I’ve just recently taken the GRE exam and I’ve scored a decent 325(168Q – 157V – 4 AWA). I’m gonna come right out and say it – I’m pretty sure I could have gotten 330 had I been a little more careful, and though I’m not a 100% satisfied with the score and perhaps not qualified enough to be giving advice, here is my two cents. Advance at your own peril.
- Magoosh Vocabulary app (PlayStore Link )
- Prep4gre app (PlayStore Link )
- Manhattan GRE (Link )
- Galvanize GREprep ( Link )
- Crunchprep (Link )
- QSLeap (Link )
- PowerPrep II (Contains two full-length tests from the GRE test-makers, ETS themselves – Link)
Not all the above websites are free – I just made full use of the free trails they all provide. Be wary you use them at the right time, lest your trial version expires just when you need it the most.
A word of warning – this is just how I personally prepared for the exam. I don’t insist that this is the optimal, or even a correct solution. This is just something that has worked for me and something, I hope, you can devise your own plan based on. Please feel free to omit any part of this post you do not feel comfortable with.
Here’s a blow-by-blow recollection of my preparation as it were.
I started my GRE prep with an offline course for a month last summer. I won’t lie, I did not find it very useful and it just served to educate me on the basic format of GRE. I did most of my preparation on my own and in the last two months. In hindsight, I would not have attended the classes as a simple internet search would probably have sufficed.
To kick off my GRE preparation, I started off with 2-3 weeks of vocabulary building from the Magoosh app with about 500 words. That was just the beginning; you pretty much have to keep building your vocabulary all throughout your preparation – maybe at a more comfortable pace.
After I had felt I picked up enough vocabulary, I started practicing verbal questions on QSLeap. Though I fumbled a bit at the start, I got the hang of it soon enough. CrunchPrep was quite useful at this point of my preparation, providing helpful hints.
The Reading comprehensions are a completely different ball game, if you will. Vocabulary alone gets you nowhere and I really have no advice for this section but to perhaps keep practicing and I can’t, by any means, put it any better than this, CrunchPrep’s Guide.
The quant section of GRE is very easy and I don’t see any reason why students with a mathematical background (as most of my target audience are, I reckon) should fret it. You just need to refresh your high school math concepts and you’re good to go. A little practice wouldn’t hurt, but two weeks are all you should need to ace the GRE Quant section – three, tops. Again, QSLeap and Prep4GRE were my go-to for quant practice.
The AWA section of the GRE too can be left for the last 2-3 weeks before your test date. ETS doesn’t really need you to use all the fancy vocabulary you pick up preparing for GRE. You can easily score a 4 just by using plain and simple sentences and just sticking to what is asked (Trust me on this, I’d know). It also helps to refer to essays graded 5 or 6 which are easily available on the internet.
Also, during the last 30-40 days, I gave a lot of full-length tests. They helped me not only build my mental stamina but also determine where I was going wrong. My advice would be to write a full-length test every weekend and prepare during the weekdays – be sure you don’t overexert yourself, though. An hour per day would be just fine. Try to give at least 4 full-length tests before you write the actual exam – two of which should be PowerPrep.
Bonus Tips :
- Review every single question after you write a practice test – even the ones you’ve got right. You might pick a new technique here and there.
- Take the practice tests seriously. Don’t be taking breaks in between. Try and recreate the actual test center atmosphere.
- GRE isn’t your everyday test. Be patient – you cannot improve by 5-10 marks overnight. Also, conviction helps.
- Reading general news articles from papers like New York Times, Wall Street Journal may improve your RC score.
- As easy as quant can be, make sure you don’t neglect it too much.
- Make sure you finish all your mock tests at least a week before your actual test. No point practicing so hard you burn-out during the actual GRE.
- If you have difficulty remembering words (like I did), just remember the context of the word. The GRE doesn’t directly ask for the meanings of the words anyway.
- Do check out the GRE material provided by ETS. Helps you determine how difficult (or easy) the actual test is.
- GRE is as much a test of endurance as it is of Math and English. Be mentally prepared for an intense four-hour session before the exam.
- There is a 10-min break between sections during the GRE. Make the most of it – take a granola or a chocolate bar which will help you get through the remaining sections. Yes, food is allowed.
Yeah, that’s pretty much it – that’s my GRE story. Hope whoever’s reading this post finds it helpful and benefits from it. Let me know in the comments if you have any doubts or need more help in specific parts of your preparation. I’ll stick around and be glad to help. Peace.
(6th September) Update: TOEFL Preparation
Guess what? I’ve recently taken the TOEFL exam and I scored 115(Reading – 29, Listening – 29, Speaking – 27, Writing – 30) out of 120. Who saw that coming, right? Anyway, the score apparently qualifies me to write a TOEFL post, so here goes nothing. Also, at this point, I reckon we’ve moved past disclaimers and warnings, so I’ll jump right into the matter.
- TOEFL sample paper by ETS ( Link )
- NOTEFULL Speaking Templates ( Link )
- TOEFL Speaking Practice app ( PlayStore Link )
- TOEFL Speaking Teacher ( Link )
- EduSynch TOEFL ( PlayStore Link )
Straight up, I should tell you that TOEFL is a really easy exam (I don’t suppose many people believe me at this point, though). It is only an English proficiency test and should not, at all, be compared to the GRE or GMAT. The TOEFL isn’t even that important a criterion for University admission, but more on that later.
Coming back to the preparation issue at hand, I suggest you familiarize yourself with the general TOEFL pattern first before going through this post. Here’s a section-wise preparation break-up.
This is probably the easiest section in the TOEFL. All you need to do to go through a few sample questions online and you’re done. Don’t worry (in case you were); the RCs in TOEFL are nowhere near the RCs on GRE. If anything, the passages are probably a little longer here. While booking a slot for the TOEFL, ETS provides a free sampler. It contains a full-length test, which should be enough practice for the Reading section.
The Listening section requires test-takers to listen to 6-9 voice recordings, each 2 or 3 minutes long, and answer 5 to 7 questions per recording, related to the recording. This section might require some practice.
Although the accent and pace of the narrator are generally easy to follow, keeping up with all the facts covered might call for some practice, or perhaps, note-taking. Most questions are general and can easily be answered if you follow the general direction of the narration/conversation. However, some questions are specific and you would need to refer to your notes.
Use short-hand, or internet “lingo”, or even a different language while taking notes because you will need to write fast and keep up with the voice. I suggest you practice at least 7-10 different questions to master this section.
The speaking section, I suppose, despite being the shortest, is the hardest section in the TOEFL (Again, catering to my target audience). The section is right after the 10-minute break, and contains 6 questions.
Two ask for personal opinion/experience and require you to speak for 45sec. Two others require you to first read a short passage, listen to a small lecture based on the passage, and then finally provide a spoken response to the questions asked. The last two questions require you to summarize a conversation or a lecture. The last 4 questions need a 1-minute response each. Refer to this Link for more info.
I would suggest you practice for this section as much as possible as one; you should be able to fluently speak without using too many fillers (phrases like umm, uhh). Two; some of the topics are kind of strange and preparing a full answer impromptu in the meager preparation time of 15-30 sec might be difficult, and three; you should provide a complete answer in the stipulated time – pacing your answer precisely for the time slot. You should check out the speaking templates NOTEFULL provides for this section.
This section contains 2 tasks, one integrated and the other, independent. The integrated task requires you to read a passage, listen to a lecture on the passage and provide a written response. The independent task is similar to the essay writing in GRE. The exam prompts you to type essays of lengths 150 and 225 words each, but you can go way over the mark(Truth be told, I recommend it).
In fact, unlike in the GRE, you do not even have to stick to a rigid outline. You can play it fast and loose, if you will, and can even be informal at times. All that you should take care of is that there are no grammatical errors and that the brief is met.
- I cannot emphasis on this enough; the TOEFL exam is really easy. One week time is plenty to prepare completely for this exam.
- In the listening section, if you have trouble identifying the important parts of the speech, write down the entire recording, verbatim.
- Make sure you don’t use up too much space while note-taking. The listening section is relentless and you do not want to run out of rough paper in the middle of the listening section!
- Although I suggest you go through the templates for the speaking section, you do not have to adhere strictly to those templates. You can speak normally as you would while conversing with a friend.
- Try refrain from using fillers whilst speaking. I reckon silence is better.
- The judging criterion in the speaking section is how you speak, not what you speak. So make sure you speak loud and clear.
- The entire exam, I feel, is pretty informal. You can even go write the exam without preparing at all and still obtain a good score. So, please don’t over-prepare.