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How much time to prep?


jmk
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How much time did it take you to prep for the GRE? (and what was your backround (recent test taker, very strong in math fundamentals, etc.) 

Tips, stories, etc, welcome! 

 

 

I registered to take the test in August, but am stressing about what to commit to this summer in order to have adequate prep time. 

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I spent the summer (2-3 months) going through Magoosh videos, reading through some prep books and getting a good idea of how the exam works (this is as, if not more so, important than knowing specific mathematics formulas and so on). My summer research internship had free GRE courses twice a week, which was super helpful. I basically just used this time to lightly familiarize myself with some math I may not have seen in a while, learning how to do the problems quickly (this was the worst part for me), and doing vocab. I think vocab is the most important part to start early, because it's not something you can do overnight. Get the Magoosh vocab app (free), and go through the decks slowly. A few minutes at a time, while you're on the bus, waiting in line, etc., a couple times a day. Nothing hardcore. They separate the words into decks based on how likely you are to see them on the exam. A few weeks after I finished a deck I'd go through it again to refresh, repeating this over and over. Unfortunately I never made it through the whole deck because I got too busy. So I spent the summer just doing a light review, couple times a week, maybe. Nothing too intense, but I went through at least a few different prep books.

 

Then maybe two months or so (not sure, maybe less?) before the actual exam (mid/early fall) I started studying a little more hardcore. I didn't always keep up with it because of applications and classes, but I tried to do as many problems as I could, learn new words, and take practice exams. The latter is really important, especially the (also free) ETS exams online. They're exactly like the real thing and you should treat it as such. No distractions, no breaks, time yourself, get comfortable with the format of the real exam. A lot of people skimp on the essays; I did too, but for these practice exams I actually did them and I'm really glad I did. 

 

All in all, I spent probably 5ish months studying, give or take, but a lot of it was inconsistent depending on how busy I got. Hardcore studying was probably less than 2 months. It's great that you're taking it so early; I really wish I didn't wait to take it the same semester as applications, because that was rough. Plus you'll have time to improve if you aren't satisfied. 

 

Anyway. I got 165Q, 159V, 5.5W (I think). Not spectacular but I got into some really great programs and I'm now attending my top choice. I was just on the cusp of (what I thought to be) too low to be "definitely safe" and too high to justify going through the stress/time/money again to retake it. So only took it the one time but it was good enough for me. I'm a chemical engineering undergrad and I've always been pretty good at math, average at vocab. Great at taking tests, but not so much standardized tests where time is a huge factor. Did pretty mediocre/above average on my SAT/ACT because I didn't study or care much after I did well enough to get into my undergrad on my first try. Just remember that GRE isn't everything, nor is it the bulk of your application, so don't stress it too much.

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1 month of intense training.

Started with diagnostic test which showed that all sections needed work but esp. data analysis (which is more about attention to detail than math); did all exercises in McGraw-Hill (corrected their errors too); did all practice tests I could get my hands on; used Kaplan vocab lists; used Magoosh for whatever math was not covered elsewhere; prepared summaries of math and list of most tricky vocab for last-minute review; slept well before exam, brought nuts and water.

Background: ESL but learned many languages in the past - this helped with vocab (words' roots) and memorization skills; always was good at math.

Result: Q170 V170 AW5.5

Tip: when clicking "next" on exam day, click once and wait patiantly. I got kicked out of one of the sections b/c I frantically clicked again and it was the last question so I ended up clicking on submit.

Tip2: ask for a new draft paper book after _every_ section even if there is space left because they take away you old one when they give the new one. This could jeapordize your section when you do the review of answers. This situation increased my stress level dramatically - luckily it was the experimental section as I can tell from my score.

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Background: I have a long history of doing well on standardized tests. Double majored in chemistry and physics in college, and went to a liberal arts college so I never really lost the vocab/reading skills I developed in high school English classes. No history of testing anxiety or anything.

 

Prepping for test day: This past June I registered to take the test on a Friday in mid-September, 2015. That left me a couple months to study while working full time at a national lab (I took a post-bachelor year to work). I sort of half-assed my studying until August, then I started freaking out and bought the Magoosh online study course and went HAM on it. I did every single question it came with (~2000 questions split roughly 50/50 between quant and vocab). I was dismayed to see that my first "predicted" score was ironically in the 60th percentile for quantitative and 90th for vocab. How could a science double major who has taken through linear algebra, statistics, and ODEs do so poorly on quant??? After some stress and reflection, I realized that it's not a reflection of my college math skills, but is instead just a bunch of memory tricks from high school math. That chilled me out and I was able to focus better and relearning the old math tricks I had forgotten that pop up ALL THE TIME on the GRE.

 

In the end, I memorized a handful of geometry and algebraic shortcut equations, finished the Magoosh software, and scored 166Q/165V/4.5AW on test day. Note: I did literally zero practice for the AW. Being a native English speaker who took AP English in high school, that section wasn't hard.

 

Tips: Bring dark chocolate and peanut butter granola as a snack. Endorphins + sugar + calories + tasty + some protein = no grumbly tummy or sugar crash. Also wear layers. Nothing is worse that trying to hold those standard number 2 pencils in nasty sweaty hands.

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Background: I'm a math major who reads for pleasure and always scored well on essays in high school English (the last English class I took). I almost never get test anxiety.

 

I wrote my exam at the end of September. I wrote the math subject GRE at the end of October, and I studied for both simultaneously (in any given week, probably at least 60% of the days were spent on math prep). I started studying around the middle-end of August for both exams. For the general test, I bought the official GRE practice book off of Amazon for about $20. I read the math section, because there was actually some stuff there that I didn't know, despite doing a math degree. Because of my background, I didn't spend more than about a day or two deliberately studying for quant.

 

For me, vocabulary was the biggest hurdle for the verbal section - my critical reading skills are pretty good, I read fast, and I can follow an argument well, but some of the more advanced vocabulary on the GRE is above the level I typically use or see in the kinds of things I'm reading. I found a big GRE vocab list on the internet to study from. My goal was to learn about 10-12 words every day or two. I wrote them down on my chalkboard and thought about them throughout the day, but didn't actually sit down and dedicate time to that alone. I also did a lot of practice problems from the GRE study guide.

 

For AW, I spent a day or so writing a few timed practice essays - it was literally 5 years since I wrote an essay. I got some feedback from a couple of friends and changed my strategy a bit, but did not dedicate a ton of time to this.

 

Finally, about 2 weeks before the exam, I started doing the practice tests in timed conditions. I did four, two from the PowerPrep software, and the two in the practice book.

 

On test day, I ate a big breakfast and took brain food with me to the test centre. I scored 170Q/166V/5.0AW.

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I have always done well on the quantitative portions of standardized tests and mediocre at reading/vocab (like 60th percentile). I used magoosh to study for the GRE. I spent around 3 months studying. Each week, I spent around 30 min-1hour on vocab flashcards. Once every few weeks I would spend a more substantial portion of time (like a few hours) doing a practice test or practice question prep. I didn't study for the writing section at all. I scored 168Q, 162V, 4.0.

 

In my experience, after a certain point (maybe ~320), schools don't really seem to care how well you do. I wouldn't let studying for the GRE consume your life. Your time is much better spent on research. I recommend just spending an hour or two week reviewing your weakest areas.

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Hi jmk,

 

With an August Test Date, you've given yourself plenty of time to study, which is good. 

 

While some people are naturally strong Test Takers, we generally advise a 3-month Study 'timeline.' You might need more or less time than that, depending on your goals, how quickly you can learn the various concepts and learn to deal with the various question types.

 

To get a sense of your current GRE strengths and weaknesses, you should take a FULL GRE MST (you can download 2 for free from www.gre.org). A FULL GRE takes almost 4 hours to complete, so make sure that you've set aside enough time to do the full Test in one sitting. To make sure that you're not 'surprised' by anything, you might want to do a bit of practice work prior to that first Test, but that's up to you.

 

GRE masters aren't born, they're made,

Rich

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