Make the GRE agree with you! Here is how you can start prepping

The GRE is the war between your brain capacity and ability. It tests every corner of your mind but its not a monster!

The GRE is the war between your brain capacity and ability. It tests every corner of your mind but its not a monster!


The Graduate Record Examination (GRE) isn’t just your ordinary test. The GRE is a test designed to measure the verbal, quantitative and analytical writing skills you have developed in the course of your academic career, particularly when you are aiming to go USA’s best graduate schools like MIT, UC Berkeley, Stanford, Georgia Tech; you have to encounter the GRE to study under such ‘consistently’ ranked-near-the-top-of-the-elite-school-slush-pile. Worldwide, about half a million people take the general testeach year, while a much smaller number take the subject exams.

As a non-native speaker, I was first a bit loathsome (yes, utilising GRE vocabulary) reading the more challenging comprehensions,  retaining vocabulary, maths practices, memorising formulae, trying to build everything as fast as possible, and above all it is the war of your brain capacity versus dedication for translating a higher GRE score. But trust me with an aim of a ‘decent’ score, this test is an adventure. Thus, I started off with the Barron’s book and I actually found it very difficult to continue reading it and looking up the “exotic” words within the passages.

But my friends, it will not be in vain to say “study vocabulary until you die!”, I learnt (am learning) that the hard way.

Vocabulary is not the only thing in the GRE; there are some patches of difficulty which should be clear to you before you encounter the test. Queries such as the ones below are common:

“Hey Kiran! Can you tell me how to start preparing for the GRE? Where to register andhow long it takes to prepare for achieving a decent score? What is the validity of the GRE and which universities require it? Which test materials do you recommend for the GRE? How many words did you learn and how do we build our vocabulary?”

Too intense for you? Well, this is what a person who is aiming to go abroad is thinking nearly all of the time and I always love to negotiate with such ambitious friends and cater to their queries.

The outline for the GRE test is unambiguous; you will have to deal with three standard sections in the GRE general test.

Analytical writing:

This section measures your writing capability. By writing capability I mean how ‘good’ you are at understanding an argument with a clear, coherent and organised mind, and then analyse it from the producer’s mindset. Your agreement and disagreement on a particular topic should be complimented with a strong argument that could be used to support or refute the author’s position. For people who are aiming for a graduate program in a field that favours number-crunching over essay-writing, you clearly don’t need to aim so high but for those, who are aiming to pursue a Masters in Literature or History at Harvard then this is the time to show your ability to write high-scoring essays.

Quantitative analysis:

This section will probably be your favourite one or your worst nightmare. For all those who are good at playing with numbers and equations, factors and square roots, geometry and word problems, you are going to ace this section.

For those who are not, there is always time to learn!

Your first assignment after reading this piece of writing and before you buy material for the GRE, is to go and open your younger sibling’s fifth and sixth grade  standard maths book or buy the series of  ‘Are you smarter than a fifth grader?’ –seriously that’s what it is.

Start jotting down the formulae for the area and perimeters of geometric shapes – there is nothing hard and fast in this section; you need to work on the concepts you probably learnt years ago. It’s true that at an early stage you may be a little rusty when it comes to working with numbers but you’ll be surprised at how quickly you’ll become comfortable again.

Verbal section:

The last section is the verbal section. Reading comprehensions, text completion and sentence equivalence make up the lion’s share of this module. Reading comprehension is like an open-book test; the correct answers are always in the passage. On the other hand, ETS is really good at crafting answers that seem right but are, in fact, wrong. Despite the brevity of the passage a lot of information is packed in congested space; suffice is to say that you need eagle-eyes to extract the information as the author will generally write in the style that is characterised by clear organisation, strong topic sentence and transitions.

Text completion– this is probably the shortest section of the test but do not make the mistake of treating it lightly as I believe this section tests your vocabulary and the ability to plug the correct words in the correct spaces.

Sentence equivalence – this is similar to ‘one-blank text-completion’ question but here again you have to have a good grasp on your vocabulary.

Vocabulary is the essence of this section, so to ace it you are going to have to place greater emphasis on your analytical skills to understand the vocabulary in context rather than in isolation. Hence, for all the novel readers and TV-series lovers, the verbal section is your baby.

I hope this bit of information makes the GRE a little less intimidating and helps you prepare!

Good luck to you all!

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