Eliot Friesen

“Test Prep in the Life of an Indian Student” (People of Magoosh)

Manikandan was invited to write this post as part of our People of Magoosh series, where our students tell their incredible stories in order to encourage others to keep pressing on toward their goals. If you’d like to submit your own story, send an email to [email protected]. We look forward to hearing from you!


people_of_magoosh_Manikandan_1Hi, I am Manikandan Venkataramanan. I am from Chennai, the smallest of the original Big 4 Metros of India. It is located in the Southern State of Tamil Nadu. I studied in Chettinad Vidyashram till Class 12 and then Ramakrishna Mission Vivekananda College which is located in the historical heart of Chennai, called Mylapore.

Chennai is unique in the sense that it is an agglomeration of several ancient towns in one city, these towns have a continuous history of at least 2,000 years. Mylapore was a major trading city of the Pallava dynasty (the Ancient Greeks called it, ‘Meliapore’). The city is dotted with several ancient temples and shrines, with Pallava and Pre-Pallava era temples dedicated to the “Three Gems” of the Hindu Pantheon: Shiva (Kapaleeshwar and Marudeeshwar), Vishnu (Parthasarathy) and Shakthi(Kalikambal). In fact, the city derives its name from the Kalikambal, the Goddess also called as Chenni Amman. It is also the place where St. Thomas, the Apostle is said to have visited last in India and his tomb is still present at a place called St. Thomas Mount.

Kapaleeshwar Temple-28

My Story

My aim was to excel in academics, get a good job, save and return to the village of my Ancestors, a place with even more rich history and heritage than Chennai, called as Kumbakonam, the spiritual heart of the Chola empire, that had massive trade and cultural links with practically all of South East Asia.

people_of_magoosh_Manikandan_3I was brought up in a family that placed a premium on the acquisition of knowledge. As a result, I developed an insatiable thirst for knowledge and built my own library spanning a variety of subjects both physical and virtual. I was also determined to excel in all academic pursuits: I stood at the top of my school throughout my school years and I dreamt of topping the country one day, which I did in my Class 12. Later, I joined college and strove to repeat my success there. As a result, I stood College First in all six semesters and received the “Best Student Award”.

And then it happened, After graduating from Viveka, I decided to pursue a professional course that is well-respected in India and that would help me establish an entity on my own in my village when I returned. My aim was to provide consulting and advisory for traditional industries (like sculpture making and brassware manufacture) that are on the wane, thanks to the lackadaisical attitude of the upcoming generation.

Unfortunately, a large section of our people had forgotten to appreciate the great intrinsic values of our traditional industries, which have been part and parcel of our cultural ecosystem for thousands of years. I wanted to help these forgotten industries to build and sharpen their distinctive competitive advantage. I was also determined to help promote and provide consulting for agro based industries which is again sacrificed for want of substantial commercial gains. It was my hope to create wealth and value in the villages so that people do not abandon their traditional vocations and become poor immigrants in their own country as outsiders.

people_of_magoosh_Manikandan_4This professional course, while academically demanding and having a duration of 5 years to complete, had only 5 out of 100 students passing their exams (much worse for Tamil Nadu where it is only 1 in 100)! Despite the intense academic demands of the course, I managed to pass all my classes in a single attempt. But I didn’t pass the last exam. As you will appreciate, this is a rude shocker (a ‘Black Swan’) to anyone who has been a consistent topper in any stream of knowledge.

I was bruised badly on multiple fronts. I had to make a lot of sacrifices and give up up on all my other interests, like extensive reading of a variety of literature on disparate topics as well as my occasional forays into musical instruments. I also had a couple of eccentric hobbies (at least considered to be eccentric here) like visiting railway loco, rolling stock workshops, railway museums, and piloting professional-grade aircrafts on a desktop flight simulator. All these hobbies vanished without any results and that hurt me. Besides, the unfortunate debacle came close to having a pernicious effect on my career aspirations and in the organization that I was working for.

Magoosh and the Turning Point

people_of_magoosh_Manikandan_5A Phoenix-like resurgence and indomitable spirit triggered me to do some introspection and take an unbiased look at the turn of events, at which point in time I realized that what looked like an insurmountable challenge was actually a ‘billion dollar’ opportunity to reinvent myself and broaden my horizons to look at international academic opportunities that are more challenging and rewarding.

At this juncture, it dawned on me that being a ‘bean counter’ pursuing that professional course for so long without commensurate reward, had sapped all my energy and enthusiasm. Therefore, I decided to pursue a Masters in Finance. I was also determined to obtain a different recognized qualification from a world-renowned institute to make up for the “lost years”.

Time management was the key. I quit my job and decided to reignite. The stakes were high. I wanted a Masters from a reputable university at a reasonable cost. Indians do not generally have a consensus on anything. 🙂 International education is an exception to this and almost everyone — from executives to students, from friends to relatives — agreed that despite the cost, US education was the best option. I concurred. I studied about the entry requirements for post-graduate courses and found out about GRE and TOEFL. While I was researching the exams, I came across a Magoosh post on the revised GRE structure as well as a couple of blogs by the GRE experts (Chris and Mike). I was quite impressed and decided to opt for a trial.

The three month study plan suggested by them was invaluable to me. Everyday, I used to do 10-15 problems (sometimes even more) using the built in timer and saw the time it took me to solve problems. After completing a batch, I analyzed where I made mistakes and saw the related videos below each problem. The videos by Mike Mc Garry were brilliant with beautiful explanations as well as time saving tips. Slowly, I built up the speed for solving problems. Sometimes, I would see the relevant lessons from the lessons section if I had a doubt in any concepts. I didn’t go lesson-wise or question-structure-wise — instead, I checked all the lessons and all question structures to create a balanced set of topics and question types.

In the same vein, I did 10-15 questions per day on the verbal part (covering all topics and all the question types) and I watched the equally brilliant answer videos by Chris. So, each day I would have 20 to 30 questions overall. I feel that students sometimes forget the cardinal rule: To score a 320+ on the GRE, it is important to have a balanced score in both Quant and Verbal. Many students make the mistake of concentrating on one or the other. In addition, I would also make it a habit of reading the blog posts on Quant and Verbal. These are immensely intuitive and help students gain a lot of insights as well as time saving tips.

Finally, I took two practice tests. These are extremely important as it simulates the real test both in time and difficulty (Just like how Flight Sims are important for pilot training!). I feel that the test has to be taken with the essay section. GRE is especially devious in that our initial state of mind and the better part of our cognitive abilities go toward the essay first. We get part II Math or Verbal when we are most exhausted at the end of the test session. Therefore, one has to simulate the ordeal of the full four hours to prepare our mental energies for handling the Quant or Verbal at the end of the test session.

people_of_magoosh_Manikandan_6I have to admit that Magoosh made this test preparation a thoroughly enjoyable experience, never once did I feel tired preparing for Verbal or Quant. The way the lessons were taught, and problems explained, were breathtakingly innovative. Whenever, I had any queries, they responded instantly and in a quite friendly manner. I also received general tips and stress busters as the exam neared as well as specific tips on improving my scores. I got the impression that the staff was really interested in my academic uplifting — here was a test provider that combined the Emotional Quotient of Emphatic listening with the imparting of the usual IQ. The Differentiator in Magoosh is not just the approachable and friendly faculty but also the friendly and helpful staff who have truly made it an extremely customer-centric (or student-centric) experience.

Life is a Parabola and Magoosh has served as a catalyst for my Turning Point, I scored very high marks on the GRE and proved my detractors wrong. I am further pleased to share with all of you that I also studied for the TOEFL with Magoosh and was able to score equally high. Lastly, my dream of obtaining a professional qualification has also been fulfilled, having completed an American professional qualification that is technical and state-of-the-art.

My Advice to Other Students

My suggestion to other students is to never give up despite failures, despite loss of time and age. It is always better late than never and no age is too old to be competitive, provided we think that we can succeed and learn. Failures provide a personal turnaround in one’s life, provided we doggedly pursue our goals with confidence and determination.