I am extremely impressed and I wanted to congrat you a lot! You give hope to everyone and your help is precious. I really think it is extremely nice from you to write all this.
I recently took the GRE got a 1500 (710 V, 790 M). I mainly wanted to write this forum for those of you out there who are extremely anxious and have no self-confidence when it comes to taking this test. That's exactly how I was. This post is also for those of you who are in a severe time crunch in preparing for the exam.
I got back from a year abroad on a scholarship and only had 3 weeks to prepare and take the exam. I'm a terrible standardized test taker (in high school, I took the ACTs 3 times and got the same score each time despite increasing preparation time). I spent A LOT of time reading posts on this forum and it gave me even more anxiety because it seemed like everyone seemed to be spending AT LEAST 2-3 months preparing, if not more. So if you're out there, reading these forums, feeling miserable for not having enough time to prepare and feeling like it's impossible to do well, then I hope my experience gives you some hope.
As suggested by every person and every prep book, I first took a Barron's CD diagnostic test to determine my strengths and weaknesses. Guess what I got? A total combined score of 840 or something in that range. It's been 6 years since I've taken a math class (senior year of high school) and I didn't remember any basic math (total angles in a triangle, how add/subtract negatives, fractions, long division, etc.). I basically quit on the verbal section half way through because I didn't recognize a single word. Needless to say, I had no hope for myself.
Despite the tremendous amount of hopelessness and anxiety I felt, I had made the decision to take the exam so I had to do what I could in 3 weeks. Here is a detailed list of how I prepared.
- First, I did the Math review that's available online through the ETS website. It's about 60 pages and goes through the basics. If you feel totally clueless, this is a good place to start.
- Second, I bought a used Kaplan 2009 Premier guide and did the math section in that.
- Then I went through the verbal section of the same Kaplan 2009 book.
- Fourth, I here is a list of about 250 most common words at the end of the Kaplan book. I studied that.
- Fifth, the kaplan book also has groups of words by similar meanings (ex: family, time, criticism, etc.). This method of learning words in definitely the best.
- I also didn't have time to make flashcards, but thankfully, many wonderful people have already made 1000s of them for us online. My favorite website was: http://quizlet.com/subject/GRE/. This website saved my life.
- Then, I had read on this and other forums that Barron's is the best review book. So I started this book by taking the paper diagnostic at the beginning of the book at got a 980 total (540 V, 440 M). (*insert additional panic attacks, feelings of hopelessness, failure, etc.*).
- Then I decided to do the Math review in the Barron's. If you're having a hard time with Math- DO THE BARRON'S math review. It's going to help a lot and it's much better than Kaplan's.
- After I did the Math review in the Barron's (it took me 3 days get through it), I did one of the five paper tests in the book. I got a 1060 (650 V, 410 M). (Insert additional self-hatred)
- I was so angry with myself that I took another practice test in the Barron's book. This time I did worse. I got a 1040 (650 V, 390 M). (*seriously started to internalize the belief that I might be one of the stupidest people on the planet*).
- I should also note that every time I took a practice test, I was hoping that my score would jump 200-300 points into the high 1100s or low 1200s at least) because there was no way I was stupid enough to just score in the 1000's. I kept thinking that there was something wrong with the way I taking the tests. It's not that I lacked the knowledge or skills (especially after the intense Barron's math review), it's just that I wasn't doing it right. So when I didn't see that huge jump, I started feeling VERY dejected. In reality, it's not that I was taking the test "wrong", it's actually the way the Barron's tests are written. All four of the practice tests I had taken so far were from Barron's- and they are nothing like the real test. They're way harder (especially the Math), so don't use these test as a gauge of how you're doing. Use them as practice problems if you want.
- Then I bought a Kaplan Math Workbook and worked though the problems in that book (took me 4 intense, grueling days).
- Then I took a practice test in the Kaplan 2009 Premier book (four 30min sections version) and got a 1190 (630 V, 560 M). This is roughly about 12 days before my actual test. (*continue depression and face full of stress induced acne*).
- Another reason why I was so panicked and depressed was that the average scores for those accepted into grad programs I was applying to was in the 1400s. But, at this point, I brought my absolute dream score down to 1300. I didn't care if it was a 1301 or 1399- it would've been a dream to take the test and just see 13--. Even though my scores were improving, I wasn't anywhere in my goal range.
- Next, I gave up on the math and started on vocab. I had this insane idea that I couldn't do math, I would memorize all 3500 Barron's words in the next 12 days. It was a crazy idea, it didn't happen, but I tried. Again, used the flashcards on Quizlet.com. For the 3500 flashcard link, see below.
- Within each list of about 100 words, I didn't know about 25 and was unsure about another 15-20. I didn't spend time on words I already knew. I studied about 150 words a day for a week. I didn't worry about reviewing the words from the day before, I was just trying to add as many new words to my memory as possible.
- Of the 50 lists, I go through about 14 lists. I gave up after that.
- Next, I took a Kaplan CAT online (using the code from the inside of the 2009 premier book). I got a 1220 (610 V, 610 M).
- Next I borrowed a Princeton review book from a friend and went through all their high frequency words. I already knew many of these from the Kaplan book's ~250 most common words. If you are in a time crunch, you're not going to get through the Barron's 3500- just focus on learning all the words in all the high frequency lists you can find.
- As I was taking practice tests, I was writing down all the words I didn't know and put them in an excel document with the definition. I had a list of about 250 words that I memorized the night before my actual GRE.
- I also took notes from the Barron's math review in a blank spiral notebook. I wrote one formula or concept in each page (EX: one page on how to compute percent increase, percent decrease, one page on characteristics of the number 0, like that any number to the 0 power equals 1). I also listed and memorized all the squares from 1 to 16 (ex: 15^2 is 225, 16^2 is 256), the cube of numbers from 1 through 10, the square root of 1, 2, and 3 and 5, a table with common percents converted into fractions and percentages (Ex. 3/4 is .75 is 75%). I also wrote down common problems that I kept getting wrong over and over again (for me, every problem involving the counting principle or arithmetic). After I did this, I reviewed this info before each practice test.
- About 4 days before the actual GRE, I took the official ETS paper version test and got a 1240 (580V, 660M). This is the first time I did better on the math than the verbal.
- 3 days before the actual test, I took all the practice sets on the Kaplan 2009 Premier book CD. If I remember correctly, I believe there were 5 math sets and 5 verbal sets. This was very helpful.
- 2 days before the actual test, I took 3 Kaplan CATs on the CD (all three in one day). My scores were Kaplan CAT 1(1240, 560V, 680M), CAT 2 (1340, 610V, 730M), CAT 3 (1280, 620V, 660M). The fact that the 2nd CAT was well above my goal of 1300 and the 3rd was only 20 points below actually made me feel a lot better and eased my anxiety a bit. At least I wasn't totally out of my goal range.
- After all my practice tests, I went back and figured out why I got problems wrong and added the words I didn't know to my excel document.
- The day before my actual test, I went through all the practice sets on the ETS Powerprep CD. I found several of these problems very, very challenging and it made me really worried. But when I took the first powerprep test, I got a 1390 (670V, 720M). This was my highest score so far and significantly higher than my goal of 1300. After seeing a 1390, a part of me even hoped of getting back to my original goal of a 1400...but I tried not to think about it.
- Again, on the night before my actual test, it was about 5 PM when I finished my Powerprep CAT 1. From 5 to 10 PM, I reviewed all the vocab words I had learned before- roughly about 1500 words. Since I hadn't gone back to review these words, I had forgotten most of them and tried to re-learn them. Then from about 10 to midnight, I tried to memorize as many of the words in my excel document of words I didn't know (there were about 250 words).
- My test was at 12 Noon. I couldn't sleep well all night and got out of bed at 6 AM (I probably got about 4 hours of sleep because I was so anxious). I showered, got dressed. I spent about an hour on my excel sheet of 250 words. Then I took the ETS powerprep CAT 2 and got a 1350 (640V, 710M). Even though my score went down from CAT 1, I was still glad that it was higher than my minimum goal.
- At this point, I hadn't even looked at the writing section. All I knew was there was an argumentative essay and an issue topic. I hadn't done any writing in my practice tests. At about 10 AM (two hours before my test). I spent an hour reading through the ETS writing section guide I had printed. I just reviewed their scoring guide (what qualifies for a score of 6, 5, 4, etc.).
- At 11 AM (1 hour before the test), I had my mom drive me to the test center. I wanted to sure to get there 30 minutes before the test time. On my way there, I wasn't nervous about the math and verbal because I had been doing better than I expected, but I was totally freaked about the writing. I took the ETS writing guide with me and kept trying to read their sample essays.
- I go to the test center. I was tired as hell (after only 4 hours of sleep). I had had about 3 cups of coffee since the morning and had to the pee. Then I splashed cold water on my face and actually slapped myself in face to wake myself up. I still had 20 minutes so I tried reviewing my notebook of math notes. I was too nervous and nothing got inside my head.
- I tried stretching and breathing exercises in the waiting room but the proctor lady there was a ***** and kept giving me dirty looks, so I stopped. I still had 15 minutes before my testing time and I kept trying to keep myself calm. I was worried that I would have to pee again as I was taking the test. I could see a bunch of people inside the testing room who all made me very nervous, so I didn't want to go in there. I finally decided to sign in because the proctor lady kept staring at me. I wonder if the picture they took capture any of the anxiety I was feeling.
- I actually did all 10 to 15 minutes of instructions (how to use the mouse, etc.) because I was so nervous about the writing section. When the instructions ended, I couldn't delay any longer and started the writing.
- The writing section went poorly. I was either jittery from the caffeine or just really nervous, but my fingers had a hard time typing. I physically couldn't type. I brain froze and I couldn't think of anything and the 45 minutes finished in an instant. One the 30 min written section, I actually read the question wrong and only realized it when I had 3 minutes left on the clock. There was nothing I could do at that point. I think I wrote at the level of a 7 grader (honestly). Anyway, I ended up getting a 4 on the written section. I'm not complaining since I didn't prepare for it and my essay made it obvious that I had read the question wrong. I'm surprised the grader thought that my essay deserved a 4.
- I felt a bit relieved once the horrendous writing section was done. I did have to pee badly, and thankfully, there is a 10 min break after the writing section. So I quickly checked out and ran to the bathroom. I splashed more cold water on my face. I kept telling myself that what's done is done. The only thing I can do to hurt my score at this point is to worry about the past. I told myself to take it one question at a time. To be more careful with the first 10 questions. Not to ruminate on previous hard questions.
- So I went back and sat down in front of the computer. I still had a couple minutes before my break was over. Thoughts kept popping into my head about how this is the moment of truth. All the studying I had done is going to come down to this. This next 1 hr and 15 min will decide my whole future. How ridiculously unprepared I was. More thoughts on how this was life or death for me. I kept trying to suppress them and reject these thoughts, but they kept coming up through out the rest of the test.
- Anyway, first the verbal. It seemed to me about as challenging as the powerprep test- not easier or harder. Then the math section- some of the questions seemed quite different than the ones from any of practice test, but again, some questions seemed relatively easy and others confusing and hard. I had told myself to do 8 questions in the first 15 min, 9 questions in the second 15 min and 11 questions in the last 15 min. All the pep talk and advice on how to handle the test went out the window. I rushed through on some problems, spent extra long others, had no gauge on where problems were getting more challenging or less. Random thoughts kept popping into my head (how I going to see this life or death score within a few minutes, what my mom must be doing waiting in the car for me, what will people think of my score, etc.). I tried to suppress them and focus on the test as much as possible. Anyway, it all went by in an instant.
- When I got score, I was SHOCKED!!!! All I saw were two numbers in the 700 and when I added them up- they kept adding up to a 1500. I kept adding them over and over again. When I left the test center and got into the car, I told my mom that there must have been a mistake in grading my test. I didn't tell anyone my score until after I got my score report because I was convinced it was a mistake. My highest score on a practice test was a 1390.
I pretty much didn't follow any of the advice that test preps give you. 1. Don't study the day before your test. 2. Get a good nights sleep. 3. Don't drink caffeine the day of the test. 4. Don't cram study for a standardized test.
I don't know. Maybe my score was a total fluke. Maybe I would've done even better had I followed those rules. But my point is that if you're like me, cramming for the GRE, afraid that you're not following all the suggestions from the test prep books- it's okay. Even if you're not hitting your goal score on the practice tests. There is hope that you may do A LOT better than you ever imagined.
Anyway, here is some more overall advice for people like me: if you're in a time crunch and if reading about how other people are preparing way more intensively than you and it's giving you anxiety- please stop reading about other people's preparation. That was the biggest mistake I made. I was so freaked out that I would spend 5-6 hours a day obsessively going through all the websites I could and trying to figure out how much time other people spend studying. I mainly did this hoping to find rare success stories of people doing well with very little time. Such stories are almost impossible to find and that fact didn't help. It made me so anxious that I couldn't eat or sleep. One of my friends finally snapped me out of it and pointed out that I can only do as well as I can. I have to accept the situation I am in and make the best of it. I'm not going to gain anything by worrying about how I'm not preparing as much as others. If you've made the decision to take the GRE, then the day is going to come when you're going to have to sit down and take the test. How you spend the time between now and that test day is up to you. People accomplish seemingly impossible things in surprisingly little time. One of the videos that really inspired me was YouTube - Racing Against Time.
Another mistake I made was to stop studying when I felt anxious and worried. I just paced around my house or watched a lot of hulu/youtube hoping to feel better. Don't do that. Sometimes worry and anxiety are warranted. Like in my situation- I was in a tight spot against very bad odds. I should be a worried and anxious. Anxiety and fear of failure are like invisible friends you can't get rid of. They are going to stick around until after you've finished taking the test. So have them take a seat next to you and keep studying even though they are around. Don't try to fight them or get rid of them. You don't have time for that. Just have your friend hope sit next to you too. I know all this sounds cheesy, but if you feel as desperate as I did every single day for 3 weeks, you'll try anything.
So stay strong, stay hopeful. Even if you feel like your situation is impossible, you might end up doing much better than you ever thought possible. Don't worry about how much studying everyone else is doing. Just do what you can.
If I can do it, ANYBODY, I mean ANYBODY can do it.
Helpful Links: I didn't actually use most (if any) of these, but if you have time, it could be useful.
1. Barron's 3500 words split up into 50 lists. Online flashcards. annyeshan's Dashboard | Quizlet
2. Reading comprehension practice with 225 passages total: RC Practice Utility By Lagnajeet Pradhan
3. Analogies: Antonym and More Analogy-GRE Bible Book
4. Feeling hopeless, need inspiration, watch these Honda videos: YouTube - Honda's Channel
5. Free Practice Questions: GRE Test Practice Questions - Help your GRE Exam Score with free GRE Test Preparation
6. Free Practice Questions: GRE Test Preparation Practice Exercises for Verbal, Antonyms, Analogies with Explanations, Analytical Writing, Quantitative
7. Free Practice Questions: GRE Reading Comprehension : Practice tests and explanations
8. Free Practice Questions:GRE Information - Exam Format, Scoring, Registration
9. Free Practice Questions:Free Online GRE Practice Tests
10. Free GRE downloads: GRE Downloads
Hey! Congrats on the amazing score! I was wondering what you felt had the most incremental effect on your improvement? Was it the Kaplan study book, Barron's, or solving alot of exams?
Also, are you a native speaker? cause I'm having a hard time learning all the vocab...what do you recommend to study for vocab?
Thanks ahead for your help!
I have an experience in verbal. My verbal score in GRE power preparation varied from 320 to 590!!!
In the day before the exam my verbal score in GRE power preparation was 320!!! in the exam itself 520!!!
I guess hectic level in verbal part for people like me whom first language is not English may be due to their distorted vocablary formation. We depend mainly on Word lists, so actually we may know words that classified by the examiners as "very difficult" while we may not identify another word classified as "easy" simply as we didn't study it in word list.
Any way Cong. and good luck in the application for graduate programs.
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