Here’s a student story submitted by one of our readers, Georgi. The Magoosh team is constantly harping on about “vocabulary in context“, and Georgi validates us– he warns against memorizing thousands of obscure words, since they won’t help you on exam day! If you’re also a non-native speaker of English, you may sympathize with his struggles with Text Completion.
For more write-ups like this one, check out our GRE Experiences page!
“Hello to all prospective GRE test takers and those interested in GRE experiences.
I had my GRE general test exactly a week ago and I am willing to sharing my experience in that matter.
First of all, I need to say that I am not a native English speaker as my language is quite different from that of either the Roman or Germanic family groups, to which the English is both a member, with some Greek traces too. I am from Estonia, but I am an ethnic Russian. One year ago I completed my Bachelor’s degree in the UK so the time spent there should have offset the fact that the language of instruction in my Primary and Secondary schools was in Russian only. These are the overall facts about me that I can provide.
As for the prep, I prepared for the New GRE around 3 months, with some gaps in between, so I cannot claim that I have been thoroughly systematic in my approach. Anyway, I used a diverse range of materials – the Barrons New Gre, Kaplan’ s New GRE, Grubber’s and ETS official guide. My advice to all prospective student is: take the Official Guide for sure if you are serious about your scores. Currently it is the best one there and no one comes close to it, though I have not checked Manhattan’s.
I studied and revised around 4000 GRE / SAT words, which was a mistake in my opinion because the New GRE is context centered and not that much vocabulary orientated. If you have a decent English background and have studied well in college or uni, then the worlds are in your ken (another GRE word). It is good that now my English vocabulary is quite impressive without boasting or being vainglorious, but it did take up a lare part of my time which I should have devoted more reasonably to practice instead. My advice – study not more than 1000 high frequency words if you are not stable in your vocab.
The reading part and text completion, however, are a different story. Even though I have studied for three years in an academic British setting, I was not prepared for the lingusitic charge that I was confronted with. Even my most bookish and pedantic professors did not expound in such labyrinthine, or should I say byzantine types of expression, as you can find in the test. You are expected to be a somewhat staunch Encyclopedia Britannica devotee, though even there the twist and turns in these texts are less serpentine than those on the GRE.
Text completion – you have to be a native speaker in order to score all of these questions correct, especially the diffucult level ones. Or perhaps you need to have studied English for the past 10 years of your life because otherwise your mind is not accustomed to the structural and linguistic subtleties found in the test. I suppose that if these questions were given to me in my language I would have found them medium in difficulty, but the English format is a challenge which I cannot claim to have conquered. The only way to do well in text completion is to practice and practice. Do at least a couple of hundred in the month prior to your exam and you should be fine . Know the tactics and think well, discern, look for patterns, this is the only key.
The sentence equivalence type is also very nice (the GRE secondary meaning of that word 🙂 ) However, they are not as long as the text completions and are more doable since you are looking for equivalent senetences in meaning. You need to be careful with key words, direction words etc. For me, they were not that complex, though some of them are mind-boggling indeed.
And now the final and most challenging of the Verbal – Reading passages. In order to score well you have to be quick, perceptive, careful, methodical and cool – all definitions pertaining to a machine or automation rather than a human. I wonder if some of these texts were give to the test makers, whether their score would come to perfect. Native students are undoubtedly advantaged in that regard. Sorry internationals, but if you have not studied abroad, or if you have not had your education in English most of the time, then you have a low chance to score a top in the Verbal. Otherwise you have to be either really good or your preparation should have started long before.
In order to prepare for the verbal – allocate at least two months for good preparation. The ETS guide is a MUST, GRE Big book is also a good choice; Kaplan and GMAT books also serve well for that purpose.
The Math that ETS tests is elementary. This latin word has two basic meaning – primary or fundamental on the one hand and rudimentary, with some connotations of being or denoting an ‘easy’ approach, on the other. With respect to the GRE the former meaning is the more accurate, though the latter is also valid. If you have not studied math in the past 4 years of your life, then go and see your High school teacher if possible and take private lessons for a month or two depending on your math abilities and former knowledge. The questions are diverse ranging from algebra and arithmetic mostly to geometry occasionally and, of course Data interpretation and stats. Study all of them, you never know what will turn up on your test.
Finally, my exam: it was like all other exams. Nothing speacial or new that I was not aware of. The AW was easy for me since my academic background is a combination of Arts and Social Sciences, so rhetoric, logic and cogent essay writing are not Greek to me. The math part was decent, not that hard as expected, though I did not have time to finish all of the questions in time. The experimental section was in math and was not difficult too, at least I though so before seeing my preliminary scores. The Verbal was harder than the math sections and partially I messed up the first vebal section. For the second one I did fairly better. The text completion were the hardest part, some of them were as obscure and imponderable as the Nazi secret code in WWII, though the British broke it in the end. The Reading was as expected – some of it was quite challenging and some quite easy. All in all – I should and could have done more than Q: 156 and V:157. I am not sure whether this score will be sufficient, and it is still preliminary so it may change. I guess that if I retake it, I would score in the mid 160s for the two of them, but so far these are only guesses.
This is all that I can say and share. Be brave, do not flinch, it is only an exam, though important for most of us. If I have to paraphrase a wise short saying, if not aphorism, of some boxers say — more sweat in training results in less blood in fight. In other words prepare well in order to be coming with flying colours (my British backgound does not allow me to ”Americanize’ this word to ‘color’ :))
Good luck all, and be sanguine, you do not lose anyithing. Well, except one three digit number and a dollar sign attached to it ($190) from your bank account [for the testing fee and prep books].