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GRE Student Post: “Positive affirmation helps calm the nerves.”

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This week, read about how Sonal was able to score perfectly in the quant section! And learn why he suggests imagining yourself relaxing with a few beers after the test. 🙂

About me: My name’s Sonal Pinto, and I hail from Mangalore, India. I majored in Electronics and Communications Engineering at the National Institute of Technology, in Warangal, India. That was a mouthful and that was back in 2012. Since then, I have been working as an ASIC Design Engineer at Hyderabad. Besides tinkering with electronics, I’m an avid reader (not a day goes by without me spending some time with my kindle) and an addicted gamer. I want to upgrade my skills in Computer Architecture and SoC Design (System on Chip). One day, I will be known as the Picasso of Silicon. At least that’s what I am gunning for. 🙂

Biggest challenge: Math. I had forgotten a lot of basic math – years of relying on advanced tools had dulled my math mind. I could explain to you the splitting of sound into its equivalent power spectrum or the intricacies of sub-threshold tunnelling currents in CMOS gates, but I would easily forget that x^2 = 4 could have both +2 and -2 as roots. I used Magoosh’s arsenal of questions to clean the rust off. I constantly took customized practice tests that would let me attempt 20 questions in 35 minutes. My pace improved a lot (I usually had 10 minutes remaining in every session). I started looking at every math problem as a puzzle. Magoosh’s post-question videos delineated every single technique that I would ever need in order to break apart these GRE math puzzles. I could no longer tell the difference between an “easy” question and a “hard” one. They all looked the same to me, and this was a good thing!

Armed with these skills and new perspective, I took the GRE on June 24, and I bagged myself a whopping 170 on Quantitative reasoning. I had three quant sections and I had managed to complete every math section with around 10 minutes remaining. I had used that time to re-check every single question… twice.

What I’d do differently if I took the test again: I should have paid more attention to my Verbal Reasoning prep. Well, considering that Quant’s most important thing for any Computer Engineering course, I spent most of my time (90%) on math prep. I barely touched Magoosh’s bag of Verbal questions, but I answered almost all of the Quant ones. I figured that I would at least get a 160 on the Verbal section considering I had used Magoosh’s Verbal flashcards and watched some of their video lectures. On the real test, I managed a 158 in Verbal Reasoning. A 158V isn’t bad, but I wish I had prepared for it as assiduously as I did for Quants. It would have paired nicely with my 170Q. I also wish that I had spent more than 40 minutes on AWA preparation. A 3.5 is what I deserved for my appalling prep. In hindsight, I should have spent more than three weeks on the whole affair.

Helpful tips for other students: As far as prep material is concerned, the combination of Magoosh, Manhattan GRE and the ETS guide served me just fine for a Quant-centric preparation. I would suggest prospective students to take at least two months and maintain a steady pace, unlike me. I took the GRE with three weeks of reckless preparation.

Concerning the test itself, the GRE doesn’t check for your knowledge of esoteric vocabulary or of Fourier transforms. It validates “reasoning.” With a simple stack of basic math (which Magoosh generously provides) – quadratic equations, combining exponents, simple geometry, etc. – one can easily “crack” the GRE if they start looking at the problems as puzzles. Many times, I solved a GRE math question in under 30 seconds by spending more time reasoning the answer out than getting down to the math itself. Sometimes it’s worth it to spend 20 seconds finding the kink in the puzzle’s armor as opposed to wasting a whole minute down the wrong path.

Another tip is to focus. The test is long and arduous, and your mind will be running at top performance for the whole four hours. Drink water and eat a banana during the 10 minute break. If you did well on the first sections, your last sections are going to be generally tougher. This’ll be a crucial moment for you, as fatigue will be setting in. Tackle each section with calm tenacity. Usain Bolt doesn’t falter on his last 20 meters. A neurosurgeon doesn’t give up in the last 30 minutes of a six-hour long surgery. Neither can you. This is precisely when you need to call upon those reserves of mental endurance; you cannot afford to lose focus here. GRE tests your endurance as much as it does your reasoning.

It’s easier to handle test anxiety when you envision a good score and what you’ll be doing after the test. Positive affirmation helps calm the nerves. Imagine the relief when you see the scores you want. Day dream about a cold beer (or five) and a generous portion of medium-rare steak with bacon. After the exam, my footsteps were far lighter. I was nearly gliding down the test center’s stairs. Reward yourself and get some sleep. As an apology for not spending enough time with my girlfriend over the weeks heading towards the GRE, right after the exam was done, we went out for precisely what I mentioned before and “How to train your Dragon 2.”

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One Response to GRE Student Post: “Positive affirmation helps calm the nerves.”

  1. Mireille September 5, 2014 at 12:12 pm #

    Congrats, Sonal. I particularly liked the way you put it when it comes to not giving up — if the surgeon doesn’t give up, neither can you. 🙂 That’s exactly how we should look at it and I’ll keep your advice in mind in my last minutes of the test! 🙂

    Good luck with your Sillicon dream — wishing you reach it one day.


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