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GRE Student Post: “I’ve never been good with standardized tests.”

Screen Shot 2013-07-17 at 10.49.45 AMToday we’re hearing from Niraj, who intends to pursue a degree in Mathematical Biology (sounds pretty cool, Niraj!). Below, he has some great tips for those who struggle with standardized tests. 


About me: Hello! My name is Niraj. I’m from West Bloomfield, Michigan. I went to Michigan State University for my undergraduate coursework and majored in Human Biology and minored in Mathematics. Ever since I was a child, I wanted to become a doctor because I loved helping people and studying science, but those plans suddenly changed when I came to MSU. I was never an avid lover of mathematics till my freshman year of college when I fell in love with math. I had a teacher who was passionate and influential in teaching Calculus with a positive attitude. She would help others no matter the time, no matter the day, and no matter if she was busy or not. From her love and passion in mathematics, I became interested in the subject and often tutored other students on the side. After enjoying my tutoring job so much I became an undergraduate mathematics teaching assistant my junior year of college, and taught my students a relatively similar way as she did. I had much success with teaching and after graduating, I wanted to pursue an area of graduate study in which mathematics and biology were combined as I still was interested in researching science, and thus I found the area of Mathematical Biology! One day I hope to become a mathematics professor to teach mathematics as well as using mathematical models to research infectious diseases and cancer. My hobbies are teaching and helping others, dancing to hip-hop music, and watching the Disney Channel (even at the age of 23, I’m a child at heart!).

My struggles with the exam: I found the entirety of the GRE examination a struggle with the exception of the writing tasks. I’ve never been good with standardized tests and always failed to perform well on them ever since taking the ACT in high school. I can always perform well on my academic work but when it comes to these tests I am never good. Ironically, I can write well but I found the Verbal Reasoning section to be the absolute most difficult section on the GRE. I never understood how it was possible to know the meanings of an innumerate amount of words. I never knew how people could perform so well on this section either. Although I’m a native-English speaker, I really struggled with this section and at times would just give up and guess (at least on my first attempt on the GRE). Even though I’m a math person I also too found the Quantitative Reasoning portion of the GRE to be confusing since the test makers have a way of creating twists and turns. Some questions are pretty straight-forward but those who have taken the GRE will know that there are some pretty strange quirks on it. In regards to improving my Verbal Reasoning score, I used Barron’s 1100 Words You Need To Know which greatly helped my vocabulary. Although, those who have taken the Revised test will know that it’s not all about knowing the straight definition of the word. While knowing the definition of the word may help greatly, you really need to understand how the word is being used in the context. For this reason, I would practice Magoosh’s Verbal Section and watch the videos whenever I got the question wrong, which in this section was quite often unfortunately. I tried reading more newspapers and books in my studying as well as to grasp the reading comprehension of the Verbal section. Since I was applying to math schools I knew my quantitative score had to be at least above the 70th percentile. Since the GRE math is largely at the high school level, I just watched Magoosh’s videos to refresh my memory on them. I then would do a myriad of problems to supplement my studying. My GRE math score improved ten-fold from using Magoosh’s quantitative videos and my verbal reasoning improved slightly. I know that if I took it again I could probably do even better.

Tips for other students: For any student who plans on taking the GRE, my biggest piece of advice is that you need to change the way your mind thinks, that is if you’re like me and have been a complete and utter failure performing on standardized tests. Magoosh greatly helps you with this and even states that the GRE is a “thinking” test. Sure, you need to know the core concepts of algebra, geometry, statistics and so on, but it’s measuring how you approach the problem rather than if you can just solve it. Many times if you just solve the problem without actually thinking about it first, you may get the answer wrong because you didn’t carefully read what the question asked. Essentially, you need to take 5 seconds to think about the problem before you attempt it. Regarding Verbal, you need to expand your vocabulary if you want to do at least adequately average on this section. If you want to do exceptional then I recommend reading a lot of high level books, newspapers, and magazines as Magoosh suggests. I took the test after 2 months of studying, although I recommend taking more time if you want to really solidify your reasoning on both sections of the test. My last piece of advice is DON’T GIVE UP! You may find time where you are getting every question wrong when you’re studying but the longer you persevere with it, the better you will become with teaching your mind how to think the way the GRE wants you to think. My score improved from 292 to 306 after two months of studying with Magoosh, although I think I could have improved it more if I had taken more time to improve my Verbal Reasoning, which in the case of applying to graduate study in math, isn’t too important. This for me, is a great improvement as I had reached rock bottom the first time I took the GRE. In general, I am now a much more confident person knowing that I can perform better than average on the GRE, a standardized test. If I can do it, anyone can. 🙂


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9 Responses to GRE Student Post: “I’ve never been good with standardized tests.”

  1. Balaji October 24, 2015 at 10:40 pm #

    Great review, inspirational motto “Never give up”. In fact that’s how I have been inspiring myself and preparing for the test for the last 2 months. Tomorrow is my test… I did whatever I could in this time…. Hope for the best!

    • Dani Lichliter
      Dani Lichliter October 26, 2015 at 11:21 am #

      Wishing you all the best! 🙂
      – Dani

  2. Pradyumna July 31, 2013 at 10:39 am #

    Thank you for sharing your personal story. This is very inspirational especially for me as I have already rescheduled my test dates 3 times. I am hopeful your suggestions and the tips from Magoosh videos shall shape me better for the test. Thanks, Pradyumna

  3. Morgan July 27, 2013 at 12:37 pm #

    When I read this post, I instantly thought, “This is me!” I have always preformed well academically, but I struggle so much with standardized tests. I feel my scores on standardized test have never correctly represented how much work I put into studying for them. I too struggle with knowing how to approach each problem. It has been so frustrating trying to achieve the GRE score I need and want to apply for Graduate School. I have never been one to give up, but every one needs a little “pick me up” from time to time, especially when you are loosing confidence in yourself. Money is tight these days, and I have not been able to spend a ton of money on prep material. I tried the Magoosh free trial, and was very impressed! The lessons that I were able to watch did a wonderful job at explaining not only what the answers were, but also great at explaining why and showing me the ins and outs of how to get the correct answer. Unfortunately, I have not been able to upgrade yet, and I have only one more month until I take the GRE. With that said, THANK YOU for sharing this story. This is what I needed to keep pushing through and not to give up! Thank you, Magoosh!

    • Rachel Wisuri
      Rachel July 29, 2013 at 11:32 am #

      Glad you found it helpful. 🙂 Happy studying!

  4. Akshay July 27, 2013 at 4:41 am #

    That was Inspirational !

    • Rachel Wisuri
      Rachel July 29, 2013 at 11:33 am #

      Thanks, Akshay. Best of luck with your studies! 🙂

  5. siddharth diwanji July 26, 2013 at 6:05 am #

    hey niraj great great review. no i mean it . this was a truly honest review and “DONT give up, never surrender” is my new motto.
    Mathematical biology has to be hands down the coolest sounding major ever. Congrats again

    • Rachel Wisuri
      Rachel July 29, 2013 at 11:33 am #

      We agree, Siddharth– mathematical biology sounds awesome!

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