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Sebastian: Taking the GRE as a Current Grad Student

Thank you to everyone who continues to send in their student stories! You can submit one yourself or read what others have shared by going to Student New GRE Experiences.

Here’s one from Sebastian, enjoy!:

“Hi, everyone. I guess this is my turn as a fellow Magoosher to share my experience. I took my test yesterday in Dhaka, Bangladesh as I was doing an internship there.

After a 4-hour system error delay and a risk of having the test cancelled once again, I finally waited for Prometric to fix the problem and took the test! So I’ll cut to the chase and get to the real deal.

Projected score: Verbal (600-700) Quant (750-800)

What’s my background?: I am an ethnic Chinese from Singapore. I have an undergraduate degree in engineering, and I did my double masters in International Management. I am currently applying for a Ph.D in the US. I used to tutor high school students (math, physics, and chemistry), so I would guess that my math fundamentals are still intact. As a business and engineering student, I am not usually exposed to prolix passages or indirect, convoluted passages or sentences.

I studied for the GRE from September till November. It was an effective length of time, probably 2 months of hardcore studying + 1 month of vacilliating between my hectic schedule and the study options for GRE. I am applying as an existing graduate student, so my brain did not become rusty from working outside. This is my first time taking the GRE, and 2 years ago, I took the GMAT twice, so I am aware of the ticking clock, long hours, hunger etc.

Prep Materials used (in decreasing order of importance) + Test Experience:

  • Magoosh
  • Barrons 19th Ed.
  • LSAT test papers (for RCs)
  • GMAT OG 12th Ed (Math, Crit Reasoning)
  • Big Book of 27 test (for Text Completions TCs)

Before I found Magoosh, I bought the Princeton Review- 1014 + New GRE Guide and Kaplan Premier.  Not really useful and too commercial. I gave them up after a while.

Essentially, I tried to follow the 2-3month study guide from Magoosh as closely as possible. For me, Magoosh is sufficient for getting all the right techniques for TCs, SEs, AWAs, and Math. Short, sharp, and sweet. For the Math section, the difficulty of the questions are not harder than the Medium segment of Magoosh Math. So, the Hard and Very Hard practice questions from Magoosh are meant to keep you on your toes =).

Barron’s Chapter 11 math review is also good for making sure I’ve covered most of the fundamentals for Math. Their verbal difficulty is pretty similar to the GRE, I feel. I used the GMAT Official Guide for more math practice and for getting the hang of Critical Reasoning- i.e. identifying conclusion and assumptions, support/weaken questions.

For me, the Big Book of 27 tests was helpful for my preparation of Text Completions (TC) and Sentence Equivalence (SE) questions as it helped me get used to the GRE language and tricky answer choices. True, there may be no explanations for each question, but I tried to reason out why the other options were not correct. During the test itself, I was glad that I was able to sail through most of the TCs and SEs, and this bought me time to wrestle with the RCs. For the RC section in the test, my first section had a long passage, and second section had shorter passages. As for the Math section, I made sure I double checked my answers to avoid careless mistakes.

I also tried to read from New York Times, Economist and also Christopher Hitchens from the Atlantic. I guess all these helped me get used to different sentence structures. BE A WORD DETECTIVE! has a great way to tag favourite words. Use it. As for the vocab, I mainly went through Word Smart for the GRE. It was sufficient for me. A few days before the test, I went through Chris’s verbal videos again and I found it really helpful as it helped me gain new insights.

What could I have done better: I guess it would be trying to find a better method of preparing for RCs and under very strict, timed conditions. Trying to understand a passage under very strict time conditions is very different from just “doing an RC quickly”. And I guess the RCs are meant to differentiate very strong students from the rest. So for me, I was realistic and mentally prepared myself so that if I could get half correct under those test conditions, it was enough for me. Also, for math, I might not have spent too much time (I was initially skeptical about whether it would be easy enough).

I also read everything from the Magoosh Blog. It is a great treasure trove of information!

Okay, finally I would like to express my greatest thanks to Bhavin, Chris, Margarette and the entire Magoosh team for their wonderful work and support! You guys are great and you have a winning product with unique selling points. Cheers!

I am wondering if my scores are competitive enough for Ph.d programs in organizational behavior/strategy at UPenn, NYU, Northwestern, Chicago, Berkeley etc. I guess i just have to try.

All the best to all of  you fellow Magooshers. Happy Studying.”


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6 Responses to Sebastian: Taking the GRE as a Current Grad Student

  1. Vanan November 12, 2011 at 12:30 am #

    Hi Chris,
    I have prepared for GRE before 4 months, but not taken any test. Now I have 2 solid months to brush up and prepare for GRE. Will it be enough if I completely dedicate the whole of 2 months for GRE prep? I’m doing my undergrad now.

    Please suggest if my plan would work out. I’m strong in quants. I need only to brush up the wordlists and practice tons of RCs. Will this 2 months be enough, if I use the right materials to prep for GRE Verbal?

    Please help Chris…


    • Chris Lele
      Chris November 13, 2011 at 10:48 am #


      I think two months will definitely be enough to make a significant improvement in your score. Whether it will be a sufficient improvement depends on which program you are trying to get into. For instance a Ph.D for literature is very different from a masters in engineering/math. However, for the most competitive schools in the latter program, I imagine that even the verbal scores are relatively competitive.

      Hope that helps!

  2. Anupam November 10, 2011 at 7:42 am #

    Christopher Hitchens 🙂 I agree the guy is a wordsworth !

    • Chris Lele
      Chris November 10, 2011 at 3:20 pm #

      Yes, Christopher Hitchens is great – his prose style is cerebral, erudite, and polished. I prefer his book reviews on Atlantic to some of his political pieces, while sometimes welcome in their provocative nature, lack the subtlety and sophistication of his writing Charles Dickens, Philip Larkin and other great luminaries from the literary pantheon.

      • Anupam November 10, 2011 at 8:07 pm #

        Indeed, Hitchens is very controversial (darn! should have used ‘polemical’) . One more name I’d like to add to the fray is of Stephen Fry. Though not exactly a celebrated writer, follow him on any of his blogs or twitter and you are sure to learn a new word every day along with interesting anecdotes and observations.

        Also if someone has time (3-4 months) that I’d strongly recommend picking up any of PG Wodehouse’s books. You don’t have to know or look for the meaning of every word but it really helps in contextual understanding. I think in GRE the key is to train your mind to infer the meaning of words from its usage and for that Woodhouse is a good tool. Just my humble two cents!

        • Chris Lele
          Chris November 11, 2011 at 1:33 pm #

          Great advice! I’ve known a few people who were really into PG Wodehouse – I believe he had the butler Jeeves (hence, askjeeves). But I can’t recall reading any of his books. I’ll check him it out soon!

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