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Failed GRE Attempt, How to Improve (Quant)


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Hey everyone, 


New to these forums. I had a really bad experience today with the GRE, definitely underestimated it. Inexplicably, I just completely dropped the ball on the Quant section. For some background, I just graduated this past May with an engineering degree from a well-respected top public school in VA, and am applying to engineering grad school. I had a 3.6 in college. 


My prep consisted of taking 5 practice tests (3 scored), and skimming the quant parts of the PR book. All of this was done over about 10 days. These were my practice test scores:


Manhattan: 156 Q, 161 V 

Powerprep 1: 163 Q, 158 V

Poweprep 2: 162 Q, 157 V

Actual GRE: 155 Q, 160 V


I didn't expect to blow the Quant out of the water, but based on those scores I did expect the powerprep to be representative of my actual GRE score. I would have been more than happy with a 160 Q as other parts of my resume are solid. On the test, I got hung up on certain questions and ended up not even getting to properly answer 3 questions on the 2nd sec. I felt incredibly rushed, and know I can do a bit better. I don't think I have the right (time-saving) approach on certain types of questions, so that's probably partially why I got wrecked. 


In saying that, I MUST take this again both to boost my chances and for pride. Can anyone recommend a test maker's program for quant that can yield results in about a month? Should I go ahead and apply to my programs and update my application with a better GRE score later? A lot of deadlines for Spring admission are fast approaching. 


For reference, most of the schools (about 5) I'm looking at are in the top 15-50 range rankings-wise and are a good fit for my intended major.


Appreciate everyone's advice in advance! 




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The same thing happened to me (only worse)! I got 151 on my first quant attempt, after making between 159-163 on practice tests, including PowerPrep. I retook it in three weeks and got 159. What I did in the meantime was look at what types of questions/formulas I always got hung up on and practiced a lot of those problems; I did not take any more practice tests during that time. Although there were some things that I did not know and needed to learn before the retest, I think nerves and not knowing what to expect at the test center were the biggest issue because even my verbal score was several points lower than expected (raised as well on second attempt). 


I know it's easier said than done, but try not to freak out too much about this result. I am sure you will do better next time, especially considering your field. As far as resources, you may want to look into the Manhattan 5 lb. book, the official ETS quant guide, and especially the free ETS math review (https://www.ets.org/s/gre/pdf/gre_math_review.pdf) if you haven't already checked that out. BTW, I actually read the Princeton Review book before my second test, and it did help a bit, so you may want to read it more closely as well. 


Another tip to keep in mind during the test is to do the easy/quick questions first. Skip any questions that you don't automatically know the answer to or that you see are going to take a while to figure out. Then, you can go back for a second look. 

Edited by PizzaCat93
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From my own experience of writing the GRE, I would say your mindset going in really dictates your final outcome. It's okay to do less than expected, because it happens to quite a few people. Most people have the same problem of underestimating a section they normally have more confidence in. 

In your case, I do suggest you just practice through problems, especially the one you were hung on during the actual exam. Quantitative questions are not difficult (for the most part), but they are often convoluted or require more brain power than necessary. Try to target the fastest way to solve the problem. This can only be done through experience, so I would recommend doing the 5 lb Manhattan prep book that the previous poster recommended. A LOT of material there for you to get comfortable, because, honestly, you know how to do the questions. You just weren't ready for it to hit you like that.


And on test day, think positive thoughts and go in there with a calm mindset. That can actually work wonders for your final score.


Good luck!

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Hi nanokid,


Based on what you've described, I can point out some of the choices that you made that likely impacted your performance on Test Day:


1) You studied for just 10 days. Some Test Takers spend upwards of 3 months (or more) on their studies to hit their score goals. With a bit more study time, and the proper study routine/resources, you could have scored considerably higher.


2) You took 3 MSTs in 10 days. Normally, the plan should be about 1 MST per week. Taking lots of MSTs in such a short period of time is rarely beneficial (and score results tend to be 'clustered' - as they were in your situation).


3) I'm going to assume that you did not complete the FULL MST each time (including the essays). On the Official GRE, you have to spend over an hour on the orientation program and essays before you get to any Quant/Verbal sections. If you skip sections during practice, then you're training yourself to face a shorter Test (in that same way, practice scores tend to be higher because you're not 'worn out' by the prior sections that you did not face).


As you continue to study, you really MUST take the FULL MST each time.


What are your exact application deadlines?


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


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Can anyone recommend a test maker's program for quant that can yield results in about a month? Should I go ahead and apply to my programs and update my application with a better GRE score later? 



 Check out our free GRE prep course. Each module starts with the most basic concepts and eventually covers 170-level concepts and strategies. 



Brent - Greenlight Test Prep

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  • 5 weeks later...

Just wanted to chime in here after GRE Rd. 2, and let everyone know how I fared/suggest some things for future test-takers in a similar boat. 

I studied for the GRE about 3 weeks, taking it for the 2nd time on Sept. 1st after a "failed attempt" on Aug. 4. I started on Sept. 11th. 

My scores on GRE # 2 were: 155 V, 163 Q after having gotten 160 V, 155 Q, 5.0 AWA in GRE #1.

First off, I'll attribute the drop off in verbal to zero practice (besides the full lengths I took) and a lack of focus. My mind was fully on Quant. 

So, I picked up the Manhattan 5 lb. book and destroyed all the math inside of it in a span of 10 days. I did 1/3 of 1/3 of the math chapters each day, so ultimately I finished all of it in 9 days in a way where I kept everything fresh. By this I mean that I counted the number of questions in each chapter, and did 1/3 of of the questions of 1/3 of the total number of chapters each day. This helped me keep everything fresh in my mind. In addition, I got built up to handle tougher problems since Manhattan kinda constructs their chapters to increase in level of difficulty moving forward. 

At this point, I took a free Kaplan test and got 164 Q, 163 V. Again, didn't care about verbal...I kept worrying about Quant. I then picked up the ETS GRE book and scored a little lower on Q and V, but still in the 160 range for both. I analyzed all my mistakes and tried to note down the overarching reason for missing the question (not reading completely, not understanding the question, moving too fast, or *GASP* missing/misconstruing the concept). At this point, I felt like I had it all down. The 2 days before the test I did every single Manhattan 5 lb. book problem given as a supplement online...this is an insane number of fresh problems. I felt good as I was missing 0-2 in each section broken down topically, and these sets usually had around 20 problems each. 

On the GRE: 

AWA: May have gotten a 5.0 AWA cause I went for a precise composition that was on the shorter side. This time, I rambled a bit more and really drew out my points. I don't care that much. I'm fine with another 5.0.

V #1: Felt like I killed the first verbal, apparently I didn't. I usually check my text completion and sentence completion twice cause I don't normally miss those, but I didn't cause I felt too confident, so I strayed from habit and checked my reading comprehension...probably should've stuck to my strategy that worked on the last test. 

Q #1: Destroyed it. Manhattan had drilled me so well that I was seeing right through the test. I knew when to test what numbers and when to realize that the GRE was throwing me off in a subtle manner. I flew through the first 10 problems in 10 minutes. This leaves me 25 minutes for 10 problems...I take my sweet time on the more complicated ones, carefully using plug-in techniques and reading the weirdly worded questions 3-4 times if needed. The extra time to think about some of the more "chance" problems proves useful. I get through all 20 with 10 mins. to spare, and check each and every one. I doubt that I missed more than 1. Probably didn't. 

V #2: Who cares, probably messed up. I'm trying to get into engineering graduate school, and I have one decent score to show I'm competent. I get through it. 

Q #2: Now, this was tough. I have to slow down to get through this section, and I get caught off guard on question #1. Every obscure question type that's in the ETS Guide but hardly anywhere else...this is where I saw it. In reality, this is like 3 questions, but you don't wanna give that up. Obviously, I must have missed like 5 of these to have dropped to a 163 after my stellar first section. I barely finish in time, and along the way I ditch like 2 of them cause I just can't interpret them the way the GRE wants me to. Their wording is so ridiculous sometimes...cost me a question on a category I never miss questions in. I still pull through and feel decently about it thanks to my dedicated practice. I could have done even better had I paid attention to the long way of doing a couple problems. Remember: the short way is not ALWAYS recommended, especially if the long way makes you believe in your answer more. Look for formulas for things you normally wouldn't think you need them for...it's a sure-fire way of getting something right, assuming you know how to apply it. Usually, that's not too bad. 

V #3: Tired. Crashing from my break-time snack of Welch's fruit gummies. Anxious to see my score all the same...not that great. 

Test is over. Scores show up, I'm ecstatic that I don't have to take it again. The disparity in Q and V strike me as being odd-looking, I was expecting some more balance. However, I do fit the profile a lot better for the engineering programs I am applying to. A few of them ask you to list your highest score in each section regardless of when you took it anyhow, so that 160 V+163 Q looks great. My advice to everyone on a time crunch with, realistically, 3 weeks to study is to do problems til your hands break. Study your mistakes and everything will become second nature. You will be more vigilant as you read questions, and will be very quick to answer ones that you are especially skilled in (for me, geometry became a piece of cake after practice). You will realize to take things step by step; by this, I mean that you won't see the answer right away, but that's ok. Start by filling in a small piece of info, then something will indefinitely click (keep hands moving, always try questions if you know the topic). 

As I write this, I notice that the GRE probably did teach me some life skills. Albeit, in a short time. Application season is easy money now, and I'm sending in all 8 of them tomorrow (for deadlines ranging from Sept. 15th-Nov. 15th) for Spring admission. 

THANK YOU TO EVERYONE ABOVE FOR THE ADVICE AND FOR CONNECTING ME TO RESOURCES. I checked out everything y'all mentioned, and felt the 5 lb. book was the most cost effective way to go. It pays off big time if you approach the GRE with a genuine curiosity and interest for learning. No matter what you choose, you need to shore up your weakness and turn your strengths into super strengths, so you can solve the problems you're weak in with a little extra clock. Gluck future GRE test-takers.


Edited by nanokid
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