GRE 329 - Balaj Jamal
Hi there! I gave the test and scored 165 in Quantitative Reasoning, 164 in Verbal Reasoning and 4.5 in Analytical Writing.
“Your score reflects how good you are in Math and snobby English!” and “You must be pretty smart to get a score this high!” were among the first impressions from friends and acquaintances when I told them my score. The general public opines that the GRE solely tests your problem solving and critical thinking ability in limited time and a respectable score represents an inherent superiority in these traits. Fortunately (or unfortunately), this is far from the truth as the GRE – like every other standardized test out there – is indeed learn-able and your score may solely depend on how well you strategize and how many hours you’ve invested in practice.
I bought a Magoosh account from ScholarDen back in November, 2017 and watched a couple of videos before completely backing out due to personal reasons. I resumed my preparation by the end of February, 2018 and invested as much time as I possibly could each day. During this time period, I joined ScholarDen’s forums on Facebook where I was fortunate to receive a plethora of advices, some of which, in the words of a friend, were gold! As a rough blueprint, I followed Muhammad Zaid’s footsteps who ironically scored 329 as well (do read his story for some great tips!), and studied ten hours straight whenever I could, only taking short breaks in-between to decompress. I’m incapable of devising well-organized study plans and schedules so I only focused on wrapping up everything as fast as I could. I followed a three-step methodology for my preparation: Understand the underlining principles of each topic, practice questions with a focus on pacing, attempt as many mocks as possible to enhance my mental stamina.
For Quantitative Reasoning, I relied on Magoosh videos to build a strong foundation. I highly recommend these videos over ETS and Manhattan’s guides because they start from ground zero and the instructor is very thorough. For practice, I solved about half of the Magoosh question pool before moving on to the Manhattan 5 lb. book, which is by far the best resource out there for Quant practice. Quant questions tend to be very predictable, to the extent that you can precisely predict how you need to solve the question even before fully reading it. As a benchmark, one should keep practicing until one develops a sense of familiarity and averages as close to a minute as possible per question in a section, regardless of its overall difficulty. Magoosh and Manhattan’s 5 lb. got the job done for me while there are people who rely on more resources besides these. I did not gauge my practice merely in terms of the number of questions I solved, rather where I stood in terms of my ability to solve hard questions at a good pace. Also, contrary to what almost everyone recommends, I heavily relied on the GRE’s on-screen calculator and specifically worked on refining my pace on it. By far the biggest contributor in my score is what most people overlook, a thorough review. Even someone very skilled in mathematics is prone to silly mistakes due to a lapse of concentration or tiredness, and that’s where a review will save you. Ideally, I tried saving 10 minutes at the end of each Quant section and 8 minutes in a worst-case scenario. I used this time to go through every question in depth to make sure I got them right to the best of my knowledge.
For Text Completion and Sentence Equivalence in Verbal Reasoning, I memorized the basic and common decks in the Magoosh GRE vocabulary flashcards app. While my score may reflect that these words are more than enough to ace these questions, I recommend memorizing the advanced decks as well (only IF you have the time) as I had to over-rely on elimination in the hardest questions. To memorize these words, I looked up each one of them on vocabulary.com for easy definitions and other words in their ‘word tree’ (impertinence, for example, is in their decks but pertinence, another GRE word in impertinence’s word tree, is not). I further looked up words that were difficult to memorize on nytimes.com for their usage in historical articles to make them seem more interesting and mnemonicdictionary.com for some rather amusing memory aids. I realized that practicing questions wasn’t helping much so I watched Magoosh videos and solely focused on memorizing words thereafter, which was far the most time consuming task for me. For Reading Comprehensions, pace is everything because if you can read fast, you can invest more time on analyzing the text. I’m the sort of person who reads a dozen articles a day in my leisure time so I didn’t feel the need to practice because I was already a fast reader. But if you feel that there’s even a slight room for improvement in your pacing, aldaily.com and opinionated articles on The New York Times, The New Yorker and Washington Post are highly recommended while LSAT practice problems and RC-99 are great resources for practice (easily available on this platform). I attempted all text completion and sentence equivalence questions within the first 10 minutes while allotting 14 minutes to Reading Comprehensions and saved 6 minutes for review.
The most important advice I can offer is to attempt as many full-length mocks as you possibly can. When you’re at a stage where you’ve invested countless hours into practice, getting a hard question right may seem easy when you’re fresh. Getting it right after a grueling 3-hour session, however, is a different story altogether. All your preparation would be meaningless if you don’t have the mental stamina to back it up. To put things in perspective, I attempted a total of 9 timed mocks (7 on Magoosh and 2 on ETS) and even then, I had a very hard time maintaining a consistent level of concentration throughout (eating a Snicker bar in the 10-minute break did wonders in this regard, I offer my sincerest gratitude to the CEO of the company if he ever ends up reading this). Also, these mocks were all I used for Analytical Writing practice. I barely had enough time to come up with a well-written piece in the mocks, so I watched Magoosh videos and scored samples on ETS’ website to help me develop a structure of my own that I could use for any topic.
As a parting note, please take all my advices with a pinch of salt. You see, what worked best for me may not work at all for you. Manhattan’s paid mocks, for example, are the worst investment you can make in my opinion, but someone who scored 338 highly recommends them. If you go through success stories of other high scorers on this website, you’ll find that some of them used resources that are not first choices for most, but they worked better for these individuals than other resources nonetheless. But indeed, there are common elements you’ll find in success stories of anyone with a decent score – hours and hours invested in disciplined practice and an absolute belief in their own ability. Heck, if someone as disorganized as me can get 329 simply by working hard, there’s no reason why you can’t hit the 330 mark!