First of all, I want to thank the people on this lovely sub for being so forthcoming with your experiences and tips. Having been able to achieve my target scores, I thought I would pay it forward by sharing my experience, along with resources I used, challenges I faced and some strategies that helped. This might be a long post. So I will also frame a TLDR summary at the very end.
A brief background
I am a non-native speaker who graduated in engineering a while back, and I currently work as an analyst. I felt that the next step in my career would require a business degree (not necessarily an MBA). I decided to prepare for the GRE over the GMAT since it was accepted at all the schools/programs that I aimed for, and since it played to my strengths at verbal (Yup, I studied engineering and work in analytics but I suck at quick math. Sigh...)
In terms of time spent, I prepared for a bit more than six months in total (roughly around 1.5 - 2 hours a day of preparation on average) , while pursuing my full-time job.
Two things I wish I knew when I started 1) Have a clear target GRE score
When I started off , I had this ingrained desire to approach as close to the perfect score as possible. I guess this is common among a lot of test takers as well. Throughout our lives, we are made to believe that the more marks we get in a test, the more we stand to gain from it. While this dictum generally holds true, there is an important caveat in the case of the GRE.
The GRE is just a means to an end.
The GRE score is just one part of your profile that admissions committees will use to evaluate your application. They are at best, used as a filtering mechanism. While a good GRE score will help you "fit in" with the applicant pool, it won't help you to "stand out". So, don't obsess over scoring some arbitrary number. Research the courses and schools that you want to apply for. Most of them have publicly accessible information about their mean/ median / max GRE scores, often grouped by section. Analyze them and decide on a target score that is ideally a couple points above the mean/median. (Note: Also be aware that for specific demographics, like international students from over-represented countries for example, the GRE scores required might be lowehigher. Connect with alums with a similar profile as yours, from your target school before deciding)
2) The scores and preparation times that you see on GRE and other GRE forums are not indicative of the general distribution
Just like how people post only the most flattering photos of themselves on Instagram, most posts on exam forums are going to be from people who got a great score. I will be honest. I don't think that I would have made as detailed a post if I had scored, say less than 320. While the tips and strategies from top-scorers definitely helped me a lot, there was a period of time where seeing experiences of people who scored 330+ after studying for a couple of weeks made me feel completely inadequate. For me, my perspective changed when I connected with alums from my target schools and I realized that there are a great many more types of people who got in, with a correspondingly diverse array of GRE scores and testing experiences. This might sound trite but each of us are running a different race. Maybe you are preparing for the exam while working two jobs to support your family. Maybe you are an overworked undergrad wanting to make it to grad school. So, don't base your expectations on scores/ preparation times of others PRO-TIP: Take the diagnostic test as early as possible
I took my free ETS diagnostic test sometime around March of this year. I got 309 ( 150Q:159V) I was a bit disappointed but it helped set my expectations right and helped me identify that the greatest room for improvement lay in my quant scores.
Quant - How I tackled my weakest link
While I won't say that I am bad at math, I was definitely terrible at the specific kind of quantitative aptitude asked on standardized tests. Partly due to my anxiety, I had difficulty in employing mental math and my knowledge of math had become extremely specialized to my field of work (For instance, I was well versed at Statistics and Data interpretation. However, I fumbled on even the most basic geometry questions in the beginning) I realized that I needed to build my quant foundation from the ground up, particularly for topics like geometry, permutations and combinations etc that I had not touched since I left school.
After trialing a few options and inquiring with peers who had taken the test, I purchased Magoosh's 6 month subscription. What I loved the most about the course is the structured learning path that it provides, building up from foundational concepts, all the way to applying them in specific types of GRE questions. This does have a drawback that some of their videos can seem extremely long-winded. I usually, skimmed through video lessons on topics that I was already strong at, by setting the playback speed to 1.5x.
With regards to practice questions, I started off solving all the Magoosh questions (around 30 every day) through their customized testing feature. While they are decent practice, I realized later that some of their questions are unnecessarily tough. In the sense, they require a kind of approach that is highly specific, and would easily take more than 5 minutes to solve even if one were perfectly aware of the concepts used to solve them. My advice would be to skip all the "Very Hard" quant questions on Magoosh.
Next I turned my attention to the Manhattan 5lb book. This book is gold for gaining practice on the types of calculations that appear on the GRE. I solved all the problems in the book except for the Advanced Quant section (Thank you so much u/gregmat
for the tip to avoid this chapter. Saved me a ton of time) Similar to the Magoosh "Very Hard" questions, these problems are needlessly convoluted and are not the type of questions that you would typically encounter on the GRE.
Finally, during my last 2 months of prep, I focused exclusively on the OG ETS material. This was when I was introduced to u/gregmat
's wonderful YouTube channel. I highly recommend his quant walk-through and strategy videos. His strategies on quantitative comparison, back-solving and the b-d method were especially helpful.
While I used to score in the low 150's in quant in my first few mocks, it gradually increased over time and in my final few mocks, I was scoring in the range of 162-167.
Verbal - Building my vocab and Reading muscle
Though I was a non-native English speaker, I had always loved reading and writing in English. Hence, I had a better starting point than most on my verbals. One huge stumbling block for me was the somewhat obscure vocabulary employed in the section. This is especially frustrating since in some of these questions - it was pretty much unsolvable unless you knew the meaning of a particular word. Fortunately, there are an array of free resources to build up your GRE vocabulary. I will list the five that I used most frequently:
1) Magoosh GRE Vocabulary Flashcards App
: I can't overstate the value of this app to building your vocabulary. It is insanely well-designed. What I loved about the app is that it always has a suitable example sentence where the word is used in context. Similarly, the definitions of words that had many meanings were narrowed down to their most common connotations on the GRE. I completed all the Basic and Common word sets. I did not complete the Advanced ones but did go through a few sets now and then when I found the time.
2) Vince's GRE Vocab Cartoons
App: This app is criminally underrated in my opinion. Thanks a ton, u/Vince_Kotchian
for making this. There are some hilarious cartoons with visual imagery that will etch the word into your memory (Check out the cartoons for a few gems like "cumbersome", "bemoan" "inculcate" and "venal" I laughed my ass off at the hilarious stories he came up with XD )
3) The Guardian - Live World News, Sport & Opinion App
I believe the best way to learn vocabulary and to develop your reading comprehension skills is to read articulate content written by well-versed journalists. While the New York Times, The Atlantic, the Wall Street Journal etc are great repositories of such content , all of them reside behind a paywall. If you are someone who can't afford to pay for these subscriptions, I highly
recommend that you download this app/ read their website. The Guardian is completely open-access as they believe that everyone should have access to information. Their opinion pieces are top notch quality and you would easily encounter GRE words spattered throughout. Their articles are also a great way to practice your reading comprehension. 10/10 would recommend. (Note: I found their policy of making their content open-access to be very admirable and I subsequently donated to them via their app. If you find their content helpful and you are able to afford it, I would humbly request you to donate what you can so that they can keep their content accessible for those who cannot :) )
4) Gregmat's Test your GRE Vocabulary Knowledge playlist
This playlist is a great resource for anyone wanting to test their GRE vocab awareness. I binge-watched this during my last week of GRE prep. The best part about them are that they are very dense in words that are most likely to appear on the GRE. I can confidently say that I was able to answer 2-3 questions right on the actual test solely because I had learnt the meaning to a few words while going through this series.
5) Vince's GRE Vocab Compilation and Curation u/Vince_Kotchian
has built this solid collection of words aggregated from different sources color-coded by how likely they are to appear on the GRE. Great for browsing through towards the final stages of your preparation.
For strategy, I highly recommend Gregmat's videos on his YouTube channel. His `pairing` strategy for Sentence Equivalence questions was a game-changer and in general, he helps breakdown how to approach verbal questions in a very lucid and fun manner. Apart from that, I can't reiterate how important it is to build your reading muscle. Make it a habit to pore over articles from reputed newspapers and not just skim through it. Force yourself to identify the key idea/ supporting evidence, contrary view points etc in any content that you read. This is something that can only be attained through rigorous practice.
Last but not the least, avoid third-party verbal questions like they are the plague.
Most of them are terribly bad. For instance, Manhattan 5lb's verbal questions are so ambiguous and confusing that you would end up acquiring wrong habits and a terrible headache. Among the third-party verbal questions/mocks, Magoosh's was the closest to the actual method of reasoning employed on the GRE but even that, I think I should have avoided in hindsight.
AWA - Not much prep at all tbh
I focused the least on the AWA since I had a decent flair for content writing. I went through ETS's guide and some of their sample rated essays during my last week of preparation. I watched a couple of Gregmat's videos on structuring my Issue and argument essays and browsed through some of the topics. And that was it. I knew I did well on my AWA but I was pleasantly surprised to get a 5.5. Honestly, I am not the best person to give tips on preparing for this section since I felt I had a huge head start when compared to most people.
Mock and Practice Questions
When it comes to mocks, I took the free mock tests from Manhattan, Barron's and the Economist. I also wrote 4 practice tests on Magoosh, and the following ETS mocks (PP1, PP2, PPP1, PPP2)
My scores started off in the low 310's and gradually picked up. I hit a plateau at around 320-325 and it took a couple of months to finally hit a 330+ (I think it was on my third Magoosh mock)
I gave all the free mocks in the beginning after I had completed watching the Magoosh videos. I alternated between the Magoosh Mocks and PP1 and PP2. I saved PPP1 and PPP2 for the last 2 weeks of prep.
PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE TAKE ANY THIRD-PARTY MOCK RESULT WITH A HUGE PINCH OF SALT. Most of them, in my experience have far easier quant sections than the actual GRE, and verbal questions that are extremely poorly-phrased . Just use the mocks as a way to gain practice on writing the actual exam and use the scores as a very rough ballpark.
As much as possible, write mocks in the same way that you would write an actual GRE. This includes:
- Do NOT skip the AWA section in a mock
It is very tempting to do so, but trust me - spending an hour writing two essays really takes a toll on your mental agility and makes it that much harder to focus for the nest 5 sections. If you are going to take the GRE without ever having written the AWA, be in for a rude surprise as to how long and taxing the test can be
- Do not google answers
: I was guilty of doing this initially. Mostly, to avoid embarrassment of getting a low score. Remember that it's better that you get this news now than when you are writing your exam
- Do not take long breaks: Pretty self-explanatory
Last but not the least, remember that you are all taking this exam during a global pandemic in very uncertain times. Hence, be prepared for some setbacks and difficulties and don't be hard on yourself. In my case, I got the dreaded COVID19 a week before my initial exam date. I had to quarantine, lost 2 weeks of study time and had to reschedule to a date which coincided with a hectic period at work. I felt devastated but was fortunate to have friends encouraged me to not give up. At the end of the day, this is just one small aspect of your profile that in no way defines your worth or your intelligence. Give it your best shot but if things don't go well - it's not the end of the road. You can always take the exam again. You've got this, friend :)
As promised the TLDR version
1) Have a clear target GRE score
2) Don't base your expectations on scores/ preparation times of others
3) Take the diagnostic test as early as possible
4) Magoosh for Quant fundamentals, Manhattan llb for practice, ETS Quant is the holy grail, u/gregmat
5) Magoosh vocab app, Vince's vocab app, extensive reading, gregmat's vocab videos for verbal
6) Be wary of third party verbal questions, They usually suck
7) Take your mocks but don't trust the scores that you get on third-party tests
8) Be prepared for the current uncertainty to throw you a curve ball or two
Once again, love this amazing community. u/gregmat
- you folks are the real MVPs.
If you have any questions/ areas where I can help - post in the comments :)