My GRE Experience

I feel like writing today, so I thought I would share my GRE experience. For those who didn’t know, the Graduate Record Examination is a standardized exam prepared that students have to take if they want to apply to certain grad school programs (mainly in the United States). This article is basically my experience taking the GRE general test, starting from when I started studying and ending with me getting my scores. Unfortunately, there won’t be much useful studying tips in here since I tend to study the “dumb” way, but hopefully this article will at least be an interesting read.

I started studying about three months before my exam date. Out of the three sections in the GRE general test, I was most concerned about the verbal section because it tests some pretty obscure vocabulary, and unfortunately I didn’t know many of the words. In my mind, the verbal section of the GRE was an annoying vocabulary test, and in order to get a high score, I really had to work on remembering those pesky words. In comparison to the verbal section, the quantitative and analytical sections were not nearly as intimidating. Being an engineering undergrad student, there’s no way I’d be scared of a quantitative section that tests only high school math. As for the analytical writing, the only issue that might come up is the time constraint, but otherwise I’m capable of writing coherent essays that, while probably not excellent, will do the job.

To build up my vocabulary and also just to practice for the GRE, I started out by borrowing a couple of books from the library. The three books I used throughout the duration of my studies were the Kaplan GRE book, the Kaplan Verbal workbook, and the Idiot’s Guide on Acing the GRE (the real titles might be slightly different). I didn’t have a particularly preference for the prep books; the three listed were the easiest to find, and they all the word lists that I so desperately needed to memorize. Between Kaplan and the Idiot’s guide, the former had more goodies such as practice tests on the CD, while the latter was better written and contains more useful strategies. In addition to the books, I also found a couple of GRE word lists and practice questions online.

With the material ready, I started building my vocabulary by reading through the word lists and try to memorize the words and definition. This is probably not the best strategy to learn words, but I was lazy (to a point) and was hoping that my memory wouldn’t fail me. So every day (or every other day) I would go through a section of the word list trying to memorize the definitions. I had a scrap piece of paper that I use to scribble the words and make sentences with them, but that was about it. No flashcards, no cool memory techniques, just straight-up cramming. In between going through the word lists I would do some practice questions just to see if I improved or not. Nearing my exam date, I started doing whole sections and then full length-practice tests, first the paper version and then the computer versions. As a last before-the-actual-exam evaluation, I downloaded ETS’ (the organization that prepares the GRE) PowerPrep software, which contains two full-length practice exams along with some question sets. PowerPrep is the closest thing to the computerized GRE without actually writing the exam, so it was pretty useful for gauging performance. On both of the practice exams I scored 800 on the quantitative and 660 on the verbal. 660 for the verbal is decent, but could be better. I also practiced the analytical writing as well. Since the essays can’t be marked by computers, I just wrote a few to see if I can finish in the allotted time.

After three months of studying, it was time for me to take the real GRE. I wasn’t nervous at all during the exam, since I know if I perform up to expectations then I’d be okay. The topics I received for the analytical writing sections were pretty straight forward, so I managed to get my essays done without too much difficulty. Up next was the quantitative section, which I plowed through without any problems. After that was the verbal section, and this verbal section seemed a bit harder than the ones from the PowerPrep software. There were quite a few answers that I wasn’t entirely sure of, so I just made educated guesses. The official exam was done after I completed the verbal, but I did the extra research quantitative section in hopes that GRE will give me back my exam fee (supposedly a number of participants will receive $250).

Three hours of grueling testing later, these are the scores I received:

Verbal – 720
Quantitative – 800
Analytical – 4.5 (out of 6)

Yes! Looks like my vocabulary cramming has paid off, although to be honest I didn’t really study all that hard. I merely spread the studying over a longer period time compared to my usual final exams. My actual exam performance was actually better than my practice results, and this could be the result of last-minute studying, dumb luck, or maybe I’m just clutch haha. My essay scores are pretty average, but they are not terrible. Overall, I think my GRE scores should be more than enough to meet the requirements of the grad programs that I’m interested in.

Looking back, the GRE was really just another hoop to jump through on the road to grad school. Now that I think about it, as annoying as the GRE was, it’s probably still one of the easier requirements to meet. The hardest part will be getting good references from my professors. Since I’ve been out on co-op for 8 months, I only really have two months to build up relationships with my fourth year profs before I have to ask them for references. Hopefully everything will go well and I’ll be in grad school somewhere in the fall of 2010.

Thanks for reading.

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