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Desiree H.’s 99th Percentile GRE Verbal Score!

Here’s another great exam write-up, from Desiree H.  You can submit your own or check out the list of stories from other students at Student New GRE Experiences.  Enjoy!

“Let us dispense with the details first: 

My name is Desiree and i recently took my shot at the GRE (just over twelve hours ago). This is what i look like on a (relatively) good day: 

Now just over a year and a half removed from the completion of my undergraduate antics, I’m left with a triple major (English, Government, and Philosophy) and the realization that sticking with what I do well probably entails another round in academia. Enter the GRE. To be fair, my decision to try my hand at the new exam was rather deliberate – as a former college debater/current high school assistant coach, I was readily seduced by the newly enhanced emphasis on argumentation (well, that, and a slight penchant for procrastination).

My projected score ranges –
Quantitative reasoning: 750-800
Verbal reasoning: 750-800


Quick and dirty advice:

– Do at least one full-length practice test with the timer. Ditto this if you have been out of school for 6 months or more.

– Consider a granola bar or light snack for your ten-minute break. My psychology professor used to constantly harp on the intellectual benefits of a well-timed Hershey’s Kiss.

– Account for traffic. Seriously.

– Take a deep breath and try to have fun. As ridiculous as it may sound, tapping into your competitive streak, not taking yourself (or the exam) too seriously, and pretending that you’d be doing this even if it weren’t required just might help take the edge off.


More specifically:

Verbal reasoning: 

First and foremost – I always make a point to hypothesize my own answer before scanning the provided choices. I think this is especially useful for text completion, sentence equivalence, and reading comprehension questions which ask for the function of a given sentence within the broader argument. Not only is it just plain easier to look for an answer to correspond with a predisposition, it also helps prevent one from becoming seduced by a distracting choice. There’s nothing worse than talking yourself into a wrong answer.

Second – familiarize yourself with academic writing, if you haven’t yet. Peruse an open source journal (I’m partial to the International Journal of Zizek Studies,, take that Project Muse account for a spin, or just dive into a Google book filled with unfamiliar intellectual territory. Take it from someone who found herself skimming Hegel’s Phenomenology before she could even hope to comprehend: discomfort breeds familiarity. If you plan on taking the test in the next few weeks or months, this may prove particularly helpful – superior quality is a ready substitute for endless quantity. Worst case scenario, you pick up a few new vocabulary words and tackle something harder than the exam passages.

Third – context is key. On the one hand, the vocabulary felt elevated compared to the Powerprep software and Kaplan/ETS books (for the former version) which comprised most of my study materials. However, a word which might stump you sitting next to a colon is often suddenly illuminated when placed in a sentence. This is also why “read more” is the clarion call of those who’ve taken the new test – not only is it easier to retain words which you learn in context (thinking by association), but it also deepens your understanding of how words work, what sentences sound like. Avid readers make great writers make great sentence constructors.

Fourth – This doesn’t mean that you should leave the flashcards in the dust. In the final weeks prior to the exam I made it a point to select a limited number of cards (20-30) each day and attempt to integrate those words into conversation. Consider it a very intense word-of-the-day exercise.

And fifth, but finally – know your roots. The simple fact is that you simply can’t guarantee that you look up and memorize every possible word that may be lying around the corner. A strong knowledge of Greek and Latin roots (and, hell, maybe even a few French or Italian terms known to frequent the English language) can help you a) define a term with which you are unfamiliar by breaking it down or b) at least garner a general sense of what the term might mean, particularly. This could certainly prove helpful if you narrow down your choices to a few terms or find yourself struggling to isolate the word for that second equivalent sentence.


Quantitative reasoning: 

Given that bout of verbal verbosity, I’ll pare this down a bit.

First – while this may not count as much of a revelation, the math review provided by ETS was genuinely the most on-point and helpful resource ( I even found myself relying on a formula which I had memorized in the final minutes before leaving for the test, one which would have surely remained forgotten had I not quickly run through each concept one by one.

Second – I found the calculator useful, but primarily as a means to quickly check answers. I’d recommend the Powerprep software if for no other reason than to familiarize yourself with it – anything to enhance the ease of test-taking. Also, note that it is numerically limited (in that it won’t present solutions greater than ten million, I believe). I wouldn’t recommend relying to heavily on it, however, as there will surely be questions you can solve more quickly without it.

Third – rules, rules, rules. A common theme (which I also recall appearing on the old format) are apparently difficult or highly involved questions which are actually testing relatively simple concepts (for example, a question filled with exponents and variables which is really examining your ability to manipulate positive and negative numbers – think: quantitative comparisons where a 0 occupies one of the columns). It can’t hurt to ask yourself what the question is really getting at.

Fourth – If all else fails, math is one place where I find brute force to be effective. A  few practice problems is the moral equivalent of reading a lofty passage and looking up a couple words – both help you contextualize, and therefore comprehend, the relevant material.



Relentlessly straightforward. Lengthy lists of both argument and issue topic pools are listed on the website which means a) you technically have the opportunity for a trial run at your exam essay before test-day and b) the specific details of which particular prompt you stumble upon are far less relevant than the technical ability to deconstruct an argument (or perspective), isolate its strengths and weaknesses, and draw conclusions about the relationship between those conclusions and the prompt. In other words, arguments – regardless of content – comport to certain formulas (or, at least, should). One moderately amusing way to familiarize yourself with argumentative steps and missteps is to read about logical fallacies (

The only thing which stood out to me on the test was that my issue prompt was, essentially, to analyze an argument (or “claim” and “reason” as they so gingerly called it). Any potential confusion was eliminated by the specific tasks which they provide within the prompt – follow their lead and you should already have a loose organization for your essay. Which elucidates my final point: sketch a quick thesis and outline. One surefire way to lose your reader is to lose yourself, and your point. First, I prefer to move from broad to specific – I develop the gist of my position and then look there for specific sub-points. The result: coherence and cohesion (in hope, and theory, anyway).

Oh, and one technical aside: if you are accustomed to spell-check following your every typo, I’d definitely suggest practicing the writing either in notepad (or another program that won’t be so quick to catch your mistakes) or on the prep software itself. I did find myself missing those little red squiggly lines as I seemed hell bent on a words-per-minute record during the exam.


As a final note, I didn’t emphasize the specifics of my chosen preperation materials too much because I honestly don’t think what you use is anywhere near as important as how you use it. (though I will agree with other reviewers who acknowledged the laughability of certain verbal materials [see: Kaplan] – when in doubt, up the difficulty on what you’re reading by finding it in the wild [see: library, internet database]). In contrast to the older format which seemed more concerned with the amount of information you might relay, the newer iteration is much more preoccupied with how you use information. This should be a bonus for those considering graduate school in fields necessitating strong verbal skills – if you wish to spend 2-7 years manipulating ideas and information, there’s no time like the present for a solid start.”


“My official score became available yesterday, so I thought I’d send it to update the GRE experience/give an example of how the score range translates into the new scale.
Verbal: 170, 99th percentile
Quantitative: 162, 87th percentile
Analytical Writing: 6.0, 99th percentile “

By the way, students who use Magoosh GRE improve their scores by an average of 8 points on the new scale (150 points on the old scale.) Click here to learn more.

7 Responses to Desiree H.’s 99th Percentile GRE Verbal Score!

  1. Mike S April 4, 2013 at 9:38 am #

    Great advice. I am aiming for that 99%.

    • Margarette Jung
      Margarette April 4, 2013 at 1:47 pm #

      Good luck! 🙂

  2. Deep Parekh January 19, 2012 at 7:51 pm #

    Thanks for sharing .Really helpful post.Cheers and congrats for your score 😀

  3. Josh November 15, 2011 at 9:26 pm #

    Hi Desiree, since having taken the exam about two months ago, and gearing up to retake in a couple of weeks, what strategy for the quantitative section did you find helped you the most? For instance, did you really try to answer every question or did you try to concentrate on those that you felt more confident on?


    • Desiree H. December 8, 2011 at 10:40 pm #


      I apologize if this response is coming to you far too late, but if my input should be of any use:
      a) During the exam proper one of my biggest failures actually came on the quantitative section, as I spent about 6 minutes on a single question. Therefore, the quickest advice I would give is to trust your instincts, particularly on the second (or third, if applicable) quantitative section. You may find it helpful to answer those you know immediately and then return and finish the remainder, but I believe it’s about balance. Afford each question at least thirty seconds of focus, but remember that you can always return to the most difficult as long as you remain efficient.
      b) Make it a point to memorize important formulas before hand and take a moment to write them down on scratch paper during the exam (such as surface area/volume, probability, etc.) The most important thing to remember about quantitative, in my opinion, is that most, if not all, exam questions are merely variations of questions you will have already experienced. Spend a few hours reviewing the notes provided by ETS and be extremely honest with yourself about your weak points (after all, you know better than anybody else where you may struggle). Awareness of potential weakness is the first step in eliminating the threat.

      I hope this is of help and if I am too late, then I hope the exam went well! Thanks for taking the time to read my post.

  4. Desiree H. November 3, 2011 at 6:41 am #

    And you, sir, have identified the downfall of gorging on vocabulary cards toward the last minute – words have a way of mixing themselves up, particularly around 3:30 a.m., just under twelve hours following the test. That being said, I agree that while innate might be “more appropriate”, the meaning is still off – as innate implies natural origins (as in, of the birth or mind). All in all, the adjective was unnecessary (as many are – bonus way to enhance writing: take an essay and remove every adjective and adverb, then only return those which uniquely add meaning). Delightful proof that 170 + 6.0 still doesn’t equal infallible – thanks for taking the time to read.

  5. Grieg November 2, 2011 at 3:42 pm #

    Not to be a jerk, especially because you are cute, but because it came in the section on vocab, I feel like I have to point out that you used inimical incorrectly. Inimical means harmful or hostile. Innate would be more appropriate. 🙂

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