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Bennet

Unexpected abysmal verbal score - how to improve?

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I took the GRE for the first time today, and I did absolutely terrible, which I did not expect at all because I've been studying all summer and my practice test scores have been much better. I wasn't surprised by my quantitative score because I'm not a math person and I don't care what I get on that, but my verbal was only a 540...and I'm looking to go into graduate school for a Masters in English! I knew the GRE would be more difficult than the SAT, but I got a 700 on the verbal section when I took that four years ago, so I certainly didn't expect to score this low when that's always been my strong point.

I couldn't believe how hard the antonyms and analogies were for me, because I did pretty well with them on all my practice tests and I've been studying from GRE Powerprep and the Kaplan book I bought...but I recognized literally only three words from the whole verbal section that I'd learned while studying this summer. The rest were completely foreign to me, and even though sometimes I had a good idea of what they probably meant, the antonym and analogies questions require precise interpretation so my educated guessing clearly didn't work out for me.

I wanted to take the GRE this summer because I had time to study. Now I'm going back to school and I have a full course load along with work and an independent study project so time to study could not be more limited. Plus I feel like I don't even know how to study now because the words I was tested on weren't present in my study materials.

So my question is this: how did you all improve your vocab word knowledge? What did it take for you to improve your verbal section score if it wasn't what you wanted the first time? I need to get at least a 650-700 to even have at chance at being a contender for the better schools I'm looking at, but I don't have time to sit down and read the entire dictionary. What worked for you, and what do you suggest for me? Thanks everyone.

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I took the GRE for the first time today, and I did absolutely terrible, which I did not expect at all because I've been studying all summer and my practice test scores have been much better. I wasn't surprised by my quantitative score because I'm not a math person and I don't care what I get on that, but my verbal was only a 540...and I'm looking to go into graduate school for a Masters in English! I knew the GRE would be more difficult than the SAT, but I got a 700 on the verbal section when I took that four years ago, so I certainly didn't expect to score this low when that's always been my strong point.

I couldn't believe how hard the antonyms and analogies were for me, because I did pretty well with them on all my practice tests and I've been studying from GRE Powerprep and the Kaplan book I bought...but I recognized literally only three words from the whole verbal section that I'd learned while studying this summer. The rest were completely foreign to me, and even though sometimes I had a good idea of what they probably meant, the antonym and analogies questions require precise interpretation so my educated guessing clearly didn't work out for me.

I wanted to take the GRE this summer because I had time to study. Now I'm going back to school and I have a full course load along with work and an independent study project so time to study could not be more limited. Plus I feel like I don't even know how to study now because the words I was tested on weren't present in my study materials.

So my question is this: how did you all improve your vocab word knowledge? What did it take for you to improve your verbal section score if it wasn't what you wanted the first time? I need to get at least a 650-700 to even have at chance at being a contender for the better schools I'm looking at, but I don't have time to sit down and read the entire dictionary. What worked for you, and what do you suggest for me? Thanks everyone.

First, you're right that the antonym and especially the analogy questions require precise interpretations, which in turn require a large vocabulary ... and not just first meanings. The most difficult analogy and antonym questions rely on your knowing second or even third meanings of a word (usually a more common word with a recondite additional meaning).

Second, the only way to improve from 540 to 650 (or hopefully, better) is to learn all that esoteric vocabulary. Barron's book has the best vocabulary list I know of. It has over 3600 words, including about 400 "high frequency" words.

You should know all 400 high-frequency words cold. Period. Every single one of them. Period. And you should learn as many of the remaining 3600 as you can.

With a full study load that will indeed be difficult. Make flash cards (better to make them yourself than to buy pre-printed cards by the way!). Try to learn 10 or 12 new words every single day. USE the new words you learn! In your papers, in your conversation, in your emails to friends, anytime you have a chance.

Third, read all the high-brow books and magazines you can find, as well as the op-ed section of the New York Times if you have access to it; or The Economist; or old issues of The New Republic (hardline right-wing, but its editor, the late William F. Buckley, had the most astounding vocabulary of anybody I've ever heard talk).

Good luck,

John

(took GRE twice, scored 800V/670Q the first time and 740V/690Q the second time ... and am desparately trying to get my Quant up into the mid 700s) :)

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Do look at what you got wrong. ETS gives you the chance to do a diagnostic. It was helpful for me, because what I assumed I bombed I did well on -- reading comprehension, only 2 wrong out of 8. I ended up missing several antonyms and analogies which surprised me because on the paper based ETS 10th edition book, I missed few antonyms at all. The words I got wrong on the real deal were of the what the hell variety -- not abstruse but just deceptive.

Looking at the amount of time I spent on the tough ones, it looks like what happened is I overthought them, spent too much time. Nerves (and perfectionism, which is not my natural style at all, I am an anti-perfectionist type) got the better of me. On paper based practice tests, I'd start at the end with the antonyms first, knock them out, and then start at the beginning with sentence completions...which would give me enough time for the reading comprehension passages. I realized that strategy would not work on test day for the CAT but I knew that I would see the antonyms early on. But what I did not do is take the same confidence from the paper tests to the all important test day. I tried to be perfect on the first 10 and in so got bogged down. I was too obsessed with the potential "tricks" on the antonyms and analogies I ended up changing right answers to wrong ones. I went from freewheeling and confident on practice tests to tentative and cautious with the onset of lights, camera, action. However, I am not unique in this regard but rather fall into the great big category of most test takers. It is weird, though, that my weakness on all the practice tests was reading comprehension and yet on test day, antonyms were the items I got wrong. Over hundreds and hundreds of practice antonyms, I'd miss roughly the amount of questions I got wrong on 30 question test day. Whereas I was expecting to get maybe 4 or 5 of the reading comp questions wrong.

My score is good enough to keep, thanks to the reading comp section, amazingly, so I am not crying...but I learned that being overly cautious in strong areas may not be an optimal strategy Yet, conversely, I think in one's weak area being cautious seems to pay off. That worked for me on the reading comprehension...I really took my time to the point where I almost ran out of time...I really thought through the questions and those ridiculously long questions stems...changed wrong answers to correct ones. During practice tests, I learned to apply my two different styles to the different sections but on test day I became too cautious where I should have trusted my instincts and yet, donning the wary "no that's not right" hat helped me on the reading comp section. Anyway, this is just one case....ymmv. I'd say be confident on areas of strength and wary on areas that you have worked up to speed. I do know that my vocab is such that I didn't need to hyper-scrutinize things the way that I did on test day.

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But what I did not do is take the same confidence from the paper tests to the all important test day. I tried to be perfect on the first 10 and in so got bogged down...

Over hundreds and hundreds of practice antonyms, I'd miss roughly the amount of questions I got wrong on 30 question test day. Whereas I was expecting to get maybe 4 or 5 of the reading comp questions wrong.

...but I learned that being overly cautious in strong areas may not be an optimal strategy ...

I'd say be confident on areas of strength and wary on areas that you have worked up to speed. I do know that my vocab is such that I didn't need to hyper-scrutinize things the way that I did on test day.

You know, that was exactly what happened to me on test day, except it was for quant. Like you I was freewheeling and feeling so good about myself when doing the practice tests, blowing through with ease and getting the score I wanted.

Come test day suddenly I'm all tense and overly cautious, second-guessing myself on EVERY SINGLE QUESTION, which eventually led to the ridiculous situation of having only 5 minutes to solve 8 questions. Rushed like mad and had literally 5 seconds to get my random guess in for the last question. This might've saved me from an otherwise abysmal score, as others have corroborated that leaving the last few questions blank is far worse than getting them wrong.

In retrospect there was really nothing I could've done to prepare myself more for the quant section. Not sure how applicable this is for verbal, but I'll say this: as long as you're well prepared, the only thing that stands between you and a good score, is how well you can manage your time while fatigued and under high stress.

Edited by 2xM

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Just wanted to second DrFaustus666's advice--

Those high-frequency vocabulary words are what make the GRE's verbal section harder than that on the SAT, and learning them really is the key to doing well on the GRE verbal section.

All the usual test prep books--Princeton Review, Kaplan, Barron's, et al--will have slightly different vocabulary lists, and the sheer number of words to learn is a little overwhelming. When I studied for the test, I concentrated on the words on the "high frequency" lists and did very well. And, though Kaplan is generally my least favorite of the test prep companies, I found their iPhone vocabulary flashcard application really, really helpful. It was a convenient format that was easy to pull out when I was waiting in line at the post office, bored on the train, etc. And at least four or five of the words were on my GRE, which is enough to make a big difference in your verbal score.

(Also, a side note: a 540 on the GRE verbal is not abysmal at all, since people tend to score quite a bit lower on it than its SAT counterpart. So, while it's great that you're going to work to get your score up for your English program apps, know that you're starting with a strong foundation.)

Good luck with your studying!

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Thanks so much everyone, this was all really helpful. I've already started making flashcards so hopefully they will help, and I definitely did overthink everything during the actual test the way I hadn't during practice tests, so I'll try to avoid doing that next time. I really appreciate all of your input, I need all the help I can get before I take the test again.

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Thanks so much everyone, this was all really helpful. I've already started making flashcards so hopefully they will help, and I definitely did overthink everything during the actual test the way I hadn't during practice tests, so I'll try to avoid doing that next time. I really appreciate all of your input, I need all the help I can get before I take the test again.

Hi Bennet,

It sounds like you are on the right track. I will second what BelleOfKilronen said, the GRE verbal is very tough and judging your score against an SAT score could be disheartening because it isn't a fair comparison to make. Keep in mind that anyone with a 730 or higher on the Verbal section is in the 99th percentile of test takers.

With your flashcards, be sure that you are learning the words in context rather than just memorizing definitions. Put the words into fun sentences that will jog your memory on test day, because when the word comes up on the test (in antonyms or analogies) it will be absent any context and thus harder to remember. The more the word becomes part of your real working vocabulary the better.

Also, on test day, try and think of an antonym on your own, before looking at the answers. The answers are intentionally tricky and can plant false doubt in your mind. If you have an answer in mind while looking at the choices, the trick answers are less likely to trip you up.

Good luck studying!

Regards,

Taylor Dearr

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