Read what it was like for Rishabh to study for the GRE after seven years of not attending school – he offers some great insight for fellow test-takers. Thanks for your reflections, Rishabh! 🙂
About me: Hi! My name is Rishabh and I am from Delhi, India. Here are my two bits on tackling the GRE, what to do and mostly what not to do to make this a fun experience. This story should start out with ‘Once upon a time…’ because unlike some of you out there, I had one foot in the grave already. The last degree I’d received was a Masters in International Relations and it was seven years old. Working in the development sector focusing on social protection, financial inclusion and post retirement planning, I woke up one day with the big idea of enhancing my qualifications with a specialized degree. And then Google told me that I needed a GRE score for anything remotely decent outside of India. So I took some money from my wife, walked into the nearest bookstore, and picked up five books about the test. I stacked up the books on my desk and had a big grin on my face. Big mistake. Don’t do it. What I noticed while flipping through most of the material was a huge disparity in terms of content, presentation, and practice questions. That immediately put me into the ‘OMG, how will I ever figure this out’ mode.
Biggest challenge: Just to give you a little context here – after speed breakers on the road, mankind’s worst invention is math. I hate it. To put it mildly, the thought of number properties and coordinate geometry gave me the shivers. I hadn’t seen all that math since high school and that was long long ago.
Later, I did some more research and came across Magoosh. I particularly liked the manner in which information and resources were presented on the site and I was convinced within minutes to sign up for its GRE prep course. Magoosh helped in providing me with all the tools necessary to create a do-able study plan. Your success entirely depends on how much time you have on your hands to create the best plan for yourself, but I feel nothing less than a month is good enough if you are weak with your concepts. From the get-go, I focused mostly on the math and started with the absolute basics. Within a couple of weeks things looked better and topics started making sense.
One strategy I followed diligently was to stick only a couple of resources for brushing up. The video lessons on Magoosh were pretty helpful on this count. As usual, this idea of studying just one part of the test was rather daft. The minute I took a look at the Verbal with all its fancy vocab and passages, I realized something else had to be done. And this is something I would urge everyone to keep in mind while prepping – math is something you can learn and improve with tangible results. You start figuring out concepts and get your questions right. It gives you that sense of satisfaction of going in the right direction. This is not necessarily the case with the Verbal. You cannot simply ‘learn’ words or crack passages. It takes time and patience.
Helpful tips for others: Work on Verbal from day one. Read like you have never read before. Work on that vocab like it’s a game. The vocab flashcard app by Magoosh is a great tool for staying in touch with the most relevant words on the test. Take it to the loo, read before sleeping, give it a glance on your ride to work or any other time you get on your hands.
Eventually, it all boils down to effective time management. One thing I would redo if I were to take the test again would be reworking my time schedule. It might be great to manage all-nighters in the first few weeks of your prep, but what really matters is the few weeks leading up to your test day. If you start with a sprint and drop dead by the end of it, the purpose is defeated. I would see the prep as a marathon. Pace yourself and create a routine around it.
Another mistake I made was that I didn’t get other things sorted in my life in the midst of GRE prep. I joined a gym and got on to other unnecessary activities which eventually ate into my prep time. Make sure your routine revolves around your GRE prep so that it does not become incidental.
To stay sane through the entire prep, make it a habit to go through the Magoosh blog. It’s fun reading and highly informative. I think it hosts some of the best reviews of all GRE resources in the market and is right on with its verdict. Use it efficiently – bookmark relevant pages and create a separate folder for all things GRE.
Lastly, but perhaps most importantly, what I took away from GRE prep was identifying patterns. It’s one thing to be told to do the ‘easy’ paper first but it’s an entirely different matter identifying the easy bit. Use your prep time wisely to create a separate log book of question types. Within each math topic, for example, there are always multiple questions of a similar type. Subdividing topics this way was helpful for me.
There is no hard and fast rule for taking practice tests. Identify the reason you are practicing. If it’s time management, then sit through the entire test. Including the essays, if it’s particular sections you want to improve, then timed sets of 20 questions each would work better.
These are just some of the broad strokes I wanted to share with all of you. Hope some of it makes sense and helps.