Acing the GRE

Last Updated: November 2018

This post was made possible because of priceless contributions by Mr.Mohit Arora, Ms.Aishwarya Suresh, and Mr.Vivek Sahukar.

getting started

  1. The correct mindset - So you wish to take the GRE General Test to get admission into a graduate programme. You would have gone through the ETS website to get an overview of the test, including the topics it quizzes you on, and it would have seemed doable. Stop right there. ETS wants you to feel that the GRE is doable. The point is, DO NOT rely on the ETS website to judge the difficulty level of the test. Take my word on face value, it is EXTREMELY HARD. Even if it does not seem hard during the initial period of your preparation, what makes it difficult is the severely small amount of time it gives you to solve questions. Therefore, what ETS is actually testing is how well you can perform under acute pressure. That said, it does not mean that you can not ace it. With the right preparation plan, and loads of hard work, you surely can. However, be mentally (and financially) prepared for multiple attempts.

  2. Finances - An aspect often overlooked is that regarding finances required for taking the GRE. Here, I am not referring to only the test fee but also to other costs related to it. Keep in mind that though you would be making most of these payments in US dollars (and though these prices are not volatile), you need to anticipate and keep track of the actual costs incurred in terms of your native currency based on the exchange rate (which can fluctuate a lot), in case you are of a different nationality. You must take into account the following costs: (1) GRE Test Fee - $205 per attempt (as of November 2018), (2) Preparation Material & Coaching - $350 (approx), (3) Practice Tests - $100 (approx), (4) Passport (in case you are a non-US citizen and do not already have one) - Depends on your national government, (5) Costs of Living and Sustenance (in case you are willingly unemployed for the preparation) - Depends on your average expenses and the price index of your country.

  3. Get a passport (for non-US citizens) - The only identification document that GRE test centres accept is the passport, so get one before even booking your test date. It might take up to a month for this process, so fit this into your timeline properly.

  4. Percentile vs. Standardized Score - Based on the number of correct answers you give on the test, ETS calculates a standardized score for you for each of the three sections (the calculation method is not public and remains a secret with ETS). A percentile denotes the percent of test-takers you scored higher than. For example, if you are at the 85th percentile, it means that you scored more than 85% of the test takers. Each standardized score corresponds to a percentile. Now this is where the twist lies. The correspondence of these two variables is not fixed but changes over time (at least for the quant section). You could see an example of the interpretive data here. The percentiles corresponding to each score usually shift up with time (i.e. with increasing difficulty). The problem lies in the fact that most schools mention only the standardized scores accepted by them rather than the percentile, though what they actually consider is the latter. Hence, by default, aim for a score higher than what is required by the school.

  5. Aiming for a score - Each graduate programme focuses on different parts of the GRE. For example, PhD Economics programmes require a high quant score but are okay with a not-so-good verbal score, while not much attention is paid to the writing section. The point is, talk to your friends who are currently pursuing your desired course in the US (or email random people from within the schools of your choice; you can find this information on school websites; most of these people are actually pretty helpful) and ask for their opinion on what sectional scores are acceptable at schools of your choice, apart from looking for such information on school websites without a doubt. Based on this information, aim for sectional scores (rather than an overall score such as 323, as is professed on many blogs), focus on sections that are more important, and create your study plan accordingly. Be warned, these requirements change with time so be sure that the information you acquire is updated. However, it is also true that certain (masters) programmes consider an overall score (quant + verbal). Hence, be crystal clear on the GRE requirements of the programme you wish to apply for.

  6. The right prep duration - Having spoken to a handful of people who have taken the GRE three to four times and having taken it twice myself, I would recommend (assuming 8-10 hours of daily practice, including weekends) allocating at least 4-6 months of prep time if you take time off from work, or 8-12 months if you wish to prepare simultaneously with work (but mark my words, if you choose the latter, it will make the preparation even more difficult than it already is). The difficulty level of the GRE is getting higher by the day, so be warned.

  7. Your study plan - As explained above, do not take the GRE lightly. You need a plan to prepare for it, regardless of whether you like to follow plans in general. There are many study plans available over the internet, such as here and here. However, do not rely on them completely, or for that matter, at all. Treat them only as frames of reference. Each individual is unique and a plan must be customized according to their needs. And the only person who can do it for you is you. Based on your past academic performance and capabilities, try to judge which of the available study plans seems to be the most doable. Do not be too optimistic. In fact, inflate your initial expectation of accomplishing the plan in the allocated time by around 50%. For instance, if a plan spans 3 months, allocate 4.5 months for it. This is simply because life happens! There are a multitude of variables out of our control which force us to deviate. Hence, allow yourself sufficient buffer time.

  8. Choosing the test centre - This might seem like a no-brainer but trust me, it matters a lot, especially if you reside in a developing country like India where the quality of private test centres even in metropolitan cities like Delhi varies to a large extent. The right test centre must have all the things you need during your test (such as comfortable desks and chairs, noise-cancellation headphones, proper air-conditioning, trained technical staff, etc). Even if one of these is missing, your performance during the test could be affected for the worse. So, how do you know which centre to choose online? Go the traditional way. Get hold of friends and family who have already taken the GRE in your city, preferably people who have made multiple attempts at multiple centres. Spend time asking them questions about which centres are the best and why. This would take time, so fit this into your timeline too. Based on this information, take your decision. Do not omit this step, lest you wish to unnecessarily spend the test fee on multiple attempts!

  9. Choosing the test date - Choosing the correct date, according to your complete timeline, is an imperative step and one must not be careless about this at all. Start looking for dates at least three months in advance. Ideally, do this as soon as you are a 100% sure that you have to take the GRE, for marking a deadline in your (mental) calendar facilitates productive preparation.

  10. Choosing the time slot - This comes after the test date, but holds more significance. You must choose a time slot for the exam that suits your body, i.e. a time slot of the day during which you are the most efficient. For example, I am the most productive during 7am to 2 pm on a given day, so I preferred the 8 am or 10 am slots. Keep in mind, the GRE is a taxing, four-hour long exam, with just a single 10-minute break in between (which is not sufficient for even a light snack, given that you also need to pass security check at the centre during the same time). Given this, if your lunch time coincides with the slot, or if you choose a slot during which you do not usually feel the most energetic, or if you start feeling drowsy during the test, then your focus, and hence your score, could go for a toss. If you never had the chance to find out your most productive time of the day, spend at least a week doing so before you go ahead with booking a slot (refer to this video for help). In case you can not lay your hands on a time slot of your preference, do not hesitate to look for other dates (but try not to go too far from your ideal date too).

general suggestions for your prep

Prep material - This is the crux of all your effort towards the GRE. As of November 2018, after having discussed with many friends and seniors of mine who had taken the GRE multiple times, I came to the conclusion that the following must be one's core prep material: (1) Manhattan Prep, (2) Magoosh, (3) All ETS material, (4) Your high-school texts. Do not choose one between Magoosh and Manhattan Prep, because they are each other's complements rather than substitutes. Having said this, if you are not satisfied with all this alone, you can also look at other material such as Kaplan, Barrons, Princeton Review, etc., but keep in mind that most of this material is easy as compared to Magoosh and Manhattan Prep (and hence, easier than the actual test), and you must use these other sources in a systematic manner that does not waste your time (more on this 'system' below). You can find most of the books and resources for free here (I found this link over the internet, so it might be taken down any time by the owner).

  • Manhattan Prep - This is by far the closest to what actually appears on the real test, at least in terms of the quantitative section. They provide 8 books for GRE prep, out of which 6 are for quant. Read each and every word of these books, even the 'extremely hard problems' whose disclaimer says something like 'you would not see problems of such difficulty level on the actual test'. Do not pay heed to that. Practice everything. The other severely vital book they provide is the 5 Pound Book, which is simply a question bank. Do not miss out on this, no matter how difficult the problems may seem.

  • Magoosh - Magoosh is online coaching. Their video lessons are simply beautiful; watch each and every one of them. The best thing about Magoosh is that it is self-paced (unlike offline coaching where you have to match your speed with the coach and the rest of the class), and that the speed of their videos can be adjusted (I started by watching them at 1.25X and graduated to 1.75X towards the end; this saved a hell lot of time). Though these video lessons are also available for free over the internet (if you know where to look!), the USP of Magoosh is actually its bank of around 1100 questions which is present on their online portal. You can choose from their subscription plans here. Believe me, it is worth every penny.

  • High-school textbooks - You would need to go back to these texts and trust me, it helps. Make a list of topics the GRE quizzes you on (preferably from Magoosh and Manhattan Prep) and hunt for your school textbooks that contain them. If you are an Indian citizen and were enrolled in the CBSE, you can download all the NCERT books for free (along with solutions to all problems) here.

  • ETS Material - ETS has one Official GRE Guide which covers both quant and verbal sections (there are three editions of the book but all of them are virtually the same), one Quantitative Reasoning Guide, one Verbal Reasoning Guide, two (different in terms of content) editions of the Paper-based Test Guide, and one Paper-based Test Guide for questions asked on the test prior to 1995 (practice at least the quant questions from this book; most verbal questions are outdated). Practice from all these resources. I felt that even after having done Manhattan Prep, Magoosh, and NCERT, the Data Interpretation and Analysis questions from ETS books were particularly challenging.

  • My hand-written notes - You could download PDF's of my hand-written notes that I used for quant and verbal here.

2. Use electronic material - Try to use e-material such as ebooks and online coaching rather than physical material (unless you are taking the paper-based test). An advantage of this is that you get to rehearse for the actual test by engaging with material on the computer, which is exactly what you would be doing on test day. This is particularly helpful for reading comprehension, where one tends to underline passages on paper-based questions while the internet-based test does not allow for highlighting (or for that matter, even selecting) text on screen. Doing this is strongly recommended.

3. Create a 'system' for yourself - Working hard does not necessarily mean exhausting yourself with next to no results. Instead, work hard but be smart. Do not keep practicing every question over and over again. There would be a bunch of questions which you would be able to solve in the first attempt itself, and these are usually the easiest questions. Leave these out for your next round of practice and do only the ones you weren't able to attempt or got wrong in the first round. In the third round, leave the ones you got right in the second round. And so on, you get the idea. I came up with the following technique. I took screenshots of the ones I got wrong or couldn't attempt, placed it on a Word file, along with a screenshot of its solution written by me. I created PDF files out of these according to topics. You can have a look here and here. If you formulate or come across a more efficient system, please inform me of the same.

4. Pacing - Keep track of time on each question you practice. Calculate the average amount of time taken for each question of every exercise/topic. For verbal, your average time per question must not exceed 1min 30 sec, and the same for quant should not be more than 1 min 45 sec. Work harder on areas where you cross these upper limits. The aim is to solve the most difficult questions within these limits. Time your practice.

5. Skipping questions - Do not read into it literally. This does not mean you can skip all questions that you are unable to solve. This is a strategy for the real test to save on time so that you can come back to the harder questions with a fresh mind. You must do this on every exercise and practice set. It is true that regardless of the difficulty level, each question carries the same weight. But this does not mean that you should attempt only the easy ones. The test is section-adaptive. So whether you attempt only the easy questions or graduate only up to medium questions, there is always an upper limit on the score, depending upon your capability. Therefore, work on your capability by graduating to extremely hard questions for sure. However, because of the time crunch on the test, the solution to every question may not strike you at first glance. In such a case, do not, I repeat, DO NOT waste time contemplating it. Skip it and move to the next question that you can solve, because that is the low-hanging fruit, and then come back to the one you left after some time. But start rehearsing this strategy only after you have completed your prep material at least once.

6. Maintain a review spreadsheet - Maintaining a spreadsheet during preparation helps you track your progress, and in my opinion is imperative. You could view mine as an example here.

7. Practice each section everyday - Do this at least for quant and verbal, if not for analytical writing. This is one of the best ways to balance both your workload as well as your mood. Doing this is strongly recommended.

8. Rehearse a routine and condition your brain - Everyday till your test date, try to either study, or attempt practice tests, or at least be awake during your test slot. You need to form a habit of taking the test at the allocated time and this is part of the preparation. Rework your meal timings and daily chores if the need be. Do not eat anything during test timings throughout your preparation months. Call up your test centre and inquire whether they provide drinking water during the test. If they do not, practice not drinking water during your test slot (I had to do this during my second attempt since my first one was partly ruined because I was forcefully kept thirsty for those 4 hours). Make a note of the approximate time of the day when you would get the 10-minute break during the actual test. Rehearse eating only sweets/candies in that time (doing this on test day increases the chances of your brain functioning properly because sugar provides instant energy). Basically, practice your test day routine on every day of your preparation. Watch these short animated videos [Part 1, Part 2] to see what magic forming habits can bring about.

9. Meditate - Preparing for the GRE can be severely discouraging and irksome, especially around two months into your prep schedule. This is because everybody hits a plateau after a certain point. This is the point where you either make it or break it. But one can not deal with this situation as it arrives. One needs to be prepared in advance. The easiest way to do this is to start meditating to clear your mind right from Day 1 to stay calm. The point of meditation is to deliberately make conscious the activities of the human body which take place unconsciously, such as breathing. The best way is to sit in an upright posture and focus on your breath. Your mind will wander, but gently bring it back to your breath every time that happens. This strengthens the focus muscles in your brain and help you prepare better. Watch this short video to learn about the benefits of meditation.

10. Full-length practice tests - Once your prep material is complete, even if you are confident about the sections you needed to focus on, there is no guarantee that you would score well on the actual test even on those sections. Why? Because the point of the GRE is to exhaust you, to break you down. As mentioned before, it is a 4-hour long exam with just a 10-minute break in between. And to amplify that, the test starts with analytical writing essays, which require a huge amount of the brain's resources, which inevitably causes fatigue. Unless, you have practiced well on full-length tests and know how to tackle the induced torpor (this is a GRE word, look it up!). There are only 10 practice tests which are worth the money: [Prices as of November 2018] Four from ETS (two are free, two cost $40 each), and six from Manhattan Prep (cost $49 in total). Allocate at least the last whole month of your prep duration for doing practice tests and their reviews. Consider each practice test to be the actual test, attempt them in a quiet place within the time slot of your actual test. However, keep in mind that the actual test will be half an hour longer than the practice tests, i.e., a total of 4 hours, because it would consist of an additional section (either an unscored quant/verbal section or a research section at the end), so be mentally prepared for even more induced lethargy than what you would have rehearsed for.

specific suggestions: quantitative reasoning

  1. Download the GRE Calculator - Though you should not use the on-screen calculator often, you should be able to do it efficiently when you need to. The prep material would tell you what situations to use it in, so let's not get into that. The point is that you might need the calculator while practicing with offline material, and this free software emulates the GRE calculator pretty well. Use the number pad while practicing, for it is faster to do it that way. Every second counts on the GRE. Always keep the calculator on during your study sessions and make use of this, and this only. Do not use any other calculator. You can download it here.

  2. Focus areas - I feel the three portions namely Number Properties, Word Problems, and Geometry form a majority of the questions on the GRE. These are the ones out of which extremely hard questions usually show up on the test. Hence, give extra care and time to these units. Having said that, each applicant is unique and has different strengths and weaknesses. Therefore, try to find your own weak areas and work on them, but having a heads-up never hurts.

  3. Quantitative Comparisons - All QC questions seem easy at first, but turn out to be the most difficult, especially when coupled with the three topics mentioned above. Manhattan Prep has an entire book and Magoosh an entire section devoted to tackling these. Do not miss out on them for anything.

  4. Text Entry - This type of questions is comparatively easier to solve, but there is still a high chance of getting them wrong. Why? Because you do not get answer choices to cross-check your answer with. Therefore, be doubly sure of the calculations carried out on these questions.

  5. Data Interpretation - These questions take longer in general, so allocate extra time to these during the test. On a medium section, these questions are more or less sure-shot. On a harder one, however, the situation is dicey. Therefore, my strategy was to attempt them on the first quant section in the sequence in which they occurred, but to attempt them towards the end on the second one. However, you may have to experiment to come up with a strategy specifically for you.

  6. Silly errors - Even after having understood each concept perfectly and having aced even the most difficult quant questions, the one thing that might still frustrate you is your probability to commit silly mistakes. This is because the time crunch on the test is severe. The only way to fight this is to recognize the pattern in which you commit these errors and to continuously work on them. Do you note down the wrong values while reading the questions? Or do you mix up mathematical operation signs? Your quant score will thank you if you do this on a regular basis.

  7. Sequence of prep material - Follow the contents of the Manhattan Prep books. Pick up each topic from there, and first watch its video lessons on Magoosh. Then practice it from your high-school textbooks. Then go to Manhattan Prep. Then to the Magoosh question bank. And finally, attempt the 5 Pound Book. This exact sequence may not work for everybody, but the idea is to start with something fun (video lessons) and easy questions (high school text), and to gradually increase the difficulty level for each topic.

  8. ETS Material - Cover this only after completing the rest of the material because ETS merges sub-topics which makes it difficult to practice questions area-wise.

  9. Miscellaneous material - Other material that you could simultaneously refer to specifically for quant includes Arihant Fast Track Objective Mathematics (highly recommended), Quantitative Aptitude by R.S. Agarwal, and Objective Mathematics by R.D. Sharma. Do these for each topic. These books will prepare you for the extremely hard questions that could show up on the real test.

  10. Notes - Keep making hand-written notes alongside watching Magoosh videos and reading from Manhattan Prep books. They come in handy at the time of revision. It is actually frustrating to search for a particular word/formula/sentence in a book at the last minute. Your notes would preclude such a possibility and save loads of time.

  11. Use blank notebooks - On test day, the scratch paper you get would be a 4-sided blank paper, which is just a little smaller than an A4 sized sheet. You definitely need the scratch paper for the quant section. And you must use a single scratch paper for a single quant section, because if you ask for another one, the administrator takes away your previous one because of which revising questions becomes impossible, and it also wastes time. So, to emulate your test day experience, practice on blank notebooks of a size similar to the one mentioned above. The aim is to solve 20 questions within 4 sides of these pages. An efficient way to go about it is to write the question number on the left, solve the question in as little vertical space as possible, write the answer choice number in a square box under the question number, and draw a horizontal line where the solution ends.

  12. Practice, practice, practice - There is no substitute to working hard. Believe me, doing all questions just once is not going to help. Do multiple rounds to permanently condition your brain to be able to solve an eclectic set of questions. ETS keeps adding a bunch of new questions to their repository each day and given that the test is now internet-based, there is literally no way to anticipate what even a small proportion of those millions of questions would look like.

  13. Be smart - Follow the smart 'system' explained in the general suggestions above in order to tackle hard questions. The aim is to prepare yourself for the hardest questions. Even if you are doing well at medium questions, do not become complacent because the real test is section-adaptive. That is, if you do well on the first quant section (which is always a medium difficulty section), the next quant section will definitely be a hard one.

specific suggestions: verbal reasoning

  1. Material - For verbal, ETS and Magoosh should suffice. Start with ETS and then move on to Magoosh. You may try Manhattan Prep if you have the time. However, if verbal is the section you need to focus on depending on the programmes you wish to apply for, cover everything.

  2. Building vocabulary - Do not consider GRE vocab to be child's play! Mark my words, it is hard! Vocab is the building block for the entire verbal section, and to an extent for the writing section too. Start building your vocabulary from Day 1 itself. You can use any vocab list for this purpose, but I found Magoosh's to be perfect. Many people and blogs might suggest that there is no need to do the Advanced Words on these lists, but do not fall for that trap. It may have been true for the test till about 2015-16, but it is not anymore. I remember seeing a bunch of advanced words on the real test myself. ETS has upped its game, so you need to be fully equipped to play the field.

  3. Vocab flashcards - Though I mentioned vocab lists in the previous point, do not use the lists as they are. That is useless. Use a flashcard app on your phone/PC instead. Magoosh's Flashcard App is awesome, but its algorithm is not. For this purpose, take screenshots of words from this app and create new flashcards for yourself on Anki, which is a free cross-platform (Windows, Mac/ Linux/ Android/ iOS) flashcard app. Its algorithm is based on the spaced-repetition technique of memorizing. Doing this is highly recommended.

  4. Vocab buddies - Simply memorizing words everyday will not help, even if you use flashcards. You need to understand the context in which each word is and can be used. Get hold of friends who are either preparing for the GRE, or have taken it and can give you feedback on your usage of GRE words, or are simply willing to expand their vocabulary in general. Each day, make a random draw of 4-5 words from your list or flashcard app, weave a 5-6 sentence paragraph-story around them, and send it to these friends of yours over Whatsapp or through other means like email (whichever is your mutual preference). This helps in not only learning the context talked about before, but also sharpens your memory by forcing you to form related sentences with a limited pool of words. Make it a compulsive habit to do this everyday and allocate at least half an hour for this. Even if your vocab buddies do not give you feedback, it still helps because forcing yourself to be accountable for doing something makes you develop a habit.

  5. Use Wordnik - Wordnik is an excellent free service that gives you examples of sentences that make use of words that you search for. This deepens your understanding of the context in which these words can be used. You can download the Android app here and the iOS app here.

  6. Reading Comprehension - RC questions might seem extremely hard at first, but they become relatively easy as compared to TC and SE questions (see below) towards the end of your prep. The nature of GRE RC is academic in that these questions want you grasp opposing views and theories and make inferences from the passages, which is hard. Numerous blogs might tell you that the topics can be anything and everything, but I found that most of these passages relate to either science, or arts (both fine and performing), or history. To develop the habit of reading such academic material, read long articles from the following sources: Nautilus for science and The New York Times for arts and history (you can subscribe to free RSS feeds of such sources by using free RSS feed readers like Feedly). You can also read other sources that interest you that are recommended by many blogs, such as The Economist, and books such as The Best American Essays series, but the two mentioned before are vital for your prep. Do this for at least a month before you start with actual RC questions.

  7. Sentence Equivalence - Start with practicing SE questions only after you have built sufficient vocabulary (for at least about a month). SE questions can be the easiest and the least time-consuming among all since you need to simply guess two synonyms for a word from a list of given words. It can boil down to that simple a drill if you practice well. However, Magoosh's lesson videos explain how even these can be made hard and also tell you the ways out. So do not miss out on those.

  8. Text Completion - TC questions are the hardest, especially the two-blank and three-blank questions. There is no way out. You can not get a perfect score on verbal just because of this, unless you have been performing exceptionally well in English throughout your academic life. That said, watch all Magoosh videos on this topic without fail and incorporate as many of their tips as possible.

specific suggestions: analytical writing

  1. Typing speed - Practice typing fast if you are not in the habit, because you would need to type two long essays in just half an hour each. You can use any online speed typing service for this purpose.

  2. The Issue Task - This is the very first task that the GRE presents to you, and it could be daunting because the topic can literally be anything. But the good news is that there is a limited pool of these questions which you can view on the ETS website here. The question that you would see on your actual test would be one from among these only. Excellent sample essays on almost all these topics can be found here and here. The trick to writing these essays is to take the middle ground and write at least 5 paragraphs in total. Type the main body first, and do the introduction and conclusion at the end. This trick would fetch you a decent score, and the rest would depend on your unique ideas. However, even though this task requires you to think a lot, do not spend too much of your mental faculties on this task alone, for the rest of the test would still be left for you to complete. You can strike this balance only by doing full-length practice tests.

  3. The Argument Task - Simply put, this task asks you to find the loopholes in the logic of an argument or claim or assertion. So this is relatively easy since you have the opportunity to find as many faults as you can in a written piece. But first build your logic skills by reading the initial portion of the Manhattan Prep GMAT Critical Reasoning book. Then read the relevant parts of the Manhattan Prep GRE book and relevant videos from Magoosh to learn about the different kinds of logical fallacies that can be looked for in a piece.

specific suggestions: practice tests (the last month)

  1. The experience - The most important reason behind doing practice tests is to get a feel of what the actual test would be like. Even if you have mastered everything, there is still a great chance of you not getting your desired score on the actual test because there is a high level of uncertainty related to it. Taking these tests reduces that uncertainty to a measurable probability in your head. Hence, consider each and every one of these tests to be the real deal. Attempt them exactly as you would the actual test, at the same time, in a quiet place, with the same light snack in between (preferably sweets/candies). Don't think of it as emulating the test, but as taking the actual test at home.

  2. Accuracy of these tests - Though none of them can be accurate, not even ETS tests, I felt the Manhattan Prep tests were closest to the real test in terms of experience, difficulty level, as well as score reporting. Try attempting the ETS tests first (because they are ironically easier compared to the actual test), then move on to the Manhattan Prep ones.

  3. Learn from your mistakes - A golden opportunity provided to you by these practice tests is that you can review your answers to each and every question and see where you went wrong, with the Manhattan Prep ones even providing solutions to all questions. Apply the 'smart system' to these tests too, and keep in mind that your preparation is not over yet. Even after covering all the prep material, you would still see a host of new types of questions on these tests. Keep working on areas you still find yourself weak in.

the last week

  1. Score recipient codes - The GRE lets you report your scores to at most 4 schools free of cost, and this can be done only at the test centre, right after you finish the test. You need to select these 4 schools beforehand and memorise their names. However, the best strategy is to memorise their four-digit school codes themselves, since searching for the exact university and school at the test centre is cumbersome and can lead to you committing an error. Start doing this from the first day of the last week.

  2. The routine - Don't do anything unusual during the last week of your prep, such as eating out or deviating from your daily routine. If you need to travel to another city to take your test, arrange for you to reach there at least a day before, otherwise it would cutting it too close. Do not try to cover any new material at this stage because that would only frustrate you and cause your score to sink below what you could have scored otherwise. Just stay calm and believe in yourself.

  3. The night before the test - This is perhaps one of the most important phases of your preparation, because if you don't do this right, all your efforts would go down the drain. You need to take a good night's sleep right before test day. Make it at least 8 hours. Go to bed around an hour before your usual bed time so that even if it takes longer to go to sleep because of the stress and anticipation, you still have a chance to complete your sleep. This step is essential. The next morning, do your morning rituals the usual way and stay calm. Just make a decision to stay calm, and you will

on test day

  1. Pay attention to instructions - Every test centre has different instructions regarding the test to be followed by test takers. The administrators usually convey these verbally, and since they have to do it everyday, they either speak these too fast or at a volume that is inaudible. Ask them to repeat any particular ones that you may not have understood.

  2. Stay calm - This can not be emphasised more. Get it this way: the calmer you are, the higher your score would be than otherwise. Even if you see a couple of questions you can't solve even after having done loads of practice questions, it is OK. Just skip those questions for that moment and come back to them later. Keep a tab on your time, that is all. But just be cool, and the solutions will reach you. Meditate in the small breaks in between sections.

  3. Additional section - Be ready for an additional section on the actual test, i.e. either an unscored quant/verbal section, or a research section at the end. Being prepared for this beforehand will help you.

  4. Report your scores - Once you are done with the test, do not forget to click on 'Yes' when the machine asks you, 'Do you want to report your scores?' If you select 'No', you wouldn't even be able to know the score yourself, let alone reporting it to schools (frankly, I have no idea why ETS does this!). After that, enter the codes of the 4 schools you would have memorised.