GRE Score 324 in less than 2 months: A Student Speaks

Yes, I did it! And I am sure you can score more if you plan and prepare well for your GRE. So in case if it helps any one of you, I thought of sharing my experience with GRE and the test-prep process through this blog.

Disclaimer: This post is not going to tell you what the GRE questions look like – all GRE books & websites do that (if they are authentic). I am sure you already know it by now. Here are what I observed and learnt while preparing for and taking the test. This is a rather long and descriptive post. So, I have decided to break it up in 3 parts. In part one I will discuss the overall study plan required for GRE. So here it goes…….

About Myself: Before we start I think I need to introduce myself. I am Sampoorna Mitra and I am writing this article on behalf of Diksha Learning Services Pvt. Ltd. (“DIKSHA” as I am used to call this test-prep centre for GRE/ GMAT). I did my Masters in Geography in 2013 and then joined a private bank in branch operations. But within a year I felt that the job is not cup of tea. I planned for my GRE by end of 2014 so as to continue my higher studies (PhD). After some initial research about the test format and standard, I decided to take a 2 month leave from my office to prepare for GRE. I started my preparation in Feb 2015 and appeared for GRE by end of April 2015. And I got a score of 324 (Quant – 166; Verbal – 158; AWA – 5.5), which I think is pretty decent. Then I resumed working (of course to save some money for applications) and shall be applying for the 2017 fall session. I did most of what I am going to tell you here in less than two months, but of course with long, intense study hours and thorough guidance from the faculty team & mentor at DIKSHA.

The Macro-level Study Plan: Although I had to do it in less than 2 months (as my office didn’t allow more leaves), I wouldn’t recommend the same to you. And I would also not recommend you to take a leave you’re your office or studies to prepare for GRE. Just in case you are a working professional you can think of taking a 1 week leave just before the final exam.

Whether you are working or studying, around four months would be ideal to prepare for GRE without panicking. Start with a diagnostic test – found in almost all GRE books. You may also opt for the Assessment Test carried out by Diksha Learning Services Pvt. Ltd (DIKSHA) to assess your base level. In fact DIKSHA would also help you to prepare your personalized study plan based on your Assessment Test performance and time availability.

In general I think around 2 hours every day for the first three months and then about 4 hours a day in the last month is what you will require. By the way, I am talking about average IQ people. Please don’t come back and tell me that you have scored 335 with 4 days preparation. If you have actually done so then be happy about the fact that you perhaps a genius!

Also note that when I say 2 hours a day of studying, I mean intense preparation. So don’t just try to mug up 5 words over a cup of coffee with family in 30 minutes.

Plan your schedule well. It should be balanced enough to include all three areas – Maths, Vocabulary and Reading. But at the same time higher time should be kept to concentrate on the weaker areas. I do also understand that occasional breaks can happen in your study schedule. It could be your college fest or a project presentation in office. Relax! You can comfortably study for just 5 days a week. Keep the other two days for your personal/ professional work or plain entertainment. But please don’t end up trying to match just the hours. Remember, 2 hours a day for 5 days a week is much more effective than putting in 6 hours a day for 2 days in a week!

Start with the concepts – the very basics of Math and English from your school days, which you might have surprisingly forgotten by this time. This might take you a month or two. Once you are through with the concepts, try to identify your weaker areas and focus on those. The faculty team at DIKSHA clearly identified my weaknesses in Geometry and Reading ability. And I had to go through a lot of drills in those areas to reach a certain level of comfort.

Once you have gained confidence across all concepts, it’s time to practice hard. Get yourself exposed to lot of practice questions. Content is available everywhere today. But please make sure it is relevant for your GRE preparation. There’s no point solving questions of CAT while aiming for a high score in GRE. While practicing please ensure that you work on your timing too. And wherever you are getting stuck (either not being able to solve a question or coming up with an incorrect answer or even taking too much time for solving a question) please speak to your faculty or coach. During my GRE Test-Prep at DIKSHA I used to get my doubts cleared online through email or Skype with respective faculties.

Finally once your practice is more or less done it’s time to get into the exam mode. Take mock tests. And take the full-length ones under timed condition. Due to paucity of time I could tale only 5 full-length mock tests at DIKSHA along with the 2 mock tests by ETS Powerprep. But if you have adequate time, I will suggest go for 10 mock tests of DIKSHA, along with the free tests offered by ETS, Kaplan & Manhattan.

Please remember that taking even 50 mock tests is not going to be much helpful if you don’t review them well. The objective should be to identify your mistakes (in terms of concept, time pacing or the section-specific strategies) in a mock test so as to plug the gaps in the next one. Review each and every mock test with utmost sincerity to ensure that your performance improves in the next one. I got extreme help from my mentor at DIKSHA who used to review the tests along with me and suggest me the improvement plans for the next one.

By the time you are through with the mock tests you have already finalized your test strategy. In the last two days revise and relax. Have confidence in yourself and your preparation – you will need it for the exam day!

So in a nutshell, what I suggest is that plan well for these 4 months of intense preparation for your GRE. Just to appear in GRE you will need to pay more than INR 12,500 to ETS. So do take it seriously. Have a well balanced and personalized study plan ready when you start and stick to it. GRE is less about being genius and more about being rigorous. Be sincere, diligent and determined. And in case you need any guidance I will suggest DIKSHA’s name simply because of the personalized attention and mentoring that I experienced there.

Top Six Life Hacks for Indian Students in USA

Well, if you are reading this it means you are planning your higher studies from USA or at least you may want to think about it as an option. It may also be the case that you are already through with your GRE (or, GMAT) and TOEFL (or, IELTS) exams and planning for your applications to the US Universities or B-Schools. Whatever may be the stage, here at Diksha Learning Services (DIKSHA) we thought that it will be good for you to know how life changes suddenly from the moment you land in US as an Indian student. While there are too many changes to list out, the following SIX changes will impact you the most. And thus the Top Six life hacks as detailed below is something you should never ignore. Rather, start preparing from now on!

  • Food – Learn to Cook it: Let’s start with Food – most of us “Live to Eat”! And for an Indian Student in US, there starts the problem. Your mother is not there to dish out delicacies that you like. You don’t have a cook either. And most importantly you don’t have those canteens, road-side eateries and “dabba” system that helped you to sustain in your hostel days. Definitely you will try the Burger, Hot dogs, Pizzas and Tacos for some time till you start craving for your favourite Chicken Tikka Masala, Rajma-Chawal or Puri-Bhaji or Paratha or Upma… Moreover, if you are a vegetarian (or even if only a chicken and fish eater), please remember it’s a big, bad, non-veg world awaits you in USA. You will need to be cautious about your food. Besides, having a proper lunch or dinner (I mean a proper 3-course meal, not the fast food) in an US restaurant will be strenuous on your pocket. So, simply learn to cook. It is one of the most valuable skills to learn while you are still in India and would be useful throughout your life in USA.
  • Time management – Learn to multi-task: In India you have an unparalleled support system as a student (even as a young professional). Your parents pay your tuition fees on time. You have someone to clean your room, wash and iron your clothes, prepare your food and even at times to get your assignment ready. You are expected to study to get good grades. So you do have lot of time lazing around. You study hard for a week before your exam and still end up with decent grades. Sorry to inform that in USA you are expected (or, bound) to do all these by yourself – pay your rent and utilities on time, work part time to fund your studies/ living expenses, cook, wash and clean. Besides, the education system there will make you study almost everyday – going through lot of reference materials or project reports or journals in the library (and I don’t mean “google”). You have to submit your assignments on time and there are no excuses for a 1 day delay. You cannot copy it from your friend and not even from Google, as it would be construed as plagiarism. So, unless you can multi-task and juggle between activities, you will slowly fade away. I just forgot to mention, there are lot of socializing & partying that needs to be added to the list above. Have you ever thought that parties could be so tasking?
  • Credit history – Manage your Finance: As an Indian, most probably your finances have been sponsored as well as managed by your father. And most probably he would often frown upon on Credit Cards. Even if he has two or three such cards, he would rarely use them – may be just 20% of the total spending! But once are in US, you will need to use Credit Cards. Yes, you will need to borrow and pay back money on time to prove your credit worthiness. You need to build a good credit history for many things – such as getting a new mobile connection, buying a car, taking a rent and definitely getting a personal loan.  In fact I would suggest spend everything through your credit card. This will keep track of all your expenses, provide amazing offers to save some dollars and enhance your credit rating. Within a span of two years you can be a “Very Reliable Borrower” and believe me that’s going to be really helpful in US. There’s just one simple rule of using Credit cards –pay on time! Caution: If you misuse your card or overspend, it could become your worst nightmare.
  • Medical – Get Covered: So here in India you don’t care about your health. If you are not feeling well, you pop-in some pills widely available in pharmacies without prescription. You are feverish? Your family physician is just a call away. You have a twisted ankle? Your family or friends will take you to the neighborhood doctor’s clinic. And even after so much “halla boll” over rising medical costs in India, trust me – it’s still much cheaper than that in US. In US, if you don’t have adequate medical insurance, you are simply screwed! Most Universities shall enforce students to take a costly medical insurance coverage upon enrollment. And you better take a good one if you want to play it safe. Besides, the medical process out there is not so simple. When you go to a hospital in US, there are procedures, documentation, legalities and technicalities that make the first-timers loath themselves for falling sick. And always remember that ‘Dental’ and ‘Vision’ are most probably not a part of your medical insurance. If you are prone to such problems, then please purchase those as add-ons beforehand.
  • Networking –Socialize with an Objective: You are a good student – good at academics (i.e. getting good grades). You are also a smart, polite and good-natured individual with good communication skills (read, English). But these alone may not be sufficient to get you what you want in US. Right from getting the desired on-campus job and teaching assistantship to securing internships and full-time job offer – a lot depends on your network and rapport with the right people. Unfortunately in US the concept of “Campusing” is very different. It’s highly unlikely that Ford will come to the campus on 12th September to pick up 10 bright Mechanical Engineers! You can’t simply live in US all by yourself and expect the system to offer you something good on the platter. You will have to work your way out to know the right people and always try to be there in the right place at the right time. You will need to have your own information system (well, not the computers; I am talking about human beings) in place so as to grab the right opportunities. Socialize with people. Play a sport. Join a hobby club. Attend campus parties. Participate in career-fairs and corporate info sessions. Go for poster presentations and technical seminars and conferences. Simply, connect with as many people in different spheres where you operate. Be genuine while you network to build long lasting relationships. This would definitely go a long  way.
  • Legal – Learn to Obey Law: Being an Indian, often we tend to take “Law” as a very subjective as well as flexible thing that is open to interpretation and manipulation. But in US, please make sure that you know the law well. And also make sure that you never try to ignore or bypass it. Your US friends will be of great help to get your basics right. Besides, the University will also give you guidelines. Don’t overstep at all. Because once you are found on the wrong side, you cannot bribe your way out. If you try to do so, you might end up in jail. Some basics – You should stop at the signal (even if no one is there to watch over); you should not work overtime than the allowed legal hours (if caught you might get deported); you should always carry a copy of your legal documents that allow you to stay and study in the US. And if ever you get into some legal trouble please don’t try to work smart. Check your words (you will often find the cops saying “You have the right to remain silent”).  And seek help from University/ College authorities.

6 Critical Success Factors for Global MBA Admission

Global Business schools, unlike most of the reputed Indian B-schools, tend to look at multiple factors (of course, in no particular order) for admission in their flagship MBA programs. As an Indian student (or, professional) aspiring for a global MBA from a reputed B-school, you should start focusing on all these 6 success factors in your preparation phase.

1. GMAT
2. Academic Records
3. Work Experience
4. Extra-curricular
5. Clear career vision
6. Fitment

Let’s look at these factors a bit more closely….

  1. GMAT:

While most of the reputed B-schools across the globe don’t specify any minimum cut off score (there have been instances where a candidate with just 620 has got through Harvard), Indians and Chinese students form the most competitive pools in MBA applications and thus as an Indian a 720+ score will definitely be helpful if you are planning for top 25 B-schools. Anything less than 670, you may want to take the test again if you are planning for top 40 B-schools. And if your score is less than 650, top 75 B-schools could be a distant dream for you (unless of course you have a stellar work profile). But all said and done, please note that GMAT is just one step of the application process. It’s a major step, undoubtedly. But there are other steps as well.

  1. Academic performance:
    As you understand good grades, merit certificates, scholarships and academic awards definitely add to your profile. But this is something you can’t do much about if you are working already. In case you are still in the final year or final semester put that extra effort to ensure your grades go up.

    3. Work experience:
    Top global Business schools value applicants who have leadership/ managerial experience, preferably in some reputed companies. Sounds biased? May be, but that’s the way it is as of now. So when you are scouting for jobs after your graduation, try for roles that give you the opportunity to hone these managerial skills and try for companies that are recognized. Another important aspect that you should keep in mind if you are planning for a top MBA program – always keep a good rapport with your boss, super-boss and key clients. You will need their recommendations (LOR) during your application.

  2. Extra-curricular:
    Business Schools look for well rounded individuals. So focus on a few things outside your study or work. If you have a serious EC (like music, dance etc.) then certifications and accolades are helpful. If you are into sports, then at least representation at inter-college or inter-university level is important. Your involvement in NGO, College Cultural fests and Office CSR activities are also counted provided you have documentary evidence to support your claim. So if you are still at a planning stage utlize the 24 months that you have in hand.

    5. A Clear career vision:
    Why do you want to do an MBA? What will it get you? Are you planning to switch from an IT to business consulting? Are there skills that you need for a role you see yourself doing in the future?
    These are important for you to answer. Business schools are going to roast you on these. The admission officers expertise in doing this and hence can see through a well thought out plan from a ‘story’.Think hard, spoke to seniors in the industry, and research thoroughly to answer these questions.

    6.  Fitment:
    In your application, you will need to explain to the admission office why you think that particular B school is THE school for you. Research the schools, speak to current students and alumni, check out the professors, the facilities and understand the ethos. Not only will this help you understand the school better but will also help you highlight your interests and traits that fits in. It is not just about the rank of a business school. For example at Kellogg and Duke teamwork is the foundation of the learning process. If you don’t enjoy working in a team, those are not schools you want to apply to.

Note1: While GMAT is the preferred test for MBA admission, some business schools have started accepting GRE scores as well.

Note2: Apart from GMAT, you will also need to crack an English proficiency test (such as IELTS and TOEFL) for an MBA admission abroad.

 

Reading Strategies to crack Reading Comprehension (RC) in GRE, GMAT

Students, who have the luxury of preparing for the test over several months, should definitely take the Reading Comprehension (RC) section bit more seriously. Our recent experience shows that the reading passages are getting complicated (and longer as well) with every passing day. And to do well in the Reading Comprehension section there’s no better way than to substantially improve their reading skills in general, both in terms of comprehension and reading speed. But this is always easier said than done.

Students keep asking us: What topics should they read? What are the general reading references from reliable sources that can help them to improve their reading skills? And, what’s the best way to read such material?

Today, let’s answer these questions in steps.

Q1. What should you Read?

Reading is necessarily a skill. It’s like exercise. Just like you exercise daily to keep yourself fit and in shape, you should read daily to keep your mind fit and in shape for the exam.

 

  • Do you find an article on the effect of Monoamine oxidase (MAO) inhibitorsand tricyclic antidepressants on REM and non-REM sleep phases interesting?
  • What about critical remarks on a book called “Systematic Phylogeny” by Ernst Haeckl – an eminent German naturalist of the 19th century?
  • Would you be delighted reading about an excerpt from Lorenzo Forni’s dissection of the Calmfors – Driffill Hypothesis on Economic Performance and indexes of bargaining system?

 

By now, you must have got it! And we understand it as well. Just like most of us, you might actually hate such reading experiences.

 

But let’s make it simple. To get into your dream grad-school or B-school you need to write an exam like GRE or GMAT that gives you credit for reading, understanding and analyzing such complex and boring passages. Thus, it’s not a question of our choice anymore. Whether we love it or loathe it, we have to focus on reading such passages from now on. In general, the RC passages in GRE or GMAT come in one of the following categories:

  • Physical Sciences
  • Biological Sciences
  • Social Sciences
  • Art & Culture
  • Business & Economics

 

So absolutely anything and everything that falls in these categories should be read. While reading please keep in mind:

  • The passage should be in high quality English
  • US English is more helpful
  • Complicated (even, confusing) Writing style always help
  • Complex matter/ content is better
  • Good to read boring articles
  • Anything between 300 to 1000 words passages are fine

 

Q2. From where should you Read?

While authentic test-prep books and materials give you a good source for actual reading for Reading Comprehension passages, we always suggest to students to improve their reading skills by daily online reading. These non-GRE or non-GMAT sources of reading are truly essential for your practice. But wait, the moment we say “online” please don’t assume that we are suggesting you to read the FB updates of your friends! While the internet is a great place to improve your reading habit, it is actually overloaded with articles. Most of it is either trash or irrelevant. Even if some are relevant, the writing may not be of that high quality or the style may not be apt for your GRE or GMAT test preparation. In such a situation we suggest the following resources to be pretty authentic and reliable for your reading practice.

The University of Chicago Magazine (On Business, Economics, Science, Arts, Laws): http://mag.uchicago.edu/; when you check a specific issue of the magazine, try for the Investigations section: http://magazine.uchicago.edu/1008/investigations/

Harvard Magazine (On Science, Social Science, Humanities): http://harvardmagazine.com/

Smithsonian (On Science, Innovation, Art & Culture): http://www.smithsonianmag.com/

The Economist (On Business & Economics): http://www.economist.com/

Arts & Letters Daily (On Philosophy, Literature, Art, Culture): http://www.aldaily.com/

Scientific American (On Science, Innovation): http://www.scientificamerican.com/

The Atlantic (On Business, Health, Social Science): http://www.theatlantic.com/

The New Yorker (On Science, Culture, Book Review): http://www.newyorker.com/

The New York Times (Articles, Reviews, Critique): http://www.nytimes.com/

Washington Post (Blog, Analysis, Review, Policy): http://www.washingtonpost.com/ ; check out the Opinion section http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/ and the Blog as well http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/worldviews/

The Wall Street Journal (On Business, Economics, Policies): http://online.wsj.com/india

If you are dead serious about some really complicated topics you can also try some academic journals: http://www.academicjournals.org/journals.htm

If you are a bit more adventurous and want to get a hang of confusing yet high quality article you can opt for something like these:

http://ideas.time.com/2013/02/28/happy-90th-birthday-time/ or

http://alaindebotton.com/a-new-priesthood-psychotherapists/  or http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/fact-checker/wp/2014/04/07/mcconnells-stale-inflated-claim-on-health-plan-cancellations/

 

 

 

 

Q3. How should you Read?

Sorry, but we are not underestimating you. We know that you have been reading since your childhood. But here we want to ascertain how should you read from the abovementioned source so that there can be a significant improve in your reading skills.

A) Speed it up: In Reading Comprehension (RC) section you have to read fast. It’s not a pleasure reading. Thus right from the word go, keep your focus on improving your speed substantially. While the RC section doesn’t demand from you to read each and every word of the passage and remember each one of them, but still you have to actively read the passage. For a short 400 – 500 word passage you can devote maximum 2 to 2.5 minutes for the reading part. For a longer 700 – 900 word passage you can maximum go up to 3.5 to 4 minutes. And this includes time spent on taking some notes as well. Thus we always suggest you to improve your online reading speed to a level of 300 to 400 words per minute (wpm). You can check the practice test given in http://www.readingsoft.com/ to assess your current speed level and then adjust accordingly. Another way is to set a benchmark by reading a standard 1000 word passage. Let us suppose, it takes you 10 minutes to read and comprehend this passage satisfactorily. Then in next two months your reading target should be to bring down the reading time by 40% to 50% (i.e. to 6 minutes, maximum) to read a similar passage with almost same level of comprehension.

B) Mark Pointers: While reading a passage, you should start taking notes. Taking notes is an art that helps you to be more engaged with the passage. This needs practice. While doing it, your focus should not divert from the passage. Even your eyes may not divert much. Always keep the notes as short as possible. Just scribble some facts, content language (data, information, processes, categories) and judgment language (opinions, hypotheses, comparisons) along with their placement paragraphs. Or you can even write down the flow of the entire passage (like, description of the hypothesis à examples in support à limitations à counter hypothesis). Your job is to identify relevant information, theme, tone, opinion, difficult words/ phrases and signaling/ directional words (words which help you to understand the direction of the passage e.g. furthermore, finally, most importantly, however, in contrast etc.) from the paragraphs and write these down in simple language or shorthand or even chatting lingo that you are used to. You can also use various forms of illustrations like flow chart, tree diagram, Venn diagram, relationships, front and back arrows if you are comfortable. Always remember that visual learning helps you to comprehend and retain with higher efficiency.

C) Summarize or Recap: Once you have finished reading the passage and taking notes, just give yourself a well deserved break. Close your eyes and relax for a few seconds. Then without going back to the passage, try to articulate the following:

  • The main idea of the passage
  • The main point of each individual paragraph

Doing this should not take more than a minute; but this practice will help you to go a long way in successfully comprehending complex passages in the RC section.

Words or phrases to be avoided in a CV

When an individual applies for a job, his CV is the first medium of communication with the prospective employer. It is the medium that provides the information necessary for the job position applied for. Somne even consider it as the course of life (if we go by its English translation). As we know that first impression is the most essential impression, a CV should be well structured and should be bereft of any ineffective words or phrases. LinkedIn users have a tendency of using fancy words in their profile, but if you want to have a long lasting impression on the recruiter these fancy words need to be shun out. In the words of DJ Patil, the chief data scientist of LinkedIn these fancy words are overused and have no impact on the recruiters.
These words or phrases also termed as clichés do not quantify any type of results.
Some such “clichés” or fancy words or phrases best avoided are:
1. Result oriented
2. Highly motivated
3. Proven track record
4. Problem solver
5. Extensive experience
6. Fast paced
7. Entrepreneurial
8. Dynamic
9. Goal oriented
10. Cutting edge
11. Best in breed
12. Creative ability
13. Dynamic approach
14. Innovative thinking
15. Cutting edge
16. Go to person
17. Bottom line oriented
18. Extensively skilled
19. Perfectionist
20. Proven track record
21. Excellent multi tasker
22. Out of the box thinker
23. Proactive

No recruiter would like to know whether your experience is “extensive”, rather they want to know whether you have any related work experience and details of your work experience. It is best left to them to decide if they find your experience “extensive” or less. So it is apt to mention something like “five years of experience” instead of the term ‘extensive experience”. They are also not interested to know whether you get motivated highly or a goal oriented. These characteristics can be proved once you are working. It is advisable to mention your achievement at work place rather than your professional traits (that you assume are possessed by you).

So, it is necessary that you kept your CV simple and up to the point. Give details of your work experience and your personal information needs to be restricted to your contact details and your interests.