Monday, August 29, 2005

The Graduate Record Exam (G.R.E)

Note: 2 more posts pertaining to M.S applicants and hopefully I should move to the MBA thing.

"machaan! I am focusing on Quants and the analytical parts of the other section. Once I get strong in this I'll slowly start on the verbal".

These are famous words by people who will most probably never do well in their GRE exam. If an average desi with little or no "English knowledge" (read as people who aren't, and excuse my spelling, the Nurenburg Rosenblum variety) says the above statement, I always understood it to mean that he is lazy and has not started preparing for GRE yet.

When I prepared for GRE the format was much different. But from the University's perspective this is how I perceived them as viewing the contents of my application packet. This is the list of application components ranked as per importance.

1) Statement of Purpose
1a) IEEE papers and other sort of papers.
1b) Possibility of you being a PhD student.
2) Letters of recommendation ( nowadays universities don't care a lot about these)
3) Academic Percentage-GPA / GRE score
4) Any other experience that might contribute to you being a better student.

If you notice TOEFL is not on the list. You just need to get the passing score in TOEFL to be eligible for admission. Don't brag about your TOEFL score to other people. I have seen people who didn't register a blip in the GRE come and brag to me about a 650 TOEFL score. You come across as a boring, unfocused person. A good TOEFL score in an educational system that has 14 years of English preparation is nothing to be proud of. Most plants which grow in our schools should get that passing score.

The item ranked 3 is to determine your aptitude/academic capability/ intelligence whichever way you would like to say it. Universities cannot really determine anything about you from your academic percentage/GPA. Mainly because the evaluation system and quality of students in individual schools is so varied that it is hard to fix a common denominator. GRE is a exam that tries to establish a common denominator by choosing as its sylalabi things that all engineers will know by default. Its not an advanced test or a crazy test like the CAT but just a time-pressure test. Many people soften the GRE by saying "it really doesn't test your intelligence. It is not a measure of your capability". Forget this kind of bull shit. This is a test.. some test.. that you have to certainly do well. You can console yourself in many ways for a bad GRE but the truth is - dude this is 10th grade math and some English. This is not the toughest test you've faced in your life. If you sucked in the JEE, that's alright. But really GRE... you should put up a decent performance. You gotta do it well. The only reason why I have seen people do badly in GRE is lack of preparation. That is clearly attributed to laziness/lack of seriousness etc. Bottomline - if you sucked in GRE - you and your laziness is squarely to be blamed and not any "ETS is a corporate shark that fleeces money from us" kind of BS. So when you get your score and if you feel it did not reflect your capability, pay ETS more money and take the test.

There are two sections in GRE now.

Quantitative: This is mostly basic mathematics with little twists and turns here and there. The idea is to make less mistakes. Think of it this way a 700 in Quant is like a really bad score. Anything above 750 is acceptable for an Indian engineer. There are many who score 800 and keep quiet. So don't brag if you have a 790 score. It is really not a big deal.

Verbal: This is the section that will make all the difference. Everybody gets some decent score in quant. The lazy people who didn't spend the time on their word lists usually suck in Verbal. If somebody didn't tell you before here it goes - Mug up the word lists. There are 50 of them in Baron (that should suffice) and make sure you go over them enough times to say the meanings whenever randomly asked. This will make all the difference. You need to know meaning of words to understand analogies, antonyms, fill up the blanks and Reading comprehension. Don't ask stupid questions like "do Americans really use these words in daily life". The real answer is sometimes they do and sometimes they don't. However, Nobody cares if they do or if they don't. It may also be really helpful to have a good vocabulary. But Bottomline -- You need to know those words for your GRE. That's why you learn these words. As simple as that.

Once you have become good with words and have sorted out the fill-in-the-blanks and the antonyms part ( I am assuming these things are still there for the test) - then comes the reading comprehension (RC). For me this was a tough nut to crack because until very late in the game, I didn't evolve a good strategy on "Read the questions first" or "Read the passage first". Didn't get out of this rut on the GMAT either. You have to be a fast reader (which I was) but you also have to be good in nested sentences. Nested sentences is just a regular sentence complicated waaaay to much because of the commas. The sentence becomes bigger and bigger because of phrases embedded in commas. They hijack the real intent of the sentence to distract you. I formulated an idea where I converted commas into brackets and sort of tried to read the sentence minus the contents of the brackets. It worked to an extent.

AWA: This is really unimportant and I have not seen many universities take notice of it unless its really bad. I think anything less than 4.5 is bad. This is graded by a software which looks for a particular arrangement of sentences. See AWA help by Kaplan GMAT books. Kaplan or Princeton put out a special "Kaplan Verbal Guide", which covers the AWA.

Do you need to go for a coaching class?

I went to Datamatics. Mainly because it had a reputation for attracting good looking chics. We did very little of GRE'ing in our time with datamatics. It became an excuse for everybody to get acquainted with a new group of friends (read as entities with girls) and hang out in the New Gangotri (which is not there now) or Saravana Bhavan. Datamatics had an English teacher called James (from Vellore) who spoke waaay too much about sex. He spent more time on the words "lascivious", "promiscuous" and "salacious" (excuse the spellings) than he did for the rest of the word lists. But in all seriousness word lists can't be taught. What Datamatics did was regularize our learning process and bought a disciplined system into place. For that alone - it was worth the 1900 Rs. When you start off on the word list, you maybe going at a rate of 1 word list a day and you will certainly forget the word list you previously studied. Don't worry. Its normal. You will remember better as the word-list iterations progress.

Why is GRE very important?

Outside the Top 15 (or say Top 20) universities, other universities don't care to read much into you Statement of Purpose (SOP). They award admissions based on your academics/GRE. It is purely up to you to determine whether you want to be part of a university that ignores all the bull shit you throw at them in the Statement of purpose and does something like this. That doesn't mean that Top Univs don't care about your GRE. But in that stratosphere your IEE papers and other stuff begin to make a difference. I think a 1450 score or above in GRE is a good score. Anything above that the university should begin to consider you seriously. If its a top university you could see a 1600 being rejected for a 1460 with a good SOP and papers. Financial aid decisions are made based on your GRE in such universities. Most importantly. GRE goes as close to your grave than any other application component. Visa Rejects for M.S applicants are mainly (is also sometimes are only) because of poor GRE score or poor academics (read as arrears).

Know any good GRE material?

While shopping for a cousin, I found cheap GRE CDs in Swathi book house. Barons is the standard for the word list. Kaplan has traditionally been a really good prep book. The Big Book - by ETS, provides real ETS questions and is also a must buy. The power prep, I heard, is sometimes really misleading because it is 10 times easier than the actual test. I'd buy Barons, Kaplans, The Big Book and a bunch of CDs. Anything else I'll buy purely for extra tests.

What's important on the things-to-do to prepare well for GRE?

I think in this test you move up in levels. If you feel your score is stagnating then you need to back off and do some serious studying before taking more tests. I'd recommend taking about 15 - 20 tests overall and a same score range in two consecutive tests is enough for you to back off. Post-mortem is extremely important. Writing a lot of tests and randomly studying to see if your score improves is plain stupidity. Every test you post-mortem for 2-3 hrs by reading what the right answer is and analyzing why you chose the right answer. This helps more than anything else.

Why I wrote such a pissed of article?

See nobody is a GRE expert. That's my attempt at being humble. Having said that obligatory disclaimer lets move on. But at the same time, ownership of mistakes is a critical thing. You didn't prepare well, drank some beer, watched porn movies and generally hung out with your friends and then sucked in your GRE. So blame yourself. If I were you, I'd simply admit guilt. I have said "I sucked" many times. In this context ( and a few other contexts) I frown at people who don't follow the rules and then say "the rules are all wrong" (There maybe other contexts in which the rules are stupid and wrong). It doesn't even take guts to accept guilt because it's plain common sense. Don't go blaming the system and play the victim. Its just pisses everybody off.

Let me stop by giving you an example. I met a guy in Ohio State with a name that's long even by Indian standards. He was from a remote village outside of Tuvakudi, Trichy (Which itself is a remote village). Educated in Tamil medium. He could not speak 1 single sentence fluently in English. He had never read English novels and not seen 1 single non-porn English movie. He scored 750 in verbal. Which is a pretty big thing. I was curious (mainly because he scored more than me) and asked him "How"? He just said he slogged hard. He wanted to do well and so he prepped for like 6 months. As simple as that. After seeing him, and then later meeting landmark-going, semi-English-dudes with some fancy novel in hand, talking about dating etc complain about ETS -- its plain frustrating. Yes! ETS makes money. Everybody is out to make money. Stop Whinging and get to work.


Ram said...

Looks like Spam has zoomed into the Hawkeye. You better enable comment protection offered recently by Blogger. Unless these guys are totally jobless, you will be relieved from some of them.

Hawkeye said...


u know how to get this spam protection.

anantha said...

Thuvakudi is where the REC is at in Trichy, right at the Trichy-Thanjavur highway ;)

But i caught your point :)

Anonymous said...

well.. chipped into ask this [though the question is already asked!].
Is thuvakudi an intended reference to REC Trichy?

Hawkeye said...

anti, zero,

i guess i get your confusion. this guy hailed (in that he was born brought up and raised) somewhere near thuvakudi. He was not like may REC trichy folks who studied in other places and went to thuvakudi for BE.

Ram Prasadh said...

Juz as u said,everything here goes out into diligent preparation and languidness always digs your ditch.
keeping my fingers crossed X till the D-Day.

tilotamma said...

The Nurenberg-Rosenblum types :-).

Harish said...

I'll get right on the case, sir!!

senthil said...

After i read ur blog i was reminded of the GRE preparation my gang of friends had done. It is true that Verbal is the make or break section in GRE.
I knew a couple of guys who got 800 in Quans section and ended up with 300 in Verbal ..
Not that i did any better i ended up with 490 ;-). Barron's is GOD for verbal , no doubt about that.

Parii said...

This post is providential for me. I just signed up for the GRE scheduled at the end of October (for a lark), and have so far done nothing but look at the Powerprep during office lunch break. And going by what you said, and considering I'm not even an engineer, a mere BA honours student who graduated a decade ago, I am going to need way more time than a month and a half to prepare for this.

Thanks. I shall postpone. Or better yet, cancel!!!!

Vishnu Vyas said...

hmm.. pretty late to this page, but more facts..

Datamatics costs rs.6k now.. and still attracts chicks.

As far as verbal goes, prep is not the only thing, I've known people who have redundant copies Baron's stored in their head and got 350/800 and others with 0 prep (when I say zero i mean partying the day before with booze overflowing) getting 700 in verbal.

Its not just words.. because English (and hence GRE) is simply not just a language of words.

You've mentioned important things like nested sentences in your post as nothing more than a passing reference. Those are the things that are more important.. Words are mere background knowledge..

And you've to admit it.. inspite of 14+ years of english education, not many can frame proper sentences let alone ace toefl. (Take a look at any of your staff from undergrad colleges, asuming you did it here in india).

tilotamma said...

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Anonymous said...

im doing 3yr biotech now..can u tell me wen it is generally advisable to take so confused...i've started my prep of doing 1 wordlist a i in the rite track of learning?

Anonymous said...

The GRE isn't a reliable indicator of academic success for the very reason you mention in your article. The fact that you can prepare for it! This test is supposed to be a general aptitude test and a reliable indicator of intelligence, yet you can purchase a ridiculously over priced book and gain an extra 200 points per section. Give me a break, these standardized tests are bullshit. I have taken them plenty of times as well and, usually, the reason that I miss a question is that I misread the question. Now that's some bullshit. Recognizing trick questions is not a sign of intelligence, it's a sign of how well you take masturbatory tests.

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