The first part of this blog dealt with the essay portion of the GRE. In this part, you will get some tips and guidelines to help you with the Quant and Verbal parts. After you complete the essay portion (which is the first section of the GRE), you will have to complete alternating Quant and Verbal sections (between which you will get a 10 minute break). So your GRE pattern will be something like this:
Essay – Quant – Verbal ——— Break ——— Quant – Verbal – Quant
Essay – Verbal – Quant ——— Break ——— Verbal – Quant – Verbal
Out of these, one of the repeating Quant or Verbal sections (Quant in the first pattern, Verbal in the second) is an experimental section, which means that your performance in it will not affect your final score. But since you can never know exactly which section it is (for example, in the first pattern, it could be the any of the Quant sections), you must do your best in every section you encounter.
1. In the Quant sections, you will be provided with an on-screen standard (non-scientific) calculator, but it helps to simplify problems before performing the final calculations on the calculator. So reduce your problem to simple multiplication and division problems before using the calculator.
2. Remember your basic sin, cos and tan functions, since the calculator does not have these. When you encounter a trigonometry question, quickly draw a 45-45-90 or 30-60-90 triangle and use the soh-cah-toa (sin = Opposite/Hypotenuse, cos = Adjacent/Hypotenuse, tangent = Opposite/Adjacent) or any other mnemonic you know to help you remember.
3. How you use the scratch paper is very important, because depending on your handwriting, you may not get enough sheets to start with (you only get a set number of sheets and 2 lead pencils to take into the examination room), and asking for additional sheets takes up valuable time. So make sure you write small and utilize every available space. When you are done with your sheet, it should look like a warzone (one of my GRE instructors used to brag about how ugly – read ‘well-utilized’ – his scratch-sheets used to be compared to ours). Don’t go overboard with compacting your writing (for obvious reasons), but use the sheets as fully as you can.
4. Among the harder questions you will encounter will be the data interpretation ones. Here, you have to read bar charts, line charts and pie charts to answer questions, so read the descriptive data on the chart carefully – in some charts, the axes say ‘in 1000s’ or ‘in 100s,’ so the numbers should not be directly pulled off from the charts. Most of these questions are about change or difference (between two readings or even two graphs), where different slopes or increments have to be compared. Make sure you study this topic well.
5. When in doubt of a particular answer, do not check the steps of the answer – simply re-do the question. It will almost always save time.
6. The single most important thing that you should remember while solving Quant questions is this: If you are taking too long, or have to resort to some overly complicated method to solve a question, you are doing something wrong. No question should take over 2.5 minutes to solve. If a question seems overly difficult, take a few seconds to reassess that question – every GRE question can be solved fairly quickly, often without the use of a calculator.
On the other hand, do not underestimate questions and dismiss their difficulty when they may actually require some working.
7. Finally, when a question is done, don’t dwell on it. You will run out of time in the Quant section if you needlessly double- and triple-check each question before moving on. Several Quant questions are solved easily without any working; spending a minute on a question that needs only 30 seconds is a waste. Don’t distribute time and plan on giving each question a set amount of time. Simply focus on moving quickly through the questions, giving only a ten-second check to each answer. Ideally, you should have no more than 2 questions marked for rechecking by the end of a section (this applies to Verbal questions as well).
And if you simply cannot solve a question in 2 minutes, make an educated guess (dismiss at least two of the five available options) and move on.
1. Verbal questions are of three types: MCQs in reading comprehension, selecting the answer sentences in the reading comprehension passage (by clicking on them), and fill-in-the-blanks (which can either be a combination of blanks or just one blank for which you have to select the two most appropriate fillers from a list of five).
Although this really depends on you reading skills – some people read quickly but retain little, while some read slowly but remember most of it (some are fast readers and can recall everything they read) – I find it helpful to read the passage fully before answering the questions. Skim the passage again after reading each question until you find the answer. While some adopt the ‘read questions before reading the passage’ approach, I find it confusing to ‘look for answers’ while reading a passage for the first time. Just keep it simple. You will have to read the whole passage in depth anyway for answering questions that ask for the gist or general idea of the text (for example any questions that begin with ‘Based on the text…’)
2. One of my instructors said that there are three kind of reading that you have to do for the GRE:
Reading the lines
Reading between the lines
Reading beyond the lines
The first type is simple – the question asks for information that is directly stated in the text. No inference or ‘gist-finding’ efforts are required here, and due to their low difficulty, these questions are rare in the GRE. The second type is harder, and is the most common kind of reading that GRE questions require. This reading tests your comprehension and inference skills – you will have to look for answers that are not explicitly detailed in the text. A good example of questions that require this type of reading are ‘This passage suggests that…’ and ‘Which of the following is a true statement based on this passage…’ type questions.
The third type is the hardest, and questions that require this type of reading are again rare. You have to rely on your own knowledge to arrive at the answer. For example, one GRE passage I encountered was about winds. It mentioned how winds generally travel in a west to east direction. One of the questions then asked which of the following directions are winds most likely to blow in – from Washington to New York, from London to San Diego, from Boston to Los Angeles, or from Bermuda to Tokyo. If you don’t know about the location of these places on the map, you will not be able to answer this type of question.
It is thus extremely important to have good general knowledge and extensively read various publications, news reports and other well-written articles. Passages in the GRE are almost always about academic topics such as nature, science, economics, history, art, music, biology and technology. It will help greatly if you are well-read in the above topics.
3. Take care to not settle for vague answer options when an exact option is provided. It is often stressed in the GRE to understand when not enough information is provided to completely answer a question – but do not let this dull you into a sense of complacency, thinking that a vague or generalized answer will do. For example, I remember a question based on a passage mentioning that there is a roughly 6°C drop per km increase of altitude. The question asked what would be the temperature at the base of a mountain if the summit was at a certain temperature (both the height and summit temperature were provided). One of the answer options gave an exact answer, while another gave a vague answer of ‘below freezing level.’ Since the value of the temperature was, after a rough estimate, pointing to below freezing level, I selected that option, mistakenly thinking that by selecting an envelope in which the correct answer obviously lay would be marked correct. It turned out I was wrong – a proper calculation yielded the exact answer provided in the answer options. So look out for questions that bait you with vague answer ranges that are ‘technically correct’ – there may be a ‘more correct’ answer option provided.
4. Learning vocabulary is a chore, but one around which there is no way if you want to ace the GRE. Make sure you memorize not just the roughly 475 very-high-frequency GRE words, but also the roughly 800 high-frequency ones (both lists are updated periodically). Don’t waste time trying to memorize all of them – you will already be familiar with most of them. Focus on the difficult ones. One tactic is to associate difficult words with people or objects that remind you of that word. So if you can’t remember what ‘gregarious’ means, and you have a friend named Jim who is overly friendly, just think: gregarious – Jim.
I found this a little hard to do, especially when there were several difficult words (I found well over a hundred). What I did was that every single word that I was unsure about, I wrote down along with its meaning. Also, I found learning word roots quite difficult and not always applicable. For example, the word ‘discretion’ has nothing to do with ‘discrete’ or ‘discreet.’ Word roots are often only vaguely connected to the actual meaning of a word.
5. Finally, do not assume information. Act only on what is provided, unless you are solving a ‘read beyond the lines’ question. This is highly important – separating what is required from the irrelevant material is one of key skills that the GRE demands from you.
Remember, these are only some tips and experiences that I found useful – they will never substitute a good preparation for your GRE. So make sure you are familiar with the test and have read plenty of preparatory material before reading this. Take care to go over the ‘On the test day’ guidelines provided in GRE books and by the ETS – it is vital that you visit the test center a few days before the test and get a good night’s sleep before the test day (it’s a long test!).
Best of luck!