From 294 to 327 on the GRE in 3 months
This post is written by Amjad Qayuum who score a 294 on the GRE at first and finally a 327
It took me a long time and the journey was extremely tough but I finally made it last week – a 327 on the GRE, 169 Quant and 158 on verbal. Initially, my goal was to score a 315+ with a 165+ on quant and 150+ on the verbal section but I got a lot more than I aimed for. Since I am applying directly to a graduate program in Mechanical Engineering to in US, I felt that quant is what really matters. Previously I had taken the GRE exam in May 2016, just before the Fulbright deadline, and managed to score a meager 294 (149 quant and 145 verbal).
Right from the start I knew that a 165+ on quant would be challenging but I strongly believe that my first failure at the GRE test in May this year helped me reach my goal. My practice scores seemed to be hovering around 320 but the perspective of different students and instructors, especially Talha Omer, helped me to optimize my strategy for the test. I would honestly say that I did not do anything different, I simply observed what some of the high achieving students reported on this website. Here was my strategy:
- Have an objective/goal/target score
- Take a full-length diagnostic test
- Know your weaknesses and strengths – focus a LOT on weaknesses and just a little on your strengths
- Understand the core concepts rather than doing a lot of practice
- Take 6-8 mock tests and experiment with different test taking strategies to see what is best for you
1) If you do not have a specific objective or target score in mind then it is nearly impossible to stay motivated or religiously follow your study routine. Moreover one needs to have realistic time on hand to achieve that target score. When I first started preparing for GRE in April/May my goal was to score a 300+ since I only had 3-4 weeks before the Fulbright deadline to prepare and take the GRE exam. Though I fell short by 6 points in achieving my goal (294), I understood from this attempt that setting an ambitious goal is important. So the next time when I planned to retake the exam, I set an ambitious goal of touching 320 and also took the liberty to devote at least 2.5 months to prepare for it. I knew that going from 294 to 320 would be an uphill battle.
2) If you have not started preparing for the GRE, it is always good to know your weaknesses. You can do that by taking a full-length GRE diagnostic test to see where you stand initially. A lot of people don’t take a diagnostic test fearing that it will demoralize them – but believe me, it is so helpful. The real value of the diagnostic test is to have a fair idea of the format and duration of the test – moreover it reaffirms the areas where you lack significantly and areas where you are better off. Since I had already taken the GRE once I clearly knew where I fell short and the next time I made sure that I gave my weaknesses ample time to improve.
3.) Once you start preparing for the GRE using any source - be it books, online classes or an academy, make sure that you have a thorough grasp of why you are lacking in certain areas. Observe any patterns, questions types or topics that you repeatedly fail at. May be you forget exponent rules or always mix the difference between permutations and combinations. While preparing I observed that I always got exponents wrong because I was applying the rules incorrectly. After that finding, I worked for 2-3 hours on it and never made the same mistake again. Moreover I made a note of this repeated mistake on my error log so that I can keep on revising this later as well. Also while preparing I realized that I was much better in reading comprehension – both long and short passages. However, I needed to focus on text completions and all quant question types. From that point on I studied approximately 60% quant, 30% sentence completions, and 10% passages. This is an extremely important advice – do not waste time on areas you are already good at.
4.) Many students I saw preparing for the GRE would spend endless hours on practicing hundreds of questions on the GRE. I never did that – 60% of my time was spent on thoroughly understanding each of the question types and the commonly tested quantitative and verbal skills, rest on practicing. I never spent hours memorizing thousands of words, or out of context geometry rules, which are rarely tested. Instead I tried to understand the logic and concept the questions were testing. You do need to learn commonly tested words (I used 333 Barrons most frequent words and the 800 hit parade by Princeton review) and commonly tested quant rules; that’s it.
5.) Many times I would lose heart because I was scoring much less than my actual goal. This demotivated me a lot but then I would take a break for a day or two and then come back to it again, repeat the entire process of identifying issues and working on them, and then moved on. You must be persistent at it else soon you will no longer have the desire to keep going. Last but not the least, it is not enough to just know the strategies and the concepts. You must be good at exam taking skills – the ability to manage your time, skipping questions, flagging them and pacing your section. The more mocks you take the better you will get at it. One good strategy for quant is to skip hard or long questions (such as word problems) and come to those later. For verbal I personally liked to solve the passages first since I was good at those and then came to the completion questions. But every person will have different techniques to take the test – so try different variations and optimize accordingly.
Finally a week before the test, start refreshing all concepts and refer to your error log to focus on your most troubling areas. Daily review your vocabulary and any other important things in your error log. 3 days before the test day stop taking mock exams and start to revise and review all practice exams thoroughly. A day before the test just chill out, relax, watch a movie, have a nice dinner and rest. Also make sure you know the GRE test environment. ETS offers a mock exam at their test center in Lahore as well, so you can go there 3-4 days before the test and take a test just to acclimatize to the testing environment.