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GRE Student Post: How I Conquered the Verbal Section as a Math Major

Screen Shot 2014-04-24 at 1.52.06 PMHey Magooshers! Below, Mahesh has some awesome tips for those struggling with verbal. Thanks, Mahesh! 🙂 

About me: Hey everyone! So my name is Mahesh Mistry, and I’m currently an intern project manager and small business owner from Tampa, Florida. My undergrad major is in Economics and Math, but my plans are to go to grad school for Architecture. My hobbies include graphic design, woodworking, watching soccer (and almost any show on television), and car modification.

Verbal was my biggest challenge: The reason I signed up for Magoosh in the first place was to get a better grip on the Verbal section of the GRE. Being a math major, I was fairly confident about my Quantitative Reasoning skills, though I did spend a good chunk of my time reviewing and fine tuning the subjects I wasn’t so good at (in my case, permutations, combinations, and counting). But the Verbal sections were what I really struggled with.

What I did to improve on my Verbal skills was use flashcards and really trying to get passage dissection down to a science.

I purchased Word Smart by Princeton Review, and hand-made flashcards for all 750+ words in that book. I made them out of halves of 3 by 5 index cards and kept them all in one box which I carried around with me. I HIGHLY recommend making your own flash cards as opposed to buying pre-made ones because it gives you an extra opportunity to learn the words by writing them down. I split the cards into sets of 20 and spent 5 days every week doing one set per day. I ended up finishing in about 8-9 weeks, and after that I pooled all the cards into one huge pile, shuffled them, and went through the entire set every day until I got them down. As I did Magoosh vocabulary questions, I wrote down the words I didn’t know as well as definitions in a small notebook.

To help me understand passages better, I went through all the Magoosh questions I could, and read at least 2-4 articles in The Economist every day until I got through the entire magazine cover to cover. I made sure I read articles even if the subject bored me, to prepare myself for a similar situation on the test itself and to make sure I can stay focused and alert during it. As I went through, I highlighted words I didn’t know, and wrote them down in my notebook. While I did the questions on Magoosh, I tried to dissect the passages systematically, writing down the different parts of the passage and noting when shifts and reasonings happened.

To touch up on my math skills, I got the Manhattan GRE Math book, but only went through the sections which I was weak at based on the questions I did on Magoosh. This saved me the time of going through every section and gave me more time to practice english.

If I could redo my studying: I would try to get a more extensive list of vocabulary words and start analyzing passages earlier in my study process (I began this in my last 3 weeks of studying, while I studied for vocabulary and math for more than 2 months).

Many of the words I encountered on the actual test were more difficult than the words I studied, or I just hadn’t encountered them before.

In addition, I would really try to work on my timings. I got through every section of the GRE, but for a few of them I didn’t have any time to go back and check my answers, which I would’ve liked to do.

Tips for other students:

– Don’t get discouraged if your mock scores plateau. It happened to me all throughout my practices, but just make sure you keep at it and your scores will improve.

– Register for your exam a few months away from now, and create a study plan accordingly. It makes the end goal more real. Magoosh’s blog provides an amazing plan, but take it and modify it to your specific needs.

– For your last week of studying before your exam, try to do as many mock tests as you can.

– For essays, read lots of samples and figure out what they all did right or wrong, and plan a style that works well for you.

– ENJOY IT! I know this is all about getting into grad school but the words you learn and the passages you read are all interesting, just have fun with it.


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.

6 Responses to GRE Student Post: How I Conquered the Verbal Section as a Math Major

  1. Christopher aime December 23, 2015 at 5:59 pm #

    I don’t understand the point of answering the text completion question without studying at least the most frequent gre vocabulary words. I find myself not knowing most of vocabulary word options so it become difficult to answer the questions. Should I study the vocabulary words first and than take the practice test or should I use the dictionary while practicing?

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
      Magoosh Test Prep Expert February 8, 2016 at 9:51 am #

      Hi Christopher 🙂

      This is an excellent question! Struggling with vocabulary in a Text Completion or Sentence Equivalence question can be both frustrating and, mostly, unproductive. At the same time, learning nothing but vocabulary doesn’t help to build your test-taking skills.

      So, what’s the perfect balance?

      There may not be a perfect balance, but as you learn vocabulary you should definitely do SE and TC easy questions, as you work your way up. Words you encounter in practice problems should become part of your “vocab list.” However, don’t look up the words until after you attempt to answer the question. As you noted, this can seem slow going at first, but you will gradually start to recognize more words 🙂

      An alternative would be to learn vocabulary through books that offer quizzes and vocabulary exercises. Using books such as Word Smart (Princeton Review), Word Power (Norman Lewis), or Barron’s 1100 actually give you little practice quizzes, so that way you are doing more than just memorizing words.

      I’d also recommend that you start learning the words on our GRE Vocabulary Flashcards as a part of your daily GRE prep. The flashcards contain 1000 high-frequency words that you’ll see in practice problems and on the actual exam. By learning 5-10 new words a day, you’ll be improving your vocabulary at a steady pace that will help you as you tackle more advance SE and TC questions.

      Hope this helps 🙂 Happy studying!

  2. Sri November 20, 2015 at 2:34 pm #

    Hi Team! I just took my first gre practise test today and to my utter dismay I wasn’t able to complete almost 6 questions in both the quants section together! My exam is on Dec 1st and this is really stressing me out as I don’t want this to repeat then. Please suggest some strategies that can help me manoeuvre through the quants section faster.

    Thanks a lot!

  3. Vibhu May 10, 2014 at 7:47 am #

    Hi there every one.I took gre test today scored 160 in quant and a trifling low 148 in quant.The problem I encountered today was that I wasn’t able to finish the verbal section in time.I was doing the 3 blanks 2 blanks 1 blanks and sentence equivalence that all most killed half of the time as a reasult of which I got nervous with Rc fearing so less time left.Finally gushing through it facilely.Similarly the quant 2nd section also enervated me up and I was not able to complete 4 questions.

    I know that I have in me to increase my overall score.
    Kindly please suggest some means of conquering Verbal section in time?

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