Back when I wrote GRE, I got 2320/2400. The scoring and format has changed since then but I have talked to multiple candidates who cracked 330+ score in GRE recently – I realize that few best practices remain same.
So, I am revisiting what I think works well when you are taking an online adaptive test like GRE. It’s all old wisdom packaged afresh in millennial slangs. Remember that you, yes YOU, can score 330+ in GRE.
This is what we will cover in this post-
- Assess your current status
- Take your GRE appointment
- Collect the GRE preparation material
- Planning last two weeks
1. Assess your current status
The very first step when you contemplate GRE should be to read about the latest format of the GRE test.
The first thing that will make your mind boggle is that GRE is a frickin’ long test. It is not for weak hearted and given how much social media has screwed your and my attention span, it sounds insane to sit 4+ hours and focus on a damn screen and remember what the word ‘reticent’ means!
This is what I suggest – take a practice test without any additional prep. This helps in understanding what is your current level and what are the areas where you will need to put in more efforts. By doing this, you can avoid wasting time on the areas of your strength.
a. Taking a good practice test
I would prefer taking one of the two free Powerprep tests offered by ETS since they are closest to the real test.
b. Evaluating your results
After taking any test, go over the scorecard carefully. Since this is only an initial evaluation, you want to take a look at the sections where you performed the worst. For most of the engineers, the pain lies in verbal section and mostly the reading comprehension. However, it could be math section for you and don’t be surprised to find that you ran out of time. It happens. This reality check will make you take time management more seriously.
Ok, now that you know which sections are going to be your undoing, let’s start preparing for it! For e.g. If you got 4 out of 7 text completion (TC) questions wrong, then you know you need to get your act straight there and better download that vocabulary app.
But before we dive into the books and the online tests, go and take that damn appointment.
2. Take your GRE appointment
I had a friend in NYC when I was working on Wall Street. Let’s call him Ankit. Four months into our jobs, he announced that he is soon going to write GMAT and do an MBA. Next thing I know he has his new fancy book delivered by Amazon and I am already visualizing Ankit going to Harvard with his Macbook tucked in on one side.
He gave me a proper FOMO and as it would happen, I would write my own GMAT ten months later. In between, we would meet often and I was always in awe of his knowledge on finance related topics. He is going to make a great banker, I would say to myself. He was not getting enough time in the hectic job. I asked him if we could start preparing together. But the man was too busy. I asked him if wants to book the test dates at the same center but he felt he needed a little more preparation.
My scores came out and I got busy with my business school apps and job. After getting the coveted admit to NYU 1 year later, I pinged him and enquired with excitement, “Dude, so where are you heading?”. The dude told me he is going to appear for the GMAT very soon and then apply in a jiffy. Whaaaa?!?!
As it turned out, Ankit never wrote the GMAT and while he remains a great friend of mine, I know he was just too scared to face a bad score. It happens!
So, my advice is – don’t be Ankit.
Book that damn date so that you are committed to it. Mark it with big red cross on your calendar. People have reported that 2-3 months is an ideal time for prep – keep it soon enough so that you don’t lose tempo.
3. Collect the GRE preparation material
You would need some essentials and then additional practice resources depending on your weak points.
a. Must-Have Material
- Official GRE Guides
- Magoosh’s Online Prep Material – ask someone if they can share their subscriptions
- ETS essay topic pools for AWA
b. Additional Practice Material
These are some of the most often recommended resources by recent candidates:
- Manhattan 5-lb book (mostly for Math)
- Varsity Tutors material and app
- GRE Big Book with 27 Old Tests
- Khan Academy for any particular topic you are struggling with esp Math
c. GRE Mock Tests
- Official ETS Tests
- Manhattan Review GRE diagnostic test
- Manhattan Prep’s GRE practice test
- Kaplan GRE practice test (considered tougher than actual test)
- McGraw-Hill GRE practice test
d. Vocabulary Preparation
- Quizlet flashcards
- Magoosh’s GRE Vocabulary Flashcards
- Word Power Made Easy by Norman Lewis
You cannot write well until you read well. GRE is a lot about how well-read you are and then doing some focused reading that can help you in improving the vocabulary, understanding proper grammar and writing the essays. Few candidates have recommended essays in Arts and Letters Daily, and The Best American Essays of the Century by Joyce Carol Oates.
I find Magoosh AWA guide to be one of the best and would highly recommend that for AWA tips and practice.
4. Planning last two weeks
I am not a good finisher and had a hard time not going psycho in the last week of the exam. There is only one way to calm your nerves – feeling more in control. Have a good 14 or 10 day plan for last few days before the exam.
a. Practice, practice and only timed practice
Many people take the practice tests in bits and pieces; I sympathize with them. GRE test is not a sprint – you cannot excel at the first section and then make excuses that your back started hurting by 3rd hour. You cannot complain that you knew how to calculate that median but time ran out. GRE is a marathon and the only way to prepare is do timed practices.
Whatever tests you take, sit down and put an alarm on your smartphone. Do it in time else it is useless. If you want to score 330 or more in GRE, you simply must take at least 10 full length practice tests.
b. Back breaking reviews
Are you jumping after getting 318 on Kaplan? Don’t be a fool. Sit down and study all the answers one by one. Not just wrong ones but also the right ones. Frankly, taking tests is again useless if you do not sit and reflect on your performance.
You should know why an answer is right or wrong. The actual result matters less than the why of it.
You will come across tricky questions from day one – you should keep marking them. Read the answer, understand why you got it wrong or why you did not feel confident about it even if you guessed it correctly. Keep it marked. Revisit these questions in last 10 days.
Do you get them correctly this time? If not, be alarmed. The whole point of the preparation is to know what you did not know at the beginning. This is why reviews of your practice tests are important. Don’t worry, do it again now. Review and revise after 5 days.
Why 5 days? – no point in doing it immediately because you would identify the correct answer by memory and not by logic. Let few days pass before you revisit these tricky questions.
Remember that a score of 330+ in GRE needs high precision. You cannot rely on getting most of the questions right – the key is to avoid getting anything wrong. This requires painstaking revisions. You have to review your performance and improve consistently.
What we want is to learn the underlying concept and not just the answer to this question.
d. Stop studying on the last day
It can be counter productive to take tests till last day. One day before your GRE, you should try to calm your nerves, relax, and be mentally prepared to focus. Apart from revising few areas, you should try not to study on your last day before the exam.
So, what does it take to score 330+ in GRE
As you can see, an early start followed by meticulous practice and timely test taking can go a long way in getting your coveted scores. If you have prepared and revised well and keep your cool on the exam day, you can totally score 330+ in GRE.
Lastly, know that it is ONLY AN EXAM and you can always retake it. Do not let pressure of scoring high wreck you. Good luck!