With each passing year, there is an increasing interest towards acquiring Post-Graduate (Masters or MBA) degrees, or even PhDs. The Indian Education System, lacking proper structure and fundamental resources, releases a whole host of graduates into the country every year who are highly unqualified to perform even the simplest tasks. The very tasks for which, in order to learn how to perform them, the students have undergone three to four-year courses.
Understandably, the students decide to try their hand at Post-Graduate degrees at foreign universities, which have a much higher standard of education, improved curriculum and an application-based method of learning. If you are a graduate or presently attending college and hope to aim for higher studies, then your score on the GRE General Test may be one of the requirements for higher education. (Apart from other standardized tests such as TOEFL, IELTS, GMAT.)
The GRE (Graduate Record Examination) General Test is held by the ETS (Educational Testing Service) throughout the year in various centers in India and the world. (Look up on the official ETS website for a test center nearest to your location.) If you plan on attempting the test and need some advice on how to acquire a good score (which plays a major role in deciding whether the university accepts your application or not), then read on!
The Test consists of three sections:
- Analytical Writing
- Verbal Reasoning
- Quantitative Reasoning
This section consists of two separately timed writing tasks:
- An ‘Analyse an issue’ task
- An ‘Analyse an argument’ task
Both the tasks have a time limit of 30 minutes each. The official ETS website has a pool of published topics (each for Issue and Argument), from which a topic is presented to you during the time you take your GRE General Test. The wording of the topic may differ slightly during the same. Therefore, read the question carefully during the test as there may be different task instructions.
The best way to prepare for these two tasks is – practice. Working on your writing skills at a regular pace is a surefire way to improve them. If you think you are inept at writing, do not fret! Writing skills can be surely improved upon, but only with repeated exercise. Think of it as being similar to a muscle. Working out at the gym regularly helps improve muscle strength, but also doing a variety of exercises so you do not reach a plateau level, from which it becomes difficult to advance. Similarly, practice writing on a variety of topics till you are satisfied.
- If you are currently attending college, try joining your college’s Magazine Team and working on writing and editing articles there. (This will also be advantageous in improving your application, as foreign universities consider it a plus point that you have engaged in extra-curricular activities during your Undergraduate study.)
- Try your hand at pursuing writing as a hobby, and find people with a similar interest. Collaborate with them on writing as much as possible.
- Request people (anyone who will give you an honest opinion) to read what you’ve written and ask for their opinion on the written matter. It helps to see things from a different perspective, and they may help you understand where you might be lacking and how you can improve upon the written content. Once you’ve made any changes, do ask the same person once again to read your edits, as he or she has read your article previously, and will be a better judge of the extent to which you have improved.
- Start a blog, and post your writings there, as it helps to maintain a record of your writings.
- Maintain a diary, and write about your daily doings. (Preferably in English, if you are doing so to help with the GRE Test!)
- It will be tremendously helpful to also practice writing by setting a 30-minute deadline on some of the available topics from the published topic pool present on the ETS website. (Note: There are a plethora of published topics present on the website on each of the tasks. Practicing on writing tasks for all the topics and memorising them will not help out, and will only be detrimental to your AW score. Also, your task’s instructions may differ during the test.) Nevertheless, do practice. If you are lucky, you might be presented with the same topic during the test as the one which you have previously written about!
- The internet has plenty of information on how could improve your writing skills, and there are also many (free) self-help books available on the same. Peruse through if need be, but always remember that writing will only be improved through practice.
- Try practicing by writing by hand instead of typing away on a computer if possible. Although you will be typing your task on a computer during the test, you will learn more effectively by writing than by typing. Writing will stimulate the brain and will filter out everything unnecessary, giving more importance to the task you are actively focusing on at the time. However, if your typing speed is slow, go for a combination of both writing and typing.
The Verbal Reasoning section consists of questions of three kinds each:
- Reading Comprehension
- Text Completion
- Sentence Equivalence
The VR section has two 20-20 question-containing sets, which gives you a total of 40 questions to answer in this section.
Reading Comprehension requires you to provide constant and focused attention to the task at hand, which is reading, and thoroughly understanding the block of information provided. People tend to get distracted very easily due to the easy access to technology in current times, thus developing a short attention span. Moreover, people are also now impatient. In their impatience, they hurriedly read the piece of text, with a high chance of missing out on crucial information that may help them to answer the questions correctly.
- Develop a habit of reading books regularly. Preferably physical copies, or on the Kindle device. (They strain the eyes to a much lesser extent.) If either of the options are unavailable and you prefer to read on a Smartphone, computer, or a tablet, disconnect the internet or turn off the notifications (for a Smartphone & tablet) as they will repeatedly distract you from reading or make you forget about reading altogether. Remember, the goal here is to develop the focused attention required for acing the RC section. Read newspapers as well.
- Choose a variety of genre when it comes to reading books. The GRE Test will select a piece of text from a myriad of topics to present to you in the test. It will be easier for you to read and understand during the test if you are already accustomed to reading different kinds of information. (Note: There are an innumerable genre for the GRE Test makers to choose from, so it is highly unlikely that you can cover them all.)
- Reading Comprehension and vocabulary go hand in hand. If you encounter any word while reading which you are not familiar with, note in down immediately along with the context in which it has appeared, and search for its meaning. Try not to put off the search for another time, as continuing to read further without understanding will make the entire process irrelevant. Revise the words that you have noted down while commuting.
- Keep practicing. Try to regularly solve RC questions, preferably those which have answered with explanations at the end. It will help you understand where you have gone wrong and will help you improve.
- The piece of text in the GRE test will be separated into paragraphs. If you are unable to decipher the main idea behind the passage even after you finish reading, then read the first and last paragraphs once more. It will help you understand as the two paragraphs in the GRE Test contain relevant information with respect to the main concept very often.
- Do not hesitate to read the information once more if you are unable to answer the questions. (There is a time constraint, so choose wisely the parts of the text you wish to revise.) Try a ‘bottom to top’ approach while practising RC questions. Read the question first, then look for similarities in the text above. It may be possible that this works for you, since you know what to look for. (This applies only for certain kind of questions, and it cannot be generalised.)
- While practising, apply a time constraint so you are much more accustomed to it during the test.
This type of question involves short passages from which crucial words have been omitted. You have to fill in the remaining information in the passage, by reasoning if the chosen word (from the given options) is apt or not, and correctly defines the picture as whole. Merely trying to consider a possible combination of answers from the options is not only unfruitful, but also time-consuming.
- Read the entire passage to obtain a fair idea behind its meaning.
- Usually, the short passage in TC questions has words or phrases that are particularly significant, which may help to understand the direction in which the passage is heading (i.e. meaning). These words or phrases (such as ‘moreover’, ‘although’, ‘however’, ‘albeit’) emphasize the structure of the short passage, and what it is about.
- Employ logic and grammar to ensure that the passage is correct and makes sense after you have chosen all the words.
- Try to understand the context under which the word has been used. The Magoosh App called ‘Vocabulary Builder’ leans towards this method of learning. (Again, as we see, Reading Comprehension and vocabulary for Text Completion do go hand in hand. Preparing for one can also lead to mastery of the other!) Usually, when studying for the GRE Test, many people tend to memorise the meanings of words. This helps only to a certain extent, as there are quite many words in the GRE list, and it is impossible to memorise the meanings of all of them.
- Although it is inadvisable to memorise the meanings of all of the words, there is a slightly smaller set of words, the occurrence of which is very high in the GRE General Test. You can regularly read a list of these words and their meanings to help you remember them.
- The order in which the blanks must be filled in the passage is irrelevant. Perhaps by happenstance, filling in the middle or the last blank may contribute to helping in filling out the remaining two blanks.
- Practice makes perfect!
These kind of questions are similar to TC questions, the only difference is that SE questions consist of a sentence with a single blank, and you are required to choose two options from the ones provided, either of which will complete the sentence to make it coherent and whole. The tips for solving Text Completion (TC) questions also apply for the Sentence Equivalence kind.
After you have chosen the two options, check if each one produces a logical sentence. Also check if the meanings of both the sentences are the same.
The Quantitative Reasoning (QR) section involves mathematical problems. While solving questions of this section, you will be provided with an on-screen calculator. As this section involves mathematical problems, it is only natural that the only way to improve your skills at the QR section is by repeatedly solving problems of various kinds. While the problems in this section may seem easy, there are many questions which may only appear to be so. There are certain twists in some questions which may not be noticeable at first, and will lead you to marking the wrong answer.
- Keep a note of various general formulae that are required to solve QR problems, and revise these regularly. Although it may seem easier to memorise the formulae than to solve the problem (even if the solving method is pretty straightforward, such as simply replacing the variable in the formula with its respective value), it is always better to learn the formulae by solving the problem as it is a much more efficient way of remembering it.
- If you are poor at Maths, focus on the areas which are your weaknesses, but do not forget to also practice problems on concepts which may come to you easily. (Being overly confident can cause you to lose marks unnecessarily!)
- Revise basic mathematical concepts that you have learned starting from fifth grade onwards. Sometimes, mistakes may be made in fairly easy QR problems due to the fact that the basics have been long forgotten. Revise the basics before solving problems on QR. (The list of concepts covered under the GRE General Test may be obtained from the official ETS website.)
- Practice problems under a suitable time constraint, preferably one similar to that of the GRE Test.
Some General Advice
- Solve all the questions from the official GRE booklets, issued by ETS. It will give you a general idea of what the questions are like.
- Examples of other material to practice GRE Test questions may be books on GRE General Test from Manhattan Prep, Kaplan, Magoosh, Barron’s GRE, Nova, Princeton, and many more. Opinions differ from person to person on which book is the best, so skim through the books provided by these authors in order to find the one best suited to your needs.
- The Magoosh Prep App (link to which may be found on their website) is helpful to learn while you are commuting or are unable to access your prime source material of study (for example, books) at that particular time. Similar apps for preparing for the GRE Test also exist, both on PlayStore and iOS AppStore. Revising from these apps is particularly useful in instances such as when your test centre is far, and you are travelling for long distances.
- Work with friends or acquaintances who are also preparing for the GRE Test to learn and help each other out.
- Various other online resources are also available to study from.
- Self-study can also help you obtain a high score in the GRE Test. But if you are running short on time, or cannot find the discipline to study yourself, you may consider joining a coaching centre for the GRE Test. (Again, opinions on whether these centres are useful or not vary widely, so decide based on your own requirements.)
- While you booking a date and centre for the GRE Test on the ETS website, you may be offered to choose to add two practice tests (minus the AW sections) to your cart. These twotesyV practice tests are free of charge (costing $ 0.00), and solving them will help you get a general idea of where you stand.
- Make a timetable and plan out your study schedule for the GRE General Test. (Irrespective of whether you have joined a coaching centre for the same.) Follow the schedule thoroughly and try to compensate for times when you may be lagging behind in it (due to problems such as sickness, or any other issues that may be preventing you from studying). All the best!