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Krishna S.: Thoughts on Non-Native English Speakers and GRE Verbal

Here’s a very detailed write-up from Krishna, with a lot of great tips for the Verbal section. Enjoy!:

“While others rushed for the old General GRE test, I waited patiently for the Revised General GRE test: that was my mistake. Welcome to the tougher version of the General GRE test, officially called the Revised General GRE test. I am here to briefly share my test experience.

Date, Time and Location:

September 21st, 2011 1:30PM, Kathmandu, Nepal

Major Preparation Materials:

  • ETS Guide
  • Powerprep
  • Magoosh
  • Princeton Review
  • Kaplan

The first three materials in the list are far more important and useful than the rest. At the very least, you have to go through the first two at any cost or you will regret it. Unfortunately I didn’t realize this until it was too late.

Test Center Experience:

I reached the test center around 11:30AM and that darn proctor forced me to start my test by 12:30PM though my test was scheduled for 1:30PM. In the test center you can expect lots of keyboard stroke noise but the headphones are there to help you block out the noise. However, they are really tight and may cause pain in your ears. I put those headphones on only for about fifteen minutes.

The first surprise on the test was that I had to select my current level of study and corresponding institute at the beginning of the test. One can safely skip this, though. Another surprise (at least in my case) was the 10 minute break was after the analytical section and the other two sections ended; I thought it was after analytical writing (Argument and Issue) and one more section.

Analytical Section:

The topics weren’t hard to understand as all the GRE essay topics came from the pool published by ETS. I devoted much less time in preparation for this section like almost everyone does. I merely wrote one essay during my preparation since I had very little time since I started preparing seriously for my test. I usually wrote some bullet points instead,  around 15 for Issue task topics and 5 Argument task topics.

Remember, you have to be very quick on the test. I took notes on a few points for about 3 minutes in each section, and then started typing for about 17 minutes, and cleaned it up a bit for rest of the time. I am good at typing (speed-wise) but if you aren’t, then do practice typing, like one of my friends did, since time matters a lot in the test. And don’t forget to go deep into each example or reason instead of listing a lot of reasons and examples. I actually ended up giving less relevant examples in detail, which was a mistake, but on a timed test you can’t always expect things to go as you planned.

Verbal Section:

As soon as I saw the Verbal section after the Analytical section, I got intimidated: I started answering questions without even using scratch paper and/or POE, skipped all passages at first glance and then finally started navigating around doing nothing as soon as I completed (or say guessed answers for all) text completions and sentence completions in a hurry: the worst mistake I made in the test. My suggestion is that if you are not a native English speaker then take the proper amount of time for sentence completion and text completion: maybe up to 3 minute each on harder and longer ones, then do the passages in remaining time. Since sentence completion and text completion takes less times and you can be a bit more confident about the answers without worrying about anything else (the content of the passage in passage questions). I tried to do sentence completion and text completion as quickly as possible and the result was that I messed up those as well in addition to the passages.

I would recommend you guys practice, practice, and practice especially reading texts with obscure words quickly. Believe me, while the GRE says that they test vocabulary in context, it is simply impossible to manage enough time to decode the contextual but obscure words, especially since it is not your primary purpose. Your goal is to find the correct answer: do it any way you like, even luck can play a big role. But remember that while luck can help, probabilistic knowledge will tell you that there is very little probability of getting a correct answer by random answering.

Quantitative Section:

Oh! Here comes my favorite section, probably a favorite of the majority of non-native English speakers. But since I knew I screwed up on my first verbal section, I was a bit scared to screw up on the quantitative sections as well. During my prep for the quantitative section, I almost never skipped any questions even if they were tough since I was confident enough to manage my time. On the real test, I spent quite some time on the first few questions and guess what? I had around 8 minutes time left on each quantitative section even after completing all the questions. But, remember that Revised General GRE is section adaptive and I didn’t spend very much time on the first questions to get a higher score,  because of my confidence and because I was intimidated by previous verbal section.

Later, I thought I screwed up the  first quantitative section as well since the questions in the second quantitative section were freaking easy. But again, it was ETS that decided that the second question set were made up of hard level questions even though they weren’t so difficult for me. I am sure the second set was considered hard by ETS, since my score range for the quantitative section was 750 to 800.

After Those Sections:

Time to choose universities before you check the score. I knew I screwed up on the verbal section. God, I expected to score at least 1300 but I knew it wouldn’t happen now. I had a list of around 6 or 7 universities in mind, some were ranked higher (20 – 30), some were ranked moderately (80 – 90) and some were not even ranked by No way would I choose highly ranked universities as it would be surely impossible even to get admission, forget about the financial aid.

Just to let you know, if you don’t know what the university selection window looks like and how to select the desired university, it has a simple interface in which first you have to choose the name of the country then the state, after that there will be a list of universities in that state and once you’ve selected university then the department list will be displayed. There was probably a way to enter codes as well selecting the universities directly but it simply wasn’t a good idea to remember the codes, at least to me.

Old General GRE Test versus Revised General GRE Test:

My personal thought is that ETS is trying their best to have native English speakers get a higher score while rest of the world scores lower. If I am not wrong, the Quantitative section on the revised General GRE test is very similar to the old one and it has more time per question than on the previous test. The time allotted in the older version of the test for the quantitative section was pretty much sufficient for the test takers from the rest of the world while I read once that Americans generally score less in the same section.

Similarly, on the Verbal section, I felt that it’s almost impossible even for an English teacher to secure a full score (or say higher score since very few test takers scored well in older GRE, still getting 99th percentile) on the revised test since it does takes time especially to read long passages. I agree that you don’t have to absorb whole passage, just the flow, but it is still time consuming and it’s impossible to decode an unknown word in those passages considering the time limitations. But, it should be relatively easier for native English speakers. Thus, while ETS claims to test the cognition ability of test takers on the verbal section, they are still testing English cognition abilities. Some might say it’s better but remember that  the older GRE was testing more on English (vocabulary) but this test is testing more of both English (vocabulary) and (English) cognition.

I would love to check the stats from ETS about new test taker’s scores, I believe the scores would drop dramatically compared to old General GRE test takers and I wonder how universities will differentiate between old General GRE test takers’ scores and Revised General GRE test takers’ scores.

At Last:

That’s a brief version of my experience about the Revised General GRE test. I actually started trying to write a post for Magoosh many times but each time I wrote, I couldn’t stop writing and the article just got longer and longer while it still had lots of things to cover. This is the shortest I was able to write covering most of the things. At last, thanks to Magoosh team for providing such a nice GRE preparation site/materials for GRE aspirants. Both the free content (blogs/questions) as well as premium materials (videos, practice questions) are worth using. I might retake the exam sometimes later (not this year for sure) because of my poor verbal score but lets wait for  my percentile first and lets see how universities responds to the new scores.

By the way, this is the time of celebration in Nepal; we are celebrating Dashain which is the biggest festival of the country: happy Vijaya Dashami to all who are celebrating it. Tihar, the second biggest festival of Nepal is coming next month. So happy Tihar as well.”


If you’d like to read others like Krishna’s, or submit your own write-up after you take your exam, head over to our Student New GRE Experiences page.

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.

2 Responses to Krishna S.: Thoughts on Non-Native English Speakers and GRE Verbal

  1. Krishna October 8, 2011 at 11:14 pm #

    The verbal score is embarrassing. I actually thought to include a GRE style questions (both verbal and quantitative) in the post but it was already too long to include anything like that. Here’s a short quantitative question to calculate my verbal score.

    “The average verbal score of my GRE test is 365 less than the average quantitative score and the range of verbal score is 100. Hope its not a tough GRE question for you.”

    This is numeric entry question so but with two entry field (not fraction though).

  2. dipanjan October 6, 2011 at 11:17 am #

    how much did u get in verbal?

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