My 20 Days Guide For Scoring 300+ in GRE— First Attempt, Without Tuitions

GRE aka Graduate Record Examination is the standard benchmark for many universities in the United States. Not only does GRE makes you eligible to apply but is sometimes the deciding factor of your admission too.

Clearly, if your dream university requires GRE, there is no other alternative to acing GRE with 300+, preferably in your first attempt.

Pressured? Shake it off. We’re about to find a way to deal with it. But first, let me tell you why you should listen to me at all.

I gave my GRE on 16th August 2022, and this is what my score report looks like:

GRE

My total score adds up to 309 (Verbal Reasoning+ Quantitative Reasoning), and I settled this in a very stringent period of 20 days.

I know what you’re thinking, and no, I do not practice witchcraft.

What I did however practice was a process, a very (GRE word alert!) pragmatic and ambitious one.

I am a very average student with no extraordinary English skills. Although I do read books and watch English movies, practically that had very little effect on what actual GRE demands.

So, if you’re thinking that GRE would be harder if you don’t have a good grasp of English, that’s not exactly true. GRE is just as challenging regardless of whether or not English is your forte.

In this blog, I am going to compile some great GRE tips that I wish someone had told me earlier. It’s going to be an eclectic (another GRE word!) collection of tricks and tips to kickstart your GRE journey to success.

I will also be mentioning some common mistakes that I made and that many of the aspirants would make without guidance. I will be highlighting these mistakes in the expectation that you won’t make them (If you’re giving GRE that is).

The overall goal here is to take you on my GRE venture with the sheer hope that you’ll find something for yourself along the way too!

Without further ado, let’s begin!

Start Off with Flushing the Superstitions Out

If you’re a month away from your GRE and have done absolutely nothing, I know exactly how it feels like to be in your shoes. I had completely surrendered to the scary image of the GRE, thinking it is for smart people and obviously not my cup of tea.

But let me tell you this, it is far from the truth.

There are some unnecessarily cherished beliefs about GRE that I now find absolutely ridiculous, some of them being:

  1. GRE is super-difficult
  2. GRE cannot be cracked by average or below-average student
  3. You need at least 6 months of preparation to ace the GRE
  4. GRE cannot be cracked without classes

If you believe in any of the above, please clear your slate before moving forward in this blog.

I expect every reader to keep a fresh mind and look at GRE as just any other exam.

With that said, even though GRE is not very difficult, it is not easy.

You can’t skim through its pattern a day before and come out with a great score (unless you’re a prodigy of course).

For normal people like you and me, you have to dedicate a significant time of your day to expect a good score. GRE demands your time, dedication, and more importantly perseverance.

And if you haven’t got the hint yet, to imbibe all of these qualities we require a key element,

Motivation

I also happen to have a trick to it. And… what is it? Scroll down to find out!

Secret Recipe of Motivation

I am a procrastinator, a very professional one. I am hardly motivated to sit in one place and do something productive.

Very obviously I struggled to study the first few days, not finding it in me to allot enough time for GRE prep.

And it was frustrating, wanting to study but not finding a good enough reason to. I could not figure out a strong “WHY” of my aim.

And in the quest for much-sought motivation, I did something I knew would definitely kick me into action.

I booked the test.

Yep, that did the magic. The next moment I was swarmed in GRE words, practicing maths questions and decoding complex paragraphs.

Nothing works wonders that the stress of investing $213 (17000 Rupees!).

As frugal as I am, I knew that I didn’t want to pay 17k rupees again. I had to crack in single and single attempt only.

In simple words, I got my motivation from the message of 17k rupees debited from my father’s account.

Although this might not inspire everyone to study, I know it would work for many.

The idea of a deadline is in itself stimulating. So, if you’re struggling to find your source of motivation, book your test. This way you know what’s your deadline, and just how much money you’ve spent on it.

Don’t Start GRE Prep Without Mastering Its Pattern

When I started my prep, I solely invested two days in studying its format. When you start studying, you need to know what you are getting yourself into. Even though I somewhat knew what the deal with GRE was, I hadn’t performed a detailed analysis. And when I did this is what I understood:

There are three sections in GRE, Analytical Writing, Verbal Reasoning, and Quantitative reasoning. A detailed analysis of these sections looks something like this:

1. Analytical writing

This section comes first in the test.

It is formed of two sections, first- an issue (30 minutes) and second an argument (30 minutes). For both of these tasks, you are expected to write around 400-500 words each.

In analytical writing, GRE expects you to put forward your analytical skills in the most comprehensive manner possible. Your essay should reflect clarity of thoughts, suitable arrangement, and impeccable expression in the most accurate fashion.

You can find the complete pool of issue and argument topics on the ETS website. Answers to most of these topics are available for free on gmatclub.com.  Once you write an issue or an argument, you can compare it with answers available online simply by pasting the question on google. Several websites provide ideal answers to these issues and arguments completely free of cost.

Let’s see how this section is scored.

Each of these essays is scored on a scale of 1 to 6. The average score is considered to be 4.5 so to stand out in the competition, one should try to score above it.

Since you have to write so much in little time, you need to have a good typing speed. Because my typing speed was inherently good (60 WPM), I struggled less in that part of the prep. Yet I found analytical writing just as challenging.

Even though the analytical task is the most difficult one (according to me), its score is isolated. Meaning, that the analytical score is not considered when students voice their score out of 340 (which is the addition of verbal [170] and quantitative section [170]).

That said, many universities ask for analytical writing scores separately. This score has the capacity of affecting your application, so watch out for this section.

Truth be told, I’ve been a part-time writer for the past one and half years, but analytical writing was not what I was prepared for. You can see my report card where I got 4 out of 6.

This section was absolutely exhausting, and I seriously did not prepare well for it. My sincere focus was solely on verbal and quant, which I eventually did very well in.

2. Verbal Reasoning

I was in a misconception that my English was good until GRE entered my life.

Verbal reasoning is full of traps. Two sections of verbal reasoning come alternatively.

For example, after the analytical section (which is always first), the next section might be verbally followed by quantitative reasoning followed by verbal and again quant (verbal-quant-verbal-quant). If the section after analytical writing is quant, then a similar pattern will follow, that is, quant-verbal-quant-verbal, in an alternate fashion.

There will be an additional experimental section that might come just anywhere in your test. (There is no way to know it’s experimental!) and this section does not affect your score.

In one section of verbal reasoning, you’re given 20 questions to be solved in 30 minutes.

In the first two days of understanding the pattern, I traced the basic statistics. The goal here was to know what I am dealing with and how am I going to deal with it.

After dedicating a good amount of time, I figured out a way to allocate appropriate time to specific types of questions.

Let’s walk through how I mind mapped the whole section in a tabular form:

Type of question The approximate number of questions out of 20 questions The ideal time to be allotted for each question (min) Total approx. time per type (min)
Text completion 5 1 5
Sentence equivalence 5 1 5
Reading comprehension 10 2 20
Total: 20 questions Total: 30 min

Some tutors suggest stringent time allotment, saying that students should answer in less than 50 seconds.

However, I found this portioning of time perfect for myself.

This chart helped me restrict myself. For instance, if I decided to solve 10 “Text Completion” questions today, I did not allow myself more than 1 minute for every question.

This meant that I would grant myself only 10 minutes to solve those 10 questions, never more.

This helped me build a discipline with time (which many students think is not important) and served me to deliver a sense of the real-time test.

I think this training-yourself-alongside-time is extremely important.

Some English masters might even tick all the right answers, but in the end, it all boils down to whether they would be able to do it in time.

This “time” parameter plays a pivotal role.

To all earnest readers, I would make a sincere request to practice GRE questions with time.

Like all the other things in life, time decides it all.

I prepared for the whole verbal section from Manhattan’s 5lb, the same book that I used for quantitative reasoning. This book allows you to solve all types of questions in vigorous amounts.

If anyone has referred to this book and is wondering whether the level of difficulty in Manhattan is the same as GRE, the answer is yes. I found my actual GRE level very similar to what I had solved in Manhattan. I feel confident when I say that if you have sincerely solved complete Manhattan, GRE eventually becomes no-that-hard for you.

Now with the scaffold structure in place, I want to dig a little deeper into what the verbal reasoning section has to offer and how I chose to deal with it. But before that, I want to address the elephant in the room…Vocabulary.

Make Your Words-Game Strong

I always wished that ETS should release a list of words that would surely come in the test.

Alas! That’s far from happening and you’re left with no other choice than to use other reference sources.

In the beginning, my vocab game was ramshackle (Do I even have to mention it’s a GRE word?).

I referred to several sources to strengthen my vocabulary. One of the books that I thoroughly referred to was GRE Master Wordlist from Vibrant Publishers. I tried to memorize all the 1535 words enlisted in this book and I must say that it helped. In my real GRE, I came across several words that I had learned from this book.

Obviously, after a point, it gets tiring to read the words and their meanings. So, when I got exhausted from reading the words, I watched them.

This tested tutor’s video enlists 600 words super-important for GRE. I watched it several times when I didn’t want to read. This YouTube channel is the best for GRE aspirants. Even the quantitative section, offers insightful videos worth giving a shot at.

When it comes to words, GRE also likes to play around with similar sounding words, and if that isn’t frustrating!

Some very confusing pairs of words like, histrionic and historic, demure and demur, indigent and indignant had boggled my mind.

But of course, I found a solution to that too!

Magoosh’s free GRE vocabulary ebook addresses some of the trickiest words. I used it to clear my confusion and learn a bunch of new important words.

Scratch cards are a great way to enhance your vocabulary too. It is just that I had very little time to prepare, I couldn’t do it. But if you are someone away from your GRE by 2-3 months, I think making scratch cards is worth it.

To find a solution to my ‘time’ problem, I printed all the important words in a column format. This allowed me to carry this simple compilation everywhere I went. This is a quick glimpse of one page of the eleven pages I compiled.

GRE book

I know, I know, I know, it looks very messy. Believe it or not, when you write with your own hand, it gives a much more profound impact on your memory.

I wanted to scribble every meaning with my own hand. It gave me deeper access to each word. I also scribbled other words (that arent’s on the list) on the side of the page. So, whenever I opened my compilation, I technically had every word I learned in one place.

That said, no matter how many words you do, nothing is ever enough. So don’t restrict yourself to certain resources for vocab. Wherever you spot an unfamiliar word, pounce on it. Google its meaning, look for its use in sentences and start using it yourself.

Know what the context of the word and the intensity of its meaning is. GRE loves to give options that have similar meanings but different severity.

For instance, sullen, angry, and dour, share somewhat similar meanings, and yet sometimes they vary in the depth of their meaning.

Sullen is someone bad-tempered— not wanting to talk while dour is someone cold and unfriendly.

Do you see these nuances in their exact meanings?

This is where you want to watch it.

You not only must know the broader meaning of the word, but also its depth.

Now, with the Vocab nicely wind up, let’s see where you’ll be using it.

a. Text Completion (approx. 5 questions per section)

In text completion, you are given a sentence with one or more blanks and there is only one correct answer for each blank.

Trust me, these questions are far more complex than they appear to be.

You invest your precious time firstly— to understanding the given sentence and accurately predicting the blank and secondly—to choose the correct answer from the options.

Yeah, you’re right. This is the part where Vocabulary walks ever-so-elegantly into the picture.

Without a good grasp of vocab, you fail in either or both understanding the sentence and finding an appropriate match.

In the beginning, I absolutely failed at text completion. It became a nightmare really fast, really quick.

When I used to solve 10 questions (with the timer!) and hardly used to get 2 questions correct, I had made up my mind that GRE is not my thing after all!

But as the saying goes “Practice makes human perfect” (yes, I edited it!), I eventually improved over time.

I worked consistently for 20 days, solving at least 20 questions every day. Not to forget, I evaluated them in the end, understanding my mistakes some of the most common being:

  • Hurrying into the answer
  • Not reading the question enough times before going through options
  • Simply unfamiliar with the words
  • Not noticing the contrast of thoughts in the sentence (a very common pattern in GRE questions)

While I was analyzing my answers, I also listed down the new words and revised them later.

In the end, after all my practice for 20 days, I started getting half of my answers correct. Which was good enough (since 300 was my target).

If you want to target 320, try to get 75% of your questions correct in mock tests.

b. Sentence equivalence (approx. 5 each section)

These are other types of tricky questions, only harder than text completion.

In sentence equivalence, you have a sentence or small paragraph and there is only one blank for which two answers are correct.

The characteristics of these two answers are:

  • They perfectly fit in the blank to make the sentence meaningful
  • They are synonymous with each other

Here again, without good vocab, either you won’t understand the given sentence, or won’t find the perfect answers.

This is not always true though.

Sometimes you don’t need to understand the meaning of the word to know it’s the right answer. As long as you know the remaining options are absolutely incorrect, you’re good to go!

Another trap here is it doesn’t matter if you got one of the two answers correct. Unless and until you choose both of the correct options, you won’t get a full point of it.

Absurd right? Not really.

Surprisingly enough, I did well in this section in the later part of my 20 days of GRE prep.

With the consistent sentence types of these common GRE questions, I developed an eye for them.

When you read GRE content over and over again, you eventually become used to it, expecting the common twists and turns.

After a point, their complexity does not surprise you anymore. You see the traps coming, you notice the antithesis in the sentences, and predict the correct options quickly and efficiently.

More often than not, I started applying the elimination technique, removing the most unrelatable options from my mind before I could find the right option. This did not always get me the best results, but for some questions, it worked immaculately.

c. Reading Comprehension (approx.10 questions each section)

Now we’re getting to the crux of it.

I honestly think there could be a book about how to crack reading comprehension, but for the matter of time and energy, I’ll be winding up my journey briefly.

Reading comprehension is unlike any “read-the-para-and-answer-the-question” I’ve ever attempted in my life.

The questions asked are boggling. When I first started off, even when I gave 5 minutes per single question (yeah sometimes I cheated), I used to get all of them wrong. These are the most unpredictable questions that you can’t be 100% sure of getting right.

This section evaluates your understanding of the passage which can be just about anything from dark matter, climate change, behavioral patterns in some insects, philosophical arguments, or the internal structure of some body organ.

As diverse as the topics go, as I said before, you eventually develop an eye for them.

I must have read at least hundreds of these paragraphs in the period of 20 days. By the time my test date was due, those paragraphs could not scare me anymore. I had become immune to any abstruse (GRE word again!) topic written in any convoluted structure.

I don’t know if you have realized it yet, but the key secret to GRE success is practice, practice, and… yes, Practice!

3. Quantitative Reasoning

I left mathematics a long time ago. I was average at it in high school, but never loved it the way I adored biology. And so, when it came to quant, I was downright frustrated even before I touched on the topic.

Quantitative reasoning has 20 questions to solve in 35 minutes. Here too, I decided to allot time for each question, which was one minute.

It was always better to leave some time in the end to visit the questions that I left unanswered or marked.

I attempted almost every single question from the 5lb book of GRE practice problems. This amazing book has 20-40 questions about every single chapter of maths that you can expect in the GRE. It helped me build the much-needed confidence that I had lost so many years ago.

If you’re a maths wizard, quantitative reasoning can be as easy as cake for you. But I’d suggest you do not take it for granted. Practice as many problems as you can and look for twists in the question (Trust me, they come without knocking).

In a Nutshell

GRE is a difficult test, but not as much as it is portrayed. If you want to score well on GRE, you absolutely can, there is nothing that can hold you back.

Remember to never stop practicing, no matter how discouraging your score is in the beginning, don’t give up. Don’t forget to practice with the timer on the side. Time is very important in GRE.

Trust me, having a few seconds in hand when you have multiple questions remaining to attempt, is not a good feeling. You might miss out on questions that were actually very easy.

Remain consistent with your practice with all three sections. Stay hungry for new words at all times during your prep and revise, revise and revise.

I absolutely cannot forget to tell you about mock tests. I gave three of them before the test, but I think four is a good number. Here, you can find 8 GRE mock tests absolutely free.

Of all the tests, I found that Manhattan’s test offered a more thorough analysis. If you anyway want to invest money in GRE preparation, I’d highly recommend you buy their 6 mock tests. I didn’t buy it but based on their free mock test, I loved the way they gave a very detailed analysis in the end.

All in all, GRE can be a great journey to travel through. It is an opportunity to challenge your skills in multiple ways. I learned tons of complex academic words that I am eager to use in the future.

Wish you all the best! Feel free to reach out!

Author’s Bio:

Purva is a biology enthusiast with interest in diverse fields. After trying her hands in different domains, she has finally found her comfort zone in typing for hours. When she is not writing under the lamp or hopelessly editing, she is often found scrolling through cats and dog videos.

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