GRE Success Story - How to improve your GRE score from 299 to 320+?
My name is Hassan Ahmed, an Engineer from NED.
I want to thank Scholar Den platform for guiding me and keeping me motivated during the process. I want to say that below-written material is just my experience. It is possible that these things may not work for others.
Before you read further, I want to mention here that when I began my GRE prep in Jan 2017 I was not good at the verbal part and RC and TC were two big hurdles for me to get a good score of 150+. I took the diagnostic test and my score was 299 without any preparation. Since the time I first heard about GRE, I believed that I can get an awesome score by memorizing words as verbal is all about vocab and nothing else. But I was completely wrong in my thinking and I wasted a lot of time on vocab. Secondly, I want to specifically mention here that being from an engineering background leads me to believe that quant would be easy and I don’t need any solid practice to achieve 165+. But getting 161 in quant made me realize my mistake.
So, as I prepared for my first GRE exam I did 1000 Magoosh words for verbal and practiced RC, TC and SE from Magoosh and Manhattan 5lb. For quant, I did Manhattan 5lb and Barron’s. I didn’t practice the Magoosh premium quant problems due to my flawed approach toward this section as I mentioned earlier. I took 2 Manhattan mocks and was scoring about 314-315 overall with around 150-151 in verbal and 163-164 in quant. So, I was pretty much confident about quant at least. With this much preparation, I sat for the test. I was expecting some score in the range of 315. But as it turned out I scored 309 with 161 in quant and 148 in verbal. After viewing my score on the screen, I got disappointed at first but after few months I decided to prepare for the test again and this time I would not register for the test until the time I was consistently getting my desired score in mocks.
I began preparing again for GRE in November 2017. I scored 322 Q 168 V 154.
To improve my quant, I did a detailed analysis of my incorrect problems and kept a record of all the wrong questions I did during the practice. During this time, I came across a document named Math Formula Sheet - a sort of “cheat sheet” - by Target Test Prep (TTP). As I read it, it contained many math shortcuts, number, algebraic and geometrical properties, properties that could help me solve many quant questions in very short time. After going through that document, I began preparing my own cheat sheet specifically customized to my shortcomings which contained all the shortcuts, properties and tricks to solve quantitative comparison questions. During this time, I also watched Magoosh quant videos and read Magoosh quant blogs. Magoosh videos and blogs contain some additional math tricks which are not present in TTP formula sheet. So, I also added all those things in my cheat sheet.
In addition to this, I went through ETS quant problems present in ETS official guides and analyzed why I was not able to score well in quant despite my engineering background and what exactly is ETS testing on GRE Quant section. As I analyzed it revealed on me that ETS quant problems trick test-takers in various sections including geometry, inequality and number properties questions. In quantitative comparison question, especially, ETS has a specific way of creating confusion and making test-taker to assume wrong, outside or obvious-looking info which is actually not present in the question. For instance, consider this question. Here it seems obvious that but if you try different possible values of you will see that is equal to in all cases except when is 0, 1 or -1. For these three values can be different. This is just one example there are many such traps you can find in ETS, Magoosh, Manhattan and Barron’s guides. To watch out from these traps, I prepared my “watch-out list” in which I noted down the traps where I was being tricked.
For verbal RC, I read articles from aldaily.com which has a plethora of free dense literature articles. But even after reading those on regular basis for a long time, I wasn’t able to improve any score not even 2-3 points. I was actually approaching passages the wrong way which was reading the passage quickly and later while solving questions going back and forth in the passage in search of answers. I changed my approach to “active reading” and employed three things while practicing RC:
1. Reading slowly (especially at the beginning of the passage) and reading in one go.
2. Predicting the nature of the next sentence.
3. Summarizing the info at the end of each para.
At first, it seems that this technique will take a much longer time. I read this approach somewhere which claimed that it will actually reduce the timing of solving questions. When I applied this technique, to my surprise, it actually did reduce the time. I would strongly suggest mastering this technique. You will feel the difference.
For verbal practice, I did all passages from RC99 which has a good difficulty level of passages and questions. But the critical reasoning (CR) questions are not present in it. For CR questions, I practiced from GMAT Questions.
For SE and TC, I used strategies of Manhattan series guide 8 which describes in detail the method of identifying clues and pivots in sentences and the importance of coming up with your own word without looking at the answer choices. This helped me a lot.
Three weeks before the test day, I started taking Manhattan mocks. Here I want to recommend all the test-takers to take mocks as much as you can. I cannot stress enough the importance of taking mocks. The most important thing to do while taking mocks is to analyze your shortcomings after every mock and improve that before taking the next one. This is the best thing about mocks. Taking mocks also helped me in managing time during the test.
Lessons learned from the first score:
1. Developing my own cheat sheet and watch-out list helped me in getting past 165-mark in quant. Marking weak problems and revisiting those on regular basis helped me a lot. Also, I redid those again 1 day before the exam. It helped.
2. Don’t stress yourself for learning more and more vocab. Good vocab always helps. But ETS tests contextual reading. I wasted a lot of time memorizing words.
3. Take ample mocks. They will give you confidence and improve time-management skills.
4. Take a good 6-8-hours sleep before the test day. I couldn’t sleep for the whole night before my first test. It affected my results.
5. Never lose hope. If I can do it then anyone can.