as we make it sound, completing all the questions on time can be a challenging task if you don’t have enough practice.
By now all of you must be thinking “Oh Gee! this sounds really simple, then why the heck were they trying to scare us off with the opening paragraph?” To which my answer is “if the quantitative section is too damn easy for you, wait till you read about the verbal section”. There’s a reason why the GRE is a standardized test across the world, and the reason is that it poses a standard level of difficulty to any student who is trying to get into graduate school. You might have an advantage over the American students in the maths section, but believe me, the field is leveled again in the verbal section.
The verbal section is the one where most of the engineering students suffer. Being thrown into a world of reading-comprehensions/ sentence-completions consisting of words that you’ve never seen before can be an overwhelming situation. You’ll often find questions that have all the options meaning exactly the same thing but having the most subtle differences that only a connoisseur can tell. It’s no surprise that I find the situation of those students strikingly similar to the helpless guy in the following meme:
The best way to prepare for the verbal section of the GRE is to familiarize yourself with the words, and a lot of them. The starting point, or the base camp if you may call it, is the book Word Power Made Easy. This book is the holy grail to building a great vocabulary as it not only teaches you the meanings of the words but also their etymology and their roots. Learning how a word is made can open a whole new world for you where you can easily and correctly guess the meaning of a word you encounter for the first time, just because maybe you are familiar with the root of that word. This book will provide you with all the ammunitions that you need to start learning the word list. Just to give you an idea of the timeline, you GRE date should be at least 1.5-2 months away when you finish reading the book (if you don’t have that much time, you can continue reading the book parallel to the next step, but I’d recommend that you should at least read 5-6 chapters of the book before moving on). The next step, then, obviously becomes going through the word list (which you can find in any test prep book out there) and learning as many words as you can. Talk with the words, walk with the words, eat with them, sleep with them, laugh with them, jog with them. I hope you get the pattern by now, just cram all those words day-in and day-out to the point that they start haunting you in your dreams….. and then cram some more :P. Download apps on your phone that can help you memorize words in your otherwise useless time (such as commuting, listening to a boring presentation or lecture).
The next important thing to do is to revise your grammar. The importance of this point is something that you’ll realize as you progress with your preparation. You can straightaway eliminate some options in a multiple-choice question that are grammatically incorrect. So, make sure to get those grammatical rules in place before the exam.
Only after this point you actually get ready to start the actual preparation. A bunch of resources to prepare for the exam can be found on this link. Timeline wise, please make sure you have at least 3-4 weeks left before the D-day at this point. The actual preparation now is nothing but practicing. I know “practice well” has been a cliched advice for mastering skills in any given area, but I can’t emphasize enough on how much of a difference practice tests can add to your GRE preparations. You need to learn the art of managing your time efficiently to navigate through the maze of questions thrown at you. You should take one of the practice tests, identify the areas you are weak in, improve it and then give another practice test. This should be an iterative process till the actual exam. Sectionalized tests offer a great way to improve your weak points. We suggest you take the two practice tests from ETS at the last as these tests are closest to the exam and the scores you get in these tests may be indicative of your actual scores. A list of resources that offer free GRE practice tests include:
ETS PowerPrep GRE Practice Tests, ManhattanPrep GRE Practice Test, Kaplan GRE Practice Test, Princeton Review GRE Practice Test, McGraw-Hill GRE Practice Test, Peterson’s GRE Practice Test, 4Tests.com GRE Practice Test, Testden GRE Practice Test, My GRE Tutor Practice Tests, GRE Guide Practice Tests
Take the last day just before the exam to reward yourself for all the hard work you’ve been putting in for the last couple of months. You are almost done at this point. I say almost because there’s one last thing you need to do before you go to the test center. You might not know this, but ETS gives you a discount when you take the GRE thereby allowing you to send your GRE score to 4 different schools for free (Free! Free! Free!). The cost of sending your score cards to colleges is 27$ after the test day. So please have in mind the full details (including the state and country) of the colleges you wish to apply to the night before the test. That brings us to the end of all the advice that we had to offer you for the GRE. We hope you get through the test with flying colors.
Best of Luck!
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