Friday, December 23, 2011

A GREat Experience

I think I will beat the Government in a race of procrastination. Its been quite some time since I have been planning to write this post, about my GRE experience. I believe I have a good few things to say. This post is my advice for preparation for the Graduate Record Examination and also some things I learnt that transcend the gruesomeness of those 5 hours.

The GRE has taught me a lot of things which, otherwise, I am pretty sure would have remained painfully ignorant of. I am normally happy with my planning skills, but somehow I screwed up with GRE. Formally, I prepared for GRE for only 20 days. Now, that I look back, I realize that may be that pressure of less time is what gave me the whack on the side of the head. I might have scored more had I studied for a proper 1-2 months, but then there are a lot of things I should have done and didn't.


I took the Graduate Record Examination on 7th September, 2011.
I scored 327/340 with 158/170 (84 %ile) in Verbal and 169/170 (96%ile) in Math section.

(Not the best guy to be shelling out advice on preparation for GRE. Yet, I feel the things I learnt are more that just about the exam)

A Few Things You Must Do

Step 1. Any GRE aspirant must lick up the GRE website. Read every single word.
Step 2. Buy a good book. I took Princeton Review and found it totally worth the extra bucks compared to the Barrons version.
Step 3. Decide the field of study for your Graduate Studies. Actually, this step is supposed to be done a couple of years before you take GRE. Spend a couple of years gaining experience.
Step 4. Research into Universities considered excellent in your field of study. Chose 4 most basic ones for ETS  to send the scores to.

What The GRE Really Is

The Graduate Record Examination is NOT an examination of aptitude or intelligence. It is a test of your cognitive abilities pertaining to the English language as a medium. That's it. Do NOT judge yourself based on the scores that you get on GRE, except if you want to pursue English Literature.

The GRE is a gruesome test of how good you are at grasping English. Most people find the verbal section tough and rightly so. I pity the medicos who find the math section giving them goose bumps. The Math Section tests you for lower than 10th grade math.

The GRE deserves a sincere effort. It is a brain-taxing test of your will power. In those 4.5+ hours, your brain will have to read and process a tsunami of information decorated in almost alien like English. There will be words that you have never encountered before and can't make the head or tail of it. There will be words that you will be able to make meaning of only with the context. Most of all, what makes the GRE legit in demanding 1 to 2 months of serious effort is the way it scrutinizes your brain.

If I put it down in a metaphor, think of it as crossing a dessert. On the over view, its only walking. You've been walking since decades. Similarly, you've been absorbing information and processing it in English since decades. Yet, every single thought you think sitting on the chair before that computer is like the molecule of water in a dessert that you cling on to for your dear life.

Thought Energy

I am predominantly talking of the verbal section. The Math is easy and I leave it to you to do Step 2 nicely which will take care of the Math.

Each question in the verbal section is made up of long sentences with multiple subjects and objects. Sometimes, I used to think whether they were grammatically allowed to make such long sentences. Each question, except the text completion ones, will have 5 options each 3-4 sentence long. Unless you've spent the last 5 years in a den lapping up every novel that came your way, you will die keeping track of what each sentence means.

This is where, what I call, Thought Energy becomes important. Preserve your thought energy. Do not waste your precious thought power. Brain time is important. In all your strategies for solving questions, keep brain time a primary resource!

An Important Trick

The best tip I got from Princeton Review was to use the Scratch Paper as much as you can. I used it extensively. Whenever you finish reading the questions, write down A, B, C,D and E in a list on your scratch paper. As you complete reading option A:

put a tick-mark, if you are sure this will be the answer
a similar-to sign, if this can be the answer but want to check other options
a cross, if you know this can't be the answer
a question mark, if you don't have a clue what the option meant.

So, read the option, mark. Read the option, mark. You don't have to look down to the paper while marking. Your hands should be moving while your eyes are reading the options. Then when you have seen all  options, look at your scratch paper. Here are the advantages of this trick:

1. You won't have to now look at the ones with the Cross. Had you not done this, you would have repeatedly read the same option and eliminated it again and again. The amount of thought energy you waste in re-eliminating is stupid wastage.

2. Three [Similar-to] and One [Tick] and you won't have to think 1 sec more. The tick is your answer.

3. You will have read all the options and not worry about missing anything.

4. No silly mistakes. Save tons of Thought Energy.

Auxiliary Preparations

Here's how I prepared for the GRE. I had only 20 days. Working smart was a compulsion for me, not a choice. Now when I look back, I sometimes think maybe I wouldn't have done things so nicely had I not been under so much pressure.

I left everything for those 20 days. I did not attend lectures, did no homework, no assignments, quit on projects, did not go home, quit Cricket, no dinner / lunch outings. For those 20 days, my life was Library-room-Library.

Understand your body cycles. I am a day-bird. I never tried to stretch the night. The GRE preparation is NOT a time to be doing major decisions / changes in life like Job joining, Break-up, tours etc. Let things be normal. I doze off very early in the night if I eat heavy dinner, so a lot of times I used to eat fruits or skip dinner. Yet, I understood that nutrition is important if my brain has to function 14-15 hours a day and so I used to have heavy breakfast and lunch and a moderate evening snack. Planning your body is as important as planning your study.

Please keep in mind I had 20 days. You will have more, so you may not take so serious measures, yet don't live a roller-coaster life in those 1-2 months.

All Smart Work And No Play Can Help Jack Do Decent On GRE

A good English background helps. If you are a novel reader since childhood, you are probably safer than the rest. If you are still 6 months or a year away from giving GRE, start reading novels. 2 news papers daily, 1 novel per month. If you are not already good at vocabulary, keeping a pocket dictionary will be a life-saver.

Although the pattern has changed. I find doing the word - lists still important. There's no point in answering if you don't have a fleeting clue of what the question means.

While you are doing the practice questions in the book, time them. I used to do the practice questions as half hour tests. It helped me to implement my strategies and also time myself. This way, ideally you should be able to complete 2-3 books. I did Princeton Review and Barrons. You can complete Kaplan too.

A week before the GRE is mock exam time. Give atleast 5 mock tests. Leave the ETS test in the CD-ROM for the last. Get comfortable with the UI. Don't panic if you scored bad on your last mock test. I scored 1050-1150 on my last mock test :P

A huge goal can be easily achieved if broken into smaller reachable goals.

Out of the 3500 words, an average English taught person will know 1200 and won't have to do them again. I divided the words into 350 words per day. I saw that reading from the book wasn't helping as there are too many words on a single page. So I decided to make my own flash-cards. I used to read the word from the book, if I did not know it or felt uncomfortable in remembering the meaning, write it down on a small paper piece with its meaning behind it along with a sentence using the word. I also wrote down words I had encountered previously that were similar in meaning to this one. This helped me revise all the words meaning the same thing!

Hierarchical Architecture At Its Best

A cumulative hierarchical approach worked wonders for me. Trust me, this is the coolest bit of practical psychological engineering I have every done. I am proud of it!

Make 8 flash cards. Memorize them. (keep them in your hands, like a pack of cards)
Make 8 new flash cards. Memorize them. Mix them with the previous 8. Memorize all the 16.
Make 8 new flash cards. Memorize them. Mix them with the previous 16. Memorize all the 24.
After you have done 64, keep this stack of 64 separate.

Start afresh.
Make a new separate pile of 64. Memorize them in the previous fashion. Mix them with the previous 64. Do the 128 together. Keep them aside.

Make another separate pile of 128 and mix them with the previous ones.
Continue to do so.

I chose 8 cards to do at one time. There are two reasons. Human mind can do things in chunk of 7 and remember at once easily, not more than that. Secondly, when I tore a page of paper, making 8 pieces out of one page gave me a comfortable size for each piece to be held in my hand. Important! Remember, you are going to be holding 128-256 of these in your hand. While cumulatively going from 64 to 128 to 256, you are going to be flipping these cards like mad. Holding them comfortably in your hand will increase your speed and cognitive abilities.

Make Your Own Fuckin' Awesome Plan

Malcolm Gladwell put his 10,000 hour rule. Sit back for a while and try to think, how many times do you think about yourselves? A lot. From 'liking chocolate' to 'hating Himesh Reshammiya', from walking to clothing. You think about what suits you extensively. Making choices also is exercising your knowledge about yourself. In other words, you have easily spent 10,000 hours analyzing yourself. That makes 'you' the best person to know about 'you'!!

So, what worked for me, might not work for you. Know what works for you. I analyzed my efficiency and devised my own ways. Do that for yourself.

The Exam

I took the examination at Ahmadabad center. I chose the 13:00 slot. I find the morning one too early, your brain isn't warmed up enough. The evening slot is too late.

All great events have countdowns. The countdowns are not fancy publicity stunts. There is a meaning to it. There are set-up procedures that will take a stipulated time before the event starts. Hypothetically, may be the fuels of rockets have to be left reacting for enough time to be able to burn efficiently, so they start that clock before the rocket takes off. Similarly, I had the 13:00 hours test, so my countdown consisted of a sequence of tasks to be completed in time. From sleeping early, to waking up, to breakfast. Even the time to 'brush teeth' was planned and had a time slot!

Don't eat too heavy before the exam, yet have enough to get your through the 4.5 hours. You will need your passport and Examination confirmation letter ONLY. Take your eyes off the computer whenever you can. It'll help GREATLY. Don't forget to ask the invigilators for ear-muffs, sometimes the neighbor typing frantically will disturb you!

Hope this helps!

Wishing you luck,


  1. Thank you :)
    A good review of the examination.

  2. Nice job summing it up!
    Although if I were you (especially after studying so much for the GRE, shame on you :P) I'd walk in a 'desert' and not a 'dessert'

  3. Thank you!
    I know its a long one, yet I feel these things are important! :)

  4. flashcards are very important for us because it play a important role make us educated

    SAT reading practice online
    TOEIC vocabulary flashcards