Umair Scored 338 on the GRE. Read His Experience
This post has been written for us by Umair Khan, who scored a staggering 338 on the GRE (170 Quant and 168 Verbal)
I write this to share my complete GRE experience: how I prepared for the test, what test strategies I figured out in the process, the role of BrighLink Prep and all the important lessons I learnt during this two and a half month ride. This piece is not supposed to be a generic guideline or a rigorous preparation guide, the whole GRE experience is by its very nature subjective and not everything works for everyone. Also, because my approach towards a question was mostly intuitive rather than based on some acquired methodology, I may not be the best person to suggest a proper study plan. I do hope however that my ordinary but sincere effort to share my own experience will play a part, however small, in helping you find your own course towards your dream score.
It all began in mid July of this year when a friend of mine told me about BrightLink Prep, just three days before the beginning of their new session. I took the entrance diagnostic test and trial class and decided to attend their classes. It proved to be a very wise decision in retrospect, since Sir Talha Omer has played a massive role in my success. This is not to say that you cannot prepare for GRE on your own, but if like me you’re distracted too easily and are too lazy to carve out a study plan and stick to it by sheer determination, BrightLink Prep is the place for you. All you will have to do is take your weekend classes regularly and do the assignments and quizzes diligently and everything will be taken care for. Besides, you will always have a mentor in Sir Talha to look for when in trouble. I registered myself for the GRE and selected 3rd October as test date.
Fast forward eight weeks, by the start of September I had completed my 8 week course at BrightLink, taken all the quizzes and done every assignment and practice exercises assigned by Sir Talha. I didn’t touch the Manhattan 5lb or any other GRE book, the class coursework proved to be enough. This course gave me ample practice for the quantitative questions and reading comprehensions / critical reasoning questions. I had however neglected vocabulary all this while, and to make up I dedicated the first two and a half weeks of September solely to vocabulary. In hindsight, this wasn’t the right thing to do. It’s better to learn vocabulary from the start, little by little, in conjunction with the rest of the preparation, instead of dedicating days or weeks at the end to it at the cost of valuable quantitative and verbal practice. If it wasn’t for Sir Talha’s timed intervention, I would have wasted my prior hardwork in the last couple of weeks. Sir Talha directed me to start giving mock exams. I complied and took almost 12 mock tests in as many days before the test. This was vital practice since I figured out some crucial time management strategies from taking these tests. Two days from the actual test, I stopped taking practice exams, revised all the words I had learnt and brought my preparation to a close. The last day I studied nothing, hung out with friends, kept myself distracted to elude all last day nervousness, and most importantly went to bed early. I cannot stress this enough. You must not underestimate the importance of a good night’s sleep before the test. Your mind has to be totally alert and stay so for almost 4 hours during the six sections of the test. So sleep is pivotal. Anyways, I had a good breakfast on the test morning, and reached the test centre one hour before the test. The number of practice tests I had taken made the actual test appear pretty normal in terms of difficulty. The rest is history 😛
I’d like to share some of the lessons that I learned from my experience; they worked for me, I hope they do the same for you.
(1) Register yourself for the test before starting your preparation. You won’t study unless you have a sword hanging over your head 😛
(2) If you’re preparing on your own, Manhattan 5 lb and the three ETS books (Official Guide, Quant Practice and Verbal Practice) are sufficient resource material as far as I know. To further consolidate your preparation, you can buy the Magoosh subscription and watch their videos.
(3) Time all your practice sessions. I realized this when I initially struggled with managing my time during practice exams.
(4) For both short and long passages, read the passage first, then read the question without looking at the options, go back to the relevant lines in the passage and form your own answer, and then look for the option that is consistent with the answer you formed. If the question is too difficult to figure out a clear answer, employ the elimination method. Start eliminating options that contradict the information in the passage or contain information that cannot be inferred from the passage. Narrowing down choices in this way increases your chances of getting your answer right.
(5) Remember that your past knowledge and your common sense will only trap you in passage questions. The passage and only the passage is your reference, not your past knowledge or experience. You cannot select an option if it cannot be deduced from the passage, even if it is a universal truth.
(6) As far as the vocabulary is concerned, the more words you learn the better. Obvious isn’t it? There is no limit to the number of words you can learn. I learnt all of the Magoosh Flashcard vocabulary and Manhattan 500 wordlist, and also skimmed through Barron’s 1100 and 333 High Frequency List on the penultimate day before the test. Also, regularly revising the words you have learnt is absolutely essential. You cannot retain even half the words you learn if you don’t revise them (unless you have a superhuman photographic memory).
(7) Coming back to the passages, remember that options that contain strong assertions are usually wrong. Words like “must”, “always” entail generalizations that are incorrect if not supported directly by the passage. Think of the passage as the only truth there is.
(8) Mock exams give you the near real experience of the actual test. Take as many as you can in the last two weeks before the test. Especially, take the two ETS PowerPrep tests, mock tests at the end of ETS Official Guide and the practice sections at the end of ETS Quant and Verbal books. Also if you can acquire the Manhattan practice tests, it’d be great. A week of Manhattan mock test practice will more than prepare you for the actual test difficulty.
(1) For the quantitative section, it is of utmost importance to read the question carefully. However obvious this advice may sound, believe me jumping to an answer before fully grasping the question is a very common vulnerability. Also read the instructions at the start of the quantitative section carefully and bear them in mind throughout.
(2) Time is of the essence in GRE. Do not be tempted to get too focused on a single question. If it’s taking too long, mark the question and move on. Every question carries equal weight, it’s foolish to waste too much time on a hard question when you can get five easy questions right in the same time.
(3) For the verbal section, employ the following strategy: text completion and sentence equivalence questions in the first 5-10 minutes, short passages in the next 10 minutes, and long passage in the last 10 minutes. Follow this order and time distribution strictly; you’ll easily be left with 3-4 minutes at the end to check your marked questions.
(4) For the quant section, the strategy is similar: do the most time consuming part i.e. the data interpretation in the last 10 minutes. You must be done with the other 17 questions in the first 25 minutes at all cost.
(5) Take dates, chocolates etc and water with you to re-energize yourselves during the scheduled break.
(6) Finally, do not panic. Go in with zero expectations. Do not worry about the score. Just do your best and “baaqi Allah pe chhorr dou”.