Thursday, January 29, 2015

The GRE Experience - 330/340

Part 1 - My Experience

While a 330 isn't the highest that many of you will be able to get, it certainly is enough for almost all universities and departments. The maximum that should be reasonably aimed for or worked towards is 334, which is just over the 95th percentile, and can certainly get your application through the door when it comes to the top 5 USA institutions. Beyond that, it becomes a case of diminishing returns with regards to preparation time.

My own journey started with extensive searches searching the net for everything that I could find. The first stop was the official GRE website, which listed the official ETS GRE books as the one-stop resource that everybody should look at. Specially, if they do not have the time for anything else. I must say, that after going through it, I agree with that entirely. You simply have to go through this once.

Other than that, I signed up for Magoosh's online GRE prep guide. The main thing that you get from them is their question set and the four practise tests that come with it. I spent just over one month, about 1-2 hours a day, going over their questions sets and practising with a variety of combinations to work on my weaknesses. The flexibility to focus on specific types of questions, the difficulty levels, the customization for sessions, all makes for an excellent GRE training experience.

For ESL learners, the verbal is usually the stumbling block in the way to a perfect score. My approach was to use the Magoosh vocabulary apps to practise and get through a definite number of words every day ~30 or so. To learn in context - which is what you'll need for the test and what is generally an easier approach to learning new words - I made lists of words that I didn't recognize as and when I came across them while doing Magoosh questions (and this happened a lot). After each Magoosh session and over the next few days, I went over the newly compiled word lists. This approach, for me, was much more effective than doing either themed word lists or memorizing a random bunch of words from the Magoosh apps.

(Of course, having a good grasp of English due to regular reading habits makes things much easier)

The Quant section is the easy part. Anyone doing engineering already knows everything that the quant section asks. Nonetheless, if you want to be safe and revise concepts which is always a good idea, I would recommend using the ETS book as a starting point, and exploring further into specific topics as and when you need to. Complement this with Magoosh's practise sets as I did, and you'll be on your way to an excellent score!

Finally, the last thing that you need to do is develop stamina for the full 4 hour test. The only way to get yourself ready to handle it is by doing full length practise tests in exam like conditions. The ETS guide gives you three full length tests, and Magoosh provides four. Doing them spaced throughout your prep cycle will get you ready for the marathon.

Part 2 - Takeaways

My learnings from the experience, broken down into easily digestible points:

Do a mock test as a calibration

Start your prep by going over the test format, and then doing one full test to get a basic idea of where you stand and how far you need to go. If you need to gain just 10 points, one month of prep should suffice. If you need to gain upto 20 points, then plan for three months.

Study AWA from ETS

Study the AWA samples focussing on the highest scoring ones. Look at the structure, patterns, flow, cogency, and vocabulary. Assimilate and apply in your practise test sessions. There is no need to refer to any external resource, not even Magoosh.

Do targeted practise frequently

Once you know your weaknesses, tune the practise sessions to target the specific question type that is troubling you. Focus on developing question solving techniques, and not the particular question. Watch the Magoosh videos for guidance. Question solving techniques is possibly the only area where the Magoosh videos actually help.

Do full tests regularly

Note the different word used - regularly, not frequently. Space out your practise tests over your prep duration, keeping three days or longer gaps between tests. Do not do a full test one day before the actual GRE. It's better to just rest at this point.

TL:DR I strongly recommend getting started with Magoosh GRE.


  1. Congratulations for the excellent score! This article was really helpful. I plan to take the GRE this year (I'm in the 2nd year of my Engineering right now) and amtaking coaching with Jamboree & I really hope to get a score as good as yours. All the best for your life ahead. :)

  2. It's like you read my mind! You seem to know a lot about this, like you wrote the book in it or something. I think that you can do with some pics to drive the message home a little bit, but instead of that, this is fantastic blog. A great read. I will definitely be back.
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