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338: Q170; V168. I just BEAT the GRE!


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Hi all,

I took my GRE and I’m amped to add my story to this list!

Here's the scoop on how I beat the GRE:

Timeframe:
Almost 3 months (November to now)

Books/Programs Used:
Official Guide 2nd edition Book
Manhattan Prep 5 Pound Book
Kaplan Premier Book
EmpowerGRE Course
2 PowerPrep II MSTs
ManhattanGRE practice MSTs
Free Videos and articles on Youtube, Magoosh, etc.

Total Investment: About $275 on resources, and $195 for the GRE Fee

Prep Work:
Typically 2-3 hours on weekdays
Typically 3-5 hours on Saturdays and Sundays. 1 MST on weekends with plenty of time to review the questions, explanations and fill out my mistake on the Mistake Tracker

MST Scores:
PowerPrep 1: Q155; V152
MGRE1: Q153; V153
MGRE2: Q156; V154
MGRE3: Q159; V158
MGRE4: Q161; V162
MGRE5: Q164; V165
PowerPrep 2: Q168; V168
Test Day: Q170; V168

Advice:
1 - The Official Guide, and the 5 pound book were great practice, but there was almost zero strategy. It's really annoying. You'd swear that these people really don't want you to succeed. The explanations will teach you very little, so you have to think about the books as supporting tools after you learn the strategy and the tactics. I got the most out of the books, during and after the course.

2 - Don't be cheap!! You get what you pay for. I don't have a lot of spare cash, but the way I looked at it was with the amount of money I'd spend on a Friday or Saturday going out for drinks twice a month, I could afford to pay for the prep I needed to get a score that would help get me in to the grad schools I'm applying to. In other words, I realized that for just a few hundred dollars, it could help me land my career inn Silicon Valley. My fiancee has a friend who tried to self prep the whole way through, and has been prepping for like 3 years now. I just don't get it. Of all things to be cheap about...the one thing that will actually make you money for the rest of your life??? It actually pisses me off, but oh well, that's their problem. I'm pretty sure I can land scholarship money that will get me maybe 50 times what I paid to prep for the GRE

3 - EmpowerGRE.com - EmpowerGRE absolutely rocks! If you haven't tried it yet, you need to get on it. Here's why it worked for me:


  1. Max and Rich make it interesting. I never got bored
  2. The tactics make everything so much easier. They were absolutely responsible for my jump from MGRE 1 to MGRE 3.
  3. Vocab - First, they show that S-blank questions aren't as much about the vocab as people talk about. S-blank questions are much more about the context. Second, I found the vocab training tools to be really powerful.


4 - Be aware of the bad advice. Knowing what I know now, it's crazy how much terrible advice there is out there. For example, I think time is too precious to be reading The Economist to prep for your GRE. That's just stupid in my opinion. If you want to get better at reading RC passages, read RC passages. Also, so much advice will have you caught up spending way too much time in the vocabulary. That's silly. While you do need to build vocab, think about how much better off you'd be investing some of that time mastering the S-blank tactics?

5 - Drop the drama - Face it. We're all nervous on test day. Don't even try to pretend that you won't be, so the question is, what are you going to do about it? Thanks to one of the podcasts I listened to, I decided to use my test day nerves as an energy and focus boosting rush. Instead of fighting your nerves, use them. Try it on your next MST.

6 - You have to learn how to Triage - I Triaged at least 5 questions in Quant, and 3 in Verbal. If you want to boost your score and avoid the worst of the worst questions, you need to build your Triage skills. I can attribute at least 5 points each to Triage.

7 - Always do the essays, and take breaks during your practice tests - You need to build stamina. Prepping for the full day was key.

There's my two cents. I hope you'll find it helpful. It feels pretty darned good to be in a position to share advice. If you're still prepping, you can do it do. I'll be around if you have any questions.

Seth

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Amazing scores!!! Good for you!! I bet you feel accomplished. :) 

 

If I don't get into graduate school this time around, I'm retaking this test to get my quant up (currently 60th percentile). My verbal and writing were fine (84th and 93rd, respectively). I'm going to follow this advice if that happens. Thanks!

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  • 1 month later...

2 - Don't be cheap!! You get what you pay for. I don't have a lot of spare cash, but the way I looked at it was with the amount of money I'd spend on a Friday or Saturday going out for drinks twice a month, I could afford to pay for the prep I needed to get a score that would help get me in to the grad schools I'm applying to. In other words, I realized that for just a few hundred dollars, it could help me land my career inn Silicon Valley. My fiancee has a friend who tried to self prep the whole way through, and has been prepping for like 3 years now. I just don't get it. Of all things to be cheap about...the one thing that will actually make you money for the rest of your life??? It actually pisses me off, but oh well, that's their problem. I'm pretty sure I can land scholarship money that will get me maybe 50 times what I paid to prep for the GRE.

Congrats on the scores, and overall this is probably good advice for people struggling with the GRE. But what you said here bothers me. I think the GRE is generally a pretty good measure of how well prepared you are just by your education and lifestyle, really. Somebody who reads for pleasure and has good critical thinking and numerical reasoning skills should score pretty well (probably not as well as you) without too much prep. Thus, it's not worth the time or money for this person to prep as you did. In that situation some of this time (and money) could be better spent on other aspects of applications - e.g. SOP, writing sample, or researching schools. I don't say this to brag, but rather to illustrate - I prepped for verbal on and off for about a month (learning vocab, as part of daily routine), quant for a few days, and practiced a few essay topics over two days. I paid less than $20 on prep materials - I just bought the official guide for practice problems on Amazon. I scored 170Q, 166V, 5.0 AW. I don't think I needed to spend any more time at this, because as a math major the quant is a breeze, and math hones your critical thinking too, which helps with verbal. People in other majors may need to spend more time on quant, though.

 

I think in general the GRE is given too much emphasis on webpages like this. It can certainly hurt you if you bomb it, but I'm not convinced it gets you into a top program unless the rest of your application is at that level. In that case, you're probably somebody who can score well enough on the GRE without too much stress, at least on the sections most relevant to your major, which is what the admissions team will care most about, I think. I could be wrong here, and I'm not counting people who get test anxiety. It is worth some time for anyone to learn the tricks of the test, though.\

 

edit: I also spent a couple of days doing the official practice tests (2 online, 2 in the book). That's definitely time well spent.

Edited by MathCat
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Congrats on the scores, and overall this is probably good advice for people struggling with the GRE. But what you said here bothers me. I think the GRE is generally a pretty good measure of how well prepared you are just by your education and lifestyle, really. Somebody who reads for pleasure and has good critical thinking and numerical reasoning skills should score pretty well (probably not as well as you) without too much prep. Thus, it's not worth the time or money for this person to prep as you did. In that situation some of this time (and money) could be better spent on other aspects of applications - e.g. SOP, writing sample, or researching schools. I don't say this to brag, but rather to illustrate - I prepped for verbal on and off for about a month (learning vocab, as part of daily routine), quant for a few days, and practiced a few essay topics over two days. I paid less than $20 on prep materials - I just bought the official guide for practice problems on Amazon. I scored 170Q, 166V, 5.0 AW. I don't think I needed to spend any more time at this, because as a math major the quant is a breeze, and math hones your critical thinking too, which helps with verbal. People in other majors may need to spend more time on quant, though.

 

I think in general the GRE is given too much emphasis on webpages like this. It can certainly hurt you if you bomb it, but I'm not convinced it gets you into a top program unless the rest of your application is at that level. In that case, you're probably somebody who can score well enough on the GRE without too much stress, at least on the sections most relevant to your major, which is what the admissions team will care most about, I think. I could be wrong here, and I'm not counting people who get test anxiety. It is worth some time for anyone to learn the tricks of the test, though.

 

I agree with you except that in many fields people do care about the GRE for some reason, even in CS as I'm finding out. When I applied for Math programs, yeah, it was just a formality, and the subject test is what really mattered.

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I agree with you except that in many fields people do care about the GRE for some reason, even in CS as I'm finding out. When I applied for Math programs, yeah, it was just a formality, and the subject test is what really mattered.

Yeah, I'm probably biased by my field.

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MathCat,

Sorry I just had to vent. I created an account to respond to your post because it really kind of annoyed me. I don't like how you're flaunting your 99th percentile score that was so just SO easy for you to get. That's great you aced the test, but very few can...that's why it's the 99th percentile! It's pretty obnoxious to just throw that in our faces like a 170 is no sweat.

Secondly, the GRE matters for a lot of us. What seth is saying is that if you care about your GRE, invest in it. I threw $1000 down the drain on a course that got me nowhere, but Magoosh and especially Empower have helped me improve too. What seth is saying is invest and be smart. The GRE does matter for a lot of us, and seth is right.

Also, who said that we couldn't invest in a good score, and the application requirements too? They're not mutually exclusive. Why wouldn't we want a great GRE score, and a great application too. It's worth it to have it all.

Jess

Edited by jessintheclouds
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MathCat,

Sorry I just had to vent. I created an account to respond to your post because it really kind of annoyed me. I don't like how you're flaunting your 99th percentile score that was so just SO easy for you to get. That's great you aced the test, but very few can...that's why it's the 99th percentile! It's pretty obnoxious to just throw that in our faces like a 170 is no sweat.

Secondly, the GRE matters for a lot of us. What seth is saying is that if you care about your GRE, invest in it. I threw $1000 down the drain on a course that got me nowhere, but Magoosh and especially Empower have helped me improve too. What seth is saying is invest and be smart. The GRE does matter for a lot of us, and seth is right.

Also, who said that we couldn't invest in a good score, and the application requirements too? They're not mutually exclusive. Why wouldn't we want a great GRE score, and a great application too. It's worth it to have it all.

Jess

 

I think MathCat was just disagreeing with OP's "you get what you pay for" argument, and the weird chest-thumping authority that's supposed to be behind it. It is a bit strange to suggest that self-prep is a bad idea. For many people it's perfectly fine, and MathCat used himself/herself as an example to show that. I basically did the same thing with similar results. If OP uses his strong score as evidence to offer advice, MathCat's allowed to use his/her strong score as evidence to disagree, yeah?

 

Also, for the record I'm the person who suggested The Economist to improve on reading comprehension. And I stand by it!  :P

Edited by pascal_barbots_wager
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I think MathCat was just disagreeing with OP's "you get what you pay for" argument, and the weird chest-thumping authority that's supposed to be behind it. It is a bit strange to suggest that self-prep is a bad idea. For many people it's perfectly fine, and MathCat used himself/herself as an example to show that. I basically did the same thing with similar results. If OP uses his strong score as evidence to offer advice, MathCat's allowed to use his/her strong score as evidence to disagree, yeah?

 

Also, for the record I'm the person who suggested The Economist to improve on reading comprehension. And I stand by it!  :P

Yes, this is how I meant it. I don't mean to "flaunt" my score - as a math major, a good quant score really isn't much of an achievement. For others, it definitely is. I don't mean to devalue others scores, just to illustrate that people's circumstances are different, and that for some people it is not necessary or worthwhile to pay for prep services. It depends on how prepared you are already, your personal learning style (i.e. how easily can you teach yourself the stuff you don't know), and how you are prioritizing the different parts of your application.

 

I know that my post will ruffle feathers - I don't know how to express my point in a way that won't.

 

What it comes down to is that I disagree with the OP's tone of "I got a fantastic score, and thus I know exactly how everyone should study for the GRE. Moreover, if you don't do it my way, you're short sighted."

Edited by MathCat
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  • 7 months later...

When you said "You have to learn how to Triage ",  what is Triage?

In its original use "triage" refers to emergency hospitals assigning priority to patients depending on how seriously they were injured - someone on the verge of death would be rushed into operation while someone with a broken limb would have to wait.

In the context of the GRE, it's the idea that you need to be able to tell quite quickly whether a problem is difficult or not. If it's easy, you get it over with. If it's hard, you set it aside until you've taken care of easier ones. This way you maximize the number of problems you're able to answer in the time allotted, by saving the most time-consuming problems for the end, if you have enough time left over.

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I don't know if this is the right place to send such a query...but since folks here have already aced it-- any advice for reading comprehension? my vocab stuff is fine.  It is the "primary purpose", inference, RC questions that I tend to make mistakes with. The answers seem counter-intuitive. There seems to be no logic behind them...most of the time, the answers seem wrong. What is the ONE, no, say, TWO resources I absolutely must use to improve my performance on verbal (reading comprehension/critical reasoning) for the GRE. Thanks! (I think on the GRE, (as opposed to on the GMAT) reading comprehension and critical reasoning fall in the same category of questions.). 

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hey Mindful,

The primary resources you want to be using for RC are the ETS books. There is no magic technique - many books, videos, etc. will offer similar technique. What is needed is rigorous analysis of the questions and how ETS justifies answers. You want to get to the point where you can defend the right answer with evidence and explain why wrong answers are wrong. This takes time, and thought. Help with this process is best done with conversation, not by using a static source.

Re: people acing the test on this forum - I've noticed that many posts from people on Grad Cafe who have "aced" the test rave about one particular prep source. It's almost as if someone was putting them up to writing those posts...

Also, I have noticed these posts often tout huge score increases that, in my 8 years of experience as a GRE tutor, are unrealistic. Perhaps I'm not that great of a tutor and those sources are dramatically better than the methods I use with my students, though. Who knows.

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On 11/1/2015, 12:24:02, gughok said:

In its original use "triage" refers to emergency hospitals assigning priority to patients depending on how seriously they were injured - someone on the verge of death would be rushed into operation while someone with a broken limb would have to wait.

In the context of the GRE, it's the idea that you need to be able to tell quite quickly whether a problem is difficult or not. If it's easy, you get it over with. If it's hard, you set it aside until you've taken care of easier ones. This way you maximize the number of problems you're able to answer in the time allotted, by saving the most time-consuming problems for the end, if you have enough time left over.

Thank you so much for the explanation.

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10 hours ago, Vince Kotchian GRE Prep said:

Re: people acing the test on this forum - I've noticed that many posts from people on Grad Cafe who have "aced" the test rave about one particular prep source. It's almost as if someone was putting them up to writing those posts...

Also, I have noticed these posts often tout huge score increases that, in my 8 years of experience as a GRE tutor, are unrealistic. Perhaps I'm not that great of a tutor and those sources are dramatically better than the methods I use with my students, though. Who knows.

Two different baseless accusations in two paragraphs. That's really quite impressive!

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Hi all.  I took the GRE last Friday and wanted to recap my experience in preparing for it as well as offer some advice for those who are taking it.  These are just my own amateur opinions and I have no hard data to back up any of my claims, so take this with a liberal helping of salt. 

I’m the kind of person that never feels wholly prepared to take an exam, and so I put off taking the GRE for months.  With application deadlines looming, I finally scheduled my exam for late October.  My verbal skills are fairly strong (I aced the SAT Critical Reading in high school) and I’m an inveterate logophile, but I have a tendency to make lots of careless errors on timed math tests.  Given this, I focused most of my time and effort on bolstering my quant skills.

Around a year ago (I was originally planning on applying to grad school last year but decided I wasn’t quite ready), I watched all of the arithmetic, pre-Algebra, Algebra I and II, and Geometry videos on Khan Academy at 2X speed to refamiliarize myself with the foundational quant concepts on the GRE.  I also made sure to work all of the problems in the videos for myself (before Sal solved them) and complete the practice questions on the Khan Academy website.  It probably took me around a month to work through all of this content. 

I highly recommend going through the Khan Academy math content first to anyone who is even a little rusty on your middle school/early high school math.  My only caveat is that Sal actually goes into more detail on some topics than you need to know for the GRE (e.g., he covers geometric proofs), so if you’re short on time don’t necessarily feel compelled to watch each and every video.  That having been said, I’m of the philosophy that it’s always better to know too much rather than too little, especially as this can solidify your mathematical understanding and number sense.

About six weeks ago, I started studying for the GRE again in earnest.  After researching the different prep resources, I decided to use Magoosh.  Over the course of about four weeks, I watched all of the Magoosh lesson videos and solved all 1100+ practice problems.  I then re-watched the math videos a second time (I was really nervous about the quant section—as you can maybe tell, math is not my forte!).  I also worked through every single math problem in the Manhattan 5 lb. Book of GRE Practice problems, including the advanced quant problems at the end of the book, and made sure to read the answers/explanations for all the problems to ensure that I was solving them in the most time efficient way.  I read through ETS’ Math Review PDF (https://www.ets.org/s/gre/pdf/gre_math_review.pdf) and worked through the problems therein.  I also did all of the problems in the Official GRE Guide and the Official GRE Practice Question Books (http://www.amazon.com/Official-GRE-Super-Power-Pack/dp/0071841814/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1446570522&sr=1-1&keywords=official+gre) about a week before the test. 

The Magoosh blog is another great resource, made even better by the fact that it’s completely free.  The challenge math problems in particular are great as they are IMO harder than most of the questions on the GRE.  If you can solve those, you are ready for the test! 

The day before the test I took 3 practice tests (the two Powerprep ones and one from the Official Guide book).  Somewhat foolishly, I took another practice test the morning before my exam.  If you do nothing else, make sure to take these official practice tests!  In particular, focus on how long it takes you to finish each section.  In my case, I realized that I was able to complete most of the math problems a lot faster than I thought I was able to.  This allowed me to relax a little and spend more time double-checking my answers which probably helped me avoid making too many careless mistakes on the test. 

To review vocabulary, I used the Magoosh vocab app, the book Fiske Word Power, and an old Kaplan SAT Vocab book I had lying around with 500 words.  I also watched all of Magoosh’s Vocab Wednesday videos (https://www.youtube.com/user/MagooshGRE/videos).  Whenever I encountered a word I couldn’t define formally, I looked it up and added it to a vocab list I made on quizlet.com.  Whenever I was waiting for a bus or had a few idle minutes, I used the Vocabulary.com app to review GRE words.  My vocabulary was already pretty decent, but I probably got an extra 1-2 answers correct on the test from the vocabulary review that I did. 

In the end, I scored 170 V/168 Q.  I was actually really mad at myself for missing one of the quant questions; it was a really easy combinations problem that I made a silly careless mistake on but didn’t realize it until about 10 seconds after the clock had run down.  I don’t want to come across as ungrateful though, I’m actually really happy with my score!  I would have never predicted that I would do better on verbal than quant as on two of my practice tests I missed 1-3 verbal questions and aced the quant.  I guess that goes to show that there’s always going to be some variance in your performance from test to test.  Also, it’s really hard not to make any careless mistakes when taking a stressful exam, so don’t beat yourself up too badly if you don’t get a perfect score even if you manage to on the practice tests.   

So to those of you out there who are like me and aren’t natural math whizzes, take heart!  If you take the time to learn the foundational math concepts and do enough practice problems, you will eventually get to the point where you will instantly know how to solve 95% of GRE quant problems.  If you pace yourself and think through your answers carefully and double check your work, you shouldn’t make more than 1-2 careless errors on the test.

Here are some more general tips:

--Don’t put off studying for the GRE like I did!  While you can certainly get a good score with less than a month of preparation, to maximize your chances of getting the score you want, give yourself at least 3 months to prepare.  If I didn’t have to apply in December, I would have spent another month or two studying before taking the test.

--For the quant, learn and become familiar with all of the math concepts before doing any practice tests/practice problems.  Of course, math is not a spectator sport—you learn by doing!  If you use Khan Academy and/or Magoosh, attempt all of the problems before the instructor solves them.  If you miss a question, makes sure you understand how to solve it and try to identify why you missed it (i.e., what in your thought process led you astray). 

--Avoid using the calculator as much as possible when solving practice problems.  If you do this, you will get very good at mental math which will shave precious seconds off of each question. 

--Learn the shortcuts for solving problems quickly.  For example, there’s a useful trick that helps you solve all of the easy and medium difficulty work problems in seconds (http://magoosh.com/gre/2011/dont-get-worked-up/).  There are also some things you should just know so that you don’t have to calculate them/figure them out on the test:  prime numbers (I memorized them through 113), Pythagorean triplets (3/4/5, 5/12/13, 7/24/25, 8/15/17), squares of all integers though 20, cubes of all integers through 10, powers of 2, 3^4, 5^4, the formula for calculating the area of an equilateral triangle, how to find the diagonal of a cuboid, factorials of 1-5, etc.

--Make use of more than one resource.  Use books, apps, websites, blogs, Youtube, etc. 

--Don’t make the mistake that I made and not practice writing essays!  Don’t try and write the perfect essay (or you’ll fall prey to “perfect word syndrome”), just learn how to consistently write something that could score a 4.5 or 5 in 30 minutes.  That should be good enough for the vast majority of grad programs out there.  Remember, these are very formulaic essays and not Pulitzer Prize submissions.  Learn the formula and master it. 

--If you are limited on time, prioritize the topics that are tested most frequently.  Here’s an infographic by Magoosh that can help you prioritize your study time: http://magoosh.com/gre/2012/breakdown-of-the-most-commonly-tested-gre-quant-concepts/  So don’t sweat it too much if you didn’t get around to mastering combinations/permutations problems.  There probably won’t be more than two of them on your exam!

I hope this information is helpful to someone!  Also, a huge shout-out to Chris Lele and Mike McGarry of Magoosh (I swear I’m not a shill).  You guys rock!

 

Edited by St0chastic
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49 minutes ago, St0chastic said:

--Don’t put off studying for the GRE like I did... give yourself at least 3 months to prepare.

I just feel it's important to note that a step before studying for the GRE is figuring out what (and whether) you need to study. Ideally, some months before you'll be taking the actual test, take a practice test. Are you content enough with your scores that you wouldn't much care to improve them? Great, you don't need to study! Would you like better scores? Now figure out where your weaknesses lie and work on improving those.

There's no use studying for the GRE if you don't know what it is you need to improve. And there's even less use studying for the GRE if you could take it right now and get perfect, near-perfect, or some other score good enough for you.

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19 minutes ago, gughok said:

I just feel it's important to note that a step before studying for the GRE is figuring out what (and whether) you need to study. Ideally, some months before you'll be taking the actual test, take a practice test. Are you content enough with your scores that you wouldn't much care to improve them? Great, you don't need to study! Would you like better scores? Now figure out where your weaknesses lie and work on improving those.

There's no use studying for the GRE if you don't know what it is you need to improve. And there's even less use studying for the GRE if you could take it right now and get perfect, near-perfect, or some other score good enough for you.

That's a great point. It's definitely a case of diminishing returns the more you study. To eke out that final 1-2 points might take as long as improving the first 5.  Nevertheless, with grad programs being as competitive as they are, every bit helps. In just a couple of weeks you can substantially improve your vocabulary, and in around 100 hours you can greatly increase your problem solving speed. IMO it's worth taking the time to do that unless you're scoring 340 on your practice tests. 

Another thing I forgot to mention--think of the GRE as a game. If you are able to have fun studying,  you will learn the material more readily and you won't procrastinate. In my mind the test was the final boss. 

 

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