Total GRE Score: 338/340

Quantitative: 170 (97th Percentile)

Verbal: 168 (98th Percentile)

I write this piece to share the lessons that I have learnt from my GRE experience. I hope they are of help to prospective test takers:

1) To start with, register for the test 3-4 months in advance of the test. The deadline keeps you from becoming complacent.

2) From there, take everything along in a very balanced manner. A lot of students spend way too much time on one aspect of the test on the expense of other components. For example, I have seen students, upon finding out they are weak in verbal, totally abandon their preparation for the quantitative section. In the process, their quantitative reasoning becomes rusty by the time they appear for the test. Similarly there are students who spend too much cramming words, compromising their reading comprehension in the process. You have to take everything along together. This of course does not mean you do not put extra effort in your weak areas, just don’t let it affect your overall preparation.

3) The words that you memorize in order to tackle the text completion and sentence equivalence will relentlessly elude your memory. Revising the words at regular intervals is a MUST! It is safe to learn 800 to 1000 words; but irrespective of the number of words that you learn, the main thing is to retain them. And retention requires revision on a daily basis.

4) Talking about text completion (TC) and sentence equivalence (SE), remember it is worthwhile to remember that merely learning the words is not enough. TCs and SEs are a test of your ability to complete the logical sense of a sentence. This ability is only honed when you practice actual TC and SE questions. Learning the words is a means to an end, not an end itself.

5) Now to other component of the verbal section: reading comprehension. Reading comprehension makes up half of the entire verbal section, but is often neglected because of fear of the vocabulary. Remember for the vocabulary you are never sure if the words you’re learning will actually appear on the test, it’s a gamble at best. But with the reading comprehension, you know the effort that you put will definitely reap results. So it’s wiser actually to invest time in perfecting your reading abilities.

6) A lot of people feel intimidated by quantitative reasoning on the GRE, especially the ones who have had no connection with math for a long period of time. To those I say this: GRE tests the most elementary of math concepts so there’s absolutely no need to be discouraged. All you need is to get hold of the basics and develop mathematical intuition. From there the climb will be much easier. The big question is how to build those basics. Here are a few things that can help:

(i) You can get an idea of the concepts that you’ll be working with by consulting the chapter on Math Review in the ETS Official Guide for GRE.

(ii) Once you know the topics, you can consult books on elementary mathematics, watch videos on YouTube and get help and coaching from any good math teachers that you know of.

(iii) You may also want to try the eight book Manhattan guide series covering all the basics of GRE.

Once you’ve spent a good month or two to soak in the basics, you have enough groundwork to move one step higher and start practicing actual questions. And from that point onwards, the more questions you practice the better you get. But there’s a catch to it. Practice won’t help if you do not identify your mistakes, which include (a) your weak areas (the concepts that still need revision, or were missed out completely), (b) flaws in the way you approach certain questions and (c) relying too much on formulae instead of mathematical sense. Identification of mistakes is what makes practice meaningful and helps getting better.

7) Lastly, taking plenty of mock exams towards the end gives you the all-important match practice. Even with all the concepts that you have mastered and the problem-solving techniques that you have learnt, you lack the vital pressure handling and time management strategies that you can only figure out by taking the mock exams. I often recommend timing your regular practice too, so that you’re used to solving questions under time constraints from the very beginning. You can start with a very relaxed constraint and then gradually tighten it as you get better.

 Acing the GRE is more about discipline, perseverance and direction than anything else. If you can stick to your plan and maintain consistency, 3 months is ample time to prepare effectively and score big. I wish all aspiring test takers the very best!

– Umair Khan Niazi